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Sex Panics and Social Control

Location: MIT

Wednesdays 5:00PM-7:00PM

September 21, 2016 - October 19, 2016

Public anxieties over teenage sex parties, HIV “bug chasers,” and ritual sexual abuse in daycare are all forms of sex panic, which center on disruptions of the established norms of appropriate sexual behavior that threaten to transform social order and mores. They often entail false or exaggerated claims about the phenomenon at hand that are then used to justify more stringent punitive and surveillance practices against the marginalized. Scholars argue that such panics, seemingly about protecting child welfare, public health, or national security are actually about the regulation of gender, sexuality, race, and class and the maintenance of privilege. In this seminar, we will examine a number of case studies of sex panics from the US, UK, and Canada to investigate their various motivations, discursive constructions, and consequences. This is an interdisciplinary course that includes scholarship from and will be relevant to students interested in sociology, anthropology, education, media studies, philosophy, cultural studies, political science, and American Studies; it also includes journalism and documentary film.


Catherine Connell is Assistant Professor of Sociology, WGS Affiliated Faculty at Boston University, and is also Director of Graduate Studies for the BU Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.  Her work focuses on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and work & occupations. She is the author of School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom (2014, UC Press). Her work has been published in Signs, Gender & Society, and Women’s Studies Quarterly, among other outlets.