Richard G. Parker and Laura R. Murray

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:

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Research on sexuality (and related topics such as gender, reproduction, and kinship relations) has figured prominently in anthropology since the formative years of the discipline. Work carried out in the 1920s and 1930s by anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Bronislaw Malinowski was pioneering both in developing cross-cultural comparisons of diverse sexual mores and customs and in legitimizing ethnography as a key methodological approach for the study of sexuality. Research on these issues expanded significantly beginning in the 1970s, heavily influenced by changes in social norms and values that had taken place in the 1960s, and was stimulated in important ways by the emerging feminist and lesbian and gay movements, and by scholarly work in women’s studies and gay and lesbian studies. Much of this work focused on what were described as “sexual meanings” and sought to explore the ways in which gender, sexuality, and reproductive relations vary across cultures. Anthropological research has focused on the investigation of sexual cultures and the social and cultural construction of sexual practices, playing an especially important role in documenting sexual diversity and same-sex sexual relations in different societies, including contemporary Western society. As this body of work developed during the 1980s and the 1990s, it also addressed the cultural and social dimensions of a range of important practical issues, such as the HIV epidemic, the changing shape of reproductive health and new reproductive technologies, sex work, tourism, migration, same-sex marriage, and globalization. Since the mid-1990s, growing anthropological attention has also focused on structural factors that shape sexuality in different social settings, and on political struggles that have emerged in relation to sexuality and sexual rights. As the research focus has expanded to these areas of social concern, anthropologists studying sexuality have been increasingly influenced by work in feminist theory, queer theory, history, and other social sciences, and have also emphasized the ways in which sexuality intersects with other axes of power and identities.

Article.  11326 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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