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Over the past few months Kane Race and I have started a working group in our department called "Sexuality and Space". The idea is to develop an archive and a network of resources, ideas and events about the politics of urban space in Sydney, particularly as this relates to gender and sexuality.

The group builds on the foundation laid by Kane's fabulous book, Pleasure Consuming Medicine,and recent work I've done on the night-time economies of Australia's inner-cities. It is also a chance for us to work collaboratively with students in the department who are leading the way in researching these issues locally.

In my case the project continues a set of concerns I began to investigate in Brisbane through essays like 'Normal Homes', which deals explicitly with city space, sexuality and ideas of kinship. It also develops from writing I did at the outset of my forthcoming book, which describes changes to Brisbane in the wake of the creative industries policy drive. In that context, Fortitude Valley was just one area to be transformed from eccentric haven to jewel in the crown of a new leisure economy marketed to wealthy locals, cosmopolitan tourists and interstate migrants. In a further paper I co-wrote with Jason Wilson, these transformative acts of urban entrepreneurialism are described as a "cultural economy of infamy" - its ultimate manifestation being the Underbelly franchise.

The S&S project is an attempt to chart these trends in Sydney specifically, answering questions like these that Kane has summarised:

*How do strategies of city branding appeal to, and repackage, histories of subcultural and illicit activity in their attempts to market the city? What are the implications for sexual minorities and how are sexual subcultures transformed in this process?

*What are the effects of current policing initiatives (drug dog operations, patrolling of beats, etc.) on the shape and social possibilities of sexual communities in cities like Sydney?

*How is the night-time economy represented, marketed, and governed? What forms of consumption (licit and illicit) does it depend upon - explicitly and tacitly - and what relations are there between them?

*How do we resist the sanitization of sexual cultures as these cultures begin to feature in more extensive networks of commerce, government, and public representation?


At the moment we're meeting fortnightly to discuss readings that set up our aims for the group. Later in the semester this will expand to include a selection of guest speakers from scholars, activists, community and council reps and more.

One of our researchers, Viv McGregor, has started a tumblr blog featuring images of sexuality and space. It's a work of art in itself! Well worth a bookmark. Viv has also started a delicious page for relevant links - feel free to link to us and add more with the sexualityspace tag.

We welcome involvement from anyone interested in cultural economies, consumer culture, cultural geography, criminology and urban governance... and most of all those whose precious intimacies and alternative forms of sociability are increasingly subject to arbitrary surveillance and suspicion.

The Facebook page is one of the easiest ways to keep in touch.

Cross-posted at Home Cooked Theory

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Just introducing a new addition to our blogroll, Trevorade. Coming out of the US, it features a mix of gay men's health, activism and LGBTQ issues. Right now it's running an extended interview with our new Chair of Department, Kane Race. The interview is an excellent synopsis of Kane's work, and the blog is a great resource for those working in our field.

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I got chatting to some young blokes this morning who had just been in a fight in the surf. It was sunny and offshore, water like blue oil. But ... it got crowded. They kept going on about how stoked that they were that they stuck together against the 'outsider'. I'd call it ganging-up. It sounded like a very particular form of care that they were talking about, one that doesn't exempt violence. The sensuous economy of pride, anger, shame and so on that emerged from the event regulated and perpetuated their version of 'true' mateship and manhood.

The older crew had sat back and watched the fight go down. The young blokes kept looking over for validation of their actions. In return they got nods and a complicity that spoke louder than words. The older blokes were letting the younger ones do the work of protecting their turf.

Many surfers express dislike of such violence, but a popular belief is it's a necessary evil that holds together an order of things that could otherwise fray.

The young blokes seem to be the most aggressive out in the surf. They're trying to impress the elder statesmen by making it very clear that they know the rules, and are willing to put their bodies on the line. I haven't seen a lot of violence in the surf, although I’ve been in a few fights myself. The violence only has to happen sometimes to set up the fear of pain, shame, humiliation and ridicule that communicates what's allowed to happen and what isn’t, and who's where on the pecking-order.

Recently I've been thinking through what happened at Cronulla on December 11, 2005. I've got to give a paper at a conference at Macquarie University. Surfing culture runs deep at Cronulla and I'd like to make some links between surfing culture and how some blokes behaved on the day. Today's event made me think about how the same processes were at work during the Cronulla riot. As one eyewitness explained

'One thing I did notice when I got caught up in the crowd at station was the number of young kids … who were eager to be involved in the action. Unlike some other older males who seemed, at times, willing to sit back and merely watch these proceedings, many of the younger males seemed intent on being close to the ‘action’ (in Barclay and West, 2006, p. 81).

Since the riot in December many families from non-English speaking backgrounds have been too scared to return to Cronulla Beach. Instead they favour Brighton-le-Sands, a neighbouring beach that might as well be on another planet. Brighton is not a surf beach and is far more racially and ethnically diverse than Cronulla.

Further to this, such mateship and practices of care aren’t the preserve of white surfing blokes. According to Randa Kattan (2006), the executive director of the Arab Council of Australia, there is an old Arabic saying: ‘Me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world’ (The Australian, January 28, 2006).

Barclay, R. and West, P. (2006) ‘Racism or Patriotism? An Eyewitness Account of the Cronulla Demonstration of 11 December 2005’ in People and Place, 14(1), pp. 75-84.

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So the entirely predictable revelation that John Karr did not kill JonBenet Ramsey has broken to nearly as much fanfare as his preposterous "confession." Ariana Huffington has written here of the JonBenet addiction that afflicts mainstream media; People magazine has excerpts of his emails, in which he describes his passion for dolls and himself as a "dashing prince," "Daxis," in love with JonBenet. Elsewhere we find that Karr imagined Johnny Depp as the dashing prince Daxis in the movie -- Depp of Willy Wonka fame, not Libertine, of course.

So what is it about this case that so thoroughly confounds good sense -- not the medias' (as if!) but, for example, the legal team that sought Karr's extradition, rather than filing his "confession" with the no doubt countless others that the case elicited. You tell me.

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Alice in Wonderland is even useful for 'Sport Research' haha

In the novel Alice in Wonderland (Carroll, 1990) Alice is frustrated and angry when she discovers that the croquet game lacks fair play and rules; that the croquet balls are hedgehogs; that the croquet loops run away and that the playing field is bumpy and full of holes. The frustration and anger arises because Alice
has a definite, but mainly implicit, conception of how croquet should be played and what the necessary qualities of the playing field should be. Both the sport and the facilities are different from what she is used to. In other words, the game and the facility are not as she expects and she feels bad about it. She is tempted to quit the game and leave the playing field immediately. The queen and her court, however,
experience this differently. To them this is how croquet should be played. They do not question the rules, the quality of the field or the equipment. All aspects of the game are in accord with their expectations.
I think we all agree that expectations are an important mechanism for the regulation of social behaviour. We may metaphorically say that expectations almost force us to comply with them, just as gravity makes the apple fall from the tree or the electromagnetic force of a magnet makes the iron filings line up from
the magnet’s north pole to the south pole. We may term this mechanism the force of expectations.

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If it fell to a comic postmodern to allegorise the collective American obsession with law and order and with paedophilia, sometime shortly after she had devised Law & Order: SVU she would have concoted a secret suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey case, one who might have something to do with children and education, an historical association with kiddie porn and mullets, and an answer to the riddling acronym "SBTC," initials which closed the ransom note found shortly before the murdered JonBenet herself at the Ramsey house Boxing Day 1996.

I doubt the most adventurous mind could have added the flourish of Karr's own discovery lodged in a cheap apartment hotel in Bangkok in anticipation of gender reassignment. Ogling press reports of Karr's meals (King Prawns and Valrhona chocolate cake) entertainment (Dan Brown paperback, The Last Samurai on screen) are oddly reminiscent of the final scenes of Hannibal, where Anthony Hopkin's Hannibal Lecter claws open a Dean & DeLuca boxed meal to be shared with a new young friend on board the plane they ride to Buenos Aires.

These vignettes of gustatory excess and abject criminality are emblematic of the late nineties' post-OJ demarcation of a celebrity public sphere replete with both its own criminals and its own "better than fiction" mysteries, and this makes Karr a curiously nostalgic figure, the return of a certain late 90s moment nearly a decade on. John Karr can distract, at least momentarily, an adult audience otherwise mesmerised by the decline of the American Empire, otherwise alienated by popular culture aimed firmly away from them, otherwise fixated on the freefall anxiety of a future framed in terms of escalating temperatures, gas prices, and wars.

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Yesterday I met with Robert Rinck, a visiting researcher (from US) for the Refugee Youth Soccer Development Program. Cool bloke, and he's going to help me get involved in the program. It will be a good link for the Youth and Sport project I am working on. I love the work some people do ... and this is a good example of a community-based research project. Project Manager is Anne Bunde-Birouste in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales. What a top effort. If anyone else is interested let me know

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This is the blog of the Australian Research Council funded project:

The Well-Rounded Person: The Role of Sport in Shaping Physical, Emotional and Social Development.

The chief investigators are: Catharine Lumby; Elspeth Probyn; Jenny O'Dea; Kath Albury

The reason why I have started this blog is to provide a central hub for the project. As project manager it enables me to provide an online office for those involved. The chief investigators can know where the project is at, have easy access to the research and literature review, be informed about upcoming events, and provide feedback for one another. Often chief investigators and researchers are very busy with many projects, so it can be hard to get them together in a 'real' sense.

The blog also offers a central filing system and up-to-date database. Further to this, it's free and saves money for the project because we don't have to have a website built and a html-code expert to maintain it.

The user-friendly format and online aspect also makes the research available to other researchers, community groups and the media .The project is very public. Anyone can make use of the research as it happens and have a space to offer up-to-date suggestions and requests.

As a fan of cultural studies I like the way the blog offers up a way of doing cultural research that places it square in the public sphere for debate as it happens. The research is then with the public rather than about them. The blog opens up the research to as many voices as possible who may wish to debate the direction of the project, and the political, cultural and social issues that the research will bring up. By placing the research in the public sphere I hope it works to demand that the writing up of the research is as accessible and as practical as possible. .

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Melissa Gregg has this new book just about to come out.
I will put up a review as soon as I can get a copy of it. It's a bit expensive ...

There is a sample chapter here

For those who don't know Mel, she did her Doctorate with us.

Here's the blurb:

In a series of encounters with key figures in the field of cultural studies, this book draws attention to the significance of voice and address in enacting a political project from within 'the Academy'. Combining a focus on theories of 'affect' lately dominant in the Humanities with a history of cultural studies as a discipline, Melissa Gregg highlights the diverse modes of performance that accompany and assist scholarly practice. Writing from the perspective of a new generation of cultural studies practitioners, she provides a missing link between the field's earliest political concerns with those of the present. Throughout, the ongoing importance of engaged, public Intellectualism is emphasized.

Contents:

Communicating Investment: Cultural Studies, Politics and Affect
Activating Empathy: Richard Hoggart, Ordinariness and the Persistence of 'Them' and 'Us'.
The Politics of Conjuncture: Stuart Hall, Articulation and the Commitment to Specificity
Fighting for the Future: Lawrence Grossberg, Messianic Zeal and the Challenge of Building a Legacy
Justice and Accountability: Andrew Ross, Intellectual Labour and the New Academic Activism
A Voice of Vigilance: Meaghan Morris, Anecdotal Critique and the Politics of Academic Speech

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This is the blog for thinking and talking about culture, Cultural Studies and cultural analysis at the University of Sydney.
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