CfP: Signs Special Issue: Pleasure and Danger: Sexual Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century

Andrew Mazzaschi's picture

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society invites submissions for a special issue titled “Pleasure and Danger:  Sexual Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century,” slated for publication in the Autumn 2016 issue. Please circulate widely.

At the heart of the feminist project is a persistent concern with thinking through the “powers of desire” (Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson 1983) and expanding the potential for sexual and gender freedom and self-determination at the same time that we combat sadly persistent forms of sexual danger and violence.  Exemplified in the US context by Carole Vance’s landmark collection, Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, feminist debates over sex, gender, and society have been incendiary.  First published in 1984, as proceedings of the infamous “Scholar and the Feminist” conference at Barnard, which initiated the equally infamous “sex wars,” this volume reproduced intense dialogue while also contributing to a much broader investigation of the politics (and pleasures, and dangers) of sexuality within feminist theory and culture. Articles that threw down gauntlets were subsequently canonized and celebrated.  Much has changed since that explosive conference and book. Even the subtitle – “exploring female sexuality” – would now be more deeply interrogated (biologically female? presumptively heterosexual?) and certainly pluralized.  But however reframed, the paradoxical joining that is “pleasure and danger” remains poignantly relevant. 

For this special issue, we invite transdisciplinary and transnational submissions that address questions and debates provoked by the “pleasure and danger” couplet.  Submissions may engage with the historical (how different is our moment from that formative “sex wars” era? have the sex wars moved to new terrain such as trafficking and slut-shaming?); the representational (how does the digital era transform our sexual lives? what does “livestreaming” sexual assault do to/for feminist organizing? what possibilities are there for feminist and queer imagery in an era of prolific porn, commodified otherness, and everyday inclusion?); the structural (how do race, ethnicity, religion, and national cultures enable and constrain sexual freedoms? how do carceral and governance feminisms frame and perhaps contain earlier liberatory impulses?); and/or the intersectional (how do we analyze the mutually constituting relations of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, ability, age, and so on?). There are local and global questions to be asked and strategic arguments to be resolved.  And the very terms are themselves constantly debated (whose pleasure are we speaking of and for?  who is the “we” doing that speaking? who is imagined to be “in danger?” how does “gender” signify differently in that couplet from “sexuality?”)

We particularly encourage analyses from all regions of the globe that address pressing concerns and that do so in a way that is accessible and, well, passionate!  We encourage bold and big thinking that seeks to reckon with the conundrum still signaled by the pleasure/danger frame.  We especially seek submissions that attend to the couplet itself, to the centrality of pleasure/danger within the project of making feminism matter and resonate in ways both intimate and structural, deeply sensual and liberatory, simultaneously championing multiplicities of pleasures and a lasting freedom from violence and abuse.

The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2015.

Manuscripts may be submitted electronically through Signs Editorial Manager system at Please choose the article type “Pleasure and Danger - Special Issue Article.” Guidelines for submission are available at ttp://

This call is available online at or for download as a PDF at     

Please contact Andrew Mazzaschi ( with any questions.

I'm struck by the way that this CFP positions the journal, or perhaps only the editors of submissions to this CFP, in relation to the proposed subject. One way to read it--perhaps not the way intended--is to take the proposition that the position in the "sex wars" developed in Pleasure and Danger lies "at the heart of the feminist project" as the identification of an epistemologically privileged position on the subject of study.

This would seem not to bode well for those other perspectives of the era of the "sex wars" that now lie, metaphorically at least, at the periphery of "the feminist project" (only one?) for, in contrast to, as the CFP puts it, the "much broader investigation of the politics (and pleasures, and dangers) of sexuality within feminist theory and culture" said to be manifest in Pleasure and Danger, these unnamed other perspectives would seem to have been narrow by comparison, and thus less worthy of scholarly deliberation.

If this is the scholarly consensus of the moment, then we may want to ponder the reasons for our comfort with it. Future study of the historical agents currently consigned to the periphery of scholarly fashion, in an environment less driven by the partisan passions of the "sex wars," may reveal many surprises and provide much unexpected food for thought. I would point to the late historian of American popular culture Lawrence Levine's choice to name a collection of his essays The Unpredictable Past. He said of this collection that "these essays . . . were part of the dialogue [of the 1970s and 1980s] that has helped to fashion a number of the approaches and perceptions that guide us to a sense of our history quite unpredictably divergent in important ways from the one I grew up with. During the years I was in . . . school, it would not have been possible to predict that the past, as it was then understood, would change in the future in the many ways and directions it has. . . . That there [was]," at the time that he wrote in the early 1990s, "severe opposition to many of these changes makes it all the more important to understand their nature and meaning; a task to which I trust these essays will contribute" (vii). That opposition remains unabated.

At its best, historical thinking affords just such a long view as Levine's. More's the pity, then, that it takes us so long to find our way to it. As Keynes observed of the short horizons within which partisan passions shape economic policy, and keep us chasing the chimera of the "free" market, in the long term, we're all dead.

Tim Hodgdon, Ph.D., U.S. history