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«November 2018»

Fellow Seminar

07 December 2017

Dr. Maria Mayerchyk will present her research proposal on the topic: "Inventing "Sexuality": Capitalism, Nationalism and Ethnologic Knowledge Production in XIX and Beginning of XX Century" on 7 December 2017 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS Conference Hall.


In non-modern European cultures, young unmarried people were allowed to sleep together, in pairs. In the 18th and especially in the 19th century the habit has been recorded in quite a number of ethnic cultures, including Belarusian, Bulgarian, French, Danish, German, Norwegian, Swiss, Serbian, Russian, Ukrainian, and many others. The tradition was legal and sanctioned. In 1780 a German historian and lawyer, Friedrich Christoph Jonathan Fischer reported that: ‘Peasants find their habit so innocent that it is not uncommon for a priest to ask a peasant for a well-being of his daughters, who, with all his openness and paternal benevolence, will tell a priest that the daughter grows well and had already begun to receive boys for the night'.

Starting from the middle of the 19th century and till the end of the 1920s, ethnographers amassed a considerable amount of texts about the Ukrainian ‘vechirnytsi,' including scholarly papers, reports, or occasional brief notes. Although the authors applied different approaches and perspectives (within the framework of those that were available at the time), all of these works were regimented by the modern idea of ‘sex', that is all of them tried to a take particular stance on the question whether young people had sex before marriage or not. As a result, the vast majority of papers asserted that the relations between young people were chaste and decent. However, a number of scholars offered ethnographic materials in support of the idea that young people actually had intimate relations and therefore ‘to sleep together' means ‘to have a sex'.

This situation of mutually exclusive conclusions regarding the tradition of premarital sleeping together for a century arrested further development of the study. Contemporary scholars simply adhered to one of the two offered positions, or simultaneously maintained both of them, despite inconsistency, and the established contradictory remained intact. An overcoming of this paralyzing contradiction became possible only relatively recently, thanks to turning to the post-modern epistemologies.

Drawing on the Donna Haraway's and Karen Barad's ideas of situated knowledge and partial objectivity in the presentation I will consider romantic national approach (which advocates of sexual purity), the radical and emancipatory approach (which discloses sexual relations), the colonial approach (which constructs oversexualized ‘savages'), as well as a more recent feminist approach (which highlights the issues of coercion and the absence of consent). Finally, applying queer theoretical perspective and departing from the idea that ‘we did not always have a sex', I inquire: what did ethnographers do when they studied ‘sexuality' in the rural cultures of the 19th century, which did not operate with the modern idea of sexuality? What was the emic semantic system of premarital genital pleasure before the scholars imposed the modern idea of sexuality into the rural culture? How premarital practices of corporeal pleasure could be perceived beyond the modern idea of sex and (hetero)sexuality and how does this affect the very idea of heterosexuality?



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