project next

Good morning from Quito, Ecuador. After what was a largely uneventful flight and a first night of altitude-induced difficult sleep, I’m sitting in my room at the Casa Foch awakened early by the sun. Largely uneventful, but not completely uneventful because it was bumpy coming into Quito itself, and there were a number of very irritating people on board. No internet access just yet, so I don’t know how long it will be before I’m able to get this up. Last week feels like a long time coming– turning in the book manuscript, submitting a Same-Sex Sex article to Gender & History, unpacking all but a last few sets of boxes at the new house, etc. On Friday night esposa+hijo and I went to a concert at the ABQ zoo with some close friends– picnic, drinks, zoo animals, and the excellent tunes of the Belleville Outfit. It felt like the end of a period of transition, the end of a semester of leave that at least psychically extended all the way to June. And, just as that first feeling of normalcy approached, I’m off to Quito for a trip to support the next project.

I’m not certain I would suggest as ideal such a rapid transference of attentions. This second project is, in many ways, an extension of the first. And yet, it feels fresh enough that on the plane down here I was busily writing ideas in a Moleskin in ways I haven’t for years. The article I submitted for review a few days ago had its roots as a conference paper at the last LASA in Montreal. (LASA is happening in Rio in a few days, and I was scheduled to give a paper but had to back out over funding issues.) I co-organized a panel entitled “‘Aberrant’ Sex and ‘Normative’ Gender in Colonial Latin America” for Montreal with Zeb Tortorrici. In his comments on the papers, Pete Sigal asked the question “How do we theorize popular sexual desire for the colonial period?” I’ve been mulling over and struggling with the question ever since– and it is my intention to use the specific imperial circumstances of the late eighteenth century to answer that question. So, in the Moleskin went a slew of fragments, questions, statements related to Sex, the Body, and Empire. Am I researching and writing

a political economy of the sexual body
on imperial strategies of sexual control
a geography of the sexual body

What are the intersecting discourses/social practices that provide the tension between the three substantives – sex, body, empire – in the context of Spain’s late empire?

changing theories of royal authority
the medicalization of body, health, sanitation
changing theories of criminality transformations of the gendered regime the emergence of a biopolitics

What sorts of tasks should I be thinking of?

Mapping sex crime prosecutions in the barrios and the 5 leagues of Quito?
Charting judicial will?
Denaturalizing sex by showing its moments of social creation?

On that last one– in preparation for an introductory graduate seminar I’ll be teaching in the fall, I’m re-reading Ellen Meiskins Wood’s excellent little volume, The Origins of Capitalism in which she denaturalizes Capitalism by attacking the two key presuppositions of most of its origins stories– technological positivism and the capitalism = market exchange equation. In so doing she demonstrates that the capitalist form was neither inevitable, nor the result of a simple process of removing fetters to its emergence. The slender volume is very effective in its ability to reveal transitioning forms made to seem natural, simulacrums of continuity that claim for themselves to exist from time immemorial. (Think the nation state here was well.)

In some ways, I think that proffers a conceptual model for denaturalizing sexual desire and practice– and the late eighteenth century is a good time to do that because it was a moment of intense transformations of the form and content of authority.

What, then, are the normative forms of sex in conflict or transformation, and what compelled their transformations?

The post-Tridentine Church?
Indigenous customs and practices?
Urban customs and practices?
Emergent Bourbon absolutism?
Class or caste/status expectations?
Medical and legal power?

Yes, I think all of these things in convergence with new enlightenment universalism that weren’t so universal.

It is fun to think in at this level about work again, rather than the often maddening process of write, revise, and finish on a project running close to a decade long. I’m feel real anticipation about getting back into an archive and breathing the dust that will give life to the questions.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Gender and Sexuality, Latin American History, Research and Writing

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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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