Begun in 1997 by Francis Ronsin (University of Burgundy, Dijon, France) and other scholars associated with the Institute of Contemporary History (Dijon), the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam), the Socialism and Sexuality seminar organized a series of conferences designed to bring together scholars interested in exploring the sexual ideologies and programs of radical social movements.
The first meeting took place in Ghent in conjunction with the AMSAB's (Archives and Museum of the Socialist Worker's Movement) exhibition "Desire Touched Us: Sex, Sexuality and Socialism" and its conference on "Gender and Class" in April 1999. The conference papers have been published as Conference Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Gender and Class in the twentieth Century, Denise de Weerdt (ed.) (Ghent: AMSAB/MIAT, 2000).
The International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam hosted the second conference on the topic of "Free Love and the Labour Movement", in October 2000. This seminar explored the sexual ideologies and behaviours of anarchist feminists, individualist socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, and utopian socialists in Belgium, Holland, Great Britain, France, and Germany, and carefully delineated the ways in which these groups challenged the sexual reforms advocated by more traditional political groups, such as the Belgian Workers Party and the Dutch Social Democrats. These papers were published as Free Love and the Labour Movement: Research Papers (Amsterdam: IISG, 2001).
The third conference "Labour Organizations and Sexuality", was organized by Thomas Bouchet and Tania Régin of the Institute of Contemporary History at the University of Burgundy (Dijon) in October 2001. This workshop explored the sexual politics of labour organizations (trade unions, workers movements, and political parties) in the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By looking at specific case studies, this seminar explored the role of sexuality in the projects of various progressive movements, and examined the conflicts over sexual issues that occurred between (and within) left-wing movements and organizations in the United States, Great Britain, Holland, and France. These papers were published in Jesse Battan, Thomas Bouchet and Tania Régin, eds., Meetings & Alcôves - The Left and Sexuality in Europe and the United States since 1850 (Dijon: Editions Universitaires de Dijon, 2004).
The fourth seminar on the topic "Sexuality and Millennialism", was hosted by the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University (April 2003). This workshop explored groups in Europe and the United States that supported the idea that the liberation of the body and its desires would lead to spiritual redemption and the regeneration of society. The papers presented at this workshop examined the sexual politics of these movements - their ideas on the connection between sexual liberation, spiritual transformation, and the creation of the perfect society - and compared the ways in which these ideas changed over time and varied from place to place.
The fifth conference, organized by Gert Hekma (Gay and Lesbian Studies) and Saskia Poldervaart (Gender Studies) of the University of Amsterdam, was on "Past and Present of Radical Sexual Politics". Gert Hekma introduced it as follows: "In the past, radical sexual politics have most often been closely connected to leftist movements: from utopian socialism and anarchism to Marxist feminism. And most movements for sexual reform, homosexual rights, or birth control were closely linked to progressive ideologies. Notwithstanding major changes in the field of sexuality, many of them engineered by socialist governments, the seduction of the left for sexual politics has disappeared. The radical left has become marginalized while the successes of sexual reform and gay and lesbian emancipation have loosened the links between their demands and particular political currents. New social movements against global capitalism have not included sexual issues in their platform. The change from the old to the 'New Left' did not mean a breakthrough because the New Left is reluctant to deal with controversial issues like child sexuality, public expressions of sexual pleasure, sexual citizenship, new reproductive technologies or societal heterosexism, or even revives old moralistic discourses, for example on prostitution. The conference dealt with the histories of radical sexual ideals, their survival and their renewal in contemporary culture." These papers were published in Gert Hekma, (ed.), Past and Present of Radical Sexual Politics (Amsterdam, Mosse Foundation, 2004).
Monika Pisankaneva organized the sixth conference "New Social Movements and Sexuality" hosted by Sofia University, in October 2004. She gave the following summary: "This year the seminar aims to attract more scientists from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the countries of the former Soviet Union, and expand the existing international network of scholars who research the sexual programs of leftist ideologies. Cultural changes in the 1970s and 1980s have led to a proliferation of new social movements in Europe and the United States about ecology, peace, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Most of them have been closely allied with socialist parties, and share some of the goals of old and new left ideologies. Sexuality and sexual reform occupied a significant place in the new social movements of the West. The demise of communism in 1989 triggered a new wave of social movements in CEE and former Soviet States. Unlike their predecessors in the West, the pro-democracy movements of CEE countries are essentially conservative and anti-socialist. One important cluster of the new social movements in Central and Eastern Europe that is clearly absent is the movement for sexual reform. Despite expansion of the freedoms for individuals in all countries of the region, sexual relationships are considered only for couples: adult, monogamous and heterosexual. Sexual reform, gay and lesbian and transgender movements have usually been excluded from the public discourse on social tolerance and development of social capital." Melinda Chateauvert (University of Maryland) is working on the publication of papers of this workshop.
The penultimate conference in this series, Revolutions and Sexualities, was held in Krakow, 26-28 September 2007.
The last conference Anarchism and Sexuality in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries was held in Leeds in 2010.
Organizing Committees: AMSAB (Ghent, Belgium), IHC-UMR (Dijon), Center for Millennial Studies (Boston), University of Amsterdam, University of Sofia, EHESS (Paris), Jagiellonian University (Sofia), University of Leeds
Information: Jenneke Quast, email@example.com
For an earlier version of this overview, go to Jesse Battan, 'An Introduction to the Socialism and Sexuality Seminar' (MS Word file, 5 pp., attached).