Biopolitical mythologies: Róheim, Freud, (homo)phobia, and the sexual science of Eastern European Otherness
(2016) Sexualities, 19 (1-2), pp. 168-189.
A vast body of research has, following Foucault, shown the scientific study of sexuality to be central to the construction of modernity and its Others, and to biopolitical categories of personhood and citizenship. Similarly, much historical work has acknowledged the critical role of the Eastern European Other in imagining the modern European West. Yet while representations of sexuality were critical to Eastern Europe’s invention, and have been increasingly visible elements of re-emerging European “neo-orientalisms,” there has been little scholarly concern with how such symbolic and political hierarchies were constructed through the historical intersections of ethnographic and sexual scientific practice, or with this history’s biopolitical implications. This paper examines the intersection of several such sexual-scientific imaginings. Focusing on the conjuncture between Hungarian scholar Géza Róheim’s psychoanalytic interpretations of European folklore and non-European ethnography, Sigmund Freud’s orientalizing construction of the key psychoanalytic concept of “phobia,” and scholarly analyses of postsocialist sexual politics, I argue that these intersecting scientific works joined evolutionist understandings of culture to theories of universal psychic development to read Eastern Europe as a site of psycho-sexual and civilizational immaturity, producing mutually-reinforcing narratives that fabricated Eastern European sexuality as a biopolitical marker of European difference. These overlapping sexual geotemporalities, I suggest, continue to inform current scholarly interpretations of postsocialist homophobia, (re)producing both Hungary and Eastern Europe as naturalized sites of homophobia, primitivity, and failed sexual citizenship, and rendering hegemonic the status of the region and its inhabitants as sexual Others of “European” modernity. By fabricating postsocialist homophobia as a scientific “fact,” such layered discourses sustain the biopolitical boundaries of modern European citizenship. © 2016, The Author(s) 2016.
Eastern Europe; history of science; homophobia; postsocialism; sexual citizenship; sexual geography; sexual science