“Sexual Health as Buzzword: Competing Stakes and Proliferating Agendas”: Brownlee Lecture in Sexuality Studies featuring Steven

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 1:30pm


Location: Bodek Lounge, Houston Hall

R. Jean Brownlee Lecture in Sexuality Studies:

Sexual Health as Buzzword: Competing Stakes and Proliferating Agendas”

Steven Epstein, Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University 


Sexual health is one of the great buzzwords of the early twenty-first century. The recent, exponential growth of discourses, practices, techniques, and industries that reference or profess the goal of sexual health marks a new moment in the history of engagement by health institutions with the domain of sexuality. At the same time, the convergence around the specific term masks a remarkable diversity of scientific, political, economic, and practical agendas which sometimes coexist and at other times directly compete. I seek to understand the contexts in which the term has arisen, the consequences of attempts to lay claim to it, the kinds of bodies and embodied subjectivity that are linked to its uses, and its implications for what we imagine sexuality to be.


Steven Epstein Professor Epstein is the director of the Science in Human Culture Program and of the interdisciplinary graduate cluster in Science Studies; a faculty member at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; a faculty affiliate in the Gender Studies program; and a faculty associate in Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research. He is also a co-convener of The Sexualities Project at Northwestern. Before joining the Northwestern faculty in 2009, Epstein spent the preceding 15 years on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego.

Professor Epstein studies the contested production of knowledge, especially biomedical knowledge, with an emphasis on the interplay of social movements, experts, and health institutions, and with a focus on the politics of sexuality, gender, and race. Most recently, he is a co-editor of Three Shots at Prevention: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine’s Simple Solutions (Johns Hopkins, 2010). He is especially known for two books: Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research (Chicago, 2007), which received multiple awards, including the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award; and Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (California, 1996), which also received multiple awards, including the C. Wright Mills Prize. He also coauthored Learning by Heart: AIDS and Schoolchildren in America’s Communities(Rutgers, 1989). Epstein has published in such journals as Social Studies of ScienceBody & SocietySociological ForumTheory and Society, and Sexualities.

Epstein is involved in several ongoing research projects. He is studying the relationship between sexuality and biomedicine by examining the multiple social worlds that promote notions of sexual health. Following on his recent work on the politics of HPV vaccination, he is studying the impact of gender and sexual politics on understandings of various types of cancer. He is also a collaborator on a study of "sexual citizenship" among gay Mexican immigrants to the United States.

Epstein currently serves on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including Social Studies of Science and Sexualities. At Northwestern, he and Prof. Héctor Carrillo are co-conveners of The Sexualities Project at Northwestern (TSP), a new initiative that promotes interdisciplinary research and education on sexuality and health in social context. TSP funds faculty and graduate student research, a postdoctoral fellowship, and workshops, among other activities.