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Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality [Paperback]

Margot Danielle Weiss
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

25 Feb 2012
Techniques of Pleasure is a vivid portrayal of the San Francisco Bay Area's pansexual BDSM (SM) community. Margot Weiss conducted ethnographic research at dungeon play parties and at workshops on bondage, role play, and flogging, and she interviewed more than sixty SM practitioners. She describes a scene devoted to a form of erotic play organized around technique, rules and regulations, consumerism, and self-mastery. Challenging the notion that SM is inherently transgressive, Weiss links the development of commodity-oriented sexual communities and the expanding market for sex toys to the eroticization of gendered, racialized, and national inequalities. She analyzes the politics of BDSM's spectacular performances, including those that dramatize heterosexual male dominance, slave auctions, and US imperialism, and contends that the SM scene is not a "safe space" separate from real-world inequality. It depends, like all sexual desire, on social hierarchies. Based on this analysis, Weiss theorizes late-capitalist sexuality as a circuit - one connecting the promise of new emancipatory pleasures to the reproduction of raced and gendered social norms.

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Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality + Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon + Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy
Price For All Three: 49.82

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press (25 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822351595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822351597
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.6 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 441,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"In what Weiss calls circuits, readers see the complex interactions among beliefs, experiences, fantasy, freedom (laws/rules), individualism, opportunities, and public expectations in sexual performance... The analysis of these circuits is quite fascinating and could be expanded outside the BDSM scene to explore sexual fantasy and performance in any affluent, educated, tech-savvy culture. Recommended to readers interested in human sexuality." Scott Vieira, Library Journal "I cannot emphasize enough how vital the analysis in Techniques of Pleasure is. Margot Weiss reveals the half-lie of 'safe space' in the BDSM world and, in doing so, artfully unveils the half-lies that propel ideas of 'agency' and 'choice' in neoliberal culture." Annalee Newitz, author of Pretend We're Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Popular Culture "Techniques of Pleasure is a wonderful, theoretically significant, and ethnographically rich book. Margot Weiss contextualizes the development of the Bay Area's BDSM scene, analyzing contemporary BDSM as bio-political practice. Examining the complex connections between discipline and freedom, subject formation and subjugation, power and play, Weiss extends feminist and queer theoretical debates about identity, community, sexuality, gender, race, and the nature of power. This book breaks new theoretical ground in relation not only to BDSM but also to questions of personhood, political economy, and embodiment in late capitalism." David Valentine, author of Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category "In debunking some myths that continue to surround BDSM, Weiss contributes to an honest and nuanced conversation about how power dynamics really work within a scene that plays with power for pleasure." - Lisa Downing, New Formations, 2013 "Techniques of Pleasure," Weiss' book-length investigation of San Francisco's kink community, although there are other examples, ranging from father-daughter incest to Nazi guard-prisoner scenarios. These encounters aren't described in much detail - instead, they're used as passing evidence of the depths of politically incorrect play that she observed, or heard about, during the three years spent observing this world." Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon "Margot Weiss, author of the ethnographic study, Techniques of Pleasure, visits Mr. S and many other venues of S-and-M play, unknowingly recalling the quest for pleasure offered at Mrs. Berkley's salon... her book is a useful scholarly monograph on how once perversions of the select have become indulgences of the many... Weiss's book needs to be read as a case study of this new sexual culture, an anthropologist's exploration of a distinct sub-set - the San Francisco S-and-M scene - of this revolution." David Rosen, The Brooklyn Rail

About the Author

Margot Weiss is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University.


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Silicon Sadomasochism 20 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
BDSM can be nasty and abusive or it can be beautiful and loving - just like any other type of sexual relationship. Is it more prone to be abusive? Do more vulnerable and damaged people gravitate towards it? Or is it a space of transgression and free desire that more and more people are discovering as traditional moral taboos break down? Frankly, no-one knows. Recent research by sociologists and ethnographers (Newmahr Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy, Beckmann The Social Construction of Sexuality and Perversion: Deconstructing Sadomasochism, and now Weiss) is beginning to put together pieces of a more complex picture that questions both old assumptions of sleaze and abuse and new assertions of liberation and emancipation.

Weiss shows how BDSM in the San Francisco Bay area has been totally transformed since the 1980s. The 'old guard' underground scene of Folsom leathermen has gone, wiped out by AIDS and urban redevelopment. Instead BDSM in the Bay Area is now dominated by prosperous middle-class heterosexuals living in the suburbs as much as the city and more organised, more regulated, more sexually diverse, and more 'normalized'.

Weiss critiques the ideas of figures like Foucault, MacKendrick or Carrette, that BDSM has something inherently transgressive and oppositional about it. She insists (and at times labours the point) that BDSM cannot be separated from the real social world it inhabits.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and Intriguing 1 Mar 2014
By Alyssa C. Venable - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Weiss'a objective, thorough study of the Bay Area BDSM culture reveals the way in which this subculture, influenced by neoliberal values and beliefs, is linked to capitalism, racial Othering, and focuses on self-mastery and technique. I don't believe, however, that Weiss slams BDSM or is in any way anti sex positive culture. Instead, her work can make us think about the ways we live our life and how we feel empowerment, and see more clearly when we are reproducing harmful normative discourses such as class exclusion. This wasn't an easy or a fast read, but it was well-written, detailed, and intriguing.
17 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Biased and Disturbing Approach to a Minority Sexual Orientation 24 Aug 2012
By Carol Siegel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Imagine a book about homosexuality based entirely on people's behavior in a very limited number of sex clubs. If that sounds like a useful way to understand the sexualities of others, then this is the book for you. If not, not. The book fails to give an accurate portrayal of SM in San Francisco past or present because the groups studied are not representative (leaving out gay men almost entirely is a big problem, as is assuming that all people with this orientation are affiliated with clubs, and that most belong to one particular one) and because the author ignores the majority of published accounts of SM activity in San Francisco. Also disturbing is that, although the author's informants repeatedly tell her that SM is their sexual orientation, she treats SM almost exclusively as an activity they engage in (with groups) rather than in terms of their desires. The latter she spends considerable time arguing are determined by external influences such as social and political contexts. That seems to me fairly obvious. Of course, if there had never been slavery in the world the term "slave" would not have erotic charge for anyone -- there wouldn't even be such a term. And if none of us grew up in families within a culture where babies are normally cherished the term "baby" wouldn't have erotic charge for anyone. But we do and so these terms do arouse feelings in many of us, whether our sexuality is conventional or SM. (The author might have achieved a bit of sensible balance by examining how often slavery is evoked to describe perfectly "normal," but intense feelings of romantic attachment in popular songs, for instance.) The book harkens back to the prescriptive writing about sexuality by some second wave feminists, like Andrea Dworkin in its insistence that the only moral way to express one's sexuality is to enact politically correct scripts. All attempts to enjoy sexual experiences without concentrating on making them into performances that express the correct types of political critique are denigrated as neoliberal and racist. Sorry, but many of us don't want to incorporate critique of Republican politicos into our sexual practices. I would prefer to avoid thinking about unpleasant people or awful historical facts while I am having sex, and I see no reason to criticize SM practioners or call them names if they feel this way. I hate racism and sexism so I don't want to see an African American woman being beaten and demeaned by a white man as a performance at an organized slave auction SM club event. I don't even want to see a fraternity or sorority raise money with a slave auction, either, as I find it disrespectful to African Americans and just disgusting. So I understand how nasty this was for the author to see. However this instance of shameful carrying on has no bearing on what people whose sexual orientation is SM should or should not do or feel. Nor does the existence of such icky spectacles prove that SM is not transgressive, as they author seems to think. Public acknowledgment that some people have an SM sexual orientation IS transgressive because any acknowledgment of a sexuality outside heteronormativity transgresses the mainstream discourse about what sex is and how humans experience it. The visibility of sexualities that depart from norms is politically valuable, even when those sexualities are repulsive to some of us, perhaps especially when they are. I agree with the author that not all sadomasochists act in ways that undermine institutionalized and mainstream racism and sexism, but so what? That could (and has) been argued about people with all sexual orientations. To insist that sadomasochists must always be models of political correctness simply shows a biased view that they must adhere to a higher standard than anyone else because they are inherently offensively deviant from the norm -- and how transgressive is THAT?
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