Civilizing Madness: Sadomasochism, Imperialism and the Formation of German National Identity, 1880-1914

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Heintzman, Kathryn
History of Psychiatry , German Imperialism , Queer Theory , Foucault , Critical Race Theory , Sadomasochism
In Ann Stoler’s (1995) erudite critique of the absence of race in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 1, she asks if any of the figures of sexual regulation Foucault takes up could have “exist[ed] as objects of knowledge and discourse in the nineteenth century without a racially erotic counterpoint, without reference to the libidinal energies of the savage, the primitive, the colonized?” (pp. 6-7). Recognizing that the regulation of sexuality was often enforced through psychiatric mechanisms, one might also add that discourses of wellness and illness, the normal and the pathological, were also discursively framed in relation to the colonial other. This paper explores how the medicalizing discourses of s/m in nineteenth century sexology were mutually constituted with Germany’s coeval imperial expansion and regulation of national identity. I take up the conditions of possibility for the formation of sadism and masochism within psychiatric discourse, such as Germany’s national unification in 1871, Germany’s colonial expansion in East and Southwest Africa from 1884 to 1919, and the exogenous criticisms of Germany’s colonial policy. Such circumstances provided impetus for Germany to define savagery and civility through the regulation of sexual practices within Germany’s national borders. Though s/m is presently most often tied to discourses of imperialism, through shared tropes such as master-slave relationships, flogging, bondage, and collars, I hope to complicate such perspectives by examining the relationships of imperialism and nationalism to psychiatric perspectives on s/m. By conducting a close reading of psychiatric, sexological, and psychoanalytic descriptions of sadism and masochism throughout Germany’s imperialist expansionist era, I argue that the pathologization of s/m was as much about the regulation of Germany’s racial identity as it was about the regulation of sexuality.
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