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Title: Powerful Exchanges: Ritual and Subjectivity in Berlin's BDSM Scene
Authors: Martin, Richard Joseph
Advisors: Borneman, John
Contributors: Anthropology Department
Keywords: agency
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation provides an anthropological account of the BDSM Scene in Berlin, Germany, based on fourteen months of in-depth participant observational field research conducted among practitioners of consensual sadomasochism (SMlers) between May 2008 and July 2009. SMlers enter into "exchanges of power," practicing a kind of hierarchical relationship of dominance and submission, but they do so within the context of a society that officially privileges egalitarianism. The study explores the ways in which SMlers navigate this experiential incommensurability, whereby BDSM practices subvert the ideologies of individualism on which they nonetheless depend. This dissertation, framed as an exegetical ethnography of discursive encounter, centers analysis on the ways in which practices that seem paradoxical in one discursive frame would become intelligible in another, even as contextual considerations prevent such frames from being fully utilized. Thus, the study finds that SMlers' ritual practices are articulated in the language of individualism, a discourse to which ritualism is ordinarily opposed. Furthermore, power exchange is conceivable as a kind of gift relation, but cannot readily be articulated as such because these exchanges occur in contexts where people tend to conceptualize exchange in terms of commodities. Both of these findings have significant implications for the ways in which agency can be understood, drawing attention, ethnographically, to the limits of liberal conceptualizations of the individual. Likewise, SMlers' practices of "play" complicate performative notions of ontology: they disrupt the modernist opposition privileging sincerity over subjunctivity by embracing both of these forms at once.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Anthropology

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