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Policing Sexuality: Sex, Society and the State

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Policing Sexuality takes a look at the question of why and how states impose restrictions on the sexual and gender expressions and identities of their citizens. Author Julien C. H. Lee was first drawn to these questions through his participation in CSBR’s international comparative research on the causes of rising conservatism and moral policing of sexuality in Muslim societies.

The author presents both theoretical and ethnographic literature, distilling common themes and causes and presenting factors that contribute towards a state’s desire to control both the sexual behavior and sexual identity of its citizens, such as the influence of colonialism, class, religion, and national identity. This book features five crucial case studies from India, Britain, the USA, Malaysia, and Turkey. Policing Sexuality illuminates this fascinating study with comparative accounts.

Written in an accessible style, the book seeks “to give activists seeking to advance sexuality-related rights–but who may not be familiar with the academic literature related to it–an introduction to the field of sexuality studies, insights into how and why States seek to police sexuality, and reflections on ways and contexts surrounding attempts to advance those rights.” (Introduction, p. 2).

Order copies from Zed Books, and preview the Introduction from Zed Books here.



‘Policing the body politic always entails sequestering the body sexual; the questions are only how and why, exactly where and when. This trans-regional examination of the different, and always self-contradictory, modalities of sexual state control and self-control is a treasure chest. Authors from Michel Foucault to Judith Butler would pawn one of their books to read this one: a combination of socio-cultural anatomies with humanist thinking. The anthropological wealth and comparative sociological imagination of this painstaking, yet amazingly easy-to-read book are scholarship at its best: accessible but never simplifying, liberating but never patronizing.’

– Gerd Baumann, University of Amsterdam, author of Contesting Culture (1996), The Multicultural Riddle (1999) and Grammars of Identity / Alterity: A Structural Approach (2005)


‘In a moment when state policies seeking to regulate sexual expression have emerged under many cultural and religious banners, affecting a wide range of sexual subjects, Julian Lee gives us an invaluable map to understand this moral policing more clearly and comprehensively.

Policing Sexuality is exceptional among recent works on sexuality, gender and public policy in providing a rich comparative analysis across five major country contexts encompassing both South and North. Lee’s eye for complexity along with his gift for lucid, straightforward prose illuminates “the evolutionary nature of sexuality rights and empowerment” and shows why we must never view culture as static or given nor human rights as sufficient without political struggle.’

– Rosalind P. Petchesky, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; author, Global Prescriptions: Gendering Health and Human Rights (2003); Sexuality, Health and Human Rights (with Sonia Corrêa and Richard Parker, 2008)

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