The Everyday Sexual Self in Late Modern Life

Author: Priscilla Dunk-West

Dunk-West, Priscilla, 2012 The Everyday Sexual Self in Late Modern Life, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


This research, which seeks to better understand the everyday sexual self in late modernity, rests within the theoretical orientation developed by George Herbert Mead in which sociality constitutes the self. There is a clear sociological tradition that argues that Mead's scholarship about the self provides a coherent account of constitutive social interaction and applies it to sexual self-making. Data from this study resonate with this argument. Whilst scholars of late modernity highlight some of the key shifts present in contemporary life, their claims are overstated and problematically dichotomise tradition and post-tradition to the detriment of a deeper understanding of these concepts. Other scholars argue that the contemporary world has become so complex and lives so transitory that it is no longer relevant to think about the individual and society as separate from one another. In this new scheme of seemingly liquid social conditions, it is argued that the sexual self has become a key part of reflection on the past, present and future, and that studies of the everyday ought not inform theory. In this thesis, I argue against these positions and instead demonstrate that the application of Mead is vital to better understanding the everyday sexual self in late modern social life. Using an inductive tradition data were obtained through in depth interviews with thirty men and women (n=30) aged between thirty and sixty-five years of age, the data highlight factors that generate increased opportunities for sexual self-making. In particular, participants cited specific biographical events such as experiences gained through engagement with others in employment and travel, as well as relationships with significant others as transformatory for the sexual self because they provided new opportunities for sexual self-making. Participants in this study noted the constraining effects of social inequality. The overall finding of this study is that the sexual self in late modernity is 'made' through social processes. Whilst agency may be theorised through the engagement in playful learning and imaginative accounts of the perspectives of the generalised other, ultimately sexual self-making is constrained by social and cultural scripts. It is vital to extend Mead's theory of sociality to sexual self-making, his notion of play to adulthood and to critically understand the intersections between biography, spatiality and temporality to adequately theorise the everyday sexual self in late modernity.

Keywords: everyday sexuality,late modernity,self,GH Mead,sociology,identity

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2012
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Professor Anthony Elliott