Weiss, Margot. Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. xv + 315 pages. Paper, 24.95.
In Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality, anthropologist Margot Weiss argues that sexuality cannot be divorced from social location. Her book is the product of ethnographic fieldwork she conducted in San Francisco among the heterosexual BDSM (bondage/discipline/dominance/submission/sadomasochism) community in and around the Bay Area in the early 2000s. Combining semi-structured interviews with participant observation, Weiss examines how "becoming an SM [variant of BDSM] practitioner, even if imagined to spring from a core or essential desire, requires self- mastery and self-knowledge that is bound to community rules, techniques, and perspectives" (p. 10). The neoliberalism of late capitalism structures, she asserts, the ways in which people create and experience sexuality in this particular community.
In the past, BDSM has been treated as either hegemonic or subversive, reproducing and reinforcing relationships of unequal power based on historical circumstance, such as race or gender, or alternatively questioning the nature of those same relationships by standing them on their heads. Weiss charts a middle course for understanding BDSM, discussing the ways in which sexuality completes the circuit between material circumstances and ideology. The results of BDSM rely on the social position of both the actors and the audience.
What may be most surprising to readers with little exposure to BDSM is the composition of the group, which is overwhelmingly white, professional, and heterosexual. Weiss traces how BDSM, once the purview of outlaw gay male bikers and other marginalized groups, has evolved into a leisure pursuit of middle-class Americans. She argues that the shifting demographics in the community reflect the larger gentrification of the Bay Area. Additionally, the author outlines how consumerism and capitalism mediate people's experience of sexuality through the proliferation of specialty equipment considered necessary to be a competent participant in BDSM.
Weiss's arguments rely heavily on a vast literature pulled from anthropology, political science, psychology, sociology, and queer studies. This synthesis of various perspectives compels the reader to examine assumptions about sexuality and consumption. Tying all of these viewpoints together is neoliberalism and its place...