The Globalization of Sexuality
Sage Publications, London
Jon Binnie's book is an attempt to bring together and, in some cases, critique scholarly writing about the interconnections between globalization, sexuality, capitalism and the nation-state. The author wants to trouble a series of popular and academic orthodoxies, such as the assumption of economic privilege amongst Western queers and, in particular, the ideas that the West is a necessarily less homophobic place than anywhere else and that 'enlightened' Western attitudes towards queers are a product of their inevitable historical 'development'. Above all, Binnie wants us never to lose sight of the particular in considering the experience of dissident sexualities around the world. He draws on a wide range of empirical work in order to argue that differences exist between and within Western and non-Western countries, that the actions of individual nation states still matter and that global events like the AIDS pandemic and (both forced and non-forced) migration can have unexpected and context specific outcomes.
It is with this important material in mind that I have to sadly report that Binnie's final product is one of the more poorly structured, written and edited academic text I have come across in some time. It would be mean spirited of me to harp too much on the constant flow of typos which, after all, may not be entirely the author's fault. All of us who have dealt with academic publishers know that deadlines are tight, resources stretched and sometimes books see the light of day in less than perfect shape.
However, I am inclined to be less charitable about the minimal use of paragraph breaks in the book which, from beginning to end, present the reader with huge sections of unbroken text (sometimes as long as three pages). Although the main text is only 150 pages, it felt far longer.
What is more frustrating and the thing that does most damage to the book's academic value is the lack of care in its literary and conceptual composition. Binnie writes in an excruciatingly repetitive style. Particular arguments are constantly and needlessly rehashed throughout the book, almost as if the author is unaware that they have already been made. The repetition often occurs within paragraphs and the following bewildering passage is typical:
In many instances HIV/AIDS is seen as a threat to the sovereignty of the state. Many states are unable to cope with the pandemic thereby threatening a crisis of legitimation. AIDS reinforces the interconnectivity of social relations, and also threatens to collapse social scales, as it is as threat to the boundaries of the body. For Dennis Altman (1999) and Doug Porter (1997), AIDS represents a threat to the sovereignty of the nation-state. AIDS is deeply implicated in the way we think about globalization, specifically in terms of the politics of spatial scale and the threat to national sovereignty. (p. 109)
My final whinge is that I was not able to detect any kind of narrative or conceptual progression across the book. Each chapter, and often sections within chapters, seems to start from a point, which has little to do with what came before it. While I enjoyed a number of Binnie's pleasantly counter-intuitive views and his obvious knowledge of the relevant empirical literature, the book advances no over-arching arguments and no sense that any part should be read before any other. My overwhelming sense was of a kind of academic stream of consciousness, stimulating in parts but, spread over 150 pages, a formidable endurance test.
Binnie's discussions of the various 'centrisms' - be they American, European, urban, male, hetero or English speaking – in postcolonial and queer theory is extremely valuable and would profitably be read by anyone looking for critiques of these literatures. These are examples of worthwhile parts in a book which, at least to me, looked a few revisions away from a finished whole.
Leeds Metropolitan University