Lisa Downing is an author, academic, and cultural critic who is currently Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, UK.
Lisa’s writing is deliberately at odds with the ideas of disciplinary limitation and narrow specialization. In all of her books and articles, she brings a sensitivity to language, acquired during her background training in literary theory, together with an indefatigable critical interest in cultural and historical understandings of perceived (ab)normality, extremity, and exceptionality – especially as they pertain to sexuality and gender. This enduring interest is visible in her studies of the so-called sexual perversions/ paraphilias (see here, here and here); in her writing on violent and ‘unnatural’ women, such as female murderers; and in her recently completed monograph on those selfish women who espouse a philosophy of self-interest or of individualism (see here, here, and here). This critical concern with the status of norms also explains why the philosopher of ‘normative power,’ Michel Foucault, has featured so prominently as a theoretical constant in Lisa’s work (see here and here). Finally, her writing is committed to and characterized by an individualistic feminist ethic which strives to see female subjects always as flawed, full human beings, outside of the straitjacket of sex-role stereotypes.
Lisa’s current research and writing are focused in two areas:
‘(S)extremism’: Building on the ideas explored in the monograph
Selfish Women and her other recent publications, the project undertakes
an extended exploration and problematization of the expected relationship
between categories of identity and political affiliation. The concept of
‘(s)extremism’ describes the set of cultural understandings brought to bear on
women who express ‘extreme’ views or who commit acts of (political/
‘Against Affect’: This project explores the ways in which the so-called ‘affective turn’ within the academic humanities has coincided with a cultural shift in public discourse concerning reason, feeling, freedom of expression, and identity. Lisa argues for a feelings-free, pro-rational feminist response to the ills of populism, identity politics-based factionalism, and anti-intellectualism. This project will lead to the production of a short, polemical manifesto.
In addition to publishing academic research, Lisa undertakes public engagement, including working with artists, such as her ongoing collaboration with Navine G. Khan-Dossos (see here and here), and dialoguing with medical practitioners on her areas of expertise. She broadcasts, writes opinion pieces for magazines and newspapers, and contributes to non-academic publications. She has occasionally been known to write fiction, and she blogs when time permits at Sex Critical. To relax, Lisa takes photographs of landscapes, the coast, and animals. Her photographs can be viewed at her online gallery here.