About The Books

Here is information about Lisa’s books, with the most recently published appearing first.

If you buy a book using the links on this page, Lisa will receive commission as an Amazon.co.uk associate. Links to the publisher’s website are also provided in each case. (Links open in new windows.)

Selfish Women by Lisa Downing (Routledge, 2019)

This book proceeds from a single and very simple observation: throughout history, and up to the present, women have received a clear message that we are not supposed to prioritize ourselves. Indeed, the whole question of “self” is a problem for women – and a problem that issues from a wide range of locations, including, in some cases, feminism itself. When women espouse discourses of self-interest, self-regard, and selfishness, they become illegible. This is complicated by the commodification of the self in the recent Western mode of economic and political organization known as “neoliberalism,” which encourages a focus on self-fashioning that may not be identical with self-regard or self-interest. 
Drawing on figures from French, US, and UK contexts, including Rachilde, Ayn Rand, Margaret Thatcher, and Lionel Shriver, and examining discourses from psychiatry, media, and feminism with the aim of reading against the grain of multiple orthodoxies, this book asks how revisiting the words and works of selfish women of modernity can assist us in understanding our fraught individual and collective identities as women in contemporary culture. And can women with politics that are contrary to the interests of the collective teach us anything about the value of rethinking the role of the individual?


View on the Publisher’s website here.

Queering the Second Wave, edited Lisa Downing and Lara Cox (Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

Queering the Second Wave explores a series of unsung – and sometimes counterintuitive – resonances between second-wave feminism and queer theory in both Anglophone and Francophone contexts. It considers the works and ideas of feminists including Monique Wittig, Shulamith Firestone, Andrea Dworkin, Marilyn Frye, Donna Haraway, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Cherríe Moraga as precursors of queer theoretical writings by names such as Judith Butler, José Esteban Muñoz, Lee Edelman, Paola Bacchetta, and Judith Jack Halberstam. While acknowledging some of the problems and blindspots of second-wave politics and writing, we nevertheless seek to challenge the assumption that second-wave feminism is politically outdated or invalid. Instead, we imagine cross-generational and cross-discursive dialogues, and trace a genealogy of influence between the second-wave past and the queer present, while also speculating, in some cases, on previously unimagined queer-feminist futures.


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After Foucault, edited by Lisa Downing (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

The work of Michel Foucault is much read, widely cited, and occasionally misunderstood. In response to this state of affairs, this collection aims to clarify, to contextualize, and to contribute to Foucauldian scholarship in a very specific way. Rather than offering either a conceptual introduction to Foucault’s work, or a series of interventions aimed specifically at experts, After Foucault explores his critical afterlives, situates his work in current debates, and explains his intellectual legacy. As well as offering up-to-date assessments of Foucault’s ongoing use in fields such as literary studies, sexuality studies, and history, chapters explore his relevance for urgent and emerging disciplines and debates, including ecology, animal studies, and the analysis of neoliberalism. Written in an accessible style, by leading experts, After Foucault demonstrates a commitment to taking seriously the work of a key twentieth-century thinker for contemporary academic disciplines, political phenomena, and cultural life.


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Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts by Lisa Downing, Iain Morland, and Nikki Sullivan (University of Chicago Press, 2015)

One of the twentieth century’s most controversial sexologists—or “fuckologists,” to use his own memorable term—John Money was considered a trailblazing scientist and sexual libertarian by some, but damned by others as a fraud and a pervert.  Money invented the concept of gender in the 1950s, yet fought its uptake by feminists. He backed surgical treatments for transsexuality, but argued that gender roles were set by reproductive capacity. He shaped the treatment of intersex, advocating experimental sex changes for children with ambiguous genitalia. He pioneered drug therapy for sex offenders, yet took an ambivalent stance towards pedophilia. In his most publicized case study, Money oversaw the reassignment of David Reimer as female following a circumcision accident in infancy. Heralded by many as proof that gender is pliable, the case was later discredited when Reimer revealed that he had lived as a male since his early teens.

In Fuckology, the authors contextualize and interrogate Money’s writings and practices. The book focuses on his three key diagnostic concepts, “hermaphroditism,” “transsexualism,” and “paraphilia,” but also addresses his lesser-known work on topics ranging from animal behavior to the philosophy of science. The result is a comprehensive collection of new insights for researchers and students within cultural, historical, and gender studies, as well as for practitioners and activists in sexology, psychology, and patient rights.


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The Subject of Murder: Gender Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer by Lisa Downing (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

The subject of murder has always held a particular fascination for us. But, since at least the nineteenth century, we have seen the murderer as different from the ordinary citizen—a special individual, like an artist or a genius, who exists apart from the moral majority, a sovereign self who obeys only the destructive urge, sometimes even commanding cult followings. In contemporary culture, we continue to believe that there is something different and exceptional about killers, but is the murderer such a distinctive type? Are they degenerate beasts or supermen as they have been depicted on the page and the screen? Or are murderers something else entirely?

In The Subject of Murder, Lisa Downing explores the ways in which the figure of the murderer has been made to signify a specific kind of social subject in Western modernity. Drawing on the work of Foucault in her studies of the lives and crimes of killers in Europe and the United States, Downing interrogates the meanings of media and texts produced about and by murderers. Upending the usual treatment of murderers as isolated figures or exceptional individuals, Downing argues that they are ordinary people, reflections of our society at the intersections of gender, agency, desire, and violence.


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Queer in Europe, edited by Lisa Downing and Robert Gillett (Ashgate, now Routledge, 2011)

Queer in Europe takes stock of the intellectual and social status and treatment of queer in the New Europe of the twenty-first century, addressing the ways in which the Anglo-American term and concept ‘queer’ is adapted in different national contexts, where it takes on subtly different overtones, determined by local political specificities and intellectual traditions. Bringing together contributions by carefully chosen experts, this book explores key aspects of queer in a range of European national contexts, namely: Belgium, Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, The Nordic Region, The Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Spain. Rather than prescribing a universalizing definition, the book engages with a wide spectrum of what is meant by ‘queer’, as each chapter negotiates the contested border between direct queer activist action based on identity categories, and more plural queer strategies that call these categories into question. The first volume in English devoted to the exploration of queer in Europe, this book makes an important intervention in contemporary queer studies.


View on the publisher’s website here.

Film and Ethics
Film and Ethics: Foreclosed Encounters by Lisa Downing and Libby Saxton (Routledge, 2009)

Film and Ethics considers a range of films and texts of film criticism alongside disparate philosophical discourses of ethics by Levinas, Derrida, Foucault, Lacanian psychoanalysts and postmodern theorists. While an ethics of looking is implicitly posited in most cinema theory, there is no established body of work that might be called ethical film criticism. This book, therefore, redresses the reluctance of many existing works to address cinema from an explicitly ethical perspective.

Readings range across popular Hollywood films, such as Thelma and Louise, Alfred Hitchcock’s canonical corpus, and films from European and World cinemas, including Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc and the little-known African film Bamako. The book engages with debates concerning censorship and pornography, the ethical implications of ‘positive representation’, the ethics of making and viewing images of atrocity and suffering, and the relationship between ethics and aesthetics. Lisa Downing and Libby Saxton re-invigorate debates in film studies by foregrounding the ethical dimensions of the moving image, and create dialogues between ostensibly incompatible philosophical and political trends of thought without seeking to reconcile their differences.


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The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault by Lisa Downing (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault is essential reading for students in departments of literature, history, sociology and cultural studies. His work on the institutions of mental health and medicine, the history of systems of knowledge, literature and literary theory, criminality and the prison system, and sexuality has had a profound and enduring impact across the humanities and social sciences. This introductory book, written for students, offers in-depth critical and contextual perspectives on all of Foucault’s major published works. It provides ways in to understanding Foucault’s key concepts of subjectivity, discourse, and power and explains the problems of translation encountered in reading Foucault in English. The book also explores the critical reception of Foucault’s works and acquaints the reader with the afterlives of some of his theories, particularly his influence on feminist and queer studies. This book offers the ideal introduction to a famously complex, controversial and important thinker.


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From Perversion to Purity: The Stardom of Catherine Deneuve, edited by Lisa Downing and Sue Harris (Manchester University Press, 2007)

Catherine Deneuve is indisputably one of the world’s most celebrated actresses, both in her native France and throughout the world. Her career has spanned five decades during which she has worked with the most significant of French auteurs, as well as forging partnerships with international directors such as Buñuel and Polanski. The Deneuve star persona has attained such iconic status that it now symbolises the very essence of French womanhood and civic identity. In this wide-ranging and authoritative collection of essays by a selection of international film academics and writers, the Deneuve persona is scrutinised and illuminated. Beyond the glamorous iconographic status of Yves Saint Laurent’s muse, and the epitome of sexual inviolability, Deneuve’s status as actress is foregrounded. The book will be essential reading for students and lecturers in star studies.


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Perversion: Psychoanalytic Perspectives/ Perspectives on Psychoanalysis, edited by Dany Nobus and Lisa Downing (Karnac, now Routledge, 2006)

Perversion – its ubiquity in infantile life and its persistence in the psychical and sexual lives of some adults – was a central element of Freud’s lifelong work. The problem of perversion has since been revisited by many psychoanalytic schools with the result that Freud’s original view of perversion has been replaced by numerous – often contradictory – perspectives on its aetiology, development and treatment. The concept of perversion has also been significant for the disciplines of cultural studies and gender and queer theory, which have explored the creative and dissident powers of perversion, while expressing a suspicion of its operation as a pathological category. This bi-partite collection offers a series of perspectives on perversion by a range of psychoanalytic practitioners and theorists (edited by Dany Nobus), and a selection of papers by scholars who work with, or critique, psychoanalytic theories of perversion (edited by Lisa Downing). It stages a serious dialogue between psychoanalysis and its commentators on the controversial issue of non-normative sexuality.


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Patrice Leconte by Lisa Downing (Manchester University Press, 2004)

Lisa Downing’s comprehensive study of the films of Patrice Leconte, the maverick chameleon of contemporary French cinema, traces lines of continuity and revision through a body of apparently disparate films whose ‘messages’ often appear both contradictory and controversial. Pursuing a close reading of the recurrent themes, styles, intertexts and techniques which structure Leconte’s filmmaking, Downing re-evaluates Leconte’s status as an enigmatic artist offering complex and paradoxical commentary on contemporary questions of sexuality, ethics and identity. She indicates for the first time the ways in which Leconte’s cinematic concerns mirror significant trends in modern and postmodern thought. In the light of her readings, Leconte’s hybridity reappears not as indecision or a lack of substance – as certain critics have argued – but as a valid and challenging ethical and aesthetic strategy. This book is the first full-length critical work in English on Leconte’s cinema. It provides essential reading both for enthusiasts of French cinema and for those fascinated by the relationship between popular culture and ‘high’ theory. Harnessing a critical approach that combines clarity and intellectual rigour, it invites students, researchers and interested filmgoers to consider anew this rich and understudied body of films.


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Desiring The Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature by Lisa Downing (European Humanities Research Centre, University of Oxford, 2003)

During the nineteenth century, literature shared with the medical and psychological sciences a strategy of examining the most extreme manifestations of human desire. In this groundbreaking study, Lisa Downing rescues necrophilia from the margins of sexuality, relocating it as a symptom and pervasive fantasy of modern subjectivity. Drawing case material from the nineteenth-century French canon, the author brings works by Baudelaire and Rachilde into dialogue with foundational European texts of sexology and psychoanalysis. She reads against the grain of traditional Freudian theories of sexuality, of conventions of nineteenth-century literary scholarship and of feminist critiques of the ‘masculine’ morbid aesthetic in order to bring to light a model of desire whose problematic nature afflicts existing discourses about sexuality and gender in nineteenth-century France and beyond.


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