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Sexual Nature? (Re)presenting Sexuality and Science in the Museum

Lock, SJ; Voss, G; Cassidy, A; (2016) Sexual Nature? (Re)presenting Sexuality and Science in the Museum. Science As Culture , 25 (2) pp. 214-238. 10.1080/09505431.2015.1120284. Green open access

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Abstract

The past 15 years have seen dramatic changes in social norms around sex and sexuality in the UK and worldwide. In 2011, the London Natural History Museum (NHM) contributed to these debates byopening the temporary exhibition Sexual Nature, which aimed to provide ‘a candid exploration of sex in the natural world’ whilst also drawing in an under-represented audience of young adults. Sexual Nature provides an opportunity to explore MacDonald’s ‘politics of display’ in the mutual construction of (public) scientific knowledge, society and sexuality, at a time of intense contestation over sexual norms. Whilst Sexual Nature both reflected and contributed to major reframings of sexuality and what science can say about it, the assumption that it would be possible to present this topic as morally neutral, reliable and uncontested, in line with traditions of public science, proved to be problematic. The language of the exhibition moved back and forth between human/animal similarity and difference, and between scientific and cultural tropes as the NHM tried to maintain epistemic authority whilst also negotiating the moral boundaries of acceptable sexual behaviour. The topic of sex pushed the museum far beyond its usual expertise in the natural sciences towards the unfamiliar territory of the social and human, resulting in an ad hoc search for, and negotiation with, alternative sources of expertise. Boon et al’s co-curation approach to exhibition building has the potential to extend the NHM’s audience driven strategy, whilst also producing a more coherent and nuanced exhibition about the science of sex.

Type: Article
Title: Sexual Nature? (Re)presenting Sexuality and Science in the Museum
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2015.1120284
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09505431.2015.1120284
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Science as Culture on 15 April 2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/09505431.2015.1120284.
Keywords: natural history, animal studies, science in public, museums, sex, sexuality
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Science and Technology Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1475706
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