Professor Lisa Downing BA, MA (London) DPhil (Oxon)

Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality

Department of Modern Languages: French Studies


Contact details

Ashley Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT


I am Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality. My work is located at the intersection of sexuality and gender studies, cultural studies, and critical theory. My research has a European, especially French, bent and also focuses on comparative European and North American contexts. My most recent publications have been on the gendering, sexualization, and othering of the figure of the murderer, and on the history of ‘perversion’ in Europe and America.


I trained in Modern European languages, literatures and thought, with a specialism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century French culture, and sexuality studies at the Universities of London and Oxford. My DPhil research, carried out under the supervision of the late Professor Malcolm Bowie at Oxford, became the book Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Legenda, 2003). I worked as Lecturer and then Reader at Queen Mary, University of London from 1999-2006, before being appointed to a Professorship in French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Exeter. At Exeter, I founded and directed the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Sexuality and Gender in Europe (CISSGE). I joined the University of Birmingham as Professor, bringing my title with me, in 2012.

In 2009 I was the recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize awarded to ‘outstanding scholars under the age of 36 who have made a substantial contribution to their field of study and whose future contributions are held to be of correspondingly high promise’. This prize provided me with two years of funded research leave from 2010-2012, during which I completed a major monograph, The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer, to be published by Chicago University Press in March 2013, and worked on a co-written book on the legacy of sexologist John Money with Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan. This book, cheekily entitled Fuckology: Essays on John Money's Diagnostic Concepts has just been contracted by Chicago University Press and should appear in 2014.

I am the author or co-author of 6 academic books and over 30 scholarly journal articles and chapters, and the editor of 9 books and special journal issues. In addition to publishing academic research, I write opinion pieces for magazines and newspapers including, most recently, the Times Higher Education. I have occasionally been known to write fiction, and I blog, when time permits, at Sex Critical.


My final year module focuses on the ways in which sexuality was constructed in nineteenth-century French and European culture in a series of inter-related discourses including medicine, the foundational texts of psychoanalysis, social theory, and literature. 

I convene the MRes in Sexuality and Gender Studies. My aim is to develop teaching and research in interdisciplinary sexuality and gender studies at the University of Birmingham.

Postgraduate supervision

At Birmingham, I currently supervise Henrietta Phillips for a thesis in Sexuality and Gender Studies on the cultural myths and narratives surrounding the Moors Murders and Yorkshire Ripper cases.

At my previous institutions, I have supervised numerous PhD students on a wide range of topics, including:

  • female consciousness in the cinema
  • Katherine Mansfield’s reception in France
  • fashion and psychoanalysis
  • the ‘theatre of the absurd’ and Lacanian theories of spectatorship
  • discourses of female masochism from 1880 to the present
  • a genealogy of the ‘pin-up’.

I welcome applications from PhD students in any of my areas of interest (see ‘Research’ below), especially the following:

  • theoretical and cultural studies approaches to crime and criminality
  • historical or contemporary sexuality and gender studies
  • interrogations of feminist, queer, Foucauldian, psychoanalytic, and ethical thought.


I research, or have researched, in the following areas:

History and theories of sexuality and gender; history and politics of sexual ‘perversion’; modern critical theory (particularly ethics, queer theory, and critical approaches to psychoanalysis); feminism, especially the work of Monique Wittig and Shulamith Firestone; cultural approaches to crime and criminality, especially the construction of the figure of the murderer; nineteenth-century French writing and culture; Decadence and the fin de siècle; cinema and media studies, esp. the intersection of film and philosophy; death studies.

Current research:

I am currently working on a project on the history of the ‘perversion’/ ‘paraphilia’ diagnosis from the European nineteenth century to the present day Anglo-American context, with a particular focus on the work of late US sexologist, John Money. This research is funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust which allowed me to undertake archival research at the Kinsey Institute, USA, in March-April 2011, and has been supported by the award of my 2009 Philip Leverhulme prize. One major output of the project is a recently completed co-authored book with Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan, Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts(forthcoming with Chicago University Press in 2014). My broader project also involves work on the newly formulated ‘Paraphilic disorder’diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)(2013). I offer a critical humanities viewpoint on the psychiatric diagnosis and its place in a history of pathologization of non-normative sexuality.

I am in the planning stages of a major interdisciplinary project, to be co-directed with Prof. Tim Dean (SUNY Buffalo), on the historical and contemporary meanings of ‘sexual consent’ and ‘sexual agency’ in comparative European and North American contexts and discourses (literary and cultural, media, philosophical, legal, medical), using the tools of feminist, ethical, and queer theories. In addition to a co-authored book by the two investigators on the concept of consent, the project has numerous strands and  planned outputs:

  • I am particularly interested in teasing out unsung and counter-intuitive resonances between the way agency is modeled in deconstructive queer theory and radical feminist theory.
  • I envisage a short monograph, comparing the work of radical, anti-reproductive American feminist Shulamith Firestone and proto-queer materialist French feminist Monique Witting. The book will consider the ongoing personal and political legacies of their writings, as they pertain to questions of female and queer agency and subjectivity.

Other activities

I have been a member of the AHRC's Peer Review College for the following subjects: Gender and Sexuality;  Film History, Theory, Criticism; Media and Communication; French Studies.

I am a Research Affiliate at the Centre for the History of European Discourses (CHED) at the University of Queensland, Australia.

I am a Research Associate of the Centre for Somatechnics, which originated at Macquarie University, Australia, and is now hosted at the University of Arizona, USA.

I was a founding member of the Executive Committee of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, a UK-based organisation for international researchers in nineteenth-century French Studies. I held the position of Conference Officer from 2001-2006.

I am an editor of Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory. I sit on the editorial boards of Psychology and Sexuality and Journal of the International Network of Sexual Ethics and Politics I sit on the peer review board of Studies in French Cinema.

I co-organize Critical Sexology, with Dr Meg Barker (Open University) and Dr Robert Gillett(Queen Mary, University of London). This is an interdisciplinary seminar series for psychologists, psychoanalysts, medical doctors, literary and cultural studies scholars, sociologists, philosophers, artists, lawyers and historians with a critical interest in the construction and management of gender and sexuality in the medical, discursive and cultural spheres. I also co-moderate the Critical Sexology mailing list and manage the website

I live in London, where I am widely involved in gender and sexualities activism.

See also:

My blog "Sex Critical":

Author site:

Personal research page:

Wikipedia page:


Authored Books

Edited Books

Edited Conference Proceedings

Guest Edited Special Issues of Journals

  • Downing, Lisa (ed.), Special Issue of Psychology and Sexualityon 'Sex Blogging', 3:1, 2012.
  • Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett (eds), Special Issue of Sexualities, on 'European Culture/ European Queer', 15:1, 2012.
  • Cryle, Peter and Lisa Downing (eds), Special Issue of Psychology and Sexualityon 'Nature and Normality in the History of Sexuality', 1:3, 2010.
  • Cryle, Peter and Lisa Downing (eds), Special Issue of Journal of the History of Sexuality, on 'Feminine Sexual Pathologies', 18:1, 2009.

Articles in Refereed Journals

  • Downing, Lisa 'Safewording!: Kinkphobia and Gender Normativity in Fifty Shades of Grey', Psychology and Sexuality, 2013, 4:1, 2013, 92-102.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Gendered Constructions of the Nightmare in French Nineteenth-Century Medical Writing and Fantastic Fiction', French Studies, 66:3, 2012, 331-346.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Interdisciplinarity, Cultural Studies, Queer: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Contentions in France', Paragraph, Special Issue on 'Queer Theory's Return to France', ed. Oliver Davis and Hector Kolias, 35: 2, 2012, 215-232.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Notes on a Proto-Queer Rachilde: Decadence, Deviance and (Reverse) Discourse in La Marquise de Sade', Sexualities, Special Issue on 'European Culture/ European Queer', ed. Lisa Downing and Robert Gillett, 15:1, 2012,16-27.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Reading Bitchy Jones's Diary: Sex-Blogging, Community-Building and Feminism(s)', Psychology and Sexuality, Introduction to a Special Section of a Special Issue on 'Sex Blogging', 3:1, 2012, 5-11.
  • Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett, 'Georges Bataille at the Avant-garde of Queer Theory?: Trangression, Perversion and Death Drive', Nottingham French Studies, Special Issue on 'The French Avant-garde', ed. Stephen Forcer and Emma Wagstaff, 50:3, 2011, 86-100.
  • Downing, Lisa, ‘On the Fantasy of Childlessness as Death in Psychoanalysis and in Roeg’s Don’t Look Nowand von Trier’s Antichrist’, Lambda Nordica, 2:3, 2011, 49-68.
  • Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett, 'Viewing Critical Psychology through the Lens of Queer', Psychology and Sexuality, Special Issue on 'Queer(y)ing Psychology', ed. Peter Hegarty, 2:1, 2011, 4-15.
  • Gillett, Robert and Lisa Downing, 'The Translation of Deployment/ The Deployment of Translation: The dispositifin Foucault, his Exegetes and his Translators', In Other Words: The Journal for Literary Translators,Special Issue on 'Translating Queers/ Queering Translation', ed. B. J. Epstein, No. 36, 2010, 40-53.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'John Money's "Normophilia": Diagnosing Sexual Normality in Late-Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Sexology', Psychology and Sexuality, Special Issue on 'The Natural and The Normal in the HIstory of Sexuality' ed. Peter Cryle and Lisa Downing, 1:3, 2010, 275-87.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Murder in the Feminine: Madame Lafarge and the Sexualization of the Nineteenth-Century Criminal Woman' Journal of the History of Sexuality, Special Issue on 'Feminine Sexual Pathologies' ed. Peter Cryle and Lisa Downing, 18:1, 2009, 121-37.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Reviewing the Sexual Relation: Levinas and Fim', Film-Philosophy,Special Issue on 'The Occluded Relation: Levinas and Cinema’, ed. Sarah Cooper, 11:2, 2007, 49-65.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Baise-moior the Ethics of the Desiring Gaze', Nottingham French Studies, special issue on 'Focalizing the Body: Recent Women's Writing and Filmmaking in France' ed. Gill Rye and Carrie Tarr, 45:3, 2006, 52-65.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'The Birth of the Beast: Death-Driven Masculinity in Monneret, Zola and Freud', Dix-Neuf, fully refereed online journal of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, no. 5, 2005, 28-46.
  • Downing, Lisa and Dany Nobus (co-authored ), 'The Iconography of Asphyxiophilia: From Fantasmatic Fetish to Forensic Fact', Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, 27:3, 2004, 1-15.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'French Cinema's New Sexual Revolution: Postmodern Porn and Troubled Genre', French Cultural Studies, Special Issue on 'New Directions in French Cinema' ed. Sue Harris, 15:3, 2004, 265-80.
  • Downing, Lisa,'The Measure of Sexual Dysfunction: A Plea for Theoretical Limitlessness', Transformations: Region, Culture, Society, special issue on 'Regions of Sexuality', ed. Iain Morland and Wendy O'Brien no. 8, 2004.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Aesthetic Violence and Motiveless Murder in French Decadent Fiction', French Studies, 58:2, 2004, 189-204.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'On the Limits of Sexual Ethics: The Phenomenology of Autassassinophilia', Sexuality and Culture, 8:1, 2004, 3-17.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Death and the Maidens: A Century of Necrophilia in Female-Authored Textual Production', French Cultural Studies, 14:2, 2003, 157-168.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Between Men and Women; Beyond Heterosexuality: Limits and Possibilities of the Erotic in Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed and Patrice Leconte'sLa Fille sur le pont',Romance Studies, University of Swansea, 20:1, 2002, 29-40.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Feminist Fictions of the Flesh (?): Alina Reyes's Le Boucherand Rachilde's La Marquise de Sade', Journal of Romance Studies, 2:1, 2002, 51-64.

Book Chapters

  • Downing, Lisa, 'Snuff and Nonsense: The Discursive Life of an Imaginary Archive', in Porn Archives, ed. Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky & David Squires (Durham and London: Duke University Press, forthcoming, 2013).
  • Downing, Lisa, '"Straight" Necrophilia as a "Queer" Perversion' in Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed', in Tainted Love; Screening Sexual Perversities, ed. Darren Kerr and Donna Perbedy (London: I B Tauris, forthcoming, 2013).
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Perversion and the Problem of Fluidity and Fixity' in Clinical Encounters: Psychoanalytic Practice and Queer Theory, ed. Noreen Giffney and Eve Watson (London and New York: Routledge, forthcoming, 2012/13).
  • Downing Lisa, 'On "Compuslory Sexuality", Sexualization, and History', Commissioned Afterword for The Routledge History of Sex and the Body in the West, 1500 to the Present, ed. Sarah Toulalan and Kate Fisher (London and New York: Routledge, forthcoming, 2012).
  • Downing, Lisa ‘Sexual Perversion as Textual Resistance in the Writing of Rachilde and Monique Wittig’ in Modernist Eroticisms, ed. Anna Katharina Schaffner and Shane Weller (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, in press, 2012).
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Eros and Thanatos in European and American Sexology' in Bodies, Sex and Desire from the Renaissance to the Present,ed. Kate Fisher and Sarah Toulalan (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 201-220.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Sexual Variations' in Sexuality in the Age of Empire (1820-1920), ed. Chiara Beccalossi and Ivan Crozier, vol. 5 of A Cultural History of Sexuality,general ed. Julie Peakman (Oxford: Berg, 2011), 63-81.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Michel Foucault' in The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory, ed. Robert Eaglestone (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Criminality, Sexuality, Abnormality: Nineteenth-Century Scientific Constructions' in New Approaches to Crime in French Literature, Culture and Film, ed. Louise Hardwick, (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), 19-33.
  • Downing, Lisa,‘Beyond Safety: Erotic Asphyxiation and the Limits of S/M Discourse' in Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism ed. Darren Langridge and Meg Barker (Palgrave, 2007), 119-32.
  • Downing, Lisa,'Polanski's Deneuve: Frigidity and Feminism' in From Perversion to Purity: The Stardom of Catherine Deneuve, edited Lisa Downing and Sue Harris (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 14-28.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Perversion, Historicity, Ethics ' inPerversion: Psychoanalytic Perspectives/ Perspectives on Psychoanalysis, edited Dany Nobus and Lisa Downing (London and New York: Karnac Books, 2006), 149-163.
  • Downing, Lisa,'Thanatos' , 'Necrophilia', 'Erotic Asphyxiation', 'Charles Baudelaire', 'Pétrus Borel', in Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature, ed. Gaëtan Brulotte and John Phillips (London and New York: Taylor and Francis, 2006).
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Sexuality' in Companion to Modern French Thought, ed. Christopher John Murray (London and New York: Taylor and Francis, 2004), 582-7.
  • Downing, Lisa, ''Ecstasies and Agonies: The 'Oceanic Feeling', God and Sexuality in Baudelaire and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam' in (Un)Faithful Texts: Religion in French and Francophone Literature from the 1780s to the 1980s, ed. Paul Cooke and Jane Lee (New Orleans: University Press of the South, 2000) 53-66.

Review Articles (over 1500 words)

  • Downing, Lisa, Review of Mandy Merck and Stella Sandford (eds), Further Adventures ofThe Dialectic of Sex: Critical Essays on Shulamith Firestone(New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010) in Studies in the Maternal, 4:1, 2012.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Object-Become-Subject: When Femmes Look Back', Review of Del LaGrace Volcano and Ulrika Dahl, Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities(London: Serpent's Tale, 2008) in SQS - Journal of Queer Studies in Finland, 5:1, 2011, 63-65.
  • Downing, Lisa, Review of Rothenberg, Foster and Zizek (eds), Perversion and the Social Relation (Duke University Press, 2003) in Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 36:1, 2007,127-28.
  • Downing, Lisa, Review of Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality(Chicago University Press, 2000) in Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 34: 2, 2005, 255-57.

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