Sexualities and Social Control, c.1885- c.1980 ESH4079

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

This course is concerned with examining the development of distinct sexual identities over the course of the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century, and the ways in which these were scrutinised, regulated and experienced. It examines why certain sexual practices fell under the gaze of the law and tracks diverse but interlinked processes which sought to criminalise, medicalise and pathologise 'deviant' sexualities in Britain. The course will also consider the impact of international approaches to human sexuality, such as the rise of sexology in continental Europe, and what impact these specialisms had upon attitudes within Britain. Some of the issues which will be addressed are: the legal frameworks of punishing and regulating sexual identities; how class and gender impacted sexual lives; how medical knowledge acted as both a regulator and liberator of sexualities; and how law reform dealt with the thorny issue of homosexuality. The course will engage with legal, social, political, medical and religious attitudes to diverse sexualities.


Weekly lecture (1 hour) and weekly seminar (1 hour).



Please note this course does not run every session. For further information please check the ESH Moodle page.

Requirements of Entry

Enrolment in an MA (SocSci) or MA (Arts) Honours Programme

Excluded Courses





35% - One essay (2000 words, excluding bibliography) chosen from a list of questions linked to seminar/lecture theme 1)


30% - One primary source report project (1500 words excluding bibliography) chosen from a list of topics linked to course lecture topics


35% - One essay (2000 words, excluding bibliography) chosen from a list of questions linked to seminar/lecture themes 2 or 3)

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable for Honours courses

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

■ Encourage a critical sexualities approach to Scottish and British nineteenth and twentieth century social and cultural history, utilising broader international literature on understanding of sexuality and gender theory

■ Develop critical awareness of the regulation of sexualities, which shaped intimate and public lives, life-courses and sexual identities across the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and across place and space

Encouraging students to think about sexuality in relation to power and privilege, class and gender, place and space.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the different theoretical and methodological approaches to the history of sexuality

2. Show ability to critically assess the impact of economic, social and cultural changes on the experiences of diverse sexualities from the nineteenth century within and beyond national boundaries.

3. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the experiences of both women and men in the period in Scotland and Britain, across class, place and space.

4. Using a range of historiographical and theoretical writings, drawn from international literature, and primary sources, capturing Scottish and British experience, to debate and analyse attitudes to human sexuality in domestic and public spaces; in science and medicine; collective organisation and law reform; health, sexuality and reproduction.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.