Guest Post: Alumnx Heath Pennington publishes BDSM research

Heath Pennington (MA Performance and Culture, 2013) received their second MA in Gender Studies from Central European University in 2018. Their cross-cultural thesis explores affective bonds around belonging and gender amongst BDSM practitioners in London and Budapest. Their interdisciplinary research interests include affect and queer theories; gender and performance studies; and embodiment. Read more about Heath on their website and ResearchGate.

Heath tells us about their time at Goldsmiths and their current projects:

PenningtonI research at the intersection of performance studies and gender studies, both of which are highly interdisciplinary and interrelated fields. I am interested in exploring performance practices which are often culturally marginalised, such as the performance of pornography, the performance of queerness, and my current area of research, the performance of BDSM. Specifically, I want to understand how these performance practices inform the identities of their practitioners, and if it is possible to move beyond identity, which I see as a divisive discourse, to look at how people form affiliations and affinities along affective, corporeal axes.

The peer-reviewed article, ‘Rope Bondage and Affective Embodiments: a rhizomatic analysis’, was co-written with Iris Ordean, who is doing her PhD at Durham University. I was inspired to collaborate with Iris, whose thesis considers the construction of rope bondage practices in the European imagination, when we both realised that we heard a lot about BDSM and rope bondage specifically as very dogmatic practices.

We both use field research for our scholarship, and people we interviewed often said that they felt there was this idea of a “right way” and a “wrong way” of doing kink. Where safety is concerned, I agree: the right way to do kink is to learn about what you are doing and practice your play safely. But outside of safety considerations, I feel that framing kink in this way limits the kind of growth and learning that can enrich BDSM practices.

Iris and I set out to use Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of a rhizome, a root-like structure with no centre point which can expand outward in any direction, to model a way of understanding rope bondage and kink practices which we feel would help offer an alternative way of seeing, an alternative to the kind of top-down, right/wrong approach. The article is accessible on my ResearchGate page.

In September, I will begin my doctoral studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). I am very pleased to have been named a Chancellor’s Fellow, and will be joining the Theatre and Dance Department as a Theatre Studies PhD student. I’ve been granted six years of funding, and hope to use one of those six years here in the UK working on London-based case studies. Equipped with a doctorate from UCSB, I plan to freelance in arts and culture management and production while involving myself in postdoctoral research and teaching as an academic and sex educator.

Jute-rope-6mm-and-the-marks-it-leaves-on-skins-surface-Photo-courtesy-Pennington.jpg
Jute rope, 6mm, and the marks it leaves on skin’s surface. Photo courtesy Heath Pennington, 2018.

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