Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Ania Loomba


This dissertation reconfigures the historiography of modern sexology from the vantage point of colonial India. It argues that India’s encounter with the racist scientific and literary infrastructures of sexology engendered taxonomies of Indian sexual life that were grounded not in liberal understandings of subjectivity but in non-liberal grammars of racial excess. Routing the history of sexology and sexuality through the global circulation of literary and scientific forms at the turn-of-the-20th-century, I contend that while the “invention” of sexuality in Europe was enabled by iconic confessional genres like the case history, the autobiography, the novel, and the questionnaire, these genres played an oversized role in defining sexuality because they undergirded individualized liberal personhood. In colonial India, however, even as modern sexology developed from the late 19th century onwards, confessional scientific genres like the case history and the questionnaire, and parallel individualizing literary genres like the autobiography and the novel were perceived as lacking by both colonial and Indian elites because of supposedly collectivist and irrational “native” models of thought, expression, and kinship. I position this orientalist discourse of absence as an enabling fiction, one which allowed the modern Western European deviant to be read as qualitatively different from his Indian counterpart, fulsome in an individuality that was seen to be missing in the latter. Because of this presumed difference, European categories of sexual deviance—whether the homosexual, the couple, the child, or the hysteric—were not mimetically reproduced in India. Nor was an overarching Western binary between the homosexual and heterosexual seen to operate in India. Rather, a more elementary schism emerged between colonial and select bourgeois Indian elites who claimed the authority to recount sexual “truth” within these confessional genres and a litany of subaltern deviants whom they rendered untruthful, reticent, or voiceless. These latter were almost entirely represented in racialized cartographic, ethnographic, corporeal, photographic, and statistical terms, producing a modern sexological grammar that privileged “exteriority” over “interiority” as the hallmark of Indian sexual subjectivity.


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