Event Preview: Power Flip

Wednesday 29 January – 13.00-15.00 – OC1.07 (Oculus Building, main campus)

Our next session, in collaboration with the Centre for the History of Medicine, will be entitled ‘Power Flip: Examining the Personal Archive of a Bisexual Homosexual Aversion Therapist’. The session will be led by Kate Davison, PhD student at the University of Melbourne. Kate’s work focuses on the history of sexology in the Cold War period.

This session will discuss a previously unexplored historical source – the private papers of psychiatrist Dr. Neil McConaghy. McConaghy was an internationally renowned practitioner of homosexual aversion therapy. His papers detail the academic, medical, and personal life of a psychologist, sexologist, and bisexual man. This session asks what can happen when the historical gaze is directed on the powerful observer rather than his subject? How can the McConaghy papers change the way archives of power are understood? What constitutes a ‘queer’ archive? The ethics of presenting this information to the general public in an exhibition will also be examined.

After Kate’s paper, there will be an opportunity for further questions and discussion.

Refreshments will be provided and we hope to see you there!


Kate’s paper was one of several submissions we accepted from our Call For Participation at the start of the 2019-20 academic year. We received some fantastic responses for both seminars/sessions and blog posts – keep an eye out for these across the rest of the year! And, if you would like to put forward an idea, keep an eye out for future Calls For Participation or email us directly: queerhistory@warwick.ac.uk

In her application to the CFP, Kate described her proposal as follows:

In December 2015 I discovered the previously unseen personal papers of the Australian psychiatrist Dr. Neil McConaghy (1927-2005). Between 1964-1981 McConaghy was an internationally renowned practitioner of homosexual aversion therapy, conducting 5 large-scale clinical experiments and treating more than 200 men. The material, on private loan to me by his daughter, amounts to 16 archive boxes. It includes film reels and an electrode machine, audio tape recordings, copies of landmark speeches (such as his paper to the historic APA conference in San Francisco in 1970) as well as handwritten log-books. These contain names of men who were treated, their Kinsey scores, and other information about their sexual behaviour and feelings. This is an archive of the psychiatrist and sexologist – a taxonomer, the one in control of definitions of others, the chief investigator, the scrutiniser, the representative of power and the medical establishment. It is also the archive of a man – it contains personal information about his interests, feelings, thoughts, and his bisexuality. This casts a complex light on his life’s work. What happens when we flip the spotlight from the subjects of such powerful observers onto the observers themselves? This paper outlines some of the ways in which the McConaghy Papers can change the way we consider the archives of power and prompt us to rewrite histories of psychiatrists’ interactions with pathologised sexualities and to reconsider what constitutes a ‘queer archive’. I also consider some of the ethical issues that may shape a future exhibition of this material. 

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