Kinsey : Still relevant after all these years?

Alfred Kinsey’s (1894-1956) famous mid-20th century sex survey was one of the most influential pieces of social scientific research ever conducted.  The two ‘Kinsey Reports’ (Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, published in 1948 and Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female, published in 1953) sold in the hundreds of thousands and their findings – particularly on pre- and extra-marital sex but also on homosexual practices – sent shock waves through North American public life.  Such was the impact of Kinsey’s work that it can be said to have fed directly into the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s and helped lay the ground for the women’s and gay liberation movements. Although justly celebrated, the survey has become the object of considerable scholarly re-evaluation in recent decades.   For instance, Kinsey began his study before probability sampling became a standard feature of quantitative survey research and his approach to sampling  throws fascinating light on the politics of social science research and the gains – and losses – that probability sampling brought in its wake. Equally, it is arguable that Kinsey’s work helped shape later notions of ‘sexual identity’ – notions that in fact contradict his findings.  What then is the legacy of Kinsey’s survey and what can it tell us about social scientific research and its relationship to wider social change? In answering these questions, the paper draws on and extends aspects of my chapter in the DD206 module book, The Uses of Social Science.

Presentation time: 
Tuesday, 1 July, 2014 - 18:30

Peter Redman

Photo of Peter Redman

Peter Redman chairs DD308 ‘Making Social Worlds’ and was a member of the production team for DD206 ‘The Uses of Social Science’. Peter works in the Sociology Department, and edits the journal Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society.