Emeritus Professors

Professor Ken Plummer

Telephone3053 (non Essex users should add 01206-87 to the beginning of this number)

I arrived at Essex in January 1975 to teach social psychology and the sociology of deviance. The following year I also started a long standing link with the Sociology Department at the University of California at Santa Barbara where I also taught for many years. Over the years, I have held many roles at Essex including Graduate Director and Head of Department; and have researched and written widely on sexuality (especially lesbian and gay studies, and since the late 1980's, queer studies). My main interests have always been in the development of a humanistic method and theory to help towards a better social world where there will be less socially produced suffering. My methodological concerns have been with the development of narrative, life story, symbolic interactionism and the post-modern turn. My approach is that of a critical humanist.

I am still young in heart, but sadly felt the need to retire in 2006, requiring transplant surgery in 2007.  Recovering well, I now have quite a few books in me to write, and look forward to a continuous engagement with a wonderful department, continuing to see students – undergraduate and graduate - whenever I can.


BA PhD (London)

Research interests

My main current interests are:

  • Humanism – its links to sociology, and its theories and tools for examining social life. I am concerned with the ways in which humans create little social worlds and how  these change.
  • Intimacies and sexualities- my old interests remain and centre mainly around editing the journal Sexualities. I am concerned with the ways in which the personal dwells in the social.
  • The sociologies of 'suffering' and 'well being' – a very wide ranging interest in then 'bad news' and the 'good news'. I am concerned with the terrible things we do to each other, and yet also the ways we can develop astonishingly rich social life worlds.
  • Medicine, narratives and transplants – after transplant surgery in 2007, I am thinking about the nature of illness. I am concerned with the ways in which illness must partially be seen as narrative and, sometimes, as an opportunity.
  • Sociology - still crazy after all these years. Shorn of a lot of parochialisms, sociology is a fine way to see lives and for creating thinking people. I am concerned to keep the buzz going that I got from it forty years ago, and to do this via my textbook!
Teaching responsibilities

I have also had a long standing interest in the teaching of introductory sociology, having taught the first year at Essex for eighteen years and produced the textbook with John Macionis, Sociology: A Global Introduction (3rd ed 2005; 4th edition 2008). Written or edited around 15 books and over a hundred articles, including Sexual Stigma (1975), The Making of the Modern Homosexual ed (1981), Symbolic Interactionism Vols 1 & 2 (1991), Modern Homosexualities: Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experience (1992), Chicago Sociology : Critical Assessments (1997: 4 volumes); Telling Sexual Stories (1995), Sexualities (2002: 4 volumes), Documents of Life-2: An invitation to a critical humanism (2001) and Intimate Citizenship (2003). In 1996, I set up the journal Sexualities and remain its editor.


Amongst some recent publications are:


Intimate Citizenship: Personal Decisions and Public Dialogues (University of Washington Press, 2003) p xii pp187.

Sexualities: Critical Concepts in Sociology  (2001)  4 Volumes, Routledge: London ( An edited collection with critical assessments in four volumes with introductions and commentaries: Vol 1 p21-422; Vol 2 p1-526; Vol3 p 1-400; Vol 4 p1-27).

4th edition of  Sociology: A Global Introduction, with John Macionis (Pearson Education, forthcoming 2008)

Criminology: A Sociological Introduction(with Carrabine, Lee, Iganski and South) (Routledge, [April] 2004)


'Intimate Inequalities'  in The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities edited by Mary Romero & Judith Howard (Blackwell, 2005)

'Queer Theory and Critical Humanism' for 3rd edition of Handbook of Qualitative Research edited by Norman K Denzin and Yvonne Lincoln (2005).

'Social Worlds, Social Change and The New Sexualities Theories' in Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Loraine Gelsthorpe, Martin Johnson and Andrew Bainham eds Sexuality Repositioned: Diversity and the Law. (Hart: (June) 2004)

Male Sexuality' in The Handbook of Masculinity Studies, edited by Robert Connell, Jeff Hearn & Michael Kimmel (Sage, 2004)

'The Flow of Boundaries In a Late Modern World: The Case of Gays, Queers and Intimate Citizenship'  Actas de Encontros em Sociologia, Uinervisdade do minho, Maio de 2004 pp25-50 (Portuguese Journal of Sociology, ed. Ana Maria Brandao et al); and in English in  David Downes et al ed. Crime, Social Control and Human Rights 2007.

'Rights Work: constructing lesbian, gay and sexual rights in late modern times' Rights ed Lydia Morris. (Routledge: 2006: Ch 8 p152-167).

The Encyclopedia of Sociology (2006) Blackwell. 11 Volumes of contribution and editorial work. editor George Ritzer ed. Editor.

Sexual Conduct: Thirty Years On'. Introduction' to 2nd edition of Gagnon and Simon's Sexual Conduct: (Transaction, 2005).

Critical Humanism in a Post-Modern World' (2001)Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Volume 25, p291-301.

'The Square of Intimate Citizenship' Citizenship Studies,(2001) Vol 5, No 3, November p237-53.

'The Sexual Spectacle: Making a Public Culture of Sexual Problems' in George Ritzer ed. The Handbook of International Social Problems, Sage (2003)

'Queers, Bodies and Post-Modern Sexualities: A Note on Revisiting the 'sexual' in Symbolic Interactionism' (2003)Qualitative Sociology  Fall. Edited by Janice Irvine

'Rethinking the Sexual in Sociology: Bringing the Body Back In' Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia. November. 2002. (Original article, translated directly into Italian)

'Sociological Identity: An interview with Professor Ken Plummer translated by A.Rkyun' / 'Sociologicheskaya identitchnost:intervju s Professorom K. Plummerom / prevod A.Rykuna. Journal of Sociology (Sociologicheski Zurnal), Quarterly, Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of of Sociology, Moscow. 2004 p143-157  Vols 3 & 4.

'Gay Rights Movement: Series Five- Gay Activism in Britain from 1958'. Primary Source Microfilm. Thomson: Gale (2003) www.gale.com/psm

Additional information
What we can do is…make life a little less terrible and a little less unjust in every generation. A good deal can be achieved in this way. Karl Popper.
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at. Oscar Wilde.
Progress is not an illusion; it happens but it is slow and invariably disappointing. George Orwell.
Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.   Jane Austen.
Only Connect!  (Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exhalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer).  E.M. Forster. 
We are little Gods who shit.   Ernest Becker.
If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence. George Eliot.

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