Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


The libidinal lives of statues

14 May 2024, 5:00 pm–7:30 pm

Sculpture of Mary Wollstonecraft, by British artist Maggi Hambling.

In this talk Dr Rahul Rao (University of St Andrews) asks what it is about statues that has spooked people in the past enough to arouse in them the impulse to destroy.

This event is free.

Event Information

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Bentham House, 4–8 Endsleigh Gardens

qUCL and GFRN are pleased to welcome Dr Rahul Rao (University of St Andrews) to give their joint annual lecture.

If Protestant iconoclasm is the seismic episode of statue breaking in the Western world, might the structures of feeling underlying its theological disputes persist in the present, even if the kinds of figures depicted by statues and the meaning and significance attributed to them have shifted in different historical eras? Moving from a theological to a libidinal register (even if, as we shall see, this is no move at all) I ask what lies behind and beneath the banal apprehension of statues as phallic symbols. Might the phallicness of statues account for the ease with which they seem to become lightning rods for public discontent? While the libidinal might feel far removed from the theological, the two are in fact deeply intertwined as much in practices of idolisation and fetishization as in those of frenzied destruction.

(The title and content of this lecture has been changed since it was first advertised, to make it more relevant to the work of the GFRN and qUCL)

Please register to attend and familiarise yourself with our Code of Conduct.

Image credit: A Sculpture to Mary Wollstonecraft is a public sculpture for feminist writer and advocate Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, London. It was sculpted by British artist Maggi Hambling. It was unveiled on November 10, 2020. Grim23CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Launched in 2014, qUCL is a university-wide initiative that brings together UCL staff and students with research and teaching interests in LGBTQ studies, gender and sexuality studies, queer theory and related fields.

Gender and Feminisms Research Network (GFRN) aims is to explore the points where gender and feminist politics intersect with a diverse range of power relations and social movements. 

About the Speaker

Dr Rahul Rao

Reader in International Political Thought at School of International Relations, University of St Andrews

Previously, he taught at SOAS University of London, where he remains a Professorial Research Associate, and the University of Oxford. He is the author of Out of Time: The Queer Politics of Postcoloniality (2020) and Third World Protest: Between Home and the World (2010), both published by Oxford University Press. He is currently writing a book about the politics of falling and rising statues. His work has appeared in South Atlantic Quarterly, Social Text, Journal of Historical Geography, The Caravan, Critical Times, Millennium, GLQ and London Review of International Law, amongst other journals. He is a member of the editorial collective of Radical Philosophy.

More about Dr Rahul Rao