Playing on the Edge

Playing on the Edge

Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy
Staci Newmahr
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/14/2011
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-22285-5
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Representations of consensual sadomasochism range from the dark, seedy undergrounds of crime thrillers to the fetishized pornographic images of sitcoms and erotica. In this pathbreaking book, ethnographer Staci Newmahr delves into the social space of a public, pansexual SM community to understand sadomasochism from the inside out. Based on four years of in-depth and immersive participant observation, she juxtaposes her experiences in the field with the life stories of community members, providing a richly detailed portrait of SM as a social space in which experiences of "violence" intersect with experiences of the erotic. She shows that SM is a recreational and deeply gendered risk-taking endeavor, through which participants negotiate boundaries between chaos and order. Playing on the Edge challenges our assumptions about sadomasochism, sexuality, eroticism, and emotional experience, exploring what we mean by intimacy, and how, exactly, we achieve it.

Author Bio

Staci Newmahr is an ethnographer. Her work plays with intersections of risk, eroticism, and gender. She is currently Assistant Professor of Sociology at Buffalo State College.


“This pathbreaking book delves into the social space of a public, pansexual sadomasochist community to understand SM from the inside out.”

“Newmahr’s decisions to use passages of creative representation to convey ‘felt’ experiences, as well as to use her own body as an instrument of intellectual inquiry to such an extent, bring a sense of depth and presence to the book that is often sorely lacking in such work.”
 — Katherine Frank, author of G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire

“An important contribution to the fields of crime/deviance and sexuality.”
 — Leon Anderson, author of Deviance: Social Constructions and Blurred Boundaries

“A fascinating, well-written, carefully researched book that illuminates a subculture about which we know very little. . . . Never before have we had research that is so close to the community, that allows us inside this community's behavior, rationalizations, understandings, and lived experiences.”
 — Patricia Adler, co-author of Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and Interaction

“Playing on the Edge. . . is an exciting sociological contribution to academic explorations of SM, providing an empirically rich window into a rarely seen SM community.”
 — Sexualities

“Staci Newmahr’s exploration of the public SM scene is interesting, thoughtprovoking, and in some cases, challenging. Her involvement in the field and her willingness to share at least the surface details of her experience are extraordinary. Moreover, her commitment to understanding the community of public SM players with rigor, intellectual honesty, and sensitivity is the hallmark of a great ethnography.”
 — Symbolic Interaction

“Playing on the Edge is a well written, well supported, clear, easily accessed, and comprehendible yet theoretically rich delineation of a (supposedly deviant) community. In simple terms, this is a very good book and a first-class example of what ethnographic research can and should look like. ”
 — Criminal Justice Review

“[A] ground-breaking book . . . . captivating and ethnographically dense. ”
 — Ethnos

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Table of Contents



Part 1: People
1. Defiance: Bodies, Minds, and Marginality
2. Geeks and Freaks: Marginal Identity and Community

Part 2: Play
3. Tipping the Scales: Striving for Imbalance
4. Fringe Benefits: The Rewards of SM Play
5. Badasses, Servants, and Martyrs: Gender Performances

Part 3: Edges
6. Reconcilable Differences: Pain, Eroticism, and Violence
7. Collaborating the Edge: Feminism and Edgework
8. "What It Is That We Do": Intimate Edgework

Concluding Notes: Erotic Subjectivity and the Construction of the Field

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