His project, “The Picturing of Aversion Therapy,” centers on the cultural history of aversion therapy during the postwar years and will examine and elucidate the role of visual media in experimental practices aimed at the eradication and/or control of non-normative desires. Working from the Kinsey Institute’s archive of materials, it focuses on how images were selected and used in the practice of aversion therapy.
In particular, Powell’s project explores how medical brochures for aversion therapy equipment drew upon cultural resources such as film, print journalism (magazines and newspapers) and literature. The principle inquiry at the center of this work asks how the inventors and practitioners of aversion therapy — as practiced on people diagnosed as “sex and gender deviant”— draw on and directly utilize a variety of pre-existing media forms, techniques and conventions in the creation of this new medical practice. He relates this use of images to broader conceptualizations of the power of visual media in twentieth century culture.
Powell’s research concentrates on relationships between media history, public formation, and gender and sexuality. His most recent book project, Coming Together: The Cinematic Elaboration of Gay Male Life, 1945-1979 (forthcoming, University of Chicago Press) explores the role of cinematic imagery in the elaboration of gay politics and philosophy during the postwar years.