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Kinbaku, also known as Japanese rope bondage, has grown in popularity in recent years yet remains marginalized due to its associations with BDSM. Therefore, outside of its own community, it is a scarcely studied form of performance. Perhaps due to this lack of scholarship, and in spite of its popularity, kinbaku's legacy remains vague. Most practitioners agree kinbaku arose from Japanese ritual practices, yet this leaves much to explore. After an introduction to kinbaku, this article will examine historical and contemporary Japanese ritual traditions in order to contextualize the practice. Next, analyzing the art of kinbaku via the concepts of the liminal and the liminoid, the argument will be made that kinbaku practices embody ritual performance. By locating the practices via a set of Japanese cultural traditions, this study ultimately argues against a binary, pathologizing reading of kinbaku, and contributes to validating future academic research centered around kink practices. Available from:
Heather Pennington
Kinbaku, also known as Japanese rope bondage, has grown in popularity in recent
years yet remains marginalized due to its associations with BDSM. Therefore, outside of its
own community, it is a scarcely studied form of performance. Perhaps due to this lack of
scholarship, and in spite of its popularity, kinbaku’s legacy remains vague. Most
practitioners agree kinbaku arose from Japanese ritual practices, yet this leaves much to
explore. After an introduction to kinbaku, this article will examine historical and
contemporary Japanese ritual traditions in order to contextualize the practice. Next,
analyzing the art of kinbaku via the concepts of the liminal and the liminoid, the argument
will be made that kinbaku practices embody ritual performance. By locating the practices via
a set of Japanese cultural traditions, this study ultimately argues against a binary,
pathologizing reading of kinbaku, and contributes to validating future academic research
centered around kink practices.
Keywords: Kinbaku, kink, liminal, liminoid, ritual performance
A model hangs, suspended in mid-air by sturdy but delicate ropes. A rigger stands to one
side, proudly presenting the scene. An avid audience admires the rigger’s rope work and
knots as well as the shape and position of the model’s body. This is tsuri kinbaku, or
suspended rope bondage, one in a group of Japanese rope bondage practices known as
kinbaku.1 The rise of the internet coincided with a growing interest in this practice, and today
technique books and blogs teach would-be practitioners ‘the ropes’ while venues from clubs
to art galleries2 showcase kinbaku performance and photography (Midori, 2001: p. 3).
Though often occurring within the context of BDSM activities (bondage, discipline,
dominance, submission, sadism and/or masochism), kinbaku is not inherently concerned with
masochism or sadism, the desires to experience or cause pain for sexual pleasure. Thus rather
than the formulation SM or S & M, the term kink will be used as the umbrella term to
describe the set of activities amongst which kinbaku can be located.3 The titles model and
1 Within the kink community, both shibari and kinbaku describe Japanese rope bondage. The distinction is that
while shibari means ‘to tie’, kinbaku means ‘to bind’ according to more traditional Japanese forms, thus
carrying stronger aesthetic appeal (Master K, 2008: p. 6). As tradition heavily informs this investigation, the
word kinbaku will be used.
2 Such as the “Art of Contemporary Shibari” (2012) at Mother Dog Studios in Austin, Texas, or various shows
at the Concorde Art Gallery in Paris (2013, 2014, 2016).
3 Thanks here owed to kink scholar Tristan Taormino for an encompassing definition of kink as “an intimate
experience, an exchange of power between people that can be physical, erotic, sexual, psychological, spiritual,
Pennington, Heather. (2017). Kinbaku: the Liminal and The Liminoid in Ritual Performance. Performance of the
Real E-journal, 1(1): 42-51.
rigger will denote those who are tied and those who tie within a scene. ‘Scene’ is a general
designation meaning any set of kink activities carried out between two or more people. A
scene can be public (taking place at a club or party) or private (typically carried out within
the home, a hotel room, or other similar venue without an audience). Participation in scenes,
and in the broader community of people who practice kink, is governed by rules and
collective values. These are best outlined by two acronyms: SSC and RACK. SSC stands for
Safe, Sane, and Consensual, while RACK means Risk Aware Consensual Kink.4 Both
acronyms emphasize consent, which has become a core value within kink play in the
postmodern era. When considering contemporary kinbaku, which at its most basic is one
person taking power from another by immobilizing them,5 it is important to remember that
these actions are consensual.
The practice of kinbaku can be characterized both as performance and ritual. It has elements
of standard theatre, such as an audience, repeatable sequences of behavior executed in
particular ways to achieve particular results, technique, dramatic showiness, and denouement.
Though these are not necessary for a designation as ‘performance’,6 kinbaku’s theatrical
elements help it feel performative. Furthermore, kinbaku has been classed as ritual. As an
activity which occurs within the kink community, kinbaku falls under what author and sex
educator Barbara Carrellas refers to as “BDSM rituals” (2012: p. 140); as a form of
sexualized binding, kinbaku relates to ritual elements of Japanese culture to be detailed
shortly. Finally, anthropologist Edward Schieffelen posits “ritual performance” as a
classification, conjoining the two categories (1998: p. 205).
Though its roots stretch back much farther, Japanese erotic rope bondage as it is known today
began to become popular in the 1920s, when a series of photographs of tied women, taken by
artist Itoh Seiyu, entered circulation (Midori, 2001: p. 16). It seems kinbaku’s popularity
declined preceding and during World War II (ibid.). After the war had ended in 1945, the
Allies abolished censorship. When Japanese kink magazine Kitan Club published the
illustration “Ten Naked Tied Women” that year, kinbaku began to experience a resurgence
(Merzbow, 1996). Around this time, bondage performance clubs appeared in Tokyo,
furthering an appreciation for the art (Midori, 2001: p. 16). Though the internet has allowed
kinbaku techniques and images to proliferate widely beyond Japan,7 certain traditions are still
prevalent. For example at present, a majority of riggers are male and models are female.8
This may be due to kinbaku’s evolution from a style of military restraint primarily practiced
or, most often, some combination” and “an all-encompassing term to describe the people, practices, and
communities that move beyond traditional ideas about sex to explore the edges of eroticism.” (2012).
4 SSC was coined in 1983 (Stein, 2002) and RACK in 1999 (Switch, unknown date).
5 The APA has declared the singular “they/them/their” appropriate, and in agreement with BDSM educator
Mollena Williams, this author willdeliberately use the plural pronouns they, them, and their to refer to singular
persons of any gender,” as “the traditional forms reflect a gender binary to which I do not subscribe.” (Williams,
2012: p. 263).
6 Richard Schechner’s argument that a practice need not be classed as orthodox theatre to be studied as
performance was foundational to his creation of the field of performance studies (2002: p. 1). However, though
his work arguably facilitated the present discussion, his point of departure classes artistic performance as
distinct from cultural performance (which includes ritual). A Turnerian reading allows for a richer interpretation
of kinbaku within a performance framework that includes both art and ritual and thus will be the focus here.
7 The present work is concerned with kinbaku that originated in Japan and utilizes methods handed down from
Japanese master teachers and yet, in spreading out over the globe, evolves and changes to reflect best practices,
cultural attitudes, and performers’ preferences. Cities of the author’s research include Los Angeles, London,
Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taipei.
8 The present work does not focus on the problematic gender politics of these practices.
by men, known as hojojutsu. Hojojutsu’s origins are as murky as those of kinbaku,9 yet
investigating the evolution of Japanese ritual helps contextualize both.
Shintoism, a native religious practice dating back to at least 300 BC, contains some of the
earliest recognized forms of Japanese ritual in washing, offering, and burial customs (Ishida,
1974: p. 91). Though rice farming had been introduced more than a millennium earlier, rice
rituals became central to Japanese farming society in the mid to late Heian period (794-1185
AD), around 1000 AD (ibid.: p. 14). Together, these agrarian and religious ritual practices
formed the basis for those ritual elements which persist in Japan today. In fact, a search for
recent publications on ritual aspects of Japanese culture reveals ritual persists in nearly every
area of life: food preparation and presentation, aging, fertility, business, gift giving, speech,
dance, dwelling, sex, and death.10
The tea ceremony, flower arranging, and shiatsu massage11 are visible practices in modern
Japanese culture containing significant elements of ritual – and connecting with kinbaku.
Master K, kinbaku practitioner and author of the foremost account of the practice’s
development in English, notes the Japanese ability to “ritualize and beautify daily objects and
activities, from the tea ceremony to flower arranging” (2008: p. 14). In fact, the tea ceremony
(chanoyu) is known as the “ritual drinking of tea” (Sato, 2008: p. 23). Teahouses are often
decorated with floral art, and flower arranging (ikebana) is part of the Japanese appreciation
for the seasonal, fleeting beauty of nature. Ikebana links with ritual via its presence in the
ritual tea ceremony, and its associations with Buddhism. Buddhist ceremonial flower
offerings (kuge) took on significance during the Heian period (Kawase & Miyake, 1999: p.
98), when plants came to have ritual functions, banishing evil or representing coming of age
(Shirane, 2012: pp. 102, 103). Interestingly, “ikebana – like waka (classical poetry) […] and
chanoyu – is best defined as a performance art; once the occasion is over, the flower
arrangement has fulfilled its primary function” (ibid.: p. 103). This is also true of ritualized
binding in a kinbaku performance – the bondage is done specifically for and in its performed
context, and has fulfilled its primary function when the performance ends. Another
contemporary Japanese ritual form is shiatsu, a medicinal bodywork practice (Beresford-
Cooke, 2011: p. 5). Though founded circa 1925, the practice draws upon ritual techniques
from ancient Chinese medicine, combining pressure, massage, and stretches which may
promote relaxation and stress release (ibid.: pp. 8, 11). Shiatsu and kinbaku can be
corporeally similar, almost as if a tied model is experiencing an intense massage:
The pressure of ropes on skin and body, when bound, produces an effect similar
to that of a vigorous embrace, thus promoting a strong release of endorphins, and
9 A general lack of scholarship on kinbaku performance practices, and a specific lack of published materials in
English, prohibits extensive textual research. Consequently, alternative sources have been used as data points:
published resources on other kink practices, kinbaku technique books, and various aspects of Japanese culture;
the author’s ongoing field research, commenced in 2012.
10 While some of these accounts are written by outsiders (gaijin) who promulgate an orientalist reading of
Japanese culture as ritualistic, this is not the case for every article. This author hopes to avoid such a reading of
kinbaku practices.
11 More connections between kinbaku and contemporary Japanese ritual practices can be drawn, via the
dramatic nature of poetry recitation, ceremonial aging rites, and the performativity of power relations in formal
dance. See Shirane (2012); Traphagan (2006); Averbuch (1996).
producing a great sense of relaxation [and] tension release. (Kinbaku Luxuria,
In addition to shiatsu, the tea ceremony, and flower arranging, present-day Japanese culture
also evinces a strong link with ritual tradition via its connection with rope and tying objects.
This connection finds its antecedents in Japanese antiquity (Midori, 2001: p. 13). Because
historically the island was resource-scarce, wood and metal crafts were rare but plant fibers
were plentiful and rope crafts became central. The Jōmon (‘straw rope pattern’) period,
roughly 10,000 – 300 BC, was named after the distinctive rope-patterned pottery of its people
(ibid.). From the Jōmon period to the present, rope and knots have been used in religious
ceremonies for Buddhism and Shintoism; in wrapping and decorating packages (furoshiki); in
attire such as the kimono, tied closed with a strip of cloth (obi); and in battle armor, tied to
the body. With the advent of hojojutsu, the martial and law enforcement technique of
detaining a captured opponent with rope which likely dates to the Sengoku period (beginning
in 1467), rope and ties became symbols of power (ibid.: p. 14; Master K, 2008: p. 12).
Though present scholarship in this area remains vague, the argument has been made that once
rope and ties became symbols of prisonership, similar to handcuffs and stocks used in other
forms of bondage, this translated into sexual play (Bacarr, 2004: p. 185). Indeed, Itoh Seiyu
brought kinbaku into initial popularity after learning hojojutsu from an aged practitioner and
then using it to bind his models (Master K, 2008: p. 65). Stepping into the sexualized,
temporary roles of captive and captor may help bring kinbaku performers into a ritual space
called the liminal.
In 1967, Victor Turner published Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de
Passage. This essay describes the rituals of the Ndembu people of Zambia by drawing upon
Arnold van Gennep’s 1909 definition of the liminal, a space created during ritual rites of
passage. Turner defines rituals as sets of “prescribed formal behavior for [certain] occasions”,
through which participants enter the liminal, a state of being “neither here nor there” but
rather “betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed” by societal structures (2008:
pp. 19, 95). Because ritual participants experience the liminal as a state of great intensity, the
experience must necessarily be short-lived.
Applying Turner’s concept of the liminal “betwixt and between” to kinbaku enables framing
the practice as ritual. Certainly, kink activities such as kinbaku performance fit within
Turner’s conception of liminal sites as loci of great intensity, having been termed “crucible[s]
for creativity, vulnerability, perseverance, control, catharsis, and connection” (Taormino,
2012: p. xv). Kink educators and practitioners widely agree, as Taormino states in The
Ultimate Guide to Kink, that kink can provide opportunities for self-reflection, challenge,
and personal growth”, just as rites of passage do (2012: p. xv; Turner, 1989: p. 102). Kink is
sometimes considered by its practitioners to be sacred (Master K, 2008: p. 11), similar to van
Gennep’s formulation, with the “potential to heal” and “generate spiritual renewal” as do the
liminal rituals Turner discusses in The Ritual Process. Additionally, Turner’s idea of donning
the liberating mask of the liminal within ritual (1975: p. 243) resembles prolific kink-based
writer Lee Harrington’s description of those in a scene donning the liberating mask of kink,
stepping out of themselves for a little while into roles they do not normally play (2007:
Further allying the liminal with specific conditions that arise during kinbaku is the transient
relationship of those sharing in the experience. Ritual participants can be divided into two
groups: the masters, or teachers, and those experiencing the rite of passage upon their bodies,
or the neophytes. Similarly, performers in kinbaku may begin as autonomous, equal
individuals, but will quickly adopt the roles of rigger and model. In these roles, as “between
instructors and neophytes[,] there is often complete authority and complete submission”
(Turner, 1989: p. 99). This is necessary for the ritual to succeed. Yet, though “complete
obedience(ibid.: p. 100) characterizes the neophyte, Turner also writes of ritual’s ability to
invert societal hierarchies in an almost carnivalesque13 manner: “in liminality, the underlying
comes uppermost” (2008: p. 102). In kinbaku, because the model dictates the limits of the
scene, many argue they hold more power.14
Though this may be accurate, in kinbaku performance the model’s vulnerability is often
stressed through various activities such as the removal of clothing before or during a scene,
tightening ropes in strategic places, tickling, or applying hot wax, a blindfold, or a gag. These
stressors help reinforce the control the rigger appears to have, often bringing the model to a
place called subspace the mental state of a submissive who has surrendered will, control,
and power to another. During the liminal period, vulnerable neophytes too receive symbolic
stress (ibid.: p. 108), and demonstrate “passivity” and “malleability, which is increased by
submission to ordeal” (Turner, 1989: p. 101). These “ordeals and tests” may amount to
“torture”, but are sustained out of obedience to authority during the liminal state (ibid.: p.
100). Submissive subspace may help models relax in order to cope with the physical stress
and sensual intensity of their situations: those in subspace report a feeling of surrendering
into the activity in which they are participating, frequently describing meditative feelings of
calm (Midori, 2012: p. 117). Reached specifically through the particular set of ritualized
actions performed in kinbaku (or other kink), it appears that subspace is liminal space.
Importantly, there are several elements within Turner’s concept of the liminal that do not
correspond with kinbaku. First and foremost, kinbaku does not use the liminal as a means to
an end. Unlike rites of passage, creating and employing liminality is not kinbaku’s function,
but rather a quality of its practice. Models might wish to enter subspace, riggers might like to
see this happen, but the route to it is often unpredictable and thus it is rarely the ultimate goal
of kinky play. Next, though it may be a spiritual experience, kinbaku is not a religious
practice, whereas for Turner, ritual and liminality are associated with religious behavior
(1989: p. 95). Nor is kinbaku a way of refashioning the identities of members of society, a
way for practitioners to be “ground down” so they may assume a new social role after rites of
passage (Turner, 2008: p. 95). Furthermore, in their ‘ground down’ condition, individuals in
the liminal state are invisible because society does not expect to see people passing from one
life phase to another (ibid.). In performing kinbaku, subjects make themselves visible (even if
they feel a dissolution of self during performance). Perhaps subjects remain invisible to a
12!Williams also uses the terminology of liberation freely (2012).!
13 See Mikhail Bakhtin’s 1984 Rabelais and His World.
14 Though the topic of who holds greater power in a scene is the subject of much debate in the kink community.
larger society, as their practice is still taboo, yet within their own community they are very
much visible.15
These discontinuities between Turner’s liminal and the liminal of performative kinbaku may
be reconciled in the liminoid, an idea on which Turner focused later in his career, which
“resembles without being identical with ‘liminal’” (1974: p. 64). Where the liminal
underlines the importance of custom, tradition, and normative behavior, breaking rules only
within a regulated context and later restoring order to reinforce social standards, the liminoid
provides the opportunity to subvert such norms. Thus, performance can be read as a liminoid
genre if used to liberate its practitioners from the axioms of industrialized societies so they
may explore subversive alternatives, such as kink (Turner, 1975: p. 14). Additionally, Turner
defines liminoid as a transitional state only arising within complex, post-industrial revolution
societies, which divide between work and leisure (which includes play) (ibid.: pp. 63-64).
With “the absence of obligation”, leisure activities have “a pleasurable quality”, central to the
notion of play and found within the liminoid but absent from the ritual liminal (ibid.: pp. 16,
As societies began to divide work from play, there was “a shift from the meaning of sex as
procreative ‘work,’ (a persistent meaning in tribal and feudal societies) to the division of
sexual activity into ‘play’ or ‘foreplay,’ and the ‘serious’ business or ‘work’ of begetting
progeny” (Turner, 1974: p. 66). ‘Work’ can create liminal states, but only play can create the
liminoid. Setting aside the troublingly heteronormative implications of the nature of ‘work’
within this discourse, Turner’s designation of sexual play as a liminoid activity is useful.
Though kink performers could be said to engage in their sexual play for financial gain, which
might re-classify it as work, many perform for free, or do not earn their living from
performance, re-demarcating their kink activities as play. Audiences do often pay to see these
performances, yet this further connects to the liminoid, which “often is a commodity, which
one selects and pays for” (ibid.: p. 86). By these criteria, kink such as kinbaku, a playful
sexualized activity, can be classed as liminoid.
There are several other reasons to delineate kinbaku performances as liminoid. First, liminoid
phenomena are “practiced by and for particular groups” in this case, predominantly the
kink community and consumers of pornography (ibid.). Next, “liminoid phenomena develop
apart from the central economic and political processes, along the margins” and “tend to be
more idiosyncratic or quirky” (Turner, 1974: p. 85). This is true of the development of
kinbaku performance, still often considered taboo. Also, like kinbaku, liminoid forms “are
plural, fragmentary, and experimental in character” (ibid.). As a practice, kinbaku evolves as
riggers and models imagine new things to do with ropes. Additionally, the liminoid is often
“generated by specific named individuals and in particular groups ‘schools,’ circles, and
coteries” such as in/famous kinbaku teachers and their students,16 or kink communities in
specific cities which have their own common and preferred methods of tying (ibid.).
Furthermore, just as, for Turner, “each type of ritual” in Ndembu society has “its own
combination of medicines’ and its own type of ritual apparatus’” (Turner, 1989: p. 14), so
kinbaku has its own specialized practices, its own rope patterns, knot work, suspension
techniques, and extensive equipment. In order to create both a site for the use of the
equipment which the liminoid often requires, and a private location which can effectively
15 The author’s own research (2016), indicates issues of visibility are an area for further study, as mainstreaming
of this otherwise illicit practice increasingly puts kinky subcultures on display.
16 For example, ‘Master’ rope teachers Osada Steve and Yukimura Harkui have five authorized dojos to teach
their styles globally, in Copenhagen, Melbourne, Tokyo, Vancouver, and Vienna.
monetize entrance or membership to such a space to see or practice the liminoid, “there are
permanent ‘liminoid’ settings and spaces” such as “bars, pubs, some cafes, social clubs, etc.”
where kinbaku is practiced (Turner, 1974: p. 86). These are plausible reasons to class
kinbaku performance as liminoid, though it should be noted that this reading owes much to
Turner’s earlier concept of the liminal. Turner is careful to mention that both liminal and
liminoid are ritual experiences. This continues to support a reading of kinbaku activities as
ritual performance.
There is a practice which those in the kink community use to conclude a scene, called
aftercare. To engage in aftercare means to exchange a hug, eat chocolate, cuddle, or do
whatever activity helps players feel comfortable while bringing the emotional intensity of a
scene to an end. Midori (2012) designates kink as “being in an altered state”, while aftercare
is “what each participant needs to transition from [kink] play to everyday life.” (p. 92).
Williams agrees: “playing can take you to new and exciting places. But afterward? You have
to find a way back” (2012: p. 261-62). After the liminal state, there is a phase of re-entry.
Like the liminal, the liminoid too must end, and one must find one’s way back. For kinbaku,
aftercare is the way to return to normal life.
Unfortunately, the distance many perceive between ‘normal life’ and kink, including forms of
consensual bondage such as kinbaku, has meant kinky activities are still widely considered
sexual perversions, whether tolerated as a subculture in Japan or pathologized in much of the
English speaking world.17 Despite growing popularity and mainstream recognition, this
delimitation has, until very recently, put these subjects beyond scholarship. At present,
academic work on kinbaku is virtually nonexistent. While there is scholarship on SM/BDSM,
it often involves binary discourses which seek to either condemn or condone kink as a
practice. A non-binary investigation into kinbaku and kink as forms of performance should
find a place within the ever-expanding fields of performance and cultural studies. In moving
beyond kinbaku’s associations with pathologized, deviant sexuality, in tracing its ancient
roots to rice rituals or military ceremony, in finding its modern context in ikebana or the
Kitan Club, it becomes clear that kinbaku’s connections with ritual traditions inform a
complex practice. Indeed, investigating the liminal/liminoid space of kinbaku should clarify
that viewing this art form as simply about perverts tying people up for sex fails to recognize
its depth.
17 See the DSM-V, the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used widely as
a diagnostic toolwhich classes sadism and masochism, as well as other kinky activities such as exhibitionism
and general “non-normative sexual behavior” as “pariphilias”grouping them with pedophilia and acts
involving sexual violence against nonconsenting victims.
tea ceremony
Furoshiki 風呂敷
art of wrapping or decorating packages
Gaijin 外人
Outsider, foreigner
period of Japanese history spanning
794-1185 AD
Hojojutsu 捕縄術
style of military restraint utilizing ropes to
restrain a captive
art of flower arranging
‘Straw rope pattern’ period of Japanese history
spanning roughly 10,000 – 300 BC
Kimono!着物, きもの
rope tied at the waist with a sash
Kinbaku 緊縛
literally meaning ‘to bind’; a word for rope
bondage in accordance to traditional Japanese forms
Buddhist ceremonial flower offerings!
Obi , おび
sash used to tie a kimono!or!martial!arts!uniform
period of Japanese history spanning 1467-1603 AD
Shiatsu 指圧, しあつ
massage!or!bodywork form
Shibari !縛り
literally meaning ‘to tie’; a word for
rope bondage
Tsuri kinbaku 吊り緊縛
suspended (吊り)!rope bondage!(緊縛)
classical poetry!
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... These scholars mobilize the concept of affect to explore identity, the embodied sensation of rope bondage, and the fluid, ever-shifting concept of time within rope bondage play to argue that rope bondage can be understood as an affective practice. In their earlier Master's thesis, Pennington (2017) studies rope bondage (specifically referred to as kinbaku, see Glossary) as performance, separating it conceptually from BDSM practice and examining its context within contemporary and historical Japanese tradition. Galati (2017) adopts a similarly corporeal understanding of rope bondage in their Medical Anthropology (M.Sc.) dissertation, informed by different academic traditions and focusing on the practitioners' lived experiences. ...
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Rope bondage subculture is a social world positioned underneath the broader umbrella of pansexual BDSM subculture. It is characterized by its own norms, spaces, words, practices, art, career opportunities, events, identities, and more. The status of rope as a sub-subculture spread across and between locations renders it mostly invisible to outsiders. As such, although there are a few studies on rope bondage, its discrete social world has rarely been recognized in academic research, and never as the primary focus. Through my insider status I investigate the shape of the rope bondage world and the experiences of some of the people within it. I draw on 23 qualitative interviews with people who practice rope bondage in Canada and the United States to investigate peoples’ experiences of rope bondage practice and subculture. My analysis is supported by a theoretical foundation informed by symbolic interactionism, feminism, critical disability studies, and critical race theory. I explore the theoretical and methodological intricacies of conducting qualitative research on rope bondage from the inside, while prioritizing and theorizing ethical participant-centered methods informed by select kinky etiquette and practices. My findings suggest that rope bondage subculture is characterized by almost indescribable experiences of pleasure, belonging, and joy, along with experiences of conflict and discrimination at personal and structural levels. It is both a vibrant social world and a subculture informed by (and reflective of) the racism, ableism, sexism, homo/transphobia, and classism that plague wider society. The accounts of disabled and racialized rope bondage practitioners are crucial to understanding both oppression and resistance in this world. I build upon Weiss’ (2006) concept of unintelligibility to argue that kinky pleasure that is not strictly, normatively sexual appears to be unintelligible to most BDSM researchers. Further, in some respects, kinky pleasure is unintelligible—or at least ineffable—to some of the practitioners themselves. My findings show that understanding the texture of rope bondage’s pleasure requires listening to how rope bondage practitioners theorize their own desires, pleasures, and lives. This work offers theoretical, conceptual, and practical tools to understand rope bondage practitioners, complex sexualities, BDSM, and participant-centered research on deviantized demographics.
... However, the potential to uncouple BDSM from sex is as rarely recognized as the potential to uncouple rope bondage from BDSM. Some research affirms that BDSM is an affective practice (Martin, 2018;Steinbock, 2014), yet rope bondage in its own right remains undertheorized (Pennington, 2017), its 1 Practitioners such as Lee Harrington, Hajime Kinoko, and Midori have tied chairs and large rocks, or woven walls. ...
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Rope bondage, also known as shibari or kinbaku, is an embodied practice commonly associated with BDSM (an acronym for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism) in both academic and non-academic environments. However, BDSM and sex-oriented discourses are not inherent in the practice. Rather, they are only two potential ways of framing rope bondage, the appropriateness of which depends on how practitioners choose to envision themselves and their practices. As feminist and queer theory has argued, identity as a fixed social construct frequently serves normative, regulatory aims (Butler, 1990, 1993; Sedgwick, 1990). Drawing upon the authors’ fieldwork, this article argues that rope bondage functions via affective relations, which enable practitioners to think of themselves outside of identitarian structures of connection, if they so choose. Rather than engaging with the problematics of identity politics, members can share affective sensations felt through embodied experience, directed both toward rope and toward other bodies. Furthermore, practitioners’ affective perceptions of time are altered by their corporeal experiences of rope bondage, which often bring about a flow state (Ambler et al., 2017; Csikszentmihalyi, 1991; Newmahr, 2011). The affective practice of rope bondage and practitioners’ multiple, self-reflexive corporealities while interacting with and through the medium of rope prompt the authors toward a rhizomatic model of analysis (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; Massumi, 1987). Such a model works against hierarchies of time and identity, which are broken down through affective exchanges. A rhizomatic understanding of the growth patterns of rope bondage can also inform future scholarship on non-canonical changes occurring in the practice without necessitating that those changes be linked to the ostensible origins of rope bondage in feudal Japan, origins constructed chronologically to validate the practice’s existence. Keywords: affect theory; embodiment; kinbaku; rhizome; rope bondage; shibari.
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Bondage/Discipline/Dominance/submission/Sadism/Masochism (BDSM) is most frequently conceptualized as only non-normative, 'kinky' sex. In this dissertation, I combine feminist ethnographic accounts of women's experiences as BDSM practitioners alongside theoretical frameworks of gendered embodiment to propose a reading of some BDSM practices as other-than-sex. Rather than narrowing the definition of sex, I instead take up Foucault's expression of the possibilities of bodies and pleasures to explore how alternative relationality is formed between practitioners with some types of BDSM play with pain and power. In doing so, there is an expanded potential for women's queer pleasure and a real possibility of disrupting patriarchal social structure with practitioners' altered being-in-the-world. This analysis is centred on accounts from eighteen women participants in Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, who were active BDSM practitioners. Participants in this project challenged traditional understandings of pain and masochism to produce new understandings of both. They accounted for safety and risk considerations in practices that help formulate a more robust consideration of the complications of consent in other-than-sex practices than is typically allowed for in either mainstream or BDSM-specific frameworks of consent. Lastly, they expressed conceptions of the strategic eroticization of power that accounted for it in play without eliminating the social power that some bodies exercise more flexibly than others. The alternative relationality that is fostered by other-than-sex BDSM practices is powerfully intimate and based on the radical vulnerability and bodily access between practitioners.
The Practice of Concern: Ritual, Well-Being, and Aging in Rural Japan explores ideas and practices related to religious ritual and health among older people in northern Japan. Drawing on more than three years of ethnographic fieldwork, Traphagan considers various forms of ritual performance and contextualizes these in terms of private and public spheres of activity. An important theme of the book is that for Japanese the expression of concern about family, friends, the community, and the nation is a central symbolic element in religious ritual practice. The book has important implications for research into religion and health, because it suggests that, in order to carry out successful cross-cultural research, it is necessary to move beyond conceptualizations of religion — largely centering on concepts of belief, faith, forgiveness — that have shaped much of the work in this area to date, because, as consideration of the Japanese context shows, the theological language of Western religions is not necessarily adequate to the task of understanding how health and religion are tied together in other cultures. Traphagan argues that there is a need to focus on how religious rituals are markers that symbolically convey information about embodied experience and how these markers express and are expressions of concerns about health and well-being. The Practice of Concern provides a detailed examination of Japanese religious practices both within the home and in the community, as well as a thorough discussion of Japanese concepts of health, well-being, and aging. In addition to those who are interested in medical anthropology, this book will be useful to gerontologists who are concerned with cross-cultural studies in aging. Because of the rich ethnographic detail presented, the book also provides an excellent introduction to Japanese religious and ritual practice and Japanese culture and society more broadly. This book is part of the Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh. “[T]he book's basic argument is indeed innovative… well worth reading.” — Pacific Affairs “John Traphagan demonstrates why cross-cultural studies are critically necessary if we are to understand the range of meanings and experiences of age and aging in a pluralistic world.” — Journal of Japanese Studies “Gerontologists will find the book illuminating in its treatment of aging in cultural context in Japan as well as the meaning and significance of ritual and religion in this society. The key concepts of aging—ritual—health/wellness are intertwined; Traphagan does an excellent job of explaining the linkages as well as the cultural factors responsible for maintaining these links.” — Journal of Intergenerational Relationship “In addressing the full spectrum of topics concerning older adults’ health and well-being along with the vast array of Japanese religious rituals, The Practice of Concern is uniquely ambitious in scope. At the same time, it is a thoughtful, ethnographically grounded account of rural life in Japan that produces useful insights for anyone with an interest in the cross-cultural study of aging and religion.” — Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging
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