Wed, 05 Oct 2022

A top British university is investigating a PhD candidate's paper on his use of 'shota' manga

A student at a leading British university has published a research paper, in which he detailed his experience of masturbating to a type of Japanese erotic manga that sexualizes underage boys. The university and the peer-reviewed journal that published the study are investigating the matter following online backlash.

The University of Manchester and Qualitative Research journal are probing the publication of work by PhD student Karl Andersson, which was titled "I am not alone - we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan."

Andersson claimed he researched "shota" manga to explore "whether or how sexual desire for fictional boys is connected to sexual attraction to actual children" - a question he said aficionados of such content sometimes expressed.

His method was to masturbate to examples of this genre and log his sessions over three months, according to the paper. Andersson said he didn't have sex with other people during his research, and didn't consume other kinds of pornography. He noted that living alone was beneficial to the project.

In the conclusion, Andersson expressed appreciation for his research tool. He said he wondered "if all sex is masturbation" in the sense that participants are focused on their own pleasure, and suggested that self-gratification connected people to authors and other consumers of explicit content, making the act an "activity during which we are least alone."

The 4,000-word paper was published in late April, but attracted public attention this week, when some readers, academics and politicians expressed their disapproval.

Conservative MP Neil O'Brien wondered why "hard-working taxpayers" in his constituency of Harborough should pay for such research. "The non-STEM side of higher education is just much too big, producing too much that is not socially useful," he added.

According to Andersson's paper, he didn't receive any financial support to publish it. But his profile on the university webpage says his PhD research is funded by its School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.

Andersson, who announced that he was enrolling as a PhD student at the University of Manchester in September 2021, has a background as a provocative artist in his home nation of Sweden. Early in his career, he published a magazine called Destroyer, which featured naked photos of pubescent boys and catered for male audiences, according to an interview he gave to Vice News in 2012.

He said he started the project "out of frustration of the current politics of the gay movement, which becomes ever more non-inclusive of the less flattering expressions of homosexuality, most notably male attraction to boys."

Andersson was involved in similarly themed publications after Destroyer was dropped by Swedish bookshops, prompting Vice News to say he was "like the Larry Flynt of sexualizing children, which totally isn't a good thing."

Following uproar over the PhD research paper, the university announced it was "undertaking a detailed investigation into all aspects" of Andersson's work and declined to comment further. Qualitative Research said it would "consider closely all guidance from the Committee of Publication Ethics and ensure that any actions taken comply with COPE standards."

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