Playing on the Edge

Playing on the Edge is about the relationships between intimacy and risk-taking.  Through a first-hand ethnographic representation of a highly stigmatized and marginalized community, Newmahr theorizes complex intersections of trust, risk, violation, intimacy and eroticism and gender in everyday life.  Playing on the Edge  challenges our assumptions about sadomasochism, sexuality, eroticism, and emotional experience, exploring what it is that we mean by “intimacy,” and how, exactly, we achieve it.


“As an ethnography of an Sadomasochism (SM) community, many readers will approach this book expecting to find a tawdry, perhaps sensationalized, even somewhat erotic expose of a sexual underground. This is far from what Staci Newmahr provides. Instead, this is a high quality, truly academic ethnographic analysis of one SM community that highlights identities, motivations, activities, experiences, identity constructions, and theoretically rich examinations of how a typically construed as deviant, alternative lifestyle community provides for the social, emotional, and psychological needs of individual members…. In simple terms, this is a very good book and a first-class example of what ethnographic research can and should look like.””

– Richard Tewksbury, Criminal Justice Review, 36 (4)

“The book is captivating and ethnographically dense, replete with excerpts from interviews and truly fascinating field notes from SM sessions.”

– Christian Groes-Green, Ethnos, 77 (1)

[Newmahr’s] “commitment to understanding the community of public SM players with rigor, intellectual honesty, and sensitivity is the hallmarks of a great ethnography.”

– Kathryn Lively, Symbolic Interaction, 35 (4)

[Playing on the Edge] “provides a convincing argument for a properly sociological reappraisal of the positive values ascribed to intimacy, which [Newmahr] contrasts with the pathologization of violence and risk. As with much of the material presented in her book, this is a line of argument that takes us into potentially uncomfortable places, such as the contemplation of rape, murder, and assault as intimate practices. It is a symptom of the quality and integrity of her work that Newmahr is able to take us to the dangerous edges of sociological thinking on these risky topics.”

– Julie Scott, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18(4)

[Newmahr’s] portraits are sharply observed and represent a significant contribution to contemporary sociology.

– Camille Paglia, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013

“In closing, while a whole course on BDSM seems more appropriate to other social science fields (e.g., sociology, anthropology) than criminal justice, this reviewer might suggest including a class on it within a victims course. Playing on the Edge and Techniques of Pleasure are both worth the purchase, and may spark ideas for innovations in a crime victims or other criminal justice course. Or not. In any case, they make the mind run.”

– Connie Hassett-Walker, “Whips, Restraints, and Consenting Victims: New Ideas for Teaching Crime Victims and Victimology,” DWC Division News, Spring 2014


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