A Social History of the Development of the BDSM Scene in Birmingham

Lesley Gabriel


My PhD research is on the BDSM (Bondage & Discipline / Domination & Submission / Sadism & Masochism) scene in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands. The research will take the form of an ethnography involving human geography and ethnohistory in order to establish how the BDSM community has developed in the internet age, as well as the impact of recent cultural phenomena such as EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey books and films.

Within the current field of research there is a concentration on global hubs for BDSM activity such as San Francisco or London, but as yet very little has been published about the West Midlands, despite the scene being a large and cohesive one. This research provides a unique opportunity, as the BDSM community in Birmingham has wholeheartedly embraced the project, seeking to discuss and document its own history.

A range of participants from the West Midlands scene will be interviewed – from those who first established the BBB, right through to newer members of the community who may have been lead there via an interest sparked by Fifty Shades. As part of the research it is hoped that a resource for the local BDSM community can be created where they can share memories or pictures or even old flyers of club nights they attended. This online archive would most likely be held on the BDSM social media site, Fetlife.

It is anticipated that links to Birmingham’s industrial past will be uncovered and documented, as well as a thorough discussion of how the internet has changed the scene by enabling better communication as well as education and kink-related commerce. There will also be a thorough exploration of ‘the rules’, i.e. the etiquette of the scene, as well as a discussion regarding how this is policed within the community and an exploration of the penalties imposed if the rules are broken.

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