The University of Manchester in England and peer-reviewed scientific journal Qualitative Research have launched an investigation into a research paper written by a Ph.D. student who described how he masturbated to Japanese comics depicting young boys for three months.
Karl Andersson, a visual anthropologist and Ph.D. student at the University of Manchester, drew controversy last week after his research paper, titled “I am not alone – we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan,” began circulating on social media.
In his paper, Andersson noted that he began masturbating after having “hit a wall” while researching shota, a Japanese illustrated genre that portrays young boys in sexualized ways.
“In this research note, I will recount how I set up an experimental method of masturbating to shota comics, and how this participant observation of my own desire not only gave me a more embodied understanding of the topic for my research but also made me think about loneliness and ways to combat it as driving forces of the culture of self-published erotic comics,” Andersson wrote in the nearly 4,000-word paper.
The Ph.D. student provided graphic details on his methodology over the span of three months. He wrote about his self-imposed ban on regular pornography, sex and other forms of “sexual relief.”
Andersson also noted he has been living alone and had recently become single following a long-term relationship. He speculated that “these factors probably contributed to my willingness and eagerness to explore this method.”
“For a period of three months, I would masturbate only to shota comics. For this purpose, I would use doujinshi and commercial volumes that I have bought or been given during fieldwork in Japan,” Andersson wrote.
“After each masturbation session I would write down my thoughts and feelings – a kind of critical self-reflection – in a notebook, as well as details about which material I had used, where I had done it, at what time, and for how long,” he continued.
Outrage soon spread online after a netizen on Mumsnet, a popular London-based internet forum for parents, shared the paper and called it a “PhD. in wanking.” Meanwhile, Twitter users called out Andersson and those responsible for publishing his paper.
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“Why should hard-working taxpayers in my constituency have to pay for an academic to write about his experiences masturbating to Japanese porn?” Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Neil O’Brien tweeted.
“How was a description of the author masturbating to the images of young boys peer reviewed and published?” another netizen wrote.
Following the backlash, the University of Manchester announced that it had launched an investigation into Andersson’s research paper after it raised significant concerns and complaints.
“The recent publication in Qualitative Research of the work of a student, now registered for a PhD, has raised significant concerns and complaints which we are taking very seriously,” a spokesperson said in a statement to The Guardian. “We are currently undertaking a detailed investigation into all aspects of their work, the processes around it and other questions raised. It is very important that we look at the issues in-depth.” Similarly, the editors at Qualitative Research also published a statement online, writing: “On August 9th we began investigating the publication of the paper “I am not alone – we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan,” published earlier this year. We are continuing with our investigations and will consider closely all guidance from the Committee of Publication Ethics and ensure that any actions taken comply with COPE standards.”
A spokesperson for the British child protection charity National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) also raised concerns over the publication of the paper and agreed with the ongoing investigation.
“That this research was published in a peer-reviewed journal is highly concerning, and it’s right that the universities and publishers involved are investigating,” the spokesperson told The Guardian. “All research, and research publication, should be subject to proportionate but rigorous ethical review, including robust safeguarding checks.”
In his University of Manchester profile, Andersson wrote that he is a “PhD student researching how fans of subcultural comics in Japan experience desire and think about sexual identities, especially in regard to fictional and actual realities.”
He also noted that his Ph.D. research is “funded by the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.”
Andersson received his Master of Arts in Visual and Media Anthropology from the Free University of Berlin in 2020 and his Bachelor of Arts in Applied Linguistics from Stockholm University in Sweden in 2003. His film “Unreal Boys,” which tells the story of “three young men in Tokyo [who] explore the limits of fantasy through the comic genre shota,” premiered at the 17th biennual conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists in Belfast on July 28.