“Saturn Devouring His Son,” Francisco Goya, c. 1819-1823
Image: “Saturn Devouring His Son,” Francisco Goya, c. 1819-1823


Taboo permeates all aspects of everyday life, acting as the boundary against which society polices human experience and experimentation. Frequently characterised as social or religious customs that proscribe particular ideas, practices, words or persons, taboos not only help define a set of shared rules for society, but also clarify the limitations of the accepted.

Kelly Hurley highlights the positive facets of taboo, suggesting that it is only through the enforcement of certain boundaries that humans might “continue to experience the world as an epistemologically stable site” (The Gothic Body 25). Mary Douglas, meanwhile, argues that although taboos act as a safeguard against social disorder, they often become repressive for members of society. In light of these contrasting views, are specific taboos indeed necessary for social stability, or do they simply hinder progress?

Taboos differ across cultures, religions, and time; yet certain forbidden practices like incest, cannibalism, and murder seem more universally regarded. Why might this be? Changing social standards also create new taboos that reflect a particular historical moment. Tracing the ways in which taboos arise and are challenged therefore not only reveals these standards, but also society’s anxieties, fears, and nightmares.

Issue 24 of FORUM seeks contributions from a range of disciplines that engage with the concept of taboo. To what extents are civilisations structured around taboos? How might taboos reveal the darker, or even the suppressed side of society? In what ways do art and literature provide avenues for the exploration of taboo? Do taboos inevitably drive the homogenisation of both landscapes and people? In what ways might breaking taboos offer opportunities for liberation? Are there some taboos that should never be broken?

Issue 24 of FORUM engages with a wide range of disciplines that consider the topic of taboo.

Editors: Anahit Behrooz and Vicki Madden

Review Team Spring 2017: Valentina Aparicio*, Suzanne Black, Tamara Browne, Michelle Devereaux, Richard Elliott, Enti Erends, Robert Fell, Danielle Howarth, Alice Kelly, Mohamed Mahmoud*, Stella Medvedeva, Alberto Nanni, Vivek Santayana*, Eva Spisiakova, Maria Elena Torres-Quevedo*, Tomas Vergara, Aran Ward Sell, Jo Wilson.

Article editors are marked with a star (*) 

Published: 29-May-2017