Dr O’Neill’s first book, Seduction: Men, Masculinity and Mediated Intimacy (Polity, 2018) is an ethnography of the ‘seduction community’. In this community-industry, heterosexual men are given instruction in how to meet and attract women. Based on extensive fieldwork encompassing media analysis, participant observation and interviews, it challenges sensationalist narratives about ‘pickup artists’ by demonstrating how the system of expertise advanced in this setting channels entrepreneurial logics that circumscribe rather than expand men’s capacities for being and relating.
The book makes three major contributions. First, it advances media and cultural studies scholarship on postfeminism by centering questions of men and masculinity, an oft-overlooked area of enquiry. Second, the book intervenes in sociological debates about sexuality by demonstrating how neoliberal rationalities shape dynamics of attraction and desire, sex and romance, lust and love. Third, it provides a unique vantage from which to understand an especially tumultuous moment in sexual politics by examining how, for some men, intimate life has become a proxy through which to address social grievances. Seduction was named Times Higher Education Book of the Week on publication and has since attracted significant media attention both nationally and internationally, including features on high-profile programmes such as Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4).
Dr O’Neill’s second major research project continues her core concern with gendered subjectivity while turning from the highly masculinised world of ‘seduction’ to the distinctly feminised sphere of ‘wellness’. The starting point for this research is the extraordinary cultural visibility currently afforded to young women entrepreneurs in the business of ‘healthy eating’. Dr O’Neill is interested in how this spotlighting – initially enabled through platforms such as Instagram but now extending across a wide range of media – functions as part of the broader cultural politics of austerity, where women in particular are enjoined to ‘choose health’ and ‘cultivate resilience’.