Manchester quizzed over funding of masturbation paper author

Karl Andersson has long attracted controversy over his interest in sexually suggestive images of teenage boys, so did university investigate this?

August 16, 2022
Karl Andersson
Source: University of Manchester
Karl Andersson

The University of Manchester is facing questions over its funding of a PhD student who published a journal paper on masturbating to Japanese comics after it emerged that he has faced controversy for publishing a magazine featuring sexually suggestive images of teenage boys.

The institution and the Sage journal Qualitative Research are investigating how Karl Andersson was able to publish an article subtitled “Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan”, reflecting on a three-month period during which he “masturbated only” to pictures found in the manga comic genre that depicted sexual encounters involving young boys. It has now been removed from the journal’s website.

Alongside scrutiny of any ethics approval associated with the paper and where the research was conducted – possessing fictional images of minors in a pornographic context is banned in the UK but some countries have different rules – scholars have complained that “masturbating to images of young boys and passing it off as scholarship normalises paedophilia”.

Manchester may face questions over why its School of Arts, Languages and Cultures chose to fund Mr Andersson’s PhD, focusing on “how fans of subcultural comics in Japan experience desire and think about sexual identities”, and whether it had vetted his previous work.

Mr Andersson, who is in his mid-forties, faced criticism in his native Sweden over the magazine Destroyer, which featured pictures of semi-naked adolescent boys. The magazine, which he ran from 2006 to 2010, was described by the US gay magazine Out in 2012 as a “paean to the love of boys – young boys”.

In an interview with Out, Mr Andersson questioned why Destroyer had faced criticism from child protection activists for “sexualising children” when many provocative images of teenage girls in mainstream publications did not face censure.

Mr Andersson was later criticised for his website Breaking Boys News, which featured similar images.

A Vice article published in November 2012 described the site as “essentially made up of violent, sexual headlines about young boys, illustrated with pictures of pre-pubescent boys in sexualised poses, half-naked and occasionally not wearing any pants”, although the headlines did not relate to those individuals shown.

“It’s not technically child porn, but it is really fucked up,” the writer concluded.

Speaking to Vice, Mr Andersson reflected: “It’s funny how it’s totally okay, even the norm, for a teenage girl to pose in a sexy way on magazine covers, but as soon as it’s a boy people get upset.”

More recently, Mr Andersson has chronicled his interest in sexually suggestive literature featuring teenage boys on his YouTube channel. In one “unboxing” video posted in May, Mr Andersson opens an Amazon delivery from Japan featuring titles that he translates as “The Naughty Little Prince” and “Since I’m a high school temptress I’m seducing elementary schoolers” – which he admits is “quite an extreme title” – and another title that he acknowledges “may be pornographic”.

Despite Mr Andersson’s notoriety, it was “highly unlikely” that anyone at Manchester was aware of his background, said Michelle Shipworth, an associate professor in UCL’s Energy Institute. “One doesn’t go digging around online trying to uncover the background of potential PhD students,” she said.

Nonetheless, Mr Andersson’s “deeply disturbing” recent paper and PhD topic should have raised a red flag, she argued.

“I’m definitely not saying that we should avoid research with problematic elements. Even research into the use of child pornography could potentially be ethically justifiable if very well-designed and conducted,” said Ms Shipworth. “However, it would need deep consideration by a research ethics committee evaluating all aspects of the research, including the social benefits and harm mitigation.”

A Manchester spokesman said: “We are currently undertaking a detailed investigation into all aspects of [Mr Andersson’s] work, the processes around it and other questions raised.”

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Reader's comments (2)

As a lot of research is subsidised by teaching income, it would be interesting to note if this research was actually 'funded'. If there was no direct funding for this, then one way or another it was indirectly subsidised using UG fees. Loans that are then carried by people studying degrees. If vanity (and quite possibly harmful) research like this is carried out, how is it properly justified if it has to be subsidised from other university activities ? There's not just some ethics investigations due, but a real examination of what some academics are actually doing at Manchester, with precious higher education resources.
The paper is still publicly available on research gate