Queer Histories of the Hobo and the Taxi-Dance Hall

Janice Irvine, University of Massachusetts Amherst

This paper argues that early Chicago School texts like The Hobo and The Taxi-Dance Hall helped make visible new forms of social difference fostered by the changes of modernity in the early 20th century. Both texts depicted men and women challenging conventional heteronormativity and compulsory domesticity. Although very different in topic and tone, both books illuminated new sexual places and transgressive intersections of sexuality, race, class, and gender. Using the analytic lens of queer studies, this paper examines these texts and scholars in the social context of 1919 Chicago. Political and legal contests over women’s sexuality, along with race and immigration, entangled with other rapid social changes in sexual norms, gender expectation, and class dynamics to produce a volatile climate for sociological research and writing. This Chicago School scholarship prefigured (and helped inspire) the sociology of deviance that emerged in the sixties, which developed a conceptual toolkit and produced canonical texts on marginal social figures such as hustlers, homosexuals, delinquents, barmaids, and others. Together, certain Chicago School texts, such as The Hobo and The Taxi-Dance Hall, along with later deviance studies, anticipated later intellectual advances of social constructionism, and feminist-queer studies. Indeed, before queer, there was deviance.

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 Presented in Session 173. The Social Construction of Criminality and Deviance: Sexuality, Race, Housing, and Booze in 1919 Chicago