Dr Matthew Cook, Birkbeck College

 

The book which will be completed during the fellowship takes queer history indoors to explore the shifting relationship between homosexuality, home and family from the late nineteenth to the early twenty first century. It questions the exclusion of queer men from the narratives of home, domesticity and family which have been so central to British social and cultural history, and extends histories of male homosexual subjectivity, identity and community which have tended to focus on public or semi-public spaces. The book (contracted to Palgrave Macmillan for July 2012) historicises and contextualises recent legal, social and cultural change (and in particular civil partnership and adoption legislation) and draws out shifting ideas and everyday experiences of home over the long century since the sexological and psychoanalytic descriptions of the invert and homosexual. It does not simply look at these ‘types’ of men in an additional set of spaces, however. Instead it explores the ways in which homosexual subjectivities may have been configured differently within the domestic sphere and considers the impact various domestic arrangements had on political, creative, sexual and social lives. It asks how these arrangements resonated with broader ideals and lived experiences of home and family; considers the significance of class, migration, race, political consciousness, locality, biological kin and friendship networks to the way households functioned; looks at connections with wider queer cultures and ‘homes from home’ (pubs and hotels, for example); and explores the (often curtailed) options available to queer men in relation to rental and housing markets, social housing, and squats and communes.

 

The book will be anchored in eight case study households taken from across the period. These will allow for a detailed and contextually grounded exploration of relationships between shifting ideologies of gender, sexuality and domesticity and individual domestic imperatives and choices. The approach facilitates a research conversation with other recent case study rich histories of home and intimacy (Cohen, 2006; Marcus, 2007) and with those queer histories of London which have looked more to the public realm (Cocks, 2003; Cook, 2003; Houlbrook, 2005). The case studies have been selected to illuminate different circulating perceptions of queer home life in relation to lived experience, and especially regarding domestic aesthetics, family, bedsitterland, suburban living, communes and squats, domestic contingencies associated with HIV and AIDS, and the implications of new legislation. They also facilitate consideration of how queer homes have been recorded and represented – privately via photographs, home movies, and diaries, and more publicly in fiction, theatre, autobiography and film. Different sources come into particular focus in relation to different case studies: scrapbooks, letters, diaries, and photographs are to the fore with the earlier households; oral history testimonies (including 25 gathered as part of this research), home movies and actual homes under scrutiny for the later ones. Such different source materials, the book will show, give different kinds of access to intimate lives and histories. Techniques and analytical perspectives from cultural and social history, sociology, cultural geography, and literary and film studies especially are deployed to weave the book’s narrative and argument and to explore tensions, disjunctions and intersections between histories of discourse and histories of everyday lives; between indoor domestic spaces and other realms.

 

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