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Disturbing Practices

History, Sexuality, and Women’s Experience of Modern War

Disturbing Practices

History, Sexuality, and Women’s Experience of Modern War

For decades, the history of sexuality has been a multidisciplinary project serving competing agendas. Lesbian, gay, and queer scholars have produced powerful narratives by tracing the homosexual or queer subject as continuous or discontinuous. Yet organizing historical work around categories of identity as normal or abnormal often obscures how sexual matters were known or talked about in the past. Set against the backdrop of women’s work experiences, friendships, and communities during World War I, Disturbing Practices draws on a substantial body of new archival material to expose the roadblocks still present in current practices and imagine new alternatives.

In this landmark book, Laura Doan clarifies the ethical value and political purpose of identity history—and indeed its very capacity to give rise to innovative practices borne of sustained exchange between queer studies and critical history. Disturbing Practices insists on taking seriously the imperative to step outside the logic of identity to address questions as yet unasked about the modern sexual past.

296 pages | 14 halftones, 4 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: British and Irish History


"This is a major book that undertakes the difficult tasks of summarizing current work in the field of lesbian/queer history and suggesting directions for future work. . . .The book should be required reading. . . for anyone interested in how same-sex love has been understood today and in the past."

Women's Review of Books

Disturbing Practices is a learned, erudite, and polished work of scholarship that breaks new ground in the way it conceptualizes the queer past. This is an amazingly rich study that is organized and written in such a way that its major contributions are evident, clear, and superbly developed.”

Chris Waters | Williams College

“Focusing on World War I in England, a time and place often associated with the emergence of a distinctive lesbian identity, Laura Doan argues instead that this was a period that had yet to develop sexual taxonomies. Rather than restore to view lesbians hidden from history, Doan gives us elasticity, inarticulateness, and a world without norms. Disturbing Practices argues eloquently for the necessity of a queer critical history that does not take its categories for granted.”

Sharon Marcus | author of Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

“Across her career, Laura Doan’s scholarly signature has been her refusal to entertain an axiomatic knowledge without first subjecting it to rigorous critical pressure. Disturbing Practices rearticulates intellectual paradigms widely assumed as self-evident in the interests of a new queer critical history.”

Annamarie Jagose | author of Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence

"In a brilliant and challenging book, Laura Doan takes us out of the impasses of queer theory and opens up a new space for a queer critical history. The acuity of her theoretical interventions are only matched by the subtlety of her historical case studies."

Anna Clark | author of Desire: A History of Sexuality in Europe

Disturbing Practices stands comparison to the very best work in sexuality studies. Empirically rich and rigorous, it represents a challenging and groundbreaking intervention in the field.”

Matt Houlbrook | author of Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957

"Disturbing Practices is a rich, erudite piece of scholarship that stands up as one of the most important interventions in the field for at least a decade."

Twentieth Century British History

Table of Contents


Introduction: History and Sexuality/Sexuality and History

1  An Uncommon Project: The Discipline Problem Reconsidered
2  Genealogy Inside and Out

3  Topsy-Turvydom: Gender, Sexuality, and the Problem of Categorization
4  “We Cannot Use That Word”: On the Habits of Naming, Name Calling, and Self-Naming
5  Normal Soap and Elastic Hymens: Historicizing the Modern Norms of Sexuality


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