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Intimate States

Gender, Sexuality, and Governance in Modern US History

Intimate States

Gender, Sexuality, and Governance in Modern US History

Fourteen essays examine the unexpected relationships between government power and intimate life in the last 150 years of United States history.
The last few decades have seen a surge of historical scholarship that analyzes state power and expands our understanding of governmental authority and the ways we experience it. At the same time, studies of the history of intimate life—marriage, sexuality, child-rearing, and family—also have blossomed. Yet these two literatures have not been considered together in a sustained way. This book, edited and introduced by three preeminent American historians, aims to close this gap, offering powerful analyses of the relationship between state power and intimate experience in the United States from the Civil War to the present.

The fourteen essays that make up Intimate States argue that “intimate governance”—the binding of private daily experience to the apparatus of the state—should be central to our understanding of modern American history. Our personal experiences have been controlled and arranged by the state in ways we often don’t even see, the authors and editors argue; correspondingly, contemporary government has been profoundly shaped by its approaches and responses to the contours of intimate life, and its power has become so deeply embedded into daily social life that it is largely indistinguishable from society itself. Intimate States makes a persuasive case that the state is always with us, even in our most seemingly private moments.

360 pages | 14 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: American History

Political Science: American Government and Politics


Intimate States is a stunning achievement, challenging conventional thinking that sharply divides public from private; sex and gender from politics; identity from material concerns. In its breadth and depth, originality, and cohesiveness, Intimate States also manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of edited volumes; while far-ranging, it offers a single and coherent argument of profound importance.”

Deborah Dinner, Emory University

“A pioneering work that puts the history of the American state into direct and sophisticated conversation with the history of gender and sexuality. Brilliantly conceived and executed, Intimate States compels us to deconstruct the categories of private and public, to theorize in new ways about the realm of the intimate, and to rethink the sources and sway of government power. This collection will profoundly shape future studies of the American state.”

Gary Gerstle, University of Cambridge

“Canaday, Cott, and Self have not only succeeded in brilliantly underscoring the importance of studying intimacy and state power anew—they have also curated a distinct collection of essays that decisively answers this charge.”

Kali Gross, Emory University

Table of Contents

Margot Canaday, Nancy F. Cott, and Robert O. Self
1: Reconstructing Belonging: The Thirteenth Amendment at Work in the World
Stephanie McCurry
2: The Comstock Apparatus
Jeffrey Escoffier, Whitney Strub, and Jeffrey Patrick Colgan
3: Morals, Sex, Crime, and the Legal Origins of Modern American Social Police
William J. Novak
4: The Commerce (Clause) in Sex in the Life of Lucille de Saint-André
Grace Peña Delgado
5: “Facts Which Might Be Embarrassing”: Illegitimacy, Vital Registration, and State Knowledge
Susan J. Pearson
6: Race, the Construction of Dangerous Sexualities, and Juvenile Justice
Tera Eva Agyepong
7: Eugenic Sterilization as a Welfare Policy
Molly Ladd-Taylor
8: “Land of the White Hunter”: Legal Liberalism and the Shifting Racial Ground of Morals Enforcement
Anne Gray Fischer
9: Sex Panic, Psychiatry, and the Expansion of the Carceral State
Regina Kunzel
10: The Fall of Walter Jenkins and the Hidden History of the Lavender Scare
Timothy Stewart-Winter
11: The State of Illegitimacy after the Rights Revolution
Serena Mayeri
12: What Happened to the Functional Family? Defining and Defending Alternative Households Before and Beyond Same-Sex Marriage
Stephen Vider
13: Abortion and the State after Roe
Johanna Schoen
14: The Work That Sex Does
Paisley Currah
Afterword: Frugal Governance, Family Values, and the Intimate Roots of Neoliberalism
Brent Cebul

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