Skip to main content
Shopping cart: items Cart


Social Deviance and Queer Theory


Social Deviance and Queer Theory

A pathbreaking genealogy of queer theory that traces its roots to an unexpected source: sociological research on marginal communities in the era before Stonewall.
The sociology of “social deviants” flourished in the United States at midcentury, studying the lives of outsiders such as homosexuals, Jews, disabled people, drug addicts, and political radicals. But in the following decades, many of these downcast figures would become the architects of new social movements, activists in revolt against institutions, the state, and social constraint. As queer theory gained prominence as a subfield of the humanities in the late 1980s, it seemed to inherit these radical, activist impulses—challenging not only gender and sexual norms, but also the nature of society itself.

With Underdogs, Heather Love shows that queer theorists inherited as much from sociologists as they did from activists. Through theoretical and archival work, Love traces the connection between midcentury studies of deviance and the antinormative, antiessentialist field of queer theory. While sociologists saw deviance as an inevitable fact of social life, queer theorists embraced it as a rallying cry. A robust interdisciplinary history of the field, Underdogs stages a reencounter with the practices and communities that underwrite radical queer thought.

248 pages | 2 halftones | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2021

Gender and Sexuality

History: History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Sociology: Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations


“What might we learn about queer studies by exploring its intellectual debts to midcentury social scientists’ interest in underdogs, underworlds, and the dynamics of stigma? Heather Love’s provocative and defamiliarizing analysis asks us to see queer studies—its limitations and its transformational possibilities—anew. A critical intellectual history, teeming with ideas and unlikely engagements.”

Regina Kunzel, Yale University

Underdogs is a well-crafted, subtle, and beautifully written foray into the worlds of mid-twentieth century social science by a humanities scholar who uncovers, in the fine details of descriptive empirical research, the largely unrecognized precursors of today’s queer studies. With keen focus, Love reveals new possibilities for scholarly, ethical, and political commitments to the defense of outcasts and outsiders. Love makes an impassioned claim that humanists and social scientists need one another—and need to set aside the tenacious methodological dogmas that keep them apart.”

Steven Epstein, Northwestern University

Underdogs clarifies how the social science of deviance, like the queer theory that superseded it, depended on the figure of the outsider. Love asks queer theory to take social science methodologies, especially ‘underdog methods,’ seriously. At their best, these methods promise to keep queer theory open to surprise and alert to the potentialities of everyday life.”

Elizabeth Freeman, University of California, Davis

Table of Contents

Introduction: Beginning with Stigma
1 The Stigma Archive
2 Just Watching
3 A Sociological Periplum
4 Doing Being Deviant
Afterword: The Politics of Stigma

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press