Sarah Igo: Sex, Science, and Secrets in the Sixties


My talk, based on my recently published book, The Known Citizen, focuses on a moment when ideas in the United States about privacy and social research were evolving in tandem.  I examine shifting sensibilities about confidentiality and consent in the 1960s and 1970s through the case of Laud Humphreys, a sociologist who conducted a path-breaking ethnographic study of gay male sex in public restrooms.  Humphreys was initially applauded for the boldness of his research.  Soon enough, however, he would be roundly condemned for invading the private lives of his unwitting subjects.  The reaction to Humphreys’ Tearoom Trade reveals fresh skepticism about the “right to know” in an era of unprecedented federal funding and prestige for social science. It also highlights newfound concerns by the later sixties about the shrinking space for unmonitored action in the modern U.S.—even for behavior that offended dominant norms, was legally punishable, and officially shunned.

This talk is co-sponsored by: