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Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality Paperback – September 1, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0226462271 ISBN-10: 0226462277 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226462277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226462271
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Criminal Intimacy is simply the best book on the history of sexuality that I’ve read in some time. Kunzel has tackled a conceptually and historically elusive topic and treated it with a sure critical sense, a broad chronological sweep, a delicate and subtle tact, and an enviable common sense. She has synthesized a mass of material to produce a coherent narrative, foregrounding issues of class, race, and gender in her analysis without sacrificing complexity or detail. It is beautifully and economically written and a pleasure to read—this is not just a good book, but a major one.”—David Halperin, author of How to Do the History of Homosexuality

(David Halperin)

Criminal Intimacy shows how the inside world of prison culture both reflects and shapes the outside world’s understanding of sexuality. In prose that is lucid, economical, and often elegant, Kunzel offers a sophisticated and persuasive argument that complicates the dominant historical narrative about the emergence of modern homosexuality. The research is prodigious and the primary materials are deftly incorporated throughout this impressive book.”—Estelle B. Freedman, author of No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women

(Estelle B. Freedman)

“Regina Kunzel has written a pathbreaking study of prison sexual culture from the origins of the penitentiary to the AIDS crisis. She reveals the complex history of inmates’ same-sex encounters and traces the shifting explanations for prison homosexuality advanced by officials, reformers, and activists. Criminal Intimacy revises our understanding of modern sexual identity, showing how much homosexuality and heterosexuality have been unstable and unconsolidated categories. This is one of the most significant books on the history of American sexuality in recent years. ”

(Kathy Peiss, author of Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture)

“Written with elegance and argued with verve. In this brilliant analysis, Kunzel uses sex in prison to rewrite the history of modern sexual identity. Through meticulous research, she shows us how concerns about sex refracted shifting anxieties about class, race, gender, family, and violence. A sleek, smart, and important book.”

(Joanne Meyerowitz, author of How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the)

"Criminal Intimacy successfully conveys the continued sidelining of the complexities of sex in prisons. For even in the face of the constant fear of violence in so many American prisons, Kunzel depicts a world in which sexual love between men, or between women, once it is given the attention it deserves, can still threaten to unsettle dominant conceptions of stable sexual identities. It is this that makes Kunzel's book essential reading for anyone interested in learning more about the multifarious exchanges between sexuality and identity, in any context."
(Times Higher Education)

“Kunzel’s fascinating history of the changing attitudes toward same-sex sex in prisons challenges views of sexuality and gender identity as simple or immutable.”

"This much-anticipated book does not disappoint. Regina Kunzel not only offers a long-overdue, rich account of sex in prisons, but uses the institution's position . . . to obtain an important new perspective on modern sexuality. . . . This book will change the way you look at modern sexuality."
(Stephen Robertson Journal of American History)

"[Kunzel] succeeds magnificently in tracing the shifting multiple understandings of sex in prison, with all its complex gender, class, and racial dynamics. . . . This is an important contemporary story. If we thought for a moment that sex in prison was something that happened far away to other people, Kunzel makes us think again."
(Leila J. Rupp Women's Review of Books)

About the Author

Regina Kunzel is professor of history, professor of gender, women, and sexuality studies, and the Paul R. Frenzel Land Grant Chair in Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890–1945.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jeffery Mingo on January 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think the back of the book says the author won many awards for this text. Well, she deserves it! This text was chockful of amazing historical facts and analysis.

If it weren't for the fact that gay & lesbian studies is relvatively new, I would almost assume the author majored in it. This text brings up aaaaaaaaall the major questions and themes of that field. The work points to how wardens and criminologists try to punish inmates by depriving them of opposite-sex contact, yet then they can't control for same-sex activity. They fear that prisons will create gays. Like Clinton once pondered in the gays-in-the-military debate, wardens tried to segregate gays from others. However, there's always the inability to scientifically determine who likes whom. In short, criminologists can't detect and control for the non-stereotypical ones. They wrestle with gays are born or made/the essentialism-constructionism debate. As straight males have historically had most of the power, the vox populi both punishes lesbians, but also gets turned on by them. The author goes further and asks what happens when gay rights and prisoners' rights intersect. When do activists promote one of those causes, but then fight the other. Practically a page couldn't go by where I didn't think, "Wow! That's a good point." This has a photo and drawing section that was informative, hilarious, and a great display for gay studies majors to see.

I have one critique. The book has one race chapter, one gender chapter, and one gay rights chapter. Structurally that may seem troublingly simplistic to some readers. However, for students that just want to read the book for just one subject, it may be easier for them to find material to cite.

Unfortunately, I accidently poured some water and some cough syrup on my own copy. But if I had kept good care of this book, it would definitely have been a keeper.
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Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality
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