Black Queer Improvisations on CitizenshipNiels van Doorn
Because members of the Black queer community often exist outside conventional civic institutions, they must explore alternative intimacies to experience a sense of belonging. Civic Intimacies examines how—and to what extent—these different forms of intimacy catalyze the values, aspirations, and collective flourishing of Black queer denizens of Baltimore. Niels van Doorn draws on eighteen months of immersive ethnographic fieldwork for his innovative cross-disciplinary analysis of contemporary debates in political and cultural theory.
Van Doorn describes how members of these systematically marginalized communities improvise on citizenship not just to survive but also to thrive, despite the proliferation of violence and insecurity in their lives. By reimagining citizenship as the everyday reparative work of building support structures, Civic Intimacies highlights the extent to which sex, kinship, memory, religious faith, and sexual health are rooted in collective practices that are deeply political. These systems sustain the lives of Black queer Baltimoreans who find themselves stuck in a city that they cannot give up on—even though in many ways it has given up on them.
“Civic Intimacies is a thoughtful, timely, and engaging critique that rethinks the category of citizenship not simply as the domain of those on the inside but as constituted through its outside, through those subjects or nonsubjects that are seen as the very antithesis of sovereignty, subjectivity, and citizenship. Van Doorn challenges hegemonic notions of citizenship while also demonstrating how Black queer subjects create new understandings of citizenship through political, social, and cultural work.”
—Rashad Shabazz, Associate Professor in the School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University, and author of Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago
"Van Doorn interviews individuals who have dedicated their lives to addressing the mental health, sexual health, kinship, and religious needs of black queer Baltimoreans that would normally be met by civic and government institutions. In doing so, he assesses federally funded HIV prevention initiatives, the containment of black queer youth, the exclusion of the black queer community by mainstream churches, and the ethics of sexual pleasure. The author challenges readers to rethink what being a citizen and being political can encompass. He adds to the literature by exploring the cultural, historical, and political climate that denies certain communities resources while offering a model for how marginalized communities can thrive.... Summing Up: Recommended."
"Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Baltimore, van Doorn provides an excellent sense of the vibrancy of Black queer political work in a variety of contexts. His research asks a lot of important questions while providing fair and nuanced analysis, and the text is theoretically deep and astute.... (R)eaders are likely to learn a lot from this book. The range of material that van Doorn covers is enormously impressive.... This book makes an important contribution to a wide range of scholarship, including but not limited to sociological sexuality studies."
— Social Forces
"Van Doorn’s monograph will shape future research for those studying race and sexualities, especially for researchers who aim to study populations with whom they have no shared identity."
"Overall, Civic Intimacies provides a compelling framework that gestures to new ways of thinking about the meaning of citizenship in contemporary life. Van Doorn’s case studies offer fertile avenues for him to reconsider citizenship through the everyday production and maintenance of kinship ties. The book’s most significant contribution arrives at the conclusion, where the author challenges the pessimism of black selfhood within black and queer scholarship.... (A) meticulous and careful investigation of black queer life, which will undoubtedly impact critical race and queer studies."
—American Journal of Sociology
The Insubordinate Spaces series, edited by George Lipsitz, is a home for books that resist and rethink the increasingly outsized power market forces wield over public and private life and over the rules and assumptions of scholarly investigation and discourse. The series seeks to explore the origins and evolution of these contemporary and historical subordinating institutions and practices, as well as emergent insubordinate social spaces and institutions crafted to resist market imperatives and provide alternatives to them in the form of new publics, new polities, and new politics.