Professor Wendy Espeland (Northwestern University) will deliver her keynote lecture as part of the Crosscurrents of Commensuration conference. The keynote lecture is free to attend but booking is required. To book your place please click here or use the online registration link in this page.
Commensuration – the transforming of qualities into quantities that share a metric – is a fundamental way of making sense of the world. We commensurate when we standardize test scores, vote, attach prices to things, or conduct a census. The practice of commensuration can have important implications for how we understand who we are and who we are not, for our cultural and political identities. My paper examines the role that commensuration played in producing a particular identity that fused the cultural and the political: the identity of homosexuals as a minority group with a distinctive culture that required recognition, rights and protection. Social scientists, in their efforts to measure sexual behavior with surveys and interviews, played an important role in the origins of the modern gay rights movement and in the development of gay and lesbian identity politics. Measures, and critiques of measures, of sexual practice prompted the creation of the first gay rights organization in the U.S. They shaped how participants in an emerging political movement understood themselves, how and when they organized, and the political strategies they and their opponents uses. The commensuration of sexual practices in the U.S. helped forge a durable gay identity that gave rise to particular form of politics that evolved and was adapted over almost forty years.
Crosscurrents of Commensuration is sponsored by the Limits of Numerical research group at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, with generous support from the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF).