Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Heather Love

Abstract

This dissertation explores productions of queer childhood in boarding schools established for marginalized populations in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries in North America: Native American boarding schools, reform schools, schools for children with disabilities, and African American industrial schools. Through analyzing institutional materials from schools’ early histories alongside fictional accounts that emerged later in the twentieth century, I argue that institutions managed children’s sexualities to orient children toward limited futures where their bodies, labor, and reproductive capacities would be under state control. These limited futures were experienced as liminal, stagnant, or cyclical—in other words, queer. I show how institutions were not opposed to queerness but depended on its production to subjugate marginalized communities. Queer studies tends to view deviations from normative temporalities—that is, temporalities bound with marriage and reproduction that rely on a linear, progressive model of time—as full of possibilities. My project recasts queer by revealing how institutions oriented children toward temporalities that were exploitative, violent, or genocidal.

I examine archival materials that reflect techniques for social control of children’s bodies and focus on literature written by survivors of schools or persons who bear the legacy of these institutions. I read these works, which are based on experience but don’t quite qualify as memoir, to show how authors construct a genre that straddles the boundary between fiction and nonfiction. I argue this quasi-fictional mode imagines possibilities for survival despite these educations that were designed to leave children outside the social order. The literary form in which these authors write functions as a counter-archive to dominant narratives that render racialized, criminalized, and disabled children disappeared and forgotten by history. Authors’ descriptions of pleasures and desires combat institutions’ attempts to pathologize these affects and sensations.

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