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Queers and Provocateurs: Hegemony, Ideology, and the “Homosexual Advance” Defense


  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association. I am especially grateful to Valerie Jenness, Kitty Calavita, and Susan Coutin for their input on this project and for their ongoing support of my research interests. I also thank Herbert Kritzer and the anonymous reviewers who provided critical and constructive comments on earlier versions of this article, as well as Laura Grindstaff and Gray Cavender for their input on methodological issues.

Please address correspondence to Michael Smyth, 875 San Remo Road, Pasadena, CA 91105; e-mail:


This exploratory article relies upon a historical-interpretive approach to understanding the relationship between legal narrative and popular consciousness in particular historical moments, focusing especially on “troubled times,” in which the legitimacy of a hegemonic worldview embodied in law comes under challenge from a newly ascendant ideology in the popular domain. To discern the nature of that relationship and its implications, I offer a three-pronged analysis, drawing on two original data sets. Initially, each data set is analyzed individually to elaborate the nature of, and changes in, (1) representations of homosexuals circulating in popular culture, and (2) constructions of homosexuals in defendants' narratives in “homosexual advance” homicide cases between 1946 and 2003. Findings from these two analyses are thereafter combined to explore the relationship between the two constructions of homosexuals across that time period. In combination, these three analyses provide empirical evidence that, rather than mirroring changes in popular discourse about homosexuality, the changes revealed in the defense narratives actually opposed them. I use these findings to argue that, in what Swidler (1986) has called “unsettled times,” ideological pluralism is pronounced and may be discerned in the complex and sometimes counterintuitive relationships that exist within and between legal narrative and popular discourse.