Heather Love is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in gender studies and queer theory, modernism and modernity, affect studies, disability studies, film and visual culture, psychoanalysis, sociology and literature, and critical theory. She has also taught courses at Harvard, NYU, and Princeton. She is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (2009), the editor of a special issue of GLQ on Gayle Rubin (2011), and the co-editor of a special issue of New Literary History (2000): ‘Is There Life after Identity Politics?’

She has organized two major conferences in the field of queer studies, ‘Rethinking Sex’ (2009) and ‘Queer Method’ (2013). She is working on projects on reading methods in literary studies, comparative social stigma, and pedagogy and mentorship in queer studies. In 2015-2016, she will be the Topic Director for the Penn Humanities Forum (‘Sex’).

Practices of Description:
Reading the Social in the Post-War Period

The period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s has been called the ‘golden age of microanalysis’. It was a moment when new recording technologies, observational methods, and a focus on concrete practices of communication converged to produce extravagantly detailed portraits of small social worlds. Multidisciplinary teams of researchers worked together to create portraits of social interaction at the micro scale that were precise, comprehensive, and concrete. In this book, I trace several of these projects in sociology, natural history, linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and communications, tracing the challenges they faced and the methods they invented in forging replicable and faithful accounts of ephemeral experience.

I compare these projects in the social sciences to simultaneous developments in the arts, especially post-War novelistic realism, observational cinema, and durational performance. I consider this post-war history in the context of contemporary methodological debates in the humanities: the turn to post-hermeneutic and descriptive modes of reading and the rise of empirical humanities, particularly research employing quantitative methods and the insights of neuroscience. As critics argue over the value of new forms of empiricism, I argue that older forms of empiricism offer a rich array of resources – epistemological, methodological, and ethical – for the humanities today.