A City of “Familiar Strangers”: Spaces of Legibility, Surveillance, and Queer Pleasure in Late Imperial St. Petersburg

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Olga Petri, University of Cambridge
The paper examines the city’s male homosexual or queer milieu of late imperial St. Petersburg (1880-1914), which flourished in the tension between modern urban reforms, the legacy and vitality of village traditions, and the impress of a famously autocratic regime. The city’s singular topography of wide, straight boulevards stretching across a zoned landscape played an important role in the lives of urban residents. Its legible architectural configuration created panoptical vistas and enhanced disciplinary ambitions, not least in the regulation of sexuality. Queer men exploited the tension between the public legibility of urban spaces and the private nature of their business in them, transforming the imperial capital into a selective sexual ‘panopticon’. In this paper, I reconstruct four spatial stories: policing, street life, bathing, and cruising. To do that, I tap, among other sources, vastly underutilized resources of the St. Petersburg Historical Archive. Each story highlights a different aspect of the city’s historical queer milieu, which emerges as a world of ‘familiar strangers’, to use the words of one contemporary flâneur. Taken together, they allow the often axiomatic, seemingly static connection between the making of the modern homosexual and the city come to life.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>