Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities
2013—2014 Forum on Violence
No Good Account: Reading Vagrancy in the Eighteenth Century
This project traces vagrancy across literature, law, and economic thought in the eighteenth century British Empire. Criminalizing under one heading a wide range of behaviors such as begging, street prostitution, itinerant performance, and fraudulent imposture, vagrancy laws linked the refusal of "legitimate" labor with generalized anticipation of social disorder. Drawing on recent work in queer theory, critical race theory, and disability studies, I examine how perceived dispositions towards labor intersected with other markers of human difference. I argue that literary portrayals articulate vagrancy as a formal structure of knowledge and representation, constituting the ideal of the rational economic actor from the vantage point of its illegible, disorderly other.