by Simeon Koole
University of Chicago Press, 2024
Paper: 978-0-226-83434-4 | eISBN: 978-0-226-83433-7 | Cloth: 978-0-226-83432-0
Library of Congress Classification BF275.K664 2024
Dewey Decimal Classification 152.182

An insightful history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain told through a single sense: touch.
When, where, and who gets to touch and be touched, and who decides? What do we learn through touch? How does touch bring us closer together or push us apart? These are urgent contemporary questions, but they have their origins in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain, when new urban encounters compelled intense discussion of what touch was, and why it mattered. In this vividly written book, Simeon Koole excavates the history of these concerns and reveals how they continue to shape ideas about “touch” in the present.
Intimate Subjects takes us to the bustling railway stations, shady massage parlors, all-night coffee stalls, and other shared spaces where passengers, customers, vagrants, and others came into contact, leading to new understandings of touch. We travel in crammed subway cars, where strangers negotiated the boundaries of personal space. We visit tea shops where waitresses made difficult choices about autonomy and consent. We enter classrooms in which teachers wondered whether blind children could truly grasp the world and labs in which neurologists experimented on themselves and others to unlock the secrets of touch. We tiptoe through London’s ink-black fogs, in which disoriented travelers became newly conscious of their bodies and feared being accosted by criminals. Across myriad forgotten encounters such as these, Koole shows, touch remade what it meant to be embodied—as well as the meanings of disability, personal boundaries, and scientific knowledge.
With imagination and verve, Intimate Subjects offers a new way of theorizing the body and the senses, as well as a new way of thinking about embodiment and vulnerability today.

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