TEAROOM TRADE: IMPERSONAL SEX IN PUBLIC PLACES (Laud Humphreys).
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Analysis of Humphreys' book on the sociology of deviance.... More...
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Analysis of Humphreys' book on the sociology of deviance. Book centers on a study of men from mainstream society (most married) who engaged in impersonal sex with other men in public bathrooms. Subculture. Risks involved (exposure, police) and reward (sexual satisfaction). Faults author's controversial research strategy (posing as a deviant to obtain information) & his methodology as violations of the freedom & privacy rights of his subjects, and as lacking depth. Praises book for its enlightening perspective.
In Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, Laud Humphreys redefined the sociology of deviance by showing that men from mainstream society were the main participants of a highly deviant activity—impersonal sex in restrooms dubbed the tearoom (Rainwater in Humphreys, 1975, p. xiii). Unlike prevalent conceptions of deviant acts as belonging solely to a deviant subculture, such as the gay culture, tearoom sex involves men who are married and live with their wives (Humphreys, 1975, p. 105). Depending on how far their deviant behavior deviated from the rest of their lives, these men faced different risks by participating in tearoom sex. Therefore, Humphreys (1975) discovered that married men with a respectable position in mainstream society compensated for their deviant behavior by
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152-4). By spending more time establishing trustrelationships with the participants, Humphreys could have been able toelicit authentic responses from them. The police thought that hewas simply conducting a market research (Humphreys, 1975, pp. In this case, the reward is to obtain sexual satisfaction whilethe cost is exposure to unwanted intruders such as friends from mainstreamsociety, police and bullies (pp. The tearoom environment suits menfrom mainstream societies for several reasons. Although Humphreysdid his best to protect the identities of the individuals and theirconfidentiality, his research methods still placed his subjects underconsiderable danger of exposure. According to Humphreys (1975), the participants engage in tearoom sexin accordance with this fundamental rule: maximize the reward and minimizethe cost. 41-4). 45-7). 22 ). According toWarwick (1973), Humphreys' research strategies have certainly adverselyaffected other sociologists' attempts to gather information from ordinarycitizens. 231). Humphreys (1975)realized in retrospect, after forming great relationships with some of hissubjects, that he might have been able to tap into their genuine feelingsand thoughts without using his controversial research strategies (p. Therefore, his strategies allowedhim to experience as directly as possible the social activity of his study.Instead of hiding behind his identity as a sociologist estranged from thesubjects of his study, Humphreys acquired an insider's point of view of theactivities and could therefore represent it accurately to the rest of theworld. 229-3 ). Nonetheless, Humphreys' impressive work raises question aboutmainstream perceptions and tolerance of sexual deviance. Von Hoffman (197 ) and Warwick (1973)asserted that Humphreys violated the rights of the participants by failingto reveal the true purpose of his presence in the restroom and in theirhomes. Reference Humphreys, L. (1975). At the same time, considering the deviance involved in the act and theparticipants' desire to hide their participation, it is likely thatHumphreys would have achieved a less conclusive result. Ultimately,the real problem is that he never gave them the choice to decide whether tobe a part of his study. xiv). Rainwater (1975) also found that Humphrey's study lacked a personaland in-depth dimension; there was no analysis of the subjects' individualreasons for participating in the deviant activity and the effects on them.According to Rainwater (1975), the lack of depth in this study could havebeen overcome if Humphreys had spent more time cultivating a trustingrelationship with his respondents. 31-8).Furthermore, by using the excuse of conducting a social health survey thathe was doing for another project, he entered their homes and collectedother information (Humphreys, 1975, pp. In fact, in his response to the criticisms, Humphreys (1975) admittedthat his failure to inform most of the subjects of his identity and theinterviews conducted at the subjects' were wrong. These criticisms strike at the heart of the problems with Humphreys'research methodology-deception and misrepresentation. Therefore, he took the risk ofexposing other individuals who were not given a choice. Depending on how far their deviant behavior deviated from the rest oftheir lives, these men faced different risks by participating in tearoomsex. Tearoom trade: Impersonal sex in public places.New York: Aldine de Gruyter. Without the knowledge of theparticipants, he collected their license plate numbers and matched them tothe names and addresses with police registers. In order to be permitted toenter into a deviant world, he had to pretend to be one. 2 6-7). Furthermore, byposing as a deviant rather than a social investigator, he did not alter thedynamics of the environment (pp. Thus, Humphreys' (1975) explanation for his strategy of passing as adeviant in the bathroom makes a lot of sense. If Humphreys had not been in the bathroom, he would not havedetected this fact. 25-26). However, by failing to inform the subjects of his identity, heviolated the freedom and privacy of these men. He thus actedselfishly in achieving his objectives and failed to show adequate respectto his subjects. In his research, Humphreys could have used other research methods,such as interviews and surveys. Considering how Humphreys misused the information and observedthe people covertly, it would be natural for ordinary citizens to be waryof researchers wanting information from sociologists in the future.Therefore, he set a negative precedent for researchers and otherprofessionals by taking advantage of unknowing individuals (Humphreys,1975, pp. 178-9; pp. Without bothering to informthese participants who are unaware of the ultimate objective of theseinterviews, Humphreys crossed the line in denying the participants theright to decide whether to participate in the "real" survey. The researcher faces great difficulty in obtaining genuine responsesfrom subjects who do not want to be known to be participating in such anactivity. Furthermore, the information collected by Humphreys could have beenused for a variety of dangerous purposes such as blackmail andincrimination (Humphreys, 1975, pp. For example, in theinterview of Tom (a tearoom participant) about his sexual life with hiswife, Tom claimed to be satisfied with his sex life (Humphreys, 1975, p.1 7). Humphreys' research strategies triggered massive criticism fromjournalists and other sociologists. Unlike prevalent conceptions of deviant acts as belonging solely toa deviant subculture, such as the gay culture, tearoom sex involves men whoare married and live with their wives (Humphreys, 1975, p. As Glazer (1972) noted in her reaction toHumphreys' work, Humphreys could have easily lost his data to police andother criminals (Humphreys, 1975, p. These men canalways use the excuse that they stop to use the restrooms on their wayhome. In Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, Laud Humphreysredefined the sociology of deviance by showing that men from mainstreamsociety were the main participants of a highly deviant activity-impersonalsex in restrooms dubbed the tearoom (Rainwater in Humphreys, 1975, p.xiii). A great part of this controversy is derived from the researchtopic. Therefore, Humphreys (1975) discovered that married men with arespectable position in mainstream society compensated for their deviantbehavior by acting more appropriately than other people. 199-2 1). Furthermore, their responses also put them at tremendous risk ofexposure. 134-6). Humphreys' unorthodox research strategies offered an enlighteningperspective into the intimate and private activity within the tearooms.However, he also caused tremendous controversy in his use of a certaindegree of deception and misrepresentation in order to obtain hisinformation. He conceded that hisactions placed the subjects in tremendous danger (pp. Therefore, he could have guaranteed thattheir identity would remain anonymous and that their mainstream life wouldnot be disrupted by participating in this study (p. Evidently, he was not telling the truth in order to hide hisactivity. Furthermore,the silence and the impersonality of the tearoom atmosphere allow the mento dissociate themselves from the deviant world the moment they leave thebathrooms, without risking any relationships (Humphreys, 1975, pp. The most popular restroomsused are located near freeways-the main commuter routes. On the other hand,single gay people represented the other extreme; they did not fear theendangerment of their social position if they were caught (pp. They risk being seen if they go to gay bars and baths. 1 5).
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