From “gay pirate criticism” to “queer bucaneer theory”

One of my fellow alumns told me years ago of the one of my undergraduate professor’s quip about the historical moment when, as he put it, what has once been “gay pirate criticism” turned into “queer bucaneer theory.” I’m not sure what he meant by this phrase, but to me its always been a nice way of encapsulating the historical shift from a somewhat nebulous interdisciplinarity (think “blurred genres”) to the birth of ‘theory’ as a consolidated thing that academics ‘did’ (think the “culture/power/history” reader). The transition — here somewhat spitefully dismissed as mere relabelling — definitely happened. But when? At what point did the confluence of philosophy, literary criticism, and social science become ‘theory’ in the sense embraced by some, and denounced by the detail-minded? It’s a question that has been on my mind as I think about the spring class on “contemporary anthropological theory” that I’m supposed to be teaching at my university.

But at last, my friends, the question has been answered, for I have discovered “Sodomy And The Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers In The Seventeenth-Century Caribbean”:

Behold! In the mere hours since I have discovered this book at a used book sale, my entire intellectual landscape has been changed. There is actually a book on queer bucaneer theory — and one that is endorsed by Johnny Depp no less.

The original title of the hardcover edition (released in 1983) was Sodomy and the Perception of Evil but the paperback edition of 1984 was retitled Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition. This is, to my mind, definitive: ‘theory’ (at least of the queer bucaneer variety) began in 1984.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

2 thoughts on “From “gay pirate criticism” to “queer bucaneer theory”

  1. Great post! I did double-check World Cat to see if it was a real book; the Depp blurb on the NYU Press made me question its reality! I hope you don’t mind, but I will use (and cite) your GPC to QBT to start discussion in my contemporary anthro theory seminar (they read C/P/H).

    BTW, is there something both more current and broad to use instead of C/P/H?

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