Paul Renfro studies twentieth-century United States political and cultural history, with thematic interests in gender/sexuality, social/penal policy, and childhood. His book, Stranger Danger: Family Values, Childhood, and the American Carceral State, is under contract with Oxford University Press. Renfro received his PhD in history from the University of Iowa, where he was a Louis Pelzer Dissertation Fellow. Before arriving at Florida State University, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Stranger Danger centers on the moral panic over child kidnapping and exploitation which erupted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For many Americans, a slew of high-profile cases of missing and murdered children, publicized through an emergent twenty-four-hour news cycle, signaled “a national epidemic” of child abductions perpetrated by strangers. Some observers insisted that fifty thousand or more children fell victim to stranger kidnappings in any given year. (The actual figure was and remains somewhere between one hundred and three hundred.) The book demonstrates how racialized and sexualized fears of stranger abduction—stoked by politicians, the news media, bereaved parents, and the business sector—helped to underwrite broader transformations in US political culture and political economy. Specifically, the child kidnapping scare led to the development and expansion of sex offender registries, AMBER Alerts, and other mechanisms designed to safeguard young Americans from “stranger danger”—and to punish the “deviant” strangers who supposedly threatened them. Stranger Danger is slated for publication in 2020.
Renfro is also the coeditor, with Susan Eckelmann Berghel (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) and Sara Fieldston (Seton Hall University), of Growing Up America: Youth and Politics since 1945, an anthology that considers the significance of childhood and youth in recent American political history. Growing Up America is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press and will include Renfro’s chapter, “Milk Carton Kids: Endangered Childhood and the Carceral State.” Renfro’s scholarship has also appeared in Enterprise & Society, Southern Cultures, and American Quarterly, and his article, “‘Hunting These Predators’: The Gender Politics of Child Protection in the Post-9/11 Era,” will be published in Feminist Studies in Fall 2018.
A History of the United States since 1877 (AMH 2020-3)
Sex since the Sixties: Studies in United States History (AMH 3930-1)
A History of the United States since 1877 (AMH 2020-2)
Mass Incarceration and the Politics of Exclusion: Studies in United States History (AMH 3930-1)