Tag Archives: biology

The Social Construction of Life: Critical Thinking about Biology in Society

This book aims to expand the boundaries of the influences that readers consider when interpreting the practices and products of the life sciences (“biology”) and their impact on society. The chapter topics include: Interpreting Ideas of Nature; The structure of origin stories; Multiple layers in influencing an audience: The case of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species; Metaphors of coordination and development; What causes a disease?—the consequences of hereditarianism in the case of pellagra; How changeable are IQ test scores?; Social negotiations around genetic screening; Intersecting processes involving genes and environment. Continue reading

Sense-making contextualization of “Biology as Politics: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Lewontin and Levins”

Author: Peter Taylor

“Biology as Politics: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Lewontin and Levins”

(Sense-making contextualization following http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/SenseMakingResponse.html)

a) The essence of the project is…
Promoting a form of science criticism that is engaged with the political dimensions of biology at the same time as making sense of my limited impact in this area since I wrote an essay review of the previous L&L collection 25 years earlier (when I was finishing my PhD with them).

“‘Science criticism’, unlike art and literary criticism, is not a widely accepted enterprise in our culture, but that would be an apt label for the essays of Lewontin and Levins reviewed here.”  L&L belong to a category of scientists who “have tried to express their dual commitments—to science and to political change.”


b) The reason(s) I took this road is (are)…
My approach to science combines a personal proclivity to learn by probing what others had taken as given + formation as a undergraduate student in the early 1970s at an Australian university that was known for its political, environmental, and counter-cultural activism.  This combination led to my wanting “to shape… scientific practices and products self-consciously so as to contribute to transforming the dominant structure of social and environmental relations.” (from Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement, 2005)

This continues: “In retrospect, I would read in the broad terms of the critique of science an overoptimistic assessment of the potential, on one hand, for the social movements of the 1960s and 70s to bring about radical restructuring of social relations and, on the other hand, for people to transform their lives accordingly—including, in this context, for scientists to redirect their research.  Yet the 1970s critique of science was a key aspect of the context in which I first began to engage with the complexities of environmental, scientific, and social change together, as part of one project.”


c) The best of what I have achieved is…
• The syntheses presented in two books Unruly Complexity and Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement (2012).

• Innovation over 30 years in teaching critical thinking about science in its social context.

• An emphasis in all of the above on reflexive analysis of “the complexity [or heterogeneity] of resources or practical commitments involved in knowledge construction in any particular area.”


d) What has been particularly helpful to me in this project has been…
Being invited into or being able to organize spaces in which to experiment (see c), stretch the terms, find support from others on the margins, and recover when things did not work out so well.

“L&L’s politics is also one of considerable generosity to students and colleagues, even those who may have discounted their advice or moved away from the collectives they brought them into.”


e) What has hindered me has been…
• A tendency to position myself at margins, reinforced by my proclivity to learn by probing what others had taken as given (which draws me away from the centre of any field I am in).

• The counter-cultural context of the late 60s to early 70s dissipated in the 80s, but I did not think through the changed conditions as I continued to pursue the ideal of prefiguring the desired future in experiments in the present.


f) What I am struggling with is…
• Getting clear enough to be able to wake up each day feeling good about what I am going to focus on, which means not feeling frazzled by the many other things I allow myself to be or feel responsible for.

• A question asked of me recently by a younger researcher and activist: What do I do with my scholarship?


g) What would help me now is…

Apprentices (in some form) who would make demands on my time, care, and clarity and, thereby, help me address the issues I have been hindered by (e) and am struggling with (f).

Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology: A 2009 bibliography

In a 2009 graduate course on “Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology,” students were asked to add an annotated reference or resource (=person, organization…) to an evolving bibliography each week.  Keywords are given in brackets are each reference. Annotations can be read by clicking on the links:

Armand Marie Leroi. 2005. A Family Tree in Every Gene. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/14/opinion/14leroi.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&th.
[genetic technology_race_gender]

Aikenhead, Glen. “Integrating Western and Aboriginal Sciences: Cross-Cultural Science Teaching.” Research In Science Education 31, no. 3 (2001).
[elementary_science_education, aboriginals, curriculum_design]

Glen Aikenhead’s Webpage. http://www.usask.ca/education/people/aikenhead/

Anderson, Elizabeth (2009). “Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2/1/9 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-epistemology/

Anglin, Mary K. 1997. “Working from the Inside Out: Implications of Breast Cancer Activism for Biomedical Policies and Practices.” Social Science & Medicine 44:1403-1415.

Arditti, Rita (1980). “Feminism in Science” In: Science and Liberation. Boston MA: South End Press. pp 350-368.
[women_in_science, feminist_perspectives]

Armstrong, V. (2001). Theorizing gender and musical composition in the computerized classroom. Women: A Cultural Review 12(1),

Aronson, Debra (2009). “The Authenticy Filter: Lessons from Photoshop on Biological Engineering,” Science Progress. February 5th, 2009. Accessed on February 11, 2009 at: http://www.scienceprogress.org/2009/02/the-authenticity-filter/
[art_science, education, representation, biology]

Bandelt, Hans-Jurgen, Yao, Yong-Gang, Richards, Martin, and Antonio Salas (2008) “The brave new era of human genetic testing” BioEssays 30, 1246-1251
[ansestry, commodification, medical_industrial_complex, personal_genomics]

Barr, Jean and Birke, Lynda (1998). Common Science? Women, Science, and Knowledge. Bloomington IN: Indiana Press. 166pp.
[science-as-power, women_knowledge]

Benkov, Laura. (1994). Reinventing The Family: Lesbian and Gay Parents. New York : Crown Publishers

Best, S. & Kellner, D. (2001). The Post Modern Adventure. New York: Guilford Press.
[cultural_science, global_impacts_of_technology]

Bolnick, Deborah et al (2007) “The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing” Science 318 pp399-400 and follow-up letters in Science 319 pp1039-1040.
[race, personal_genomics, ansestry, commodification]

Bucchi, Massimiano and Federico Neresini (2008). “Science and Public Participation,” The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 449-472.
[public_participation, typologies, expert_knowledge, deficit_model]

Burow-Flak, Elizabeth (2000). Background Information on Cyborg Manifesto. http://faculty.valpo.edu/bflak/seminar/char_har.html
[cyborg feminism]

Butler, Judith. (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York: Routledge. [body_construction, heterosexuality, women]

Collins, P. H. (2005). Prisons for our bodies, closets for our minds: Racism, heterosexism, and black sexuality. Black Sexual Politics. New York: Routledge, 87-116.
[black_bodies_in_medical_experimentation, historical_examination_of_the_intersection_of_race_and_sexuality]

Council for Responsible Genetics (2009) GeneWatch – http://www.gene-watch.org/pages/genewatch.html
[personal_genomics, scientist_activist]

Critical Art Ensemble (2002). The Molecular Invasion. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia. 140pp. Anti-copyrighted; available for download at http://www.critical-art.net/books/molecular/index.html
[art_science, gmo_critique]

Croissant, JL and Smith-Doerr, L (2008). “Organizational Contexts of Science: Boundaries and Relationship between University and Industry,” in The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies(3rd Edition), EJ Hackett, O Amsterdamska, M Lynch, and J Wajcman (Eds). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 691-718.
[cultural_of_science, industrial_influences]

Chagnon, Napoleon A. (1995). The View From The President’s Window: The Academic Left and Threats to Scientific Anthropology. Human Behavior and Evolution Society Newsletter, 4(1). Retrieved 2002 August 31 from http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/faculty/chagnon/chagnon1995.html
[scientific anthropology]

Conrad, Peter. (1992). Medicalization and Social Control in Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 18: 209-232 [medicine, social_control, medical_authority]

Donna M. Hughes. (2000). The Internet and Sex Industries: Partners in Global Sexual Exploitation. http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/siii.htm
[internet_sex industries]

Deloria, Vine Jr. (1999). “Perceptions and Maturity: Reflections on Feyerabend’s Point of View.” Spirit and Reason. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing. pp.3-16.
[native_american_studies, philosophy_of_science, feyerabend, kuhn]

Dilworth, J. (1999). The cello: Origins and evolution. The Cambridge Companion to the Cello (R. Stowell, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dreger, Alice. (1998). Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press [intersex, medical_ethics, medicine, identity]

Epstein, Steven. 2008. “The Rise of `Recruitmentology’: Clinical Research, Racial Knowledge, and the Politics of Inclusion and Difference.” Social Studies of Science 38:801-832. [race, STS]

Epstein, Steven. 2008. “Patient Groups and Health Movements.” Pp. 499-539 in The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, edited by E. J. Hackett, O. Amsterdamska, M. Lynch and J. Wajcman. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

First Nations University of Canada, Department of Sciencehttp://www.firstnationsuniversity.ca/default.aspx?page=30
[public_participation, expert knowledge, environmental contaminants]

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 2003. “The Bare Bones of Race.” Social Studies of Science 38:658-694. [race, STS]

Ford, A & Peat, FD (1988). The Role of Language in Science. Foundations of Physics. Vol 18, 1233, Retrieved on February 1, 2009 from http://www.fdavidpeat.com/bibliography/essays/lang.htm.

Fox, M.F., Johnson, D. G., Rosser, S. V. (2006). Women, Gender, and Technology. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press. Preview Retrieved on February 25, 2009 from http://books.google.com/books?id=nf1E3EFqoXAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0#PPP1,M1
[feminist_perspectives, gendered_technology]

Garver, K. L. & Garver, B. (1994). The human genome project and eugenic concerns. The American Journal of Human Genetics 54(1), 148-158.
[bioethics, eugenics]

Gary C.Sieck(2001). Genome and hormones: an integrated approach to gender differences in physiology. http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/91/4/1485

Gorz, Andre (1980) “The Scientist as Worker.” In: Science and Liberation. Boston: South End Press. 398pp
[science-as-power, STS_History, culture_of_science, scientist_activist, social_change]

Haraway, Donna. 2004. “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936.” Pp. 151-197 in The Haraway Reader, edited by D. Haraway. New York: Routledge. [human_animal, STS_history, race, colonialism, feminist_perspectives]

Haraway, Donna. 2004. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Pp. 7-45 in The Haraway Reader, edited by D. Haraway. New York: Routledge. [feminist_perspectives]

Harding, S. (2005)From the woman quesion in science to the science question in feminism.

Harding, S (1991). Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: Thinking from Women’s Lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
[science_feminism, feminist_perspectives, reflexivity_strong, objectivity_strong]

Harmon, A. (2007). Genetic testing + abortion =??? New York Times (New York, NY). Retrieved March 18, 2009 from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/weekinreview/13harm.html
[genetic_testing, abortion]

Hargittai, E. (2007). The social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of search engines: An introduction. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(3), article 1.

Hake, R.R. & J.V. Mallow. (2008). Gender Issues in Science/Math Education (GISME): Over 700 Annotated Reference & 1000 URL’s: Part 1 – All References in Alphabetical Order; Part 2 – Some References in Subject Order.

Hess, DJ (1995). Science and Technology in a Multicultural World: The Cultural Politics of Facts and Artifacts. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
[culture_of_science, science-as-power, cultural_reconstruction, technototemism, multicultural_interpretations]

Ho , Mae-Wan (2007). The Importance of Being a Scientist-Activist. Institute of Science in Society Lecture on the occasion of the launch of Confessions of a Serial Womanizer by Zerbano Gifford, Nehru Center, London, October 1. Accessed 2/22/2009 at http://www.i-sis.org.uk/ScienceActivist.php
[scientist_activist, social_change]

Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). Author in the Room Teleconference. Monthly discussions with authors of prominent JAMA articles. (Free). Accessed at: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/299/1/70/DC1

Jungwirth, Bernhard and Bertram L. Bruce (F 2002). “Information Overload: Threat or Opportunity.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 45 no. 5
pp. 400-6.
[Information_Overload, Information_Anxiety, Technopoly]
Kahn, Johnathan. 2008. “Exploring Race in Drug Development.” Social Studies of Science 38. [race, STS]

Launius, R. D. (2007). The public history of science American memory, culture wars, and the challenge of presenting science and technology in a national museum. The Public Historian, 29(1), 13–30.

Lessons in Learning: The cultural divide in science education for Aboriginal learners.” Canadian Council on Learning. http://www.ccl-cca.ca/CCL/Reports/LessonsInLearning/LinL20070116_Ab_sci_edu.htm.
[cultural_worldviews, science_education, aboriginals]

Levine, Nancy E. (2008). Alternate Kinship, Marriage and Reproduction. Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol. 37, pp. 375-389

Mamo, Laura. (2007). Queering Reproduction: Achieving Pregnancy in the Age of Technoscience. Durham, N.C. : Duke University Press.

Martin, B (1993). “The Critique of Science Becomes Academic.” Published in Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring 1993, pp. 247-259. – Accessed on February 22, 2009 at : http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/93sthv.html
[STS_History, action_research]

Martin, Emily. (1987) The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston: Beacon Press. [reproduction, motherhood, vulture, medicine]

McNeal, A. (n.d.) How to Read a Scientific Research Paper–a four-step guide for students and for faculty. Retrieved on August 23, 2007 from http://helios.hampshire.edu/~apmNS/design/RESOURCES/HOW_READ.html

Mody, Cyrus C.and David Kaiser (2008). “Scientific Training and the Creation of Scientific Knowledge,” in: The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp 377-402.
[science_literacy, culture_of_science, education]

Myra Marx Ferree, Judith Lorber, Beth B. Hess. 1998. Revisioning Gender. http://books.google.com/books?id=edwE4L-yAhYC&dq=race++social+constructed&lr=&hl=zh-CN&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0

Mark Nichols. 1998. Women’s Health: New Attitudes. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=M1SEC674909

Morning, Ann. 2008. “Reconstructing Race in Science and Society: Biology Textbooks, 1952-2002.” American Journal of Sociology 114:S106-S137. [race, STS]

Oldenziel, Ruth (2001). “Man the Maker, Woman the Consumer: The Consumption Junction Revisited” in: Feminism in Twentieth-Century Science, Technology, and Medicine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp 128-148.[science_as_power, women_knowledge, STS_history]

Olson, Gary and Elizabeth Hirsch (1995). “Writing, Literacy, and Technology: Toward a Cyborg Writing.” Women Writing Culture. New York: Suny Press. Retrieved on 2/1/9 from http://www.stumptuous.com/comps/olsonhirsch.html

Okie, S. “Crack Babies: The Epidemic That Wasn’t.” New York Times. January 28, 2009.
[nature/nurture, black_women, science_and_morality, science_and_politics, “bad”_science, reproduction]

Ortner, Sherry B. (1974). Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? In M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (eds) Woman, Culture and Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 68-87 [nature, culture, motherhood]

Parkinson, S. (2004). Corporate Influence on Science and Technology: Speech. Retrieved on February 2, 2009 from http://www.sgr.org.uk/SciencePolicy/SpeechGreenParty004.htm
[industrial_influences, scientific_ethics]

Packman, Carl. (2008). God(desses) and the Jouissance of Woman, or The (Cyborg) Future of Enjoyment. http://cyborg-enjoy.blogspot.com/
[cyborg feminism]

Preves, Sharon E. (2000). Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press [intersex, identity, construction, medical_ethics]

Reardon, Jennifer (2004) “Decoding Race and Human Difference in a Genomic Age” Differences 15:3 pp38-65.
[race, genome_phenome, scientific_debate]

Reardon, Jenny (2005) Race to the Finish. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 237 pp.

Roberts, D. (1997). Killing the black body: Race, reproduction and the meaning of liberty. New York: Vintage
[reproduction_politics, race_and_reproduction]

Roche, RA and Annas, GJ (2007). “New Genetic Privacy Concerns,” Genewatch, 20(1). Accessed on March 28, 2009 at http://www.gene-watch.org/genewatch/articles/20-1RocheAnnas.html
[personal_genomics, privacy]

Rose, H (1994). Love, Power and Knowledge: Towards a Feminist Transformation of the Science. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
[women_knowledge, women_in_science, feminist_perspectives]

Rose , Nikolas (2001). The Politics of Life Itself. Theory, Culture & Society 18:1. http://tcs.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/18/6/1
[ancestry, genetic_testing, race, eugenics, personal_genomics, privacy, science_and_politics, scientific_racism]

Rossiter , Margaret (1982). Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. 439 pp
[women_in_science, feminist_perspectives]

Rossiter , Margaret (1995). Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action 1940 – 1972. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. 584pp
[women_in_science, feminist_perspectives]

Royte, E. (2008). The Caged Bird Speaks. Retrieved on February
4, 2009 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/books/review/Royte-t.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=%22The%20Caged%20Bird%20Speaks%22&st=cse
[linguistics, nonhuman_communication, scientific_objectivity_subjectivity]

R.E.Wyllys. (2003). Science as a social construct. http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~l38613dw/website_spring_03/readings/ScienceSocialConstruct.html
[science_social construct]

Roger N. Lancaster(2006).Sex and Race in the Long Shadow of the Human Genome Project. http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/Lancaster/

Richard Marcus. (2005). The gene race. http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/06/27/183347.php

Rubin, Gayle. (1975). The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex in Feminist Theory: A Reader, 2005 [Marxism, feminism, nature, culture]

Steven Weinberg. (1996). Sokal’s Hoax. http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/weinberg.html

A Study on the Status of Women Faculty In Science at MIT (1999). Retrieved on February 9, 2009 from http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html#The%20Study

Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science. (2000). http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-epistemology/
[science_epistemology_philosophy of science]

Shostak, Sara, Conrad, Peter, and Horowitz, Allan. 2008. “Sequencing and Its Consequences: Path Dependence and the Relationships between Genetics and Medicalization.” American Journal of Sociology 114: S287-S316. [STS, Medical_Sociology]

Teman, Emily. The Medicalization of “Nature” in the”Artificial Body”: Surrogate Motherhood in Israel. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Volume 17, Issue 1

Tijssen, Robert J. W. (2004). Is the commercialisation of scientific research affecting the production of public knowledge?: Global trends in the output of corporate research articles.
[Corporate research, Research partnerships, Knowledge protection and dissemination, Semiconductors]

Thompson, Charis. (2005). Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Valiverronen, Esa (2001). “Popularisers, Interpreters, Advocates, Managers, and Critics: Framing Science and Scientists in the Media.” pp 39-47 In: Nordicom Review 2/2001 (Ulla Carlsson, Ed.). 102pp Accessed 3/17/2009 at http://www.nordicom.gu.se/common/publ_pdf/17_021-030.pdf.
[ science_and_politics, scientific_objectivity_subjectivity, science-as-power, science_literacy, scientist_activist, social_change, scientists_in_media]

Varki, Ajit, Daniel Geschwind, and Evan Eichler (2008) Explaining human uniqueness: genome interactions with environment, behavior and culture. Nature Reviews Genetics 9, 749-763.
[genome_phenome, human_animal, nature_nurture]

Wailoo, Keith. 1997a. “‘Chlorosis’ remembered: Disease and the Moral Management of American Women.” in Drawing blood: technology and disease identity in twentieth-century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. [STS, Medicine, Gender]

Wailoo, Keith. 1997b. “Detecting ‘Negro Blood’: Black and White Identities and the Reconstruction of Sickle Cell Anemia.” Pp. 134-161 in Drawing Blood: Technology and Disease Identify in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. [race, STS, STS_history]

Wailoo, Keith. 2001. Dying in the City of the Blues: sickle cell anemia and the politics of race and health. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. [race, STS]

Washington, H. (2006). Medical Apartheid. New York: Harlem Moon.

World Health Organization. (2009) Gender and Genecitcs. http://www.who.int/genomics/gender/en/index.html

Welborn,V & Kanar, B (2000) Building Science Literacy. Accessed on February 4, 2008 at http://www.library.ucsb.edu/istl/00-winter/article2.html
[literacy, education]

Wertheim, Margaret. “The Way of Logic.” New Scientist 148 (December 2, 1995) 38-41.
[Helen_Verran, Epistemology, Indigenous_Logic]

Winner, L. (1986). Do artifacts have politics? The whale and the reactor: A search for limits in an age of high technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19-39. Retrieved February 20, 2009 from

Zimmerman, B. (2005). Technology is culture: two paradigms. Leonardo Music Journal, 15, 53-57.
[musical_technology, technology_and_culture]

Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology: A bibliography

In a 2011 graduate course on “Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology,” students were asked to add an annotated reference or resource (=person, organization…) to the evolving googledocs bibliography each week.  (Annotations were to convey the article’s key points as well as its connection to the student’s own inquiries and interests.)  The result is as follows: Continue reading

Race and Biology: A Case Study Of Curriculum Development

GivItAGo: Today’s topic is the teaching of race to biology students…

    (GivItAGo [=”we should try it and see how it goes” in Australian English] stands center stage behind a lectern; Sceptico sits in a chair to the side watching; Jokero sits at the back of the audience. All have their names on big name tags.)

Sceptico (stands up): Time Out. What are you doing — standing behind a podium and lecturing? This is a BioQuest workshop — the audience should be involved in Posing the problem, Problem-solving, and Persuading others of the value of their approach.
(GivItAGo listens thoughtfully and during the following exchange continues to ponder the problem.)
Jokero (pops up and calls out from the back): Oh, that’s what the 3Ps are — I thought it was Perform to Provoke.
Sceptico: That’s only two Ps.
Jokero: Are you sure?
Sceptico: Yes, I’m sure.
Jokero: Oh well, I never had classes on numbers. That’s content. My teachers were only interested in process. (sits down)
GivItAGo (moving in front of the lectern): OK, let’s give this a try. We have prepared a script and we want to perform it. But, after we’ve run through it once, let’s start again and allow the audience to question what we say and suggest alternatives.
(Sceptico indicates sceptical assent [think of Clinton’s pursed lips, but without the smirk] and sits down.)
G: Today we’re going to explore the teaching of race to biology students.
S: Why teach about race? — don’t you aspire to a race blind society?
G: I do want a prejudice-free society, but we’re not nearly there yet. Race is still very important in US society, whether or not people think it should be. Turning a blind eye to it is not going to make discrimination go away.
S: OK, but still I don’t think you should teach race in a biology class. It sends the message that race is based in the facts of biology. Look at the history of biology being used to justify exploitation of one social group by another, and often to justify the extermination of the subordinant group.
G: Good point, Sceptico. Let’s put “facts about biology” and “race and historical case studies” on the list of things we should teach about biology and race.
S: History in a biology class!?
J: (pops up) Didn’t someone famous once say: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of history”? (sits down)
G: I’m not sure how it will work, but let’s give it a go. (Walks over to flip chart and writes down “factual lessons” and “historical case studies.”)
S: Are you proposing that there are facts that stand for themselves?
G: Good point. Let’s add “conceptual lessons.” (does so)
S: I don’t think the distinction factual vs. conceptual is very helpful for thinking about how to teach this material.
G: You might be right, but here’s my thinking —
1. Race is such an important issue in shaping culture, psychology, economics in the United States. So we have to address it whenever it can help to do so.
2. Reciprocally, there are many cultural, psychological, economic, and other facets to how people’s understanding and actions with respect to race are shaped. And the facets differ from person to person. So let’s think of the task of addressing race as one of helping students assemble a tool box from which they can draw when faced with race.
3. In our biology curriculum, we can help students assemble tools that relate to the facets of race where biology is involved, or, at least, is invoked. (Changes “lessons” to “tools” on flip chart.)
(to be continued)

Prepared June 99 at a BioQUEST workshop, as a result of interaction with Steve Fifield, Raquell Holmes, and Joel Hagen.

“Biology and the Agents Without History”

Report on Plenary session, 1997 ISHPSSB meetings
The speakers in this plenary were invited to address the people and things tending to be written out of biology and of our studies of biology, but implicated materially, discursively, economically or psychologically as the Others. Adele Clarke spoke “On the need for immodest witnesses: The case of ‘othering’ the reproductive sciences,” and Anne Fausto-Sterling spoke about “The standard rat and the universal human.” Hebe Vessuri was scheduled to speak about “Core-periphery relations and the social history of biology,” but she was at the last moment unfortunately unable to attend. I took the opportunity of time thus freed up to sketch some of the sources and strands woven into the plenary’s topic.
Continue reading

Biological explanation and social engagement

Paper intended for but eventually not contributed to a meeting on “The Dialectics of Biology and Society,” held in Bressanone, Italy, March 1980.

The concept of limits

The Concept of Limits, 1976 (my first departmental seminar)