My research interests lie in the global politics of reproduction. Going beyond the conventional scholarly focus on reproductive risk and outcomes, I investigate how reproduction has historically anchored political contestations over governance in response to global movements of professionals and people.
My current book manuscript, titled Informed Intimacies: Mass Communication and the Science of Family Planning in Cold War India, argues that global political and scientific dynamics significantly shaped reproductive governance in postcolonial India. Drawing on a wealth of primary archival materials from 1951-1980, I illustrate how American social scientists reframed population control in India as less a biomedical quest for an unassailable contraceptive than a psychological battle for “hearts and minds” — a battle that they argued could be won through the deployment of mass communications lauding contraception and nuclear families. In asserting that “modern” Indian families that believed in the virtues of nuclear family relations and made “rational” reproductive decisions would secure the psychosocial conditions for democratic capitalism, American social scientists thus cast their expertise as a bulwark against communist expansion in India and the broader postcolonial world. Together with these assertions, social scientists’ associations of rational and informed decision-making with masculinity transformed a largely medicalized program focused on women’s bodies into a simultaneously ideological endeavor to shape men’s reproductive beliefs and decisions. The Indian state, in response, instituted wide-ranging information infrastructures beginning in the 1960s to persuade citizens — particularly men — to believe in the virtues of planned conception and nuclear family arrangements, although much of this infrastructure would eventually stray from American scientists’ original vision.
The manuscript thus argues that the institutionalization of international family planning in the latter half of the twentieth century was not only a political response to the issue of economic underdevelopment, but also driven by social scientific anxieties over the future of capitalist democracy in a new world order. Furthermore, it shows how the Cold War was not merely a martial impasse between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but also waged through expert-led interventions into gender relations and familial institutions in the non-aligned world. Additionally, the study is one of the first to analyze the scientific origins of the Indian family planning program’s erstwhile and unconventional focus on men. Finally, the manuscript sheds light on the transnational contours of postwar American social science, in particular the intersecting fields of communications, demography, and sociology.
My next major project investigates the politics of global and national sex ratios from the 1980s to the present as a case study of knowledge controversies and the evolving entanglements of gender, science, and global security discourse.
In previous work, I have analyzed the role of feminist and queer activism in legal debates over the right to privacy in India, and representations of emotional labor in U.S. popular culture.