INTIMATE INVESTMENTS: THE SCIENCE AND POLITICS OF FAMILY PLANNING IN COLD WAR INDIA
My current book manuscript, titled Intimate Investments: The Science and Politics of Family Planning in Cold War India, argues that global political and scientific dynamics significantly shaped reproductive governance in postcolonial India. Drawing on 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. By asserting that “modern” Indian families that believed in the virtues of nuclear family relations and “rational” reproductive decisions would secure the psychosocial conditions for capitalism and private accumulation in the country, American social scientists cast their expertise as a bulwark against communist expansion and the formation of more robust welfare states in India and the postcolonial world. Together with these assertions, social scientists’ associations of rational decision-making with masculinity transformed what was a largely medicalized program focused on women’s bodies into a primarily behavioralist 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, private accumulation, and nuclear family arrangements, although much of this infrastructure would eventually stray from American scientists’ original vision.
Intimate Investments thus argues that the “international family planning” movement was driven by social scientific anxieties over the prospects of capitalism in a new world order. Furthermore, it shows how the Cold War was not only a martial impasse between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but also waged through expert-led interventions into quotidian familial and gender relations in non-aligned and postcolonial countries. In doing so, it complicates prevailing accounts of contraception and family planning in the postwar era as straightforward histories of ever-expanding sexual liberation–highlighting, instead, their political entanglements with global neoliberal capitalism and reproductive injustice. 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 mass communications, demography, and sociology.
DEBATING GENDER INEQUALITY IN THE U.S. SOCIAL SCIENCES (1960-2020)
Over the past sixty years, a number of political, economic, and social transformations have promised to address and eliminate gender inequality in the United States. These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex, the substantial entry of women into the formal workforce, and the growth of feminist movements and advocacy organizations, among others. Despite these historic transformations, however, gender inequality remains a persistent feature of life in the U.S.—an enduring “social problem.”
Understanding this “stalled revolution” has, in turn, become a mainstay of the professional social sciences in the U.S. Since the early 1960s, scholarly collectives in sociology, social psychology, and economics have dedicated themselves to explaining why gender inequality exists and persists. Yet these collectives have not always agreed with each other, offering competing and complementary diagnoses of the problem with varying implications for social policy solutions. Ranging from theories of discrimination, attitudes, and human capital to theories of political economy, law, and organizations, these explanations have developed both across and within disciplines — some enjoying an enthusiastic welcome outside the academy and others, a more tepid reception.
Debating Gender Inequality investigates how the American social sciences have sought to explain gender inequality from 1960-2020 and how those explanations have shaped political responses to the issue. Through qualitative analyses of archival and interview data, the project traces significant contentions and convergences on the question of gender inequality among three of the “core” social science disciplines in the U.S.—sociology, psychology (specifically social psychology), and economics. The project hypothesizes that various political and institutional factors have given rise to these disagreements and, at times, enabled cross-disciplinary collaborations. Further, it explores how and why certain perspectives have found more institutional backing and political success than others at various historical moments. Ultimately, while this diversity of perspectives troubles straightforward responses to gender inequality, understanding the reasons for this diversity sheds important light on the “politics of knowledge production” on social problems and the complex entanglements of social science expertise and social policy.
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.