I study the global politics of reproduction. In particular, 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 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 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, private accumulation, and nuclear family arrangements, although much of this infrastructure would eventually stray from American scientists’ original vision.
Informed Intimacies thus argues that international family planning was not merely a political response to economic underdevelopment and poverty, but also 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 the non-aligned world. In doing so, it challenges prevailing accounts of contraception and family planning in the postwar era as straightforward histories of ever-expanding reproductive rights and sexual liberation, highlighting, instead, their entanglements with neoliberal capitalism. 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.
THE POLITICS OF SEX RATIOS
My next major project investigates the science and politics of national sex ratios from the 1980s to the present as a case study of knowledge controversies and the evolving entanglements of reproductive governance, science, and global security and immigration 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.