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 anchors political contestations over democratic governance in response to global flows of professionals and people.
In my dissertation, Communicating Contraception: Social Science and the Politics of Population Control in Cold War India, I examine archival materials from 1951-1980 to show how global political and scientific dynamics reshaped reproductive governance in India. I argue that American social scientific knowledge radically transformed India’s population control and family planning program as a means of spurring democratic modernization in the face of communist expansion. Drawing on a wealth of primary documents, I show how American and Indian communication scientists reframed India’s population crisis as less a biomedical quest for an unassailable contraceptive than a psychological battle for “hearts and minds.” This recasting had unconventionally gendered consequences that contrasted with long-standing medical approaches to reproductive control, which focused on women’s reproductive biologies. By drawing on gendered notions of rationality to understand reproductive decision-making, the psychosocial approach prompted the Indian state to mount wide-ranging communication campaigns targeted at men that enjoined them to use condoms, undergo vasectomies, and calculate the economic benefits of small nuclear families. The dissertation sheds new light on the impact of social scientific expertise and transnational political dynamics on reproductive governance, the centrality of reproductive control and gender regulation to international politics, and the social control of men’s reproduction.
Future research will examine the entanglements of reproductive health politics in the twenty-first century United States with immigration, global security discourse, and transnational science.
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.
Balasubramanian, Savina. 2018. “Motivating Men: Social Science and the Regulation of Men’s Reproduction in Postwar India.” Gender & Society 32(1):34-58. Link.
Balasubramanian, Savina. 2016. “Contextualizing the Closet: Naz, Law, and Sexuality in
Postcolonial India.” Political Power and Social Theory 30:135-158. Link.
van den Scott, Lisa-Jo K., Clare Forstie, and Savina Balasubramanian. 2015. “Shining Stars, BlindSides, and “Real” Realities: Exit Rituals, Eulogy Work and Allegories in Reality
Television.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 44(4): 417-449. Link.
*2015 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Section on Sociology of Emotions, American Sociological Association (ASA)
*2013 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Division of Sport, Leisure and the Body, Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP)
Work in Progress
Balasubramanian, Savina. “Communicating Contraception: The Behavioralization of Reproduction and Population Control, c. 1951-1980”
- 2015 Grant-in-Aid, Rockefeller Archive Center
- 2015 Graduate Research Grant, The Graduate School, Northwestern University
- 2014 Graduate Student Summer Research Grant, Equality, Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS), Buffett Institute for Global Studies
- 2013 Summer Research Grant, The Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN)