Science, research, and perhaps a form of self-loathing

I have returned to my habit of listening to "Thinking about Science" podcast, while doing boring gym-exercise tasks, and I listened to a great one with Barbara Duden and Silya Samerski. Of course, I tend to think they're great when they say the stuff I've been arguing about for the last 6 years of my education, which isn't very long in the scheme of things, but is always pleasurable when one comes to an idea on one's own (and in spite of mainstream naysayers), only to find that there is actually a whole world of thinkers who concur. At the end of Duden's part of the podcast, which is about the concept of the gene and the ways in which the "gene" means different things in different contexts (see general Science & Technology Studies theory about scientific objects), the interviewer asks her what is the relevance and application of understanding that there's a cultural perception of the gene and a scientific/researcher perspective on the gene, and that these are very radically different ideas. She sighs, and admits that it doesn't really change anything -- it's a bit of an academic exercise. It excites academics, but what difference does it make if the meaning of the world shifts depending on your perspective? This is not actually a radical or particularly academic understanding of things. And yet, we spend a lot of time, we cultural anthropologists or science studies types, parsing out the different meanings and interpretations of things. But it doesn't "get" us anywhere, it seems. The world of researchers and scientists are not particularly interested in hearing why they've designed something with a specific framework in mind that might be interpreted differently in the world at large. And those who engage with the object or technology, don't really care whether it has a different meaning outside their everyday lives.

I jokingly suggested to HL on the phone today that I am an excellent diagnostician (about certain personal affairs), but not so good at the practitioner side of things -- and I suspect that this extends to all aspects of my life.

I read an article in New Science, about the "science of bad boys," which I am not going to bother linking to because why give them traffic -- and also it's an inane article. I hate all the scientific research that grounds understanding of cultural phenomena in evolutionary theory -- and particularly the gendered way it's usually interpreted. The refusal to ground social behaviors in cultural context irritates the hell out of me. A friend who is gay recently has found himself attracted to F to M transsexuals (women who become men, whether physiologically or live their lives as such) and we were discussing some of the challenges he found with dealing with a female physiology -- which I suggested might be partly due to lack of experience with the female form. He suggested that he just wasn't attracted to certain female parts, but I pointed out that even straight boys I've known over the years have learned to become more comfortable with the female anatomy. The idea that one would intrinsically find the messier parts of physical intimacy attractive seems to be a form of this assumption that we're "programmed" to desire or find interesting all aspects of the sex we're attracted to. I guess what I'm trying to say, connecting my gay friend's newish interest in a different form of male to the bad boys' scientifically proven behavior is that none of these things ought to be analyzed devoid of their cultural context.

Was that a terribly long way of saying something simple?

The self-loathing, by the way, is due to the recognition of what Duden admitted, that maybe all this work and theorizing doesn't add up to much. Yet, how does one become a productive practitioner and not just a diagnostician?


Reflections on love

This is a totally un-fieldwork related post, but forgive the momentary lapse in single-mindedness. I seem to be lacking single-mindedness in general. (My father seems to think I'm hopelessly peripatetic and unfocused...it's just that I'm enthusiastic for variety and newness.) In my half-hearted defense, I did once try to teach a class on love, though it was a total failure, since I was inadequately versed in the scope of literatures. I did have a phase where I was very interested in emotions-theory, and I wanted to remove love from the "emotions" literatures....but that's for another post...or not.

There's an interesting post on Jewcy.com (which I read really really rarely) about monogamy and monotheism, and though I could do without the religious overtones, the part I found most interesting about this article was the dangers of becoming overly dependent on whomever you love for the full sustenance of your well-being. The idea that any one person can provide all the support you need seems to mirror the American attachment to the nuclear family: the loss of community that I think we've suffered both from our (ahem, I am guilty guilty guilty) peripatic ways (we spread out across the country, and don't seem to value or prioritize staying close to our families, usually) and our valuing of self-determination (sometimes called "individualism"), which allows us to disconnect or claim we are "choosing" our new lives. It's always seemed unwise to me that one could expect one's romantic partner to provide the full-scope of support, but it does seem to be a slippery slope.

One of my dearest friends is so very good at maintaining our friendship in spite of the ebbs and flows of our love lives. In some ways, this reflection is as much about the way in which one imagines and values friends as it is about navigating emotional monogamy with partners. Really, one would never expect any one friend to be the full bearer of one's emotional needs, so why would we expect it of our spouses/partners/lovers/whatevers? What I'm trying to say...badly...is that this is more of a post on friendship and the priorities we make for our friends. Over a pitcher of good African reinterpretation of a caipiranhas, a friend and I discussed the perversity of the expectations we place on sexual partners versus the expectations that we expect of our friends. And that we expect of our partners to reciprocate -- perhaps a far more damning phenomenon, to expect sexual partners to treasure us as the primary support. There is a logic to it, it's just not clear to me that the logic is constructive or productive.

I've long been a skeptic of the nuclear family structure, though as my friends marry and have children, it starts to seem more appealling since everyone else is busy with babies' and husbands' demands, it's almost a default choice -- or a choice by virtue of a lack of other options. The analogy of monotheism and monogamy was an interesting way to frame the analysis, though, even if it's not quite the angle I'd have chosen. I do think that this has some relevance to thinking about my own research subjects, and the ways in which Americans imagine and expect their homelife to be structured, given that I work with parents and families.

I'm just currently operating on a lazyperson's research schedule. I am getting a bit itchy, however, not working as much as I am used to. It's about time, really, to get back to thinking beyond these superficial (half-edited) posts.


More on others' brilliance

I was reading someone else's website, thanks to Google reader, which allows me to half-heartedly follow blogs I find interesting, and got deeply annoyed at her celebration of the idiotic Bonk. It made me wonder whether I should stop reading this woman's blog altogether.

However, my snarky dislike for poorly written "popular" press is not going to keep the 3 people who read this coming back for more. Instead, I'd like to send you to read an article about James Trussell's call for a shift in contraceptive methods. He argued (and I haven't found the original speech, if such a thing actually exists) that the birth control pill is an "outdated" method, advocating for longer-acting contraceptive methods. Trussell has written some very excellent academic articles on women's bodies and contraceptive methods, and I like it when someone challenges standardized practices when it is clear that the methods we depend on are simply out of habit. So much of medical practice comes from "habit," or "that is what we have done for years," rather than actual benefit/efficacy/efficiency.

A number of women I know have gotten an Intrauterine Device (IUD) -- a method which has been improved (purportedly) in the last ten years or so. One by one, friends have told me about their decision (not all of whom have given birth, which used to be the case, you had to have already had a kid to be allowed to have an IUD). The fascinating thing about the IUD is that they don't entirely understand how/why it works. Another example in medical technology in which lack of frequency of use has probably driven the lack of research surrounding it. It's easy to claim that failure to understand technology is due to the impenetrability of the task at hand, but it seems to me that often the failure is due to lack of motivation (such as economic...we do live in a capitalist-driven health world).


I love Alison Bechdel

In another, unrelated, or tangential, post, I will send you to Alison Bechdel's comic about not reading enough, or the right things. She has a wonderful graphic novel called Fun Home about her father's closeted homosexuality, its effects on their family, and general autobiographical tales. Now I have to go back to half-attentionedly reading the New Yorker, for which I feel guilty if I don't read cover to cover.