Nayanika Ghosh

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History of Science, Harvard University

2022 to 2023
Keith S. Thomson Research Fellow

Genes and Gender: Sociobiology and the Emergence of a Political Critique of Science

This project examines the emergence of a political critique of science in the US in the context of the sociobiology debates of the 1970s and 1980s. These debates were prompted by the publication of EO Wilson’s Sociobiology—that popularized gendered evolutionary theories of the patriarchy, xenophobia, hierarchy, and violence—in 1975. When critics mobilized their resources to oppose what they argued was a return to pre-war genetic determinism, what ensued was a larger conflict over science, politics, and justice. By documenting this opposition that remains undertheorized, I posit that a political critique of science emerged from the efforts of scholars and non-university actors embedded in feminist, antiwar, labor, and antiracist activism, who organized against sociobiology in the 1970s. A political critique, I argue, revealed the role of scientific knowledge in preserving imperialism, racism, classism, and the patriarchy. I end this history in the late 1980s when scholars, who argued the role of science in upholding structural inequality, ultimately chose to advance justice by reforming rather than discarding objectivity and value neutrality.