Week Three (Mon, 1/31): "Everyone's a Mixture"; or, the Uses and Costs of Category-Making

 

Course notes by Apocalypsis


fawai: It’s easy to say that everyone’s a mixture of things, but they probably aren’t all the same mixture .... trying to represent these things graphically ... how effective is using words like these essays do?

I. Anne: coursekeeping
sign in
if you haven't: also sign up TWICE to take classnotes
today's notetakers are Apocalipsis and Franklin20
Riki modeled this for us all (thanks for going first!)

some guides to note-taking:
* outline of discussion is already on-line (link to that,
and I'll also link back to your notes when they go up);
* you are recording what ISN'T up there already;
* can be in form of bullet-points;
* include your commentary/thoughts/afterthoughts
(this will be a different experience: participating less,
watching for the larger patterns...)
* if you mention particular speakers, use their
user (not their meatspace) names.

a guide to posting: 
don't forget to 1) log in, 2) to tag your audience as "GIST,"
and 3) to PLEASE use the "word icon" to cut and paste from Word
(other issues/frustrations/celebrations??)


Your avatars are beginning to appear, and a number of them are boundary-crossers; so far, we've got two human beings and one
human-like creature
(TiffanyE, Apocalypsis, kgould):

one of you in a close relationship w/ an animal,
one a human-like animal, one an animal
(MissArcher2, hilaryb, riki):

one human-like plant and one plant
(Oak, aybala50):

 

and only one (so far) that is machine-like (hilaryg).

But Haraway celebrated the breakdown of 3 boundaries:
*human-animal
*organism-machine

*physical-non-physical.

What we don't have yet is any non-physical representation
(not possible in images? but in words....?)

also: learning one another's names
is our next imp't item of business
(it'll help in the dialogue!).


So, let's try out Haraway's third boundary-crossing:
introduce yourself AS A NON-PHYSICAL THING:
"I am Liz, I am....?"


III. (Liz, continued) from the discussion board, some of your
reflections on last week's conversations:

Hillary G: It seems evident to me that we have evolved to seek out the use of tools to improve our quality of life... We do seem to be naturally inclined toward extending ourselves through non-biological mean.... I think it’s all part of some internal human desire to improve our current state of being. And I don’t think we’ll ever stop.

Hilary_Brashear: I agree with Clark that humans are “primed” to use tools or technology ... but to me it seems that ... those with more money, power, and connections will have access to these new technologies. Isn’t it possible that these new technologies could create a further divide between haves and have nots? ... the social setting in which these new adaptations or developments of human’s takes place is something that cannot be ignored.... the integration with machines ... will benefit only a certain strata of people. At worst it could be used as a justification of power and oppression, creating a new hierarchy: those sophisticated individuals who are integrated with their technology have the power and those individuals who are still merely “skin bags” become the oppressed.

merlin: "scaffolding" ... is sometimes used in developmental psychology to describe how parents teach their children... specifically tailored to the capabilities and developmental stage of the child.... technology can serve a purpose functionally equivalent to that of the parent in parent-child scaffolding. Technology enables the user to expand his or her abilities outside of that which he or she would be capable otherwise... [into] a Zone of Proximal Development... In this way, technology seems to be a more advanced form of aid which we are already primed for from childhood with the interactions brought about with our parents.

tangerines: Although we are adaptable “human cyborgs,” I think that we are also fairly resistant to change. We take time to adapt to new ways of behaving, thinking, and using new tools. I saw a prime example of this while reading the news today... a quiz (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sex/add_user.shtml) which purports to inform any taker as to the gender of his or her brain.... This is an example of the human tendency to force our explanations of our findings to fit our preconceived notions, rather than adapting the beliefs themselves.


  IV. (Anne) So: here's Roughgarden, challenging some of your preconceived notions.

for Wednesday's class: finish Part I of Roughgarden (through p. 181;
look also @ her appendix of "policy recommendations,"since we hope to explore the implications of her way of thinking for education, etc.


How was it, making the transition
from being cyborg (used by your technology, turned by your tennis racket into a "ball hitting thing"?) to being part of the rainbow of the natural world? To learning something about the ecology of gender diversity?

What were the disconnects?

What connections did you see, in making this move?

How does Roughgarden's orientation resemble Haraway's? Clark's?

V. What is the story Roughgarden tells? 

How familiar is it to the biologists among us?
(Riki, tangerines, MSA322, kgould...?)

How familiar to the rest of us?


p. 7: "I've coined the term 'genial gene' .... [to] emphasize that genes must cooperate lest the common body they inhabit sink like like a lifeboat filed with squabbling sailors."

p. 14: "the most basic question faced by evolutionary biology is whether variation within a species is good in its right or whether it is simply a collection of impurities ...."

p. 23: "'Men' and 'women' are social categories. We have the freedom to decide who counts as a man who counts as a woman. The criteria change....

....the biological criteria for male and female don't coincide 100 percent with present-day social criteria for man and woman .... using biological categories as though they were social categories is a mistake called 'essentialism' .... social categories can't be made to coincide with biological categories except by fiat."


pp. 26-27: "Among the species that reproduce sexually, gamete size obeys a near-universal binary between very small (sperm) and large (egg) .... Beyond these two generealizations, the generalizing stops and diversity begins! ....

The biggest error of biology today is uncritically  assuming that the gamete size binary implies a corresponding binary in body type, behavior, and life history. No binary governs the whole individuals who make gametes, who bring them to one another for fertilization, and who interact with one another to survive in a native social context.... Gender, unlike gamete size, is not limited to two....Gender is the appearance, behavior, and life history of a sexed body ....gender is appearance plus action ...."

What's your reaction to/your feelings about Roughgarden's story?

What do you think of this old/new/revised story?


VI. I like it a lot, and chose it, as an occasion
for our thinking-together, for several reasons:

* its critique of the limits of category-making,
especially academic categories:


p. 9: "our species manifests the same range of variation across cultures and through time, but shows great variation in how we package people into social categories"

p. 3: "the book's main message [is] an indictment of academia for suppressing and denying diversity...all our academic disciplines should go back to school, take refresher courses in their own primary data .... Western culture discriminates against diversity. Each discipline finds its own justification for discrimination."

* its placing on the table the relation between fact and value
p. 4: "I do argue that because gender and sexuality variation occur in animals, this variation is also good for humans. I do not advocate any version of this fallacy ["Natural equals good"] that confuses fact with value. I believe the goodness of a natural trait is the province of ethical reasoning, not science.

*its recognition that you need both to identify writers' agendas
(including hers!) and distinguish them from your own

p. 10: "I find that refuting sexual selection theory imbues female choice with responsibility for decision about power and family ...and empowers varied expressions of gender and sexuality."

p. 9: "You, my readers, are a jury of friends and neighbors, and you will make up your own mind. Please consider that everyone writing on these topics is writing from a particular perspective and with a vested interest....

I am also especially drawn to this book because
of its treatment of hermaphrodism:

p. 31: my guess is that hermaphrodism is more common in the world than species who maintain separate sexes in separate bodies.... The separate-sex/separate-body state is often viewed as "normal".... Alternatively, hermaphrodism may be viewed as the original norm, prompting us to ask what there is in mobile organism in the terrestrial environment that favors separate sexes in separate bodies.

pp. 290-291, on Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome:
"AIS is characterized by a very feminine body in an XY individual, as
a result of receptors that don't bind strongly to testosterone so that
the body's testosterone has little effect on the body's appearance."



"This (could be called) a same-sex ceremony."


My family story:
Katie Baratz (Dalke), HC '07:

Haverford College News Room:Growing Up "Intersex," Going on Oprah.
The Oprah Winfrey Show: Shedding Light on Intersex

Marie Claire: I'm a Woman with Male Chromosomes
talk in Park for the post-bacs: Wed a week, Feb. 9, @ 5:30--
we're invited!

VII. Given what we've just learned about biological diversity:
why do you think that we have sex/gender categories,
individually and culturally?

In what ways have they been useful?
Do we want to continue to use them in those ways? 
Are they useful in new ways? 
Would it be better to replace them with .... ? 
to get rid of them? individually? culturally?


Joan Roughgarden on "Cultural Rainbows," p. 396:

"what won't work is stuffing our species into two small categories of gender and sexuality.... Social scientists... think diversity results from society producing difference among people who are biologically the same. I don't agree. The biology I know tells of endless variation, not of a few universals. This endless biological variation is always poking through social categories, spilling over the borders, fudging the edges."

Roughgarden's book is filled with examples of border-spilling over and edge-fudging.... What use can we make both of the categories and what-doesn't-fit??

Break into small groups, to apply these questions to the categories of
1) male and female sexes (defined, p. 23f)
2) masculine and feminine genders (defined, p. 26f)
3) gay and straight sexualities (function of homosexuality, p. 155f)
4) male and female homosexuality (genital geometry, p. 157f)
5) transgender and cisgendered peoples (transgender experience, p. 263f)
6) intersex and nonintersexed conditions ("nor intersexes," p. 299f).

What uses have these categories served? 
Can they still serve?
What damage have they done?
Do we want to continue to use/replace/get rid of them?
How?

Bring this conversation back to the large group (on Wednesday?)

Course notes by Apocalypsis