Friday, June 22, 2007

Primate Visions

Jane Goodall, the white-bodied stranger, with a baby from another species.

Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science (London: Routledge, 1989)

The awesome Donna Haraway, professor in UC/Santa Cruz' departments of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies. She has a PhD in biology, but has worked on the "humanities" side of things for years. It looks to me as though Visions is her first humanities book. She then wrote Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991); the awkwardly titled (surely on purpose! I have such faith in her prose) Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan
©_Meets_Oncomouse™ (1997); The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (2003). She's now working on a couple more books about dogs and people.

Argument: This is a big, long, complicated, important book basically dedicated to showing that the scientific discourses of primatology are culturally situated and infused with implications for (human) gender relations. Since the early twentieth century, at the beginnings of primatology, the observed actions of non-human primates have Meant Something about the human condition...and the results of these observations have shaped ideas of human society. Male and male-thinking scientists and anthropologists have traditionally structured their inquiries around the categories of sex and violence, and have invested time in observing male dominance hierarchies instead of female interrelationships. Meanwhile, female primates have been seen as resources in the lives of the males - there to be disputed, but not actors in their own rights.

Chapter-by-chapter: This could take a while.
1. Introduction: The Persistence of Vision:
Sets up major questions of the tome: "How do the terrible marks of race and gender enable and constrain love and knowledge in particular cultural traditions, including the modern natural sciences?" (1) (That move - naming natural sciences as a "cultural tradition" - gives you a clue about where this is going...) Haraway uses Said's idea of orientalism to describe primatology, pointing out that the dualisms of nature and culture, as well as sex and gender, that the science cares about, are ways of constructing a false "other"ness - and that this book will seek to deconstruct these dualisms. She points out that this project is especially significant and freighted because of the heightened popular presence of primatology: "The boundary between technical and popular discourse is very fragile and permeable" (14). Therefore, she hopes this book will find a popular audience (hm) and that it will help "readers find an 'elsewhere' from which to envision a different and less hostile order of relationships among people, animals, technologies, and land" (15).

Part One: Monkeys and Monopoly Capitalism: Primatology before WWII
2. Primate Colonies and the Extraction of Value:
Haraway considers the "psychobiological" origins of primatology in the US before WWII: "Primatology was overwhelmingly a laboratory and museum-based affair" (24) which was tied mostly to solving human health problems, not to figuring out new ways to think about human society.

3. Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-36:
This chapter appeared as an article in Social Text before this book's publication, and I used that for my MA thesis. Here is a very good chapter-length description of the early twentieth-c's elite scientific investment in animals and the "wild" as a renewal of (white male) human possibility, perceived as threatened by modernity. The story of Carl Akeley anchors.

4. A Pilot Plant for Human Engineering: Robert Yerkes and the Yale Laboratories of Primate Biology, 1924-42:
Yerkes, who founded a laboratory that was "paradigmatic" in the field, was also paradigmatic in his outlook on science: "For him, the tap root of science is the aim to control" (61). He saw his laboratory as a "pilot plant, a demonstration project for rational re-design of human nature" (64) (go Progressive machinism!) Yerkes' emphasis on dominance, Haraway argues, was a symptom of the times and their obsession with analyzing social systems and human relationships.

5. A Semiotics of the Naturalistic Field, From CR Carpenter to SA Altmann, 1930-55:
The careers of these two scientists, Haraway argues, showcase the move in biological thinking between the vision of organic physiological organisms "ordered by the hierarchical divsion of labor and the principle of homeostasis" to a postwar emphasis on "cybernetic technological systems, ordered by communications engineering principles and a tightly associated principle of natural selection" (101). This sea change was part of other, similar research being done in the military, industrial, and corporate fields.

Part Two: Decolonization and Multinational Primatology
6. Re-instituting Western Primatology after World War II:
Primatology goes global in this chapter. The United States funded more and more research, creating more available money for projects. The concept of the all-important, culture-generating Male Hunter came about (covered in a gloss in this chapter and more in-depth in Part III). Using primates as human stand-ins, scientists searched for answers to human problems including changes in family structure. Haraway believes that underlying all of this is a deep anxiety about what western humans have done to the earth (nuclear war, and all a that).

7. Apes in Eden, Apes in Space: Mothering as a Scientist for National Geographic:
A great chapter that gets in the field with Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, tracing the way that their work (and that of other white female scientists) gets appropriated by media such as National Geographic and corporate sponsors such as Gulf Oil. Here is Koko and her kitten, too. These women and their apes, Haraway argues, were deployed as surrogates to help white men get back in touch with a "lost" postnuclear nature. Their scientific efforts were not seen uncolored by the particular cultural encumbrances of their gender. I loved the part of this chapter in which Shirley Strum, baboon researcher, tells about how difficult it was to work with the Geographic on a story she wrote for them...they wanted far more pictures of her, made up anecdotes about the animals, etc. There is also an extensive analysis of the social dynamics at Goodall's Gombe research station, and of the filmic representations of her work. Haraway writes of these representations, "The lesson offered in all the versions of the narratives about Gombe's chimpanzees has been different: The world is given, not made. It's no wonder Gulf Oil was proud to sponsor that message" (185).

Koko and All Ball.

8. Remodeling the Human Way of Life: Sherwood Washburn and the New Physical Anthropology, 1950-1980:
Haraway associates physical anthropology during this time period with UNESCO's Universal Man, which was a program conceived to try to strip science of its racism. Despite this, Haraway says, this kind of anthropology, exemplified by Washburn's influence (he had a ton of students), succeeded in creating a very distinct set of gender roles by codifying a narrative of Original Family. Haraway looks at the discovery of Lucy's bones and those of the Taung child, who's on this hologram on the cover of the Geographic (November 1985). Through the creation of these images of family, Haraway argues, technology became associated with man, and sexuality/reproduction with woman. Thus, the responsibility for the creation of Culture lies with man - and in the elimination of racism from this equation, women lose.

9. Metaphors into Hardware: Harry Harlow and the Technology of Love: Dr. Harlow, working at a lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, invented the fake mother, designed to help monkey infants live without their real mothers (if they stayed in dyads, they were apt not to want to be separated for purposes of the experiments desired by science). Haraway calls Harlow a sadist, and it's hard not to agree when reading some of the stories of experiments run on infant depressed would you get if you were raised without contact for the first couple months of your life? (It's the monkey version of "the forbidden experiment".) He also re-inscribed ideas of the nuclear family by setting monkeys up in apparati designed to enforce them, and then using data about how monkeys thrived in them in order to make points about human society (just about now, thinking about letting [white] women work more often...)

10. The Bio-Politics of a Multicultural Field:
Haraway talks about differences in Japanese primatology, including the Japanese scientists' interest in concepts of self and society, and the science's diminished fear of "contaminating" monkey sample subjects by too much interaction. Although Japanese primatologists were more holistic, intuitive, and less dualistic, Haraway wishes to point out that all of these qualities, added up, don't necessarily mean that the assumptions or conclusions of said science were not "masculinist". There is also a discussion of primatology in India, where monkeys and men are more daily imbricated in each other's lives (but, Haraway points out, it cannot be said that Indians are inherently more reverent of the monkey...) Then to Africa, where the politics of the creation of national parks (see Dian Fossey's story, in which she was probably killed by poachers) is an international miscommunication. Finally, to the Malagasy Republic, where Allison Jolly, primatologist and field researcher, has worked for years, with a higher degree of cultural sensitivity than most least, Haraway points out, Jolly is aware that Westerners coming in to study the animals of non-Western countries without collaborating with the scientists of those countries are causing a reinforcement of the dynamics of colonization.

Part Three: The Politics of Being Female: Primatology is a Genre of Feminist Theory
11. Women's Place is in the Jungle:
An overview of the re-thinking of the field by feminist/female practitioners. Haraway writes that cultural movement - "the worldwide reworkings of what the differences and similarities within and among women might be" (285) - have changed primatology, requiring that an entirely new set of descriptive practices be constructed. This construction, she argues, is "a serious form of feminist practice" (287). Occurring, as it has, mostly in the context of white Western female primatologists, however, it cannot completely universalize.

12. Jeanne Altmann: Time-Energy Budgets of Dual Career Mothering :
Explorations of the careers of four female primatologists make up the third section. Altmann, most interested in methodology, nonetheless practiced a feminist intervention, according to Haraway, in her very questioning of the questions behind the science - she re-set the priorities of the field, thereby creating room for more nuanced studies of female primate lives.

13. Linda Marie Fedigan: Models for Interventions:
Fedigan, an anthropologist, is most noted by Haraway for her carefully subjective language in field reporting, creating a more "semiotically open text" (319) in the interest of honest acknowledgment of bias.

14. Adrienne Zihlman: The Paleoanthropology of Sex and Gender:
Zihlman, one of the major proponents of the "gatherer" thesis ("original" women were not just passive sexual beings, but have active functions within the survival picture, often using technology), has faced opposition and accusations of being a "bad" scientist. Haraway looks at these accusations and makes some points about bias and the denial of bias in scientific circles.

15. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Investment Strategies for the Evolving Portfolio of Primate Females:
A sociobiology believer, Hrdy creates a vision of women who are competitive, even with each other, and whose lives are based around sex - but in a feminist way. Here is a discussion of the importance of female orgasm in female agency, and the way in which female orgasm in monkeys and apes came to be studied by primatologists, reconstructing said agency.

16. Reprise: Science Fiction, Fictions of Science, and Primatology:
A concluding chapter focuses on Octavia Butler's Dawn (1987), reiterating questions of agency, subjectivity, and citizenship.

Goodall and friend.

In Isis, Gregg Mitman called the book "brilliant, but at times impenetrable" (witness my difficulty penetrating it, above). He believed that the book was a significant step forward in integrating the history of science and the history of gender relations, but thought that the book's sometimes jargon-y tone would render it inaccessible for the popular reader. After describing the project, Lakshmi Bandlamudi, writing in Gender and Society, actually ejaculated "Yes!" in excitement. Bandlamudi saw the book as an excellent example of poststructuralism, and took issue with a New York Times review which apparently wrote that scientists might find Visions frustrating to read - a good scientist, she felt, should welcome the opportunity to dig deeper into the assumptions behind his or her work. In Current Anthropology, Peter Rodman was upset: "I cannot accept this vision of primatology." He angrily pointed out that it was a FACT that organisms compete for things, and not a made-up male paradigm. He seemed not to really have gotten point one of Haraway's analyses of the formation of scientific "objectivity" (he refers to "the cold eye of science", for example).

Vocab words:
"interdigitate" ("to interlock like the fingers of the two hands when clasped"); "instaurate" ("to restore, renew; to erect; to supply"); "allochronic" ("of species, populations, etc.: existing at different points in (geological) time; breeding or flourishing at different seasons"); "protean" ("of or relating to Proteus, like that of Proteus. Hence in extended use: adopting or existing in various shapes, variable in form; variously manifested or expressed; changing, unpredictable"); "brachiation" ("lit: having arms; in Bot. having branches in pairs running out nearly at right angles with the stem and crossing each other alternately"; with apes and humans, the common feature of having arms placed like we do).; "alalia" ("loss of the power of speech").

Things to follow up on: Carl Akeley's book for kids: Lions, Gorillas, and their Neighbors (1922). P 163: References to 1950s films made for social studies curricula by primatologists. P 52: The Akeleys on their belief that highly effective black porters were motivated by the spirits of their masters (use for revision of agency essay). P 56: The AMNH's education extension programs. P 121: India's refusal to give us monkeys for nuclear research (1955). P 127: Time-Life Books' theories of male dominance and hunting at the origination of man. P 223: Stanford's undergrad Hum Bio major in the 1970s focused on solving problems of a biosocial nature (cf MACOS).

Movies to see:
"Gorillas in the Mist"; "Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees" (1965) (narrated by Orson Welles); "The Gods Must Be Crazy" (1984); "Project X" (1989) (stars Matthew Broderick and Helen Hunt); "Primate" (1974) (dir. Frederick Wiseman).

Books to follow up on: Primary:
Toni Cade Bambara, Salt Eaters (1980); Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976).

Secondary: Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots (1983); Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (1987); John Michael Kennedy, "Philanthropy and Science in New York City: The AMNH" (1968, diss.); Karin Knorr-Cetina and Michael Mulkay, eds, Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of Science (1983). This book has an amazing bibliography, for future reference.

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