Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico

Laura Briggs
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 289
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pncqs
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Reproducing Empire
    Book Description:

    Original and compelling, Laura Briggs'sReproducing Empireshows how, for both Puerto Ricans and North Americans, ideologies of sexuality, reproduction, and gender have shaped relations between the island and the mainland. From science to public policy, the "culture of poverty" to overpopulation, feminism to Puerto Rican nationalism, this book uncovers the persistence of concerns about motherhood, prostitution, and family in shaping the beliefs and practices of virtually every player in the twentieth-century drama of Puerto Rican colonialism. In this way, it sheds light on the legacies haunting contemporary debates over globalization. Puerto Rico is a perfect lens through which to examine colonialism and globalization because for the past century it has been where the United States has expressed and fine-tuned its attitudes toward its own expansionism. Puerto Rico's history holds no simple lessons for present-day debate over globalization but does unearth some of its history.Reproducing Empiresuggests that interventionist discourses of rescue, family, and sexuality fueled U.S. imperial projects and organized American colonialism. Through the politics, biology, and medicine of eugenics, prostitution, and birth control, the United States has justified its presence in the territory's politics and society. Briggs makes an innovative contribution to Puerto Rican and U.S. history, effectively arguing that gender has been crucial to the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, and more broadly, to U.S. expansion elsewhere.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93631-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Colonialism: Familiar Territory
    (pp. 1-20)

    The termglobalizationis a placeholder, a word with no exact meaning that we use in our contested efforts to describe the successors to development and colonialism. Few would argue that the aggregate result of military interventions in the name of humanitarian concerns, free-trade agreements, and new forms of internationalization of labor and capital ought to be called colonialism, but many would insist that these things have something to do with exploitation, that some nations and territories benefit to the detriment of others. Others would insist that, on the whole, globalization is a good thing, that the “New World Order”...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Sexuality, Medicine, and Imperialism: The International Traffic in Prostitution Policy
    (pp. 21-45)

    In order to tell the stories of Puerto Rico and its twentieth-century relationship to the United States, this book begins earlier and further afield. Puerto Rico has been alternately the subject of neglect and obsessive interest in academic scholarship, public policy, and popular culture, and it is not the intention here to reproduce what has sometimes verged on the prurient interest of some of this writing and policy, doubly so since the subject of this book is sex. This book will not follow in the footsteps of those who have tried to show what was unusual or peculiar about Puerto...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Sex and Citizenship: The Politics of Prostitution in Puerto Rico, 1898–1918
    (pp. 46-73)

    In 1917, with little discussion and less consultation with the island’s inhabitants, Congress made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens. The cynical view held that the Jones Act granting citizenship was passed in order to provide fresh cannon fodder for the coming World War I. Whether or not this was the motivation, it was over and done before much in the way of opposition, support, or even considered public opinion could form on the island. A year later, the WCTU, the U.S. military, and U.S. officials on the island worked together to bring a repressive prostitution policy to Puerto Rico, one that...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Debating Reproduction: Birth Control, Eugenics, and Overpopulation in Puerto Rico, 1920–1940
    (pp. 74-108)

    With the end of World War I, the “problem” of working-class women shifted from prostitution to issues of reproduction and birth control. Struggles over birth control on the island drew on and promoted a number of different and often incompatible beliefs: that insular poverty was caused by overpopulation; that birth control was a genocidal, American plot; that excess childbearing caused maternal ill-health; and that the future prosperity of the island lay in smaller, “modern,” eugenic families. Birth control provided the policy issue, and eugenics, overpopulation, and maternal health provided the terms in which a number of larger issues were debated:...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Demon Mothers in the Social Laboratory: Development, Overpopulation, and “the Pill,” 1940–1960
    (pp. 109-141)

    After World War II, Puerto Rico and the Third World in general emerged as visible problems, albeit soluble ones, for U.S. philanthropy and foreign policy. Cold War social science and policy rendered poverty and communism, envisioned as two sides of the same coin, as issues that the nation needed to address. If Third World populations were too poor, they might “go over” to the Soviets, but social science—sociology, economics, history, and demography—held solutions to poverty. One of the most important was that overpopulation needed to be addressed through family planning. This analysis of the Third World, as victimized...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Politics of Sterilization, 1937–1974
    (pp. 142-161)

    If the politics of birth control engaged multiple nationalisms, sterilization in Puerto Rico did so to a still greater extent. It became an issue around which questions of insular status, economy, race, and gender swirled—or, to put it differently, as the words themselves were called into question—colonialism, capitalism, racism, and sexism. The burgeoning of Third World nationalist, feminist, and racial justice movements brought the never neutral questions of sexuality and reproduction to the forefront of these struggles, and Puerto Rican sterilization was important far beyond the boundaries of the island. By the 1970s, the debate over the question...

  11. CHAPTER 6 “I like to be in America”: Postwar Puerto Rican Migration, the Culture of Poverty, and the Moynihan Report
    (pp. 162-192)

    In 1961 long-time Puerto Rican labor activist Jesus Colón commented on what people in New York City were hearing about Puerto Ricans. There were the “voluminous studies” and “official reports” and

    elaborate highly-documented “surveys” of the “difficult” problem of the “unwanted, unassimilable Puerto Ricans” who live in the great metropolis of New York. . . . We Puerto Ricans have even been subject to treatment in the Broadway drama and fabulously successful musical show. But invariably this treatment harps on what is superficial and sentimental, transient and ephemeral, or bizarre and grotesque in Puerto Rican life. . . . Years...

  12. EPILOGUE. Ghosts, Cyborgs, and Why Puerto Rico Is the Most Important Place in the World
    (pp. 193-210)

    While most books raise their methodological questions at the outset, here they serve as epilogue. History is about change, narrative, movement; the things this book tries to understand—gender, reproduction, and sexuality with respect to the U.S. relationship with Puerto Rico—are relationships that can only be made sense of over scores of years. The waysReproducing Empiregrapples with questions of representation, colonialism, race, and science—its theoretical premises—are entitled to defense and interrogation only at the end, after the narrative has worked out some of their virtues and limitations. Methodological questions do not necessarily make sense at the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-242)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-266)
  15. Index
    (pp. 267-278)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)