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Ghost Stories for Darwin

Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Ghost Stories for Darwin
    Book Description:

    In a stimulating interchange between feminist studies and biology, Banu Subramaniam explores how her dissertation on flower color variation in morning glories launched her on an intellectual odyssey that engaged the feminist studies of sciences in the experimental practices of science by tracing the central and critical idea of variation in biology. As she shows, the histories of eugenics and genetics and their impact on the metaphorical understandings of difference and diversity that permeate common understandings of differences among people exist in contexts that seem distant from the so-called objective hard sciences. Journeying into areas that range from the social history of plants to speculative fiction, Subramaniam uncovers key relationships between the life sciences, women's studies, evolutionary and invasive biology, and the history of ecology, and how ideas of diversity and difference emerged and persist in each field.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09659-4
    Subjects: Sociology, General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE. The Red Queen Runneth: On Interdisciplinarity
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Interdisciplinary Hauntings: The Ghostly World of Naturecultures
    (pp. 1-24)

    The woman in a flowing white sari glides by on a dark moonlit night surrounded by a fuzzy eerie glow. The trees rustle gently. A haunting melody plays in the background . . . These were frequent scenes in Bollywood and other Indian movies that I grew up with. Ghosts in Indian movies are always characters whose abbreviated life marks urgent unfinished business—usually characters that are murdered for the secrets they knew or for money, politics, or love. Not able to withstand the injustice of the murder, their ghosts appear at opportune moments in the film, often in song,...


    • CHAPTER ONE Thigmatropic Tales: On the Politics and Social Lives of Morning Glories
      (pp. 27-44)

      An academy with separate and distinct disciplines has carved knowledge production into unique objects of studies and methodologies, obscuring the teeming life between the worlds of natures and cultures. A central goal of this book is to illustrate what an interdisciplinarynatureculturalanalysis would look like. In this chapter, I revisit my doctoral work on the maintenance of flower color variation in morning glories to explore how a feminist analysis can help explain the shape and scope of my research. How did it come to take the particular shape and form that it did? Might a naturecultural approach to flower...

    • CHAPTER TWO A Genealogy of Variation: The Enduring Debate on Human Differences
      (pp. 45-69)

      Elizabeth Wilson writes that we need to move away from those feminist discourses that “constitute the biological as fixed, locatable, and originary” (1998: 95). Rather, the biological is mutable, constantly changing, and evolving—both as a field and as the actual “matter” of biology. In this sense, a genealogical history of the idea of biological variation is a perfect case study of how the very idea of variation as the biological, locatable, originary fixedness is constantly shifting, reconceived, reinterpreted, and given new meaning. Starting from Charles Darwin, the idea of variation is a central organizing concept in evolutionary biology. Variation...

    • CHAPTER THREE Singing the morning Glory Blues: A Fictional Science
      (pp. 70-92)

      Singing the morning glory blues . . .voice soaring . . . floating through the expansive landscape . . . unhindered, uncontrolled . . . the cadences riding the winds . . . free floating. No obstacles, not limited by the ground or the sky . . . but free to explore, to roam the world, all the world. Free to go where the notes take me, without care, without fears of betrayal or unemployment. Not having to pledge allegiance to a university, a discipline, or an epistemology. No threats, no retribution. No accusations of being naive, unscientific, or delusionally...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Alien Nation: A Recent Biography
      (pp. 95-124)

      Where do plants, animals, and humans originate, and does it matter? Who migrates where, when, and why and to what consequences? Part II explores the naturecultural worlds of invasion biology. This project on biological invasions began simply enough as an interdisciplinary project in science and the feminist studies of science. This collaborative project was provoked by the growing public alarm about exotic and foreign species. As a biologist, I was keen to understand and explain the shifting landscape—why are numbers of native species dwindling and foreign species increasing? From feminist studies, I was interested in our generic fear about...

    • CHAPTER FIVE My Experiments with Truth: Studying the Biology of Invasions
      (pp. 125-141)

      Over the past three decades feminist scholars have amply demonstrated that critical social categories such as gender, race, class, sexuality, and nation are inextricably interconnected with science and its studies of nature. Science has played a central role in shaping these categories, and these categories have in turn shaped science. For the most part, this endeavor has focused on historical works. If social and political factors have always been important to science in the past, surely they must also be to the science of the present? If the history of science teaches us that science has always been socially embedded,...

    • CHAPTER SIX Aliens of the World Unite! A Meditation on Belonging in a Multispecies World
      (pp. 142-156)

      The project on biological invasions that I have described in this section of the book was conceived as a joint project across the sciences and science studies, bringing the vast resources of the humanities and the biological sciences together to understand the natural world. After all, geographic origin and variation, alien and foreignness, are characteristics that can be shared by all organisms and objects. And yet, this project has evolved into something much more profound, an uncanny confluence of the academic and the social, of identity, experience, biology, culture, and politics. Geographies, genealogies, and biographies of variation have all been...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Through the Prism of Objectivity: Dispersions of Identity, Culture, Science
      (pp. 159-179)

      My memories of second grade largely come from a wastepaper basket. In my second-grade class, whenever a student talked too much, usually when the teacher’s back was turned and there were more interesting things to talk about than the lesson at hand, the teacher would empty the wastepaper basket. Then she would make the student stand in the wastepaper basket in the corner of the room to observe the rest of the class. My year in second grade is filled with images from that corner, my feet in the basket. My teacher added a comment to my report card, “too...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Resistance Is Futile! You Will Be Assimilated: Gender and the Making of Scientists
      (pp. 180-199)

      During the hey day of the television seriesStar Trek: The Next Generation, I remember being transfixed by the episodes on the Borg.¹ Their repeated and relentless “Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated” was a catchy and unforgettable slogan. Steeped in a project on the culture of science, I was struck by the resonance of what I was hearing from the Borg and from graduate students in the sciences about the culture of science. The singular focus, the complete dedication, the all-absorbing culture, the strict adherence to rules and order, the intolerance of deviance of any kind—these were...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Emperor’s New Clothes: Revisiting the Question of Women in the Sciences
      (pp. 200-222)

      In the famous Hans Christian Anderson fable,The Emperor’s New Clothes, the emperor commissions a cloak. Under pressure to produce ever finer cloaks, the cloth maker and tailor invents a deception—the finest fabric ever, a fabric so fine and fantastical that it is visible only to the truly intellectually deserving and is invisible to all else. While the emperor himself cannot see the cloak, he pretends to be able to and wears his imaginary cloak in a procession through town. The “emperor’s new clothes” has become a metaphor for power, pretentiousness, social hypocrisy, and collective denial. I use the...

  9. CONCLUSION. New Cartographies of Variation: The Future of Feminist Science Studies
    (pp. 223-228)

    During the summer I was revising this manuscript, I decided to grow morning glories in my garden. An obeisance of sorts to this glorious creature that had captured my imagination two decades ago and has ever since made me long for the immensity of its naturecultural possibilities. It has been a glorious journey. Among the bewildering varieties now available, my favorite is the Japanese morning glory,Ipomoea nil, Imperial Star of India! As I ponder the flowers each morning, the naturecultural genealogies of morning glories I have recently discovered come tumbling into my mind. I contemplate the genus with its...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 229-234)
  11. References
    (pp. 235-270)
  12. Index
    (pp. 271-280)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-282)