Archive for the ‘science’ Category

WIERD Methodology: Some Problems with the Study of Sexuality

December 9, 2012

The title of this blog post refers to a 2010 paper entitled “The WEIRDest People in the World?” by J Henrich, S. Heine and A Norenzayan. WEIRD is an acronym for White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. In the paper, the authors argue that most psychology studies take as their sample study group undergraduate college students who generally fit the WEIRD acronym. They argue that this sample is not very indicative of humanity as a whole and we should be very wary of using this group as indicators of general human psychological states. As they say, the WEIRDos “are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers.”

At first, I was skeptical of the acronym. I thought, why are we creating a new acronym for a problem covered by the term “eurocentrism”? But, WEIRD actually points to the demographic of study, and has some value specifying that group. However, I find that the more important issue is the methodology that makes this acronym meaningful: the lazy and ethnocentric science of human behavior.

I am quite approving of science that aims to find generalized human characteristics, also known as “human nature”. The problem is when lazy science puts the cart before the horse. As an example, let me point you to a BBC documentary about nudity I stumbled across last week.



The Zombiepocalypse and Religion: Be Careful What You Wish For.

November 1, 2012

George Romero's Night of the Living DeadThe Walking Dead

Zombies have been a mainstay in popular culture since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Today’s most popular incarnation is The Walking Dead tv-series. While I read the Walking Dead graphic novel, I have only recently caught up on the television show. Watching the series puts me in mind of a few insights about Zombies that a religious studies perspective can bring to the phenomena as a whole. In this post, I only want to touch briefly on a few things: the apocalyptical or dystopian aspect of the zombie myth, the underlying ideology of the myth, and, of course, some observations about us that our zombie stories tell us.

First, I’d like to talk about Zombies AS myth.

Our Sexuality

October 11, 2010

I’m teaching a class on sexuality and I thought I should collect all of my preliminary thoughts about it into one place and, hey, that’s what this blog is for!

So, to begin, I’d like to say that my perspective on sexuality is quite Foucaultian. I think taking into account the insights (whether one agrees or not) of Foucault’s History of Sexuality is necessary for an understanding of our contemporary sexuality. Not only does he provide a very interesting account of where our sexual mores and proclivities belong in a historical continuum, he provides a very interesting methodological perspective about how to think about sexuality. It is not whether we possess in some essential way a certain sexuality, rather it is that we should question where sexuality comes from and what effect certain discourses on sexuality have on producing that sexuality. It is less important, for example, to determine whether or not we possess a repressed sexuality: it is rather to ask what does the very idea that we have a repressed sexuality do? How does thinking we are repressed effect the way we think and act about sexuality.

So, the first insight of The History of Sexuality and probably the most famous is that:

1) Whether or not we are actually repressed, the very idea that we are repressed (which we buy into a lot) impacts us. It makes us want to be liberated from this repression. It allows for a whole swath of discourse and activities open up that make us more and more concerned about sexuality. Because we think we are repressed we intensify our concern with sexuality. The idea of Repression actually produces more and more discourse about sexuality. (more…)

The material conditions for the “Western” Episteme: a short note

April 8, 2010

It is through colonialism that Europe constructed itself. So many of the things we take for granted today were either born in, or crystalized in the 19th century of Britain and France. Nation-states, the family, adolescence, the middle-class, science, the university (as we know it), capitalism etc. etc. One note that I want to make about how the European episteme is now the dominant paradigm of global knowing has to do with knowledge production itself. All universities around the world follow the European model and privilege European ways of knowing.  This has created a situation where, globally, the structures of how we organize knowledge, how we think and what we know, at the level of the middle-class and upper-class (and thus necessarily impacting the lower-classes), follows a historical trajectory from the 19th century. The ways we think about the world as national citizens, the kinds of institutions we accept, the discourses and categories of knowledge that we encounter and embody, are all to a greater (or occasionally lesser) degree “Western”.

With this in mind, I think it is fair to say that, today, the world is the West. Following from this, we might then say that distinctions we make between developed/developing, first- and third-world, East and West, Us and Them, are really more roundabout ways of creating a set of people to dominate at the level of discourse. Almost all discourse is Western now, regardless of the language being used, so to argue that something is not ‘Western’ is, in fact, to argue something else entirely. It is instead to establish a differential hierarchy through language. I’ll leave the reader to imagine the various consequences of this.

Scientific Voyeurism

May 16, 2009

I’m on a train from here to there and thinking about stuff and junk. Well, grading. And, since I underslept, a complex bricolage of images, scenes, thoughts are making it distracting to grade. Perhaps if I get them out…

In what circumstances do we let others examine our bodies? We can imagine being with a lover and this might seem like a tender moment. Or perhaps, one tinged with uncomfortableness, anxiety, pride, etc. We can bring up the spectre of the male gaze. But, I want to explore a different kind of scene.

Imagine the inherent meaning of bodies. The cultural meaning of bodies involves a whole complex of signification. Raced bodies are seen in particular ways. The power inherent in a non-raced body (in some contexts) is an ephemeral, yet important factor. Gender. Class signifiers. Sexual signifiers. Ability and disability. In culture (and here I think it important to recognize the fluidity of culture–percieved boundaries between cultures limit understanding how the flow of semiological meaning is exchanged) different particular contexts shape, facilitate, and imbue bodies with various, sometimes contradictory, meaning. Indeed, it might be safe to say that every instance of imbodiment is a unique play of meaning about the body. But, this understanding makes it difficult to understand and analyse the structure or play of how cultural meaning manifests in situations. We need some sort of generalizations or analytic framework. All that being said, i return to imagining the inherent meaning of bodies. Bodies are a message that are iterable by cultural de-encryption.

Imagine yourself naked. Standing, hands on your side. Imagine someone or someones looking at you. In what contexts does this happen? What cultural, institutional, structural forces construct moments wherein this is a possible scene? Indeed, might it be the case that some individuals throughout history have never experienced this? So, aside from thinking cross-culturally about this, aside from the impact that has on understanding what I want to focus on, I’d like to imagine that the someone(s) watching us are scientists. Medical professionals. Doctors. Experts. Knowers.

We submit ourselves to their gaze. Institutionally we must do this in order to be healed, to be understood, to be helped, to be saved.

Scientists with clipboards surrounding you, as you stand naked. Now, instead of feeling uncomfortable, as most would in this scene, let us change our angle. Let us keep in mind that this is our NAKED body they are looking at. Bodies are inherently sexualized. Here, I think there is a point to a geneology of the repressive hypothesis. It seems like a radical move to de-sexualize some bodies–just as it is radical to re-sexualize others. Regardless, the scientific gaze has a part to play.

I think to get at what I want to say, I need to add one more element to our scene. Here I stand, here you stand, naked. In front of us in labcoats, with clipboards or however you might imagine it, are scientists. Peering, taking notes, whisper so the subject won’t be spooked by an almost necessarily creepy setting, the scientists are constructing knowledge. Now, imagine a tall wooden fence with a couple of small holes in it. Imagine the scientists needing to crouch and share the holes to peer at you.

This is one way I think, structurally, the institution of science plays out. Scientific voyeurism.

The science of bodies is inherently perverted. Science itself is a perversion. Science wants to see the naked body of Nature through the fence that hides it. Why do they (and by extension us) want to look through this hole? In fact, by connection, the fact that we allow scientists to be our valorized voyeurs, means we are essentially paying others to be voyeurs and get back to us. Furthermore, since we are all subjects of this voyeurism, we WANT to be the person being peered at through the fence. The whole situation is perverse from all sides.

Why do we subject ourselves to this? For each person, undoubtedly, there are different intersectional answers. Collectively, however, we somehow want this to be the case.

Scientific voyeurism is enabled by our exhibitionism.