Book Summaries: Cold War Social Science, Gender Roles, and Reproduction

I have done many more readings. The following essay from my Cold War science and feminism list with Susan Lindee is already 1.5 months old and I can read faster and type more efficiently by now. As a colleague of mine, one year ahead of me in the same program, tells the grad student applicants who come in every Monday these days: If we were able to start over grad school with the knowledge and strategies we have now, we would need to get a hobby! We’d be so bored reading only four books a week.

Works Read:

Social Science and Institutions

Simpson, Christopher, ed. 1999. Universities and Empire: Money and Politics in the Social Sciences during the Cold War. New York: New Press.

Rohde, Joy. 2009. “Gray Matters: Social Scientists, Military Patronage, and Democracy in the Cold War.” The Journal of American History 96 (1): 99–122. doi:10.2307/27694733.

Solovey, Mark, and Hamilton Cravens. 2012. Cold War Social Science: Knowledge Production, Liberal Democracy, and Human Nature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cold War Rationality

Amadae, Sonja M. 2003. Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Erickson, Paul, Judy L. Klein, Lorraine Daston, Rebecca M. Lemov, Thomas Sturm, and Michael D. Gordin. 2013. How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press.

Gender Roles and Reproduction

Gilbert, James B. 2005. Men in the Middle: Searching for Masculinity in the 1950s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Robertson, Stephen. 2001. “Separating the Men from the Boys: Masculinity, Psychosexual Development, and Sex Crime in the United States, 1930s–1960s.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 56 (1): 3–35.

Vicedo, Marga. 2011. “The Social Nature of the Mother’s Tie to Her Child: John Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment in Post-War America.” British Journal for the History of Science 44 (3): 401–26. doi: 10.1017/S0007087411000318.

Clarke, Adele E. 1998. Disciplining Reproduction: Modernity, American Life Sciences, and “the Problems of Sex.” Berkeley: University of California Press.

Martin, Emily. 1987. The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston: Beacon Press.

Christopher Simpson’s edited volume Universities and Empire resembles Stuart Leslie’s The Cold War and American Science in that the essays provide very clear accounts of the ways in which federal agencies, including defense and intelligence services, cooperated with private funding institutions and universities in financing and directing academic research. The essays trace these developments since after World War I, but focus on the Cold War era, during which these groups mingled to form an “academic national security complex,” as Simpson calls it (p. xx). Not only was the direction of researched influenced, the volume argues, but “’legitimate’ [and] ‘unreasonable’ points of view” were actively defined by the federal agencies and “tacitly accepted” by the social scientists during the Cold War years (p. xi). In other words, this supports Leslie’s view that the universities gave up their intellectual independence. They did not utilize government and private funding in the ways they saw fit, but they were oftentimes the passive part of the aforementioned complex, carrying out the work that was suggested by the military, intelligence agencies, and other state bodies. In particular, the volume illustrates that the social sciences gained much authority and trust in the early years of the Cold War and were considered tools no less important than the natural sciences—at least until the 1970s, when the US government shifted its focus from universities to think tanks and other private institutions (see Lawrence Soley’s contribution).

Allan Needell’s chapter on “Project Troy and the Cold War Annexation of the Social Sciences” in the years 1950/51 at MIT is an early example of the deliberate investments of the CIA in on-campus social research. The project was supposed to compile knowledge, define further research avenues, and suggest potential structures for future research on psychological and political warfare against communism throughout the world and to aid the consolidation of ‘freedom’ within US borders. One result was the institution of CENIS in 1952, the Center for International Studies at MIT, a model institution for future research on how to manipulate and control social groups within and outside of the US. Project Troy and CENIS have had significant effects on later cooperation between the natural and social sciences in the interest of national security.

Irene Gendzier spells out in some more detail the extent to which the social sciences were used to provide both “information and legitimation” during the Cold War (p. 57) in “Play It Again Sam,” a contribution unraveling the politics of and continuities in development studies from the 1950s to the 1990s. In a similar vein, Ellen Herman illustrates that Project Camelot was an early-1960s effort to predict and influence political developments in developing countries. Project Camelot was part of a much broader interdisciplinary effort “to translat[e] psychological and behavioral expertise directly into the language of foreign policy and military action” (p. 100), which the US practiced secretly for two decades after World War II, until it was exposed as a political scandal in 1965. Whereas Leslie’s contempt for military science funding may sometimes be exaggerated, examples like these of the state’s cooption of the social sciences to conceal and make more effective attempts of gaining political control over much of the globe may actually be ‘evil’ research.

Joy Rohde’s “Gray Matters” complements Simpson’s edited volume with an assessment of three individuals at the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) at the University of Washington in the 1950s and 1960s. Rohde illustrates by means of three case studies about the researchers E.H. DeLong, J.S. Mintz, and R. Boguslaw the different ways in which social scientists saw their own role and their research’s impact in a state-military-university research complex. The three chosen individuals were average SORO employees; based on archival research, Rohde presents the ethical and epistemological quandaries of the researchers, who believed partly in the neutrality of knowledge and the serving nature of the citizen to the state beyond personal responsibility (DeLong), partly in the political power of knowledge and thus the individual responsibility of the (social) scientist to provide only methodologically correct and ethically defensible research (Mintz), and partly that knowledge is political per se and that all research is at the same time social action (Boguslaw—who nevertheless was an avid researcher on Project Camelot). Eventually and somewhat surprisingly, Rohde argues that these negotiations on the shoreline between state interest and academic research may be better guarantees for participatory democracy than a rigid separation of academic and military/state research as seen since the privatization of this research in the 1970s, as mentioned before.

Mark Solovey and Hamilton Craven’s edited volume Cold War Social Science is yet another contribution to the state of social science research and organization during the early 25 years of the Cold War, before the processes described by Kelly Moore in Disrupting Science had major consequences for social science funding, in particular on university campuses. One of the main arguments of this collection is that “Cold War social science” existed with its most distinct features of “unmatched prestige and unprecedented autonomy,” as Theodore Porter phrases it in the Foreword (p. xiv). This is not to say, however, that the contributors argue for a break with pre-WWII traditions in the social sciences. In fact, several chapters emphasize a continuity in methods or questions over the course of the 20th century. Solovey explains in his introduction that “Cold War social science” is mainly a “useful concept” to address the mutual influences of social science, political goals, and national security concerns on one another. David Engerman’s contribution about the Harvard Refugee Interview Project (RIP, sic!) even concludes that “multiple versions and visions of social science in the Cold War” need to be recognized in order to allow for various ways in which researchers have interacted with government funding (p. 38).

Two of the four chapters in Part I, “Knowledge Production,” trace the development of new disciplines during the Cold War: future studies and linguistics, both highly interdisciplinary fields that were crucially shaped by quantitative analyses and computer technologies. These developments speak to the shift in methodological tool kits in the social sciences during these years and reiterate the importance of computers for various types of Cold War knowledge as seen in the works of Paul Edwards, Donald MacKenzie, Fred Turner, and Sejal Patel, to name only a few (see a previous essay).

The four chapters making up Part II are overwritten “Liberal Democracy.” Hunter Heyck’s chapter, “Producing Reason,” for instance, discusses the ways in which 20th-century research about rational choice moved away from the chooser during the Cold War and towards the choice; more specifically, the ONR and RAND funded investigations into methods for forcing individuals to choose like rational subjects by constructing limited choices for them or providing information technologies to support the decision-making process and produce decisions benefitting the stabilization of liberal democratic systems. Another chapter in the same part of the volume by Joy Rohde is a more detailed version of her aforementioned argument that the protest movements of the late 1960s and 1970s contributed to a transfer of national security and military research in private institutions, a process that worked against participatory democracy.

Part III, finally, contains chapters analyzing the engagement of social science with “Human Nature,” such as the origins of human factors research in cybernetics and Cold War technology as laid out by Edward Jones-Imhotep in his chapter “Maintaining Humans.” “[D]istrust” in humans as well as machines, Jones-Imhotep says, are at the core of this new science (p. 175). This contribution is a welcome complement to MacKenzie’s analysis of technology failures in Knowing Machines. The need to “maintain” humans also resonates with Nathan Ensmenger’s account of attempts to discipline ‘the programmer’ in The Computer Boys Take Over. The convergence of the political, the social, the technical, and the scientific during the Cold War is obvious.

Sonja Amadae was educated in the history and philosophy of science as well as in the history of political thought. Her first monograph Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy combines the topics of these fields by providing a history of the ideas and methods of rational choice liberalism research as it pertains to democratic governing. Amadae covers developments from Adam Smith to the end of the 20th century but focuses on the early post-WWII decades, providing a clear account of the ways in which the paradigm shaped the social sciences in the Cold War and how it interacted with political ideologies during these years. Her reason for engaging with earlier economic and rational choice theories is to show that rational choice liberalism was a novel development of the mid-20th century, yet inspired by Enlightenment ideas (Part III). Her sources are publications from philosophy, history, and political theory, mainly from the English-speaking world in the second half of the 20th century. They allow Amadae to provide, as she phrases it in her introduction, an account of “the defeat of Marxism by rational choice liberalism,” which she defines as “a philosophy of markets and democracy” deliberately drawn up to protect American political and economic values in the face of the ‘Red Scare’ (pp. 2 f). This monograph is a detailed complement to many of the contributions in Solovey and Cravens’ aforementioned volume.

Part I, titled “Rational Policy Analysis and the National Security State,” details the anchoring of the theory in Cold War thought through its roots in systems analysis at RAND. Amadae follows the paradigm from the assessment of superior aircrafts to the social sciences and into the world of public policy in the 1970s, explaining that its omnipresence was decisive enough to make it the primary tool for both predicting human choices or social decision making and aiding choices in the realm of government policy. The following part of the book discusses “revolutions” through which rational choice theory was championed and further developed within the social sciences in the post-WWII years (p. 11)—to a large part by scientists who were affiliated with the RAND Corporation. These revolutions comprise the formal proof that collective choices cannot be predicted on the basis of individual preferences (social choice theory, K.J. Arrow, ch. 2) public choice theorists’ direct attacks on socialism by providing scientific analyses with normative political outcomes in favor of individual gains and liberal policies (J.M. Buchanan and G. Tullock, ch. 3), and positive political theory, a mathematized science of politics that did not depend on case studies but promised a solid foundation for positivist analysis (W.H. Riker, ch. 4). This is the story of the “philosophical victory” of “capitalism and democracy … over Soviet communism and Marxism” (p. 12). Part IV of the book compiles late-20th-century theories of rational choice theory, illustrating that the concepts have become most pervasive in political and social thought and still characterize the social and political system of the US.

Paul Erickson et al.’s slim but dense monograph is another account of systems analysis and rational choice theory in the first 25 years of the Cold War. It complements Amadae’s more intellectual history well; quite similar to Amadae, the authors draw mainly from published sources, but in addition they have consulted select archival collections in London, Paris, and the US. Like Amadae, the authors put much emphasis on the novelty of Cold War rationality and its turn aside from human judgment and moral considerations towards mathematical formalism and rules in decision processes. This sets them apart from one of the overarching arguments in Solovey and Cravens’s edited volume, namely that there were significant continuities in the methods and concerns of the social sciences throughout the 20th century. Even though Erickson et al.’s goal is “to make the label ‘Cold War rationality stick,” they admit that it is not an actors’ category, since the proponents of this way of reasoning intended “to articulate a pure rationality, valid independently of the problems to which it was applied, and therefore also valid for everyone and always” (p. 2). In much more detail than Amadae, the authors tackle the question of what form of “irrationality” their actors defined their new rationality against, that is, what was supposed to be overcome by the new fusion of mathematics, statistics, and economic theory and what “rationality” during these early decades of the Cold War actually meant in more psychological terms.

In chapters 1 and 2, Erickson et al. provide a pre-history of arithmetic and mechanized calculation from the Enlightenment to the mid-20th century: rules of thumb became formalized algorithms and the Berlin Airlift contributed to the rise of computer-based economic rationalization, which was more an ideology than a technology-driven practice, the authors argue. In the main part of the book, the authors provide different examples for the ways in which the proponents of rationality tried to employ this framework in their scientific studies and in real-world contexts. One case study treats psychological attempts to allow the mind to rationally tackle the nuclear question by either “being aware of the limitations on rationality” and enacting conciliatory moves even if they are not reciprocated (C.E. Osgood) or “quarantin[e] irrational minds” (I. Janis) in order to not victimize a set of decision makers to irrational “groupthink” (p. 84; ch. 3). Chapter 4 turns to the rise of “situations” enable the study of social dynamics in artificially reduced environments in the behavioral sciences and chapter 5 traces the even more rigid reduction of decisions into variables in a matrix, for instance, in the prisoner’s dilemma, in which the (ir)rational grounds for “trust” were assessed in particular.

Finally, chapter 6 explores in more detail the impacts of the psychological concept of humans’ intrinsic irrationality in the form of research on heuristics and biases during the 1980s. The psychologists’ assertion that rational choice theory can be very well employed in formalized contexts but not necessarily in real-life scenarios involving humans eventually weakened the trust in the concept, the authors show. Nonetheless, as they explain in the Epilogue, the idea of limited rationality and the usefulness of rational choice theory in economics as well as the social and political sciences have stuck with the so-called Western world. But whereas Amadae argues that rational choice theory was an invention of the Cold War that outlived it, Erickson et al. describe the theory as one of the curiosities of Cold War ideology, which was to a large extent dismantled, and that, in fact, these decades were “extraordinarily strange … times” (p. 188).

Emeritus professor of history James Gilbert’s Men in the Middle is a revisionist account of the alleged masculinity crisis in the white middle-class US society of the 1950s. Gilbert argues that the response to the purported de-masculinization after World War II with its rising mass culture, consumerism, and the ideals of companionate spouses and families was much more diverse than historians have previously suggested in accounts of the bemoaned end of “John Wayne’s America” (p. 1). Drawing on published literature and archival papers of several of his actors, Gilbert’s essays provide the reader with individual case studies about men who interpreted, welcomed, or fought this reconceptualization of the sexes in different ways.

After a historiographical essay about the masculinity crisis, Gilbert analyzes D. Riesman’s 1950 publication The Lonely Crowd, a discussion of the advent of mass culture and consumerism since the late 19th century and the shifts in social relationships these have brought about (ch. 3). Gilbert explains that Riesman was honestly concerned about these developments and suggested more autonomy and a new form of individualism as a remedy for the loss of American masculinity. A.C. Spectorsky remodeled the Playboy for similar reasons—in order to introduce a specific form of masculinity into higher culture and promote this life-style amongst American males (ch. 9). On the other end of the spectrum, A. Kinsey and B. Graham used the alleged decline of stereotypical pre-War masculinity for their own gains: Kinsey tried to scientifically capture and support a sexual revolution (ch. 5) whereas Graham preached the end-time and tried to advertise the ‘masculine’ aspects of Christian conversion in order to gain more male followers for Protestant evangelism (ch. 6). Notwithstanding the range of his well-executed case studies, Gilbert’s assertion that “[t]here were and are many ‘1950s’” (p. 1) does not entice him to provide a case study analyzing the stance of someone besides the referenced well-known white middle-class males. He does not even provide a reason for why he chose not to. He simply notes that some individuals may not have perceived the changes as either a crisis or an opportunity to promote their own ideologies like Graham or Kinsey, but who “enjoyed companionship with their wives and children” (p. 221). I am quite certain that he pictured these families in white suburbia, too.

Stephen Robertson’s “Separating the Men from the Boys” connects Gilbert’s account of the alleged masculinity crisis in the 1950s with early-20th century concerns about sex crime and male immaturity. Drawing mainly on newspapers and periodicals, Robertson traces the debate around male sex offenders and the attempts to scientifically explain these in terms of psychosexual development in the first six decades of the 20th century. Robertson argues that it was not only psychiatry’s authority that turned the sex crime panic into a debate surrounding psychopathology, as other historians have suggested before him. Instead, he suggests, the success of the theory of psychosexual development rested on psychiatrists’ effective employment of the sex crime panic and the support of the media. In scientific accounts and the popular media, allegedly exaggerated ‘normal’ sexual behavior, that is, heterosexual rapes among adults, were clearly distinguished from offenses against children, which allegedly proved the sexual immaturity of the offender. The sooner were deemed to be the behavior of merely disinhibited sexually mature individuals whereas the latter were pronounced the deeds of curable psychopaths whose pathology derives from bad parenting (‘good’ parenting: “an adult male … to identify with, [no] overprotective mothering, and [no] … sexual encounters with adult men,” p. 4). As a result of these theories, offenses against adult women were marginalized, boys were considered in equal danger of sexual assault as girls, and mature masculinity was scientifically linked to heterosexual hebephilia that may be recovered through therapy. Similarly to Gilbert’s account, this was a discourse about white males. Black individuals were perceived as ‘naturally’ immature, which is why black sex offenders were deemed incurable. We know what Dorothy Roberts would have to say to this.

Marga Vicedo’s paper “The Social Nature of the Mother’s Tie to Her Child” continues the conversation about good parenting and the masculinity crisis towards the end of the ‘momism’ era, that is, in terms of maternal deprivation rather than the lack of a father figure or overprotective mothering. Vicedo traces the reception of E.J.M. Bowlby’s work in early Cold-War America based on parental advice literature, newspapers, periodicals, and Bowlby’s archival papers. Bowlby was a British psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who claimed that specific acts of love and attention from an animal’s mother are a biological need and that children’s psychological development is determined by their mothers’ interactions with them. Bowlby admitted vaguely that other caretakers could theoretically fulfill a similar role, but that this was highly unlikely. As Vicedo argues, his theory was deployed as a successful argument to tie mothers to their homes and to traditional values of parenting in post-war societies. The theory was developed entirely from the viewpoint of the child’s needs, not of society’s wants or the mother’s abilities, “exert[ing] an unusually strong emotional and moral demand on mothers” (p. 402), whose love did not seem enough for the child’s healthy development if she decided to work outside of the home. Here, just like in Robertson’s history of the idea of psychosexual development, the media took a crucial role in promoting this theory and elevating it to a moral compass for gender roles, even though there were scientific theories indicating the opposite of Bowlby’s research, which led him to switch from researching humans to non-human animals and hammer even more the “disinterested position of science” (p. 425). Let us consult Donna Haraway on this one.

Adele Clarke’s first monograph, Disciplining Reproduction, is a history of the reproductive sciences in the US with an agenda: among other noble social impacts, it is supposed to guide policy decisions pertaining to reproductive science and women’s health, Clarke states in her preface. But the book is not least a valuable resource for the historian—rich in detail, analysis, and conceptual framework. Besides published primary and secondary sources that are listed in the extensive bibliography, Clarke utilizes archival collections of major funding institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bureau of Social Hygiene, further academic institutions and individuals, as well as some published oral histories and her own interviews. An appendix provides the reader with convenient lists and tables related to the members and funding activities of the National Research Council Committee for Research in Problems of Sex (discussed in ch. 4).

Clarke approaches the reproductive sciences in the US through the lens of “social worlds and arenas” and tells their history from 1910–1963 as a contingent development full of negotiations between an interdisciplinary set of reproductive scientists (biomedical and agricultural scientists), philanthropic and industrial founders of their research, as well as birth control advocates—even though reproductive scientists long resisted applied research into birth control, focusing more on “basic” physiological and endocrinological matters. “Disciplining reproduction” is explained on two levels: (1) how the discipline formed and that this happened late compared to other biomedical and social sciences, due to the suppression for reasons of sustained “illegitimacy”; and (2) how reproducing bodies were controlled and normalized through the reproductive technoscience, for instance, in that the new “scientific” methods of birth control require professional consultation, a distinctly “modern” phenomenon—whereas post-modern reproductive science after 1963 is directed at transforming and enhancing bodies and reproduction, Clarke suggests.

Although Clarke mentions the fact that reproductive science was almost exclusively carried out by men in the period discussed, she does not attempt to explain the ways in which this shaped scientific and popular understandings of masculinity and femininity in ways that Haraway or even Gilbert do. Clarke’s argument that the reproductive sciences diverged from their funding institutions’ initial wish they may base their studies on the foundation of the social rather than natural sciences does not allow her to explicate the relationship between the history of the reproductive sciences and the aforementioned literature on Cold War social science either. But it implicitly resonates very well with Robertson’s illustration of attempts to combat the sex crime panic of the early 20th century with scientific studies about psychosexual development. Finally, the observation that eugenics built a “market” for reproductive science (ch. 2) speaks well to works about the science of heredity and its abuses discussed in previous essays; this reminds us that not even the history of eugenics can be captured in a morally black and white picture.

Emily Martin’s anthropological study The Woman in the Body complements the above-mentioned studies of scientific and media accounts of gender and parenting with first-hand accounts of how the objects of scientific attention perceive themselves and their role in these contexts. This monograph is a study of the reactions of women to mechanical and production-oriented metaphors surrounding the major female experiences of menstruation and childbirth, as well as the metaphorically failing factory that allegedly is menopause. Martin juxtaposes these accounts from biomedical textbooks with interviews she conducted with women of different social backgrounds (working and middle class) as well as skin color (black and white) in three different life stages: those who are of childbearing age, those who are raising children, and those who are in or beyond menopause. Information in the appendices details the interview questions and provides short biographical sketches of all of the 165 female interviewees.

Martin conceives of science as a Gramscian hegemonic system and argues that men and women alike experience a “fragmentation of the unity of the person” (p. 19) in contemporary scientific contexts, but that the field, knowledge, and authority of the biomedical sciences themselves are much less accessible to women than to men, leading to an asymmetry between the men who are assessing bodies and the women within them. Female labor must be effective and the scientists and doctors oversee and control this Marxian production. Resistance to male ascriptions and societal expectations, Martin argues, occurs deliberately as well as subconsciously, for instance, in form the premenstrual syndrome as a way of opposing the industrial system of time and refusing the role of the keeper of familial harmony. Martin concludes that all women display similar levels of ”consciousness and resistance” (p. 201) when faced with scientific knowledge and societal expectations about their bodies and selves, regardless of their class or skin color, even though their perception of individual experiences and their form of resistance may differ. This similar attitude of “questioning, opposing, resisting, rejecting, and reformulating the ways in which they live and the ways in which the society might work” (p. 195), Martin argues, derives from the shared female experience of being primarily housekeepers and nurturers, roles in which they have been pushed by society, including science and the media, in ways that Gilbert, Robertson, and Vicedo have partly illustrated as well.


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