Some Conferences, Sex/Gender and Handedness

Today, I received the CfP for the third NeuroGenderings Conference. I really have to share this before I start with all the readings recommended by Penn’s HSS Department for the time before classes start 08/28. (Noteworthy difference between Germany and Penn: One to three books per semester and class in Berlin, four books plus additional reader for pre-orientation at Penn.) If you are interested in sex/gender/sexuality and its material as well as ideological foundations, I suggest strongly that you check your calendar and try to reconcile a trip to Lausanne with your schedule for next May. As one might have noticed by thoroughly inspecting the links in the left frame, I attended the NeuroGenderings II Conference last year. This was my first conference (in not too many, I admit) where I thought: “I want to do some research on this topic!” many times. On earlier conferences, I used to think: “How interesting! This methodology is truly remarkable, but I would rather not work on quantum physics,” or the like.

During the NeuroGenderings II Conference in Vienna in 2012, I was forcibly struck by Daphna Joel‘s keynote (get the abstract here, pp. 10–11, or watch the video on YouTube). At the end of her talk (50:08 onward), she suggested conceptualizing sex similar to handedness: Sometimes it matters, but in most cases it does not. She illustrated this as follows: You might want to pay attention to your children’s handedness when you are about to buy them a pair of scissors—but you would not ask them if the other child they played with was left- or right-handed. Similarly, she went on, there are cases in which sex is important, e.g., if you want to become pregnant. But why ask your children about the genitalia of their playmates?

Very interesting for me as a historian of science, though, was the fact that handedness used to be a judgemental category, just like sex/gender, skin color, etc. How could this dichotomous category of right- and left-handedness become a non-judgemental one measured on a continuous scale (Edinburgh Handedness Inventory—take a similar test, if you like1)? And what could we learn from handedness for our treatment of sex/gender? Modern diagnostic methods, blood tests, knowledge about hormones, genes, … help scientists to determine the physical state of their investigated object (humans or other animals) more thoroughly. I do not understand why we would measure the degree of right-handedness before we allow people to take part in an fMRI study, but we do not usually check their gonads or run a gene test before we categorize them as female or male. Therefore, it seems to me most fruitful to work on handedness and sex/gender as experimental2 categories in the neurosciences since Gall, and to compare their significance for scientific investigations, as well as how/if the view of these categories being dichotomous vanished. Personally, I think that non-dichotomous categories have a far bigger chance to become non-judgemental ones. And that is definitely how I would like sex to be seen (and I agree with Daphna Joel that we can get rid of gender in the long run). I might not be able to reach this goal by writing a doctoral dissertation, but I hope to shed light on the transformation of investigative scientific categories, and how they have reacted upon and have been informed by society since the end of the 18th century.

Below, you find some more recommendations for conferences to attend, or CfPs to respond to. Feel free to share your experiences by leaving a reply to this post—especially if you decide to go to Augsburg in March, I am pretty sure I will not be able to make it there.

~ And I am off to catch up on the readings! ~

Transdisciplinary teaching and learning: Coburg (Germany), 2013/10/18–19;

media culture and engineering of present/absent bodies: Salzburg (Austria), 2013/12/05–06;

integrating gender studies and (East Central European) history of science: Marburg (Germany), 2013/12/12–13;

“Rhetoric of Evidence”: Heidelberg (Germany), 2014/03/12–15 (I will write more on the rhetoric of evidence or, rather, the representation of doubt later!);

gender and diversity in interdisciplinary research: Augsburg (Germany), 2014/03/21–22;

“History of Medicine in Practice”: Uppsala (Sweden), 2014/03/26–28 (on how to use findings in the history of medicine practically, not on how researchers worked hands-on);

“Personalized Medicine in Historical Perspective”: Baltimore, MD (USA), 2014/05/15–16.

1 According to this test, my index is 80.00, i.e., I am in the fifth right decile.
2 I am taking Gall literally; he saw himself as an experimental scientist, yet nowadays, we would not call his methodology an experimental one.

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