Critical Sexology Seminar
Feminist Encounters with Evolutionary PsychologyGuest-Organized by Rachel O’Neill, King’s College London.Friday 30 January 2015, 2-6pm
Room G.80, Franklin-Wilkins Building
King’s College London (Waterloo Campus)
Prof. Deborah Cameron, University of Oxford: “Evolution, language and the battle of the sexes: A feminist linguist encounters evolutionary psychology”
Dr. Celia Roberts, Lancaster University: “Evolution, early puberty and the half-lives of childhood trauma: A feminist encounter”
Laura Garcia-Favaro, City University: “The ‘truth’ cannot be sexist?: Postfeminist biologism in transnational technologies of mediated intimacy”This seminar will examine the social life of evolutionary psychology from feminist perspectives, bringing into focus the historical, cultural, and political continuities between evolutionary psychology and contemporary postfeminism. Discussions facilitated at this event will explore questions such as: In what ways do evolutionary narratives contribute to the naturalisation of sexual difference that has become a pervasive feature of postfeminist media culture? How, in particular, do evolutionary and biological logics manifest within and across sites of mediated intimacy, from Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to Fifty Shades of Grey? Further, how might narratives from evolutionary psychology serve to consolidate the market-orientated approaches to sex and relationships being elaborated under contemporary capitalism? Can the persistence of evolutionary psychology as a framework for understanding social life be mapped onto the broader conjuncture of neoliberalism? Are there unexamined continuities between evolutionary psychology and neoliberal rationalities, particularly with regard discourses of individualism, hierarchy, and meritocracy? Finally, how can feminists negotiate the double complexity of evolutionary psychology as both an academic field and a repository of popular narratives of gender and sexuality as they attempt to challenge relations of inequality and oppression?
For maps and directions to the King’s Waterloo campus please see: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/campuses/waterloo/Waterloo.aspx
For more information about the Critical Sexology seminar series go to: http://www.criticalsexology.org.uk/wp/ There is no need to register your intention to attend with the organizers.
Characteristically, the scientist confronts a complex interaction system – in this case, an interaction between man and opium. He observes a change in the system – the man falls asleep. The scientist then explains the change by giving a name to a fictitious ’cause’, located in one or other component of the interacting system. Either the opium contains a reified dormitive principle, or the man contains a reified need for sleep, an adormitosis, which is ‘expressed’ in his response to opium. (Gregory Bateson – Steps To An Ecology of Mind: xxvii)
This is an idea I first encountered as an undergraduate on a philosophy of science course. The suggestion here is not that opium lacks this ‘dormitive power’ but simply that citing this ‘power’ is not, properly speaking, an explanation. It simply restates an observed regularity (someone consumes opium —> they fall asleep) by imputing to the ’cause’ the capacity to produce the ‘effect’. It ignores the underlying causal question: what is it about the properties of opium which leaves it able to manifest this effect when consumed by human beings? Behind any observed regularity (A —> B) we can assume the existence of a mechanism which explains why (under conditions C) the occurence of A leads to the occurence of B. In this case the physical structure of the human brain (the presence of Opioid Reptors) means that when a normal human being consumes a sufficient quantity of opium, it causes them to fall asleep. So behind the ‘dormative power’ there lies a causal story waiting to be told.
Next question: what’s a ‘sex drive’? It’s a term which has increasingly bugged me since I began to study asexuality. All the explanations I have come across (an instinctual drive for sex, a physiological need for sex, the behavioural manifestation of our sex hormones etc) are fundamentally circular in the manner of opium’s dormative power. I’m not for a second denying that the vast majority of people both exhibit & experience a desire for sexual activity, I’m simply suggesting that ‘sex drive’ (or libido) is not, as such, an explanation of this sexual activity. At best it’s an invitation to tell a further causal story. There have obviously been some attempts to do this but they have tended to be either reductively biological (e.g. hormonal/neurochemical) or psychological (e.g. developmental theories of libido). Do they have to be? What would a non-reductive theory of ‘sex drive’ look like? Ask me at the end of the post doc I’m going to apply for!