Savina Balasubramanian

Area(s) of Interest:  Gender, Sexuality and Reproduction; Race and Ethnicity; Science, Knowledge, and Technology; Health and Medicine; Law and Society; Political and Historical Sociology; Global and Transnational Sociology; Sociology of Social Knowledge

Biography

I am a political sociologist of gender whose work combines insights from global and transnational sociology, science and technology, health and medicine, race and ethnicity, and law and society. My research specifically concerns the global politics of reproduction. Going beyond the conventional scholarly focus on reproductive risk and outcomes, I investigate how reproductive knowledge anchors political contestations over democratic governance in response to global flows of professionals and people. I focus on these issues in India and the United States using historical and qualitative methods. In previous research, I have examined the role of feminist and queer activism in legal debates over the right to privacy in India, and representations of emotional labor in U.S. popular culture.

Dissertation Summary

During the 1960s, India’s population control and family planning program transformed from a solely medicalized project of managing individual citizens’ bodies into an ideological endeavor to discipline citizens’ reproductive decisions through mass communications. While extant scholarship explains these communications as mere accompaniments to a medicalized program of nation building, my dissertation argues that they represented a radical transformation in reproductive governance as a response to Cold War politics and expertise. Specifically, they reflected a decisive turn towards American social scientific models of psychosocial management that envisioned behavioral control as a means of spurring democratic modernization in the face of communist expansion. I further argue that this psychosocial approach had unconventionally gendered consequences. In contrast to medical and biomedical approaches to population control, which focused on the reproductive biologies of women, the psychosocial approach led social scientists to draw on notions of gender differences in reasoning and rationality and, thereby, cast the decision-making processes of Indian men as more appropriate targets of mass communications on birth control. This prompted Indian authorities to launch a series of mass communication campaigns from 1960-1977 that enjoined thousands of men to use condoms, undergo vasectomies, and calculate the benefits of small nuclear families, making India a global outlier in its approach to family planning and population control. The dissertation thus sheds new light on the role of social scientific expertise and transnational political dynamics in reproductive governance. In doing so it also spotlights new approaches for analyzing the disciplining of men’s reproduction.

Publications

Balasubramanian, Savina. 2016. “Contextualizing the Closet: Naz, Law, and Sexuality in
Postcolonial India.” Political Power and Social Theory 30:135-158.

van den Scott, Lisa-Jo K., Clare Forstie, and Savina Balasubramanian. 2015. “Shining Stars,
BlindSides, and “Real” Realities: Exit Rituals, Eulogy Work and Allegories in Reality
Television.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 44(4): 417-449.
  • 2015 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Section on Sociology of Emotions, American Sociological Association (ASA)
  • 2013 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Division of Sport, Leisure and the Body, Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP)

Under Review

Balasubramanian, Savina. “Motivating Men: Social Science and the Regulation of Men’s
Reproduction in Postwar India,” revised and resubmitted to Gender & Society

Conceiving Asian Women: Contestations over Knowledge and National Security in 21st-Century Reproductive Politics

In this next project, I will examine the relationship between new forms of reproductive legislation and surveillance in the contemporary United States and ongoing debates over immigration and national security. Anchoring these new developments are “sex-selective abortion” bans, one of the fastest growing types of reproductive legislation at state and federal levels since 2009. While prior scholarship has characterized these developments as a continuing function of partisan politics and the “culture wars,” I argue that they instead reflect racialized controversies over statistical and anthropological data on son preference in Asian and Asian American communities and whether these groups’ “gender values” pose a threat to national security. I will also examine how this emerging regulatory environment has heightened the obstetric surveillance of Asian American and Asian immigrant women in medical and legal settings, and widened disparities in their access to reproductive rights and health care. The project thus places contemporary reproductive politics and obstetric surveillance in the U.S. within a much-needed global framework.

Courses Taught

Gender and Society  
Race and Society: A Global Perspective
Special Fields Paper Graduate Seminar