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


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 reproduction anchors broader 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. Future research will examine the evolving entanglements of twenty-first-century reproductive politics in the U.S. with immigration politics, global security discourse, and transnational science.

Dissertation Summary

Communicating Contraception: Social Science and the Politics of Population Control in Cold War India analyzes archival materials from 1951-1980 to explain how global political and scientific dynamics reshaped reproductive governance in India. Beginning in the 1960s, the Indian state launched a series of mass communication campaigns to aid its population control and family planning program. While prior scholarship treats these campaigns as mere accompaniments to an otherwise medicalized endeavor, my dissertation argues that they represented a radical transformation of reproductive governance in response to Cold War politics. Specifically, I contend that they reflected American social scientific models of psychosocial management that envisioned behavior control as a means of spurring democratic modernization in the face of communist expansion. American and Indian communication scientists drew on the science of mass communication and public opinion to reframe India’s population crisis as less a biomedical quest for an unassailable contraceptive than a psychological battle for “hearts and minds.” In turn, they advocated using persuasive mass communications on the virtues of contraception and nuclear families to influence people’s reproductive decisions. I further argue that this reframing had unconventionally gendered consequences. In contrast to long-standing medical approaches to reproductive control that focused on women’s reproductive biologies, psychosocial models drew on gendered notions of rationality to understand reproductive decision-making, prompting the Indian state to mount wide-ranging communication campaigns targeted at men that persuaded them to use condoms, undergo vasectomies, and calculate the economic benefits of small nuclear families.

In contrast to prior scholarship that restricts its explanations to national factors, the dissertation demonstrates the impact of global politics and expertise on reproductive governance. Vice versa, it illustrates the centrality of reproductive control to international politics. In contrast to prior scholarship that understands the Cold War as a primarily martial impasse between Western and Soviet powers, I show that the Cold War was also waged through expert-driven interventions into quotidian civic and familial institutions in the non-aligned world. Finally, the dissertation offers a new lens for understanding the social control of men’s reproduction. Expanding the literature, I show how mid-century social scientists’ gendered associations of rational decision-making with masculinity allowed men to be imagined as germane targets of fertility regulation, especially when such regulation was framed in psychosocial terms.


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,” conditionally accepted

Select Awards

2016 Graduate Student Organized Conference Grant, Buffett Institute for Global Studies
2015 Grant-in-Aid, Rockefeller Archive Center  
2015 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Section on Sociology of Emotions, American Sociological Association
2015 Graduate Research Grant, The Graduate School, Northwestern University  
2014 Graduate Student Summer Research Grant, Equality, Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS), Buffett Institute for Global Studies  
2013 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Division of Sport, Leisure and the Body, Society for the Study of Social Problems
2012 Robert F. Winch Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Assistant, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University

Courses Taught

Gender and Society  
Race and Society: A Global Perspective