Darwin Talk to Kick Off Feminism and Science Series October 3

MHC’s Women’s Studies Program has launched a new speaker series, Feminism + Science: Neural Geographies, Digital Anatomies, and Reproductive Choreographies, which will debut Tuesday, October 3, with a public talk by psychologist Elizabeth Wilson. She will discuss “Trembling, Blushing: Darwin’s Nervous System” at 4 pm in Mary Woolley Hall’s New York Room. In addition to Wilson, this inaugural series will feature two feminist scholars whose research is contributing to a reconfiguration of the terrain of feminist science studies. Says Karen Barad, chair of the Women’s Studies Program, “The premise of this series is that feminist science studies is a mutually productive, complex, respectful, provocative, and challenging conversation engaging science and feminist scholarship.”

According to Wilson, like most of Charles Darwin’s work, Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals reads—to the modern eye—as much less Darwinian than Lamarckian (a reference to Jean Baptiste de Monet de Lamarck [1744–1829], a French naturalist who championed the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics). Through an examination of Darwin’s commitment to certain aspects of Lamarckianism and his emphasis on the particularities of neurophysiology—reflex action and the psychobiology of trembling and blushing—Wilson will argue that Darwin’s own evolutionary speculations are more unconventional than one might suspect from reading high profile, neo-Darwinian commentaries.

On Wednesday, October 4, Wilson will give a faculty seminar titled “ ‘In Some Ways We Are Emotional Lizards’: On Neurology, Affect, and Evolution.” This event, which will be held at 10 am in the library’s Stimson Room, is primarily for Five College faculty; however, the department will accept applications from a limited number of graduate and advanced undergraduate students and research associates affiliated with the Five Colleges. Advance registration is required for all participants, and everyone who attends will be expected to do background reading.

Preregistration is not required for the October 3 talk, which is free and open to the public. To sign up for Elizabeth Wilson’s faculty seminar please notify Pat Serio by Tuesday, September 26. Participants will be sent a copy of Wilson’s article through campus mail. A faculty seminar such as Wilson’s will follow each public talk in the feminism and science series. The seminars have been designed to encourage in-depth multi/inter/transdisciplinary conversation. Inquiries about the series should be directed to Karen Barad or Pat Serio.

Elizabeth Wilson is a research fellow in the Research Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney, Australia. She is the author of Neural Geographies: Feminism and the Microstructure of Cognition (Routledge 1998), and the editor of a special issue of Australian Feminist Studies (April 1999) on feminist science studies. Her Ph.D. is in psychology, and her research interests are in contemporary critical theory (deconstruction, queer theory, feminism), the cognitive and neurological sciences, critical psychology, psychoanalysis, and evolutionary theory. The provocative thesis of her current project is that the neurological sciences can contribute effectively to contemporary feminist and cultural theories of embodiment, subjectivity, and sexuality.

The series will continue February 6 with a public talk by Charis Thompson, a visiting assistant professor at Harvard University in the history of science and women’s studies departments who writes on reproductive technologies, feminist science studies, and environmental science. A lecture by MHC’s own Karen Barad, professor of women’s studies and philosophy who earned her Ph.D. in theoretical particle physics, will round out the series with a lecture March 6. Barad’s research has focused on physics and philosophy.