Just Watching: Cold War Science and the Ethics of Observation
Heather K. Love (University of Pennsylvania)
Keynote presentation of the 3rd Annual McGill Queer Research Colloquium
Co-sponsorship with LLC/IGSF
Abstract: This essay considers ethological research on communication in the human and natural sciences after WWII, looking at the two-way traffic between “animal sociology” and naturalistic accounts of group interaction among humans. Ranging from discussions of the signaling behavior of homosexual geese at the Macy Conferences on “Group Processes” to Laud Humphreys’ in situ research on sex in public restrooms in the 1960s, this paper argues that observational research offered an alternative to psychological accounts of both human and animal motivation, and in many cases resulted in less stigmatizing and non-essentialist accounts of non-normative behavior. While it may seem especially perverse to champion observation during the Cold War, I argue that the emphasis on militarized surveillance has obscured the diverse and contradictory uses of observation in this period. This essay is taken from my book project, Underdogs, which traces the roots of queer studies in post-WWII social science.
Bio: Heather Love received her A.B. from Harvard and her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Her research interests include gender and sexuality studies, twentieth-century literature and culture, affect studies, sociology and literature, disability studies, film and visual culture, and critical theory. She is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Harvard) and the editor of a special issue of GLQ on Gayle Rubin (“Rethinking Sex”) and the co-editor of a special issue of Representations ("Description Across Disciplines"). She has written on topics including comparative social stigma, compulsory happiness, transgender fiction, spinster aesthetics, reading methods in literary studies, and the history of deviance studies. She is currently completing a book on practices of description in the humanities and social sciences after World War II.