Nov 152011
 

I desperately want to assign my class Susan Frost’s Implications of the New Materialisms for Feminist Epistemology, a dense, challenging, 15-page work of feminist philosophy of science.

It’s stuff like this:

Feminist scientists and historians have done a marvelous job of breaking down the modern binary of nature and culture by showing how the natural environment or aspects of biological processes and behavior are shaped by the social and cultural. Non-scientific feminists, however, have been wary of if not downright resistant to reconsidering biology or materiality as anything but discursive formations, as historically specific products of power relations, linguistic practices, and cultural beliefs….To put the point differently, feminists have been more comfortable with denaturalizing nature than with what we mnight call “deculturalizing culture” – or admitting that matter or biology might have a form of agency or force that shapes, enhances, conditions, or delimits the agency of culture. Yet, this wary reluctance, understandable as it is given historical precedent, is structured by an understanding of causation that binds feminists to the binaries they have otherwise been constructing.

Does a reading like that have a place in a 100-level class?

The reason I want to assign it is because it is very, very hard to explain the idea of “new materialism” in the context of a lecture – I haven’t even been very successful explaining it on the BLOG (despite trying various times, including here and here) – and yet it MUST be explained to them because (a) apparently no one else on my campus is teaching it and (2) it’s integral to my entire approach to the class and to the science of sexuality.

But on a deeper level, does a conversation about the nature of science belong in a 100-level class? Easily the least popular lecture from last fall’s class was the 100 Years of American Sex Research night, when I talked about who and how and what disciplines generated the knowledge I was teaching them. What they liked best in the class is when I explained stuff they’d always wondered about – why some penises are curvy, why orgasm is sometimes difficult and sometimes easy, why it felt like they had to pee during intercourse, how to break a hymen, all the things that are most popular on the blog – and they really kinda didn’t much care about where the answers came from.

It would totally fair of me to boil the entire argument of New Materialism down to, “This is a 100-level, two-credit survey course, and therefore everything I’m teaching is, in fact, vastly more complex than I have time to go into.”

But… I mean, these students are so smart. They’re so hungry. They’re so INTERESTED in critical thinking.

So I’ll ask you nice folks:

If you were in the class, would you rather I dismissed the details of multi-level, reciprocal interaction across biology and culture and instead spent more time on basic health stuff? Or would you rather I skip some of the basic health stuff (which you can find online more or less anywhere) and instead spent more time talking about the theoretical underpinnings of the class?