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Just Watching: The Ethics of Observation After WWII

Heather Love
University of Pennsylvania
Date and Time: 
Monday, May 21, 2018 - 15:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


In this talk, I consider the relays between animal ethology and microsociological studies of interaction in the postwar period. Across the middle of the twentieth century, borrowings between biologists and human scientists resulted in hybrid forms, from “animal sociology” to “human ethology.” Although the reputation of this work has been tarnished because of its links to sociobiology, I trace a distinction between the comparison of human and animal nature and the application of methods borrowed from field naturalism to the observation of human interaction. Moving from the Macy Conferences on Group Processes to two cases (Niko Tinbergen’s late turn to research on children with autism and Laud Humphrey’s studies of public sex), I argue that these researchers' use of naturalistic methods and their focus on visible behavior tended to dissipate the stigma associated with human difference. This research is taken from a book that traces the social science roots of queer studies (Underdogs), with special attention to the significance of observational approaches. 


Heather Love teaches English and Gender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Harvard), 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”). Love 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 two books: one on the social science roots of queer studies, and one on practices of description in the humanities and social sciences.