Thesis ID: CBB690417889

Faces of Babies: Empirical Evidence on the Borders of Biology, Psychology, and Feminism (2017)


Through the case of infant facial expression this dissertation offers a critical history of the scientific evidence of human behavior. Infant researchers are engaged in a creative process of translating emotions that are bodily, historical and cultural into identifiable entities that can be seen in and on the bodies of others. Important feminist work has demonstrated how this process dangerously reduces culturally specific emotions to inert and universal biological markers. Recently however, feminists have begun to reconsider scientific knowledge through practices, material arrangements, and 'on the ground' engagement with scientists. This renewed interest in materiality has focused on biological evidence such as the brain, the genome, and pharmaceuticals, with less critical engagement with the psychological sciences. Thus, a distinction between mind and body is maintained. This dissertation challenges this hierarchy by tracking the ways empirical observations of infant facial expressions travel between biological, psychological, and social understandings of behavior. It adds to feminist theorizing of the 'material body' through sustained attention on what material evidence is in our current moment. My research argues that non-expert empirical observations of bodily behaviors—blushing, looking, crying—become locations for mind outside of our disciplinary frameworks. This dissertation focuses on three infant researchers (René Spitz, Silvan Tomkins, and Ed Tronick) during the era leading up to contemporary neuroscience (1946-1980). Each used the mother-infant relationship to traffic between scientific psychology and interpretative psychoanalysis. Through two layers of source materials, this dissertation shows the contradictions of empirical evidence. First, it analyzes the images produced by each researcher—films, photographs, charts and diagrams. Next, it contextualizes this raw data through the disciplinary location of each researcher—the historical moment of U.S. psychology and changing political views of motherhood and subjectivity. Along with introducing a broadened conception of empirical evidence, this dissertation examines the behavioral sciences as a way to expose the hierarchies of evidence that currently infiltrate feminist projects. Furthermore, this project argues that empirical researchers, themselves, reveal intricate theories of evidence and sensory experience.

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Authors & Contributors
Plamper, Jan
Turner, Charles Henry
Jackson, Latasha D.
Fuller, Camille L.
Abramson, Charles I.
Farreras, Ingrid D.
Biological Theory
Science in Context
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Technikgeschichte: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Technik und Industrie
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
University of Chicago Press
Oxford University Press
Edwin Mellen Press
IOS Press
Yale University Press
University of Pittsburgh Press
Behavioral sciences
Emotions; passions
Turner, Charles Henry
Türck, Ludwig
Penry, Jacques
United States
Great Britain
20th century
20th century, late
21st century
19th century
National Institute of Health (U.S.)

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