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Science, Technology & Society pres.

STS Speaker. All in the Family: U.S. Demography and the Origins of Neoliberalism

Savina Balasubramanian, Loyola University Chicago

Neoliberalism is generally understood as an intellectual and political project to retool regulation to protect capital. Consequently, scholars of neoliberalism have traced its progenitors and principles to the disciplines of economics and law. But new scholarship suggests compellingly that neoliberalism is not only a philosophy of government and markets but also a philosophy of care—one that upholds the private family (in lieu of the state) as the ultimate provider and underwriter of that care. Seen in this light, an alternative history of proto-neoliberal ideas reveals itself among a corpus of social scientists whose work has gone unremarked in the historiography of those ideas: demographers.

This talk reframes postwar U.S. demography as a crucible in which the ideal of “family responsibility” for the costs of human welfare was first forged, and global “family planning” as the technoscientific project through which that principle was eventually—and powerfully—instantiated.

Bio: Savina Balasubramanian is assistant professor of Sociology and Affiliate Faculty in Women’s Studies and Gender Studies at Loyola University Chicago. She is a historical sociologist of gender and science in transnational perspective. Her current book manuscript, Intimate Investments: The Science and Politics of Family Planning in Cold War India, tells the story of how American demographers pursued family planning in non-aligned India as an effort to serve U.S. goals to stifle the formation of a robust welfare state in the country—and how the Indian state implemented family planning in ways that conformed to and departed from demographers’ visions.

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