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What were her conclusions?

(I'll just echo everyone else's comments that this is a fascinating thread.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 12:16:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ann Fausto-Sterling's current study is still work in progress but here are a few quotes from her about her current work:


I pursue an ongoing discussion among feminist theorists about the sex/gender distinction. I argue that this distinction is of limited use when thinking specifically about the body and biology and that we need to develop new theoretical approaches in order to analyze the interplay between biology and culture. To work in that direction I consider sex/gender differences in bone development. Bone is often considered to be a hard, permanent substance, a reflection of pure biological (sex) difference. Use, diet, and cultural habits, however, shape bones. The biology of bone is as much a result of culture as it is some inchoate pre-existing biology. I challenge feminists to use dynamic systems and life course theories to look at difference, even biological difference, as something that is never finished, but continually and dynamically produced from moment to moment.

... one goal of this project [the study of the emergence (or not) of sex differences among young children] is to break away from the centuries old nature/nurture debate in order to offer a more productive approach to understanding human development.

Her web site has a lot more links to her past work including pdf versions articles and some books you can read excepts of through Amazon.

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 02:09:01 PM EST
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Cool quote!

That even many biologists can't get loose of thinking of expressions of genes and culture as sharply distinct (e.g. nature vs. nurture, rather than interplay of both) is one of my big annoyances.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 02:18:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's Fausto-Sterling's ability to describe the complexities of studying this interplay of nature and nurture and how to move beyond the dichotomy which made her presentation particularly interesting to me. I guess I'm just hard wired to find the complexities of thing/life more fascinating.
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 03:04:17 PM EST
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I think that this comes naturally that environment is a sociological phenomenon and genes is a biological one. Such diverse disciplines don't share concepts or language sufficiently to interact readily.

I see now why what I wrote had parallels. I have more extensive writings (I'm developing a transition diary) that detail my attempts to accept culture and deny nature (outwardly succesful, but created miserable internal issues).

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 03:25:18 PM EST
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I'm glad ThatBritGuy's question forced me to elaborate a bit more and thus clarify why your fascinating diary reminded me of Fausto-Sterling's work. One of the challenges in doing interdisciplinary work such as hers, and one of the reasons I think she makes important contributions, is the difficulty of understanding the concepts and language of the various disciplines as well as the ability to talk to the different audiences in a language that they understand and can take seriously.

Thanks you for sharing your "entirely unscientific, unapologetically impressionistic ... statistical sample of one"! And doing so with great rhetoric style.

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 04:08:10 PM EST
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Personally I feel that there are real differences beyond cultural pressures. I simply don't believe we are born a blank canvass on which experience writes our character. Our individualities are determined before birth, life chances will encourage, gift or deny us from our happiest expressions, but our primary tendencies are long set before culture gets its claws on us.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 04:35:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nature/nurture interaction would involve influencing the growth of various brain regions and hormone reactions during early and later childhood and adolescence, that sounds a bit stronger than experience writing character. Even the color of a baby's clothes and the tone of the mothers' and fathers'/aunts'/uncles' voice might be such an influence.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 04:51:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, speaking personally, I had a normal boy's upbringing, not only was I encouraged in all boy's pursuits, but I specifically denied myself anything ambiguous, even from an early age (I self identified as a girl at 18 months and was terrified of that knowledge, doing everything I could to deny deny deny).

I have a fair sized description of how the process works and what I did to embrace nurture and deny nature. But nature won in the end. I just wish it had happened 30+ years before.

Culture is only powerful when it works with the grain of personality, when it goes against, unhappiness results. eg gayness

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 04:59:08 PM EST
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This is an interesting conversation. I unfortunately have to make this a short reply as other duties call. I hope we can continue the discussion in the next diary or later here.

Your description reminds me of several stories I've heard  before and why I agree that nurture is not enough of an explanation. It just seems to me there is a dynamic process at work not a static one and biology by itself is not always that clear.

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 05:22:08 PM EST
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I know happy gays. Aren't you going a little far in your identification of sexual orientation and gender?

The unhappiness of gays seems mostly externally (i.e., socially) motivated.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 19th, 2006 at 02:29:48 AM EST
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I self identified as a girl at 18 months

You remember being 18 months? That's spectacular! (My first memory is from when I was 26-27 months old, and nothing much self-conscious -- a boat trip on a river in then Yugoslavia.)

I have a fair sized description of how the process works and what I did to embrace nurture and deny nature. But nature won in the end.

To reiterate what I wrote, nature-nurture interaction can involve influences during babyhood, which lead to biological developments that stay with you for life (thus also limiting possibilities of further culturally-induced biological changes in later stages of development). On the other hand, you (still) like football and trains, two areas with rather strong gender imbalance, so maybe you did effect some later lasting changes in yourself, too.

A further point to make is that what is "manly" and "womanly" can on ocassion differ greatly between cultures. There is that African tribe (the Bororo?) in which it is young men who paint themselves, whose beauty concept involves perfect teeth, gracility and dance, and who perform in a beauty competition for the sturdy women to pick from among them. These men have a concept of manhood which compares to the concept of womanhood of a "cross-dresser" in Western culture, though in the first case it's nurture and in the second nature that seems dominant.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 19th, 2006 at 04:21:34 AM EST
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I see the anthropologist in the family has some influence ;-)
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Wed Jul 19th, 2006 at 09:25:34 AM EST
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You mean my brother?

He is more into Central to Southeastern European ethnography than anything beyond. I think I got to this myself even before he got to learn about it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 19th, 2006 at 10:13:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I did mean your brother but I see I should have ment you!
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Wed Jul 19th, 2006 at 02:44:56 PM EST
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Speaking of dynamic systems and the brain I was reminded of interesting brain research being done in a Boston lab.


Quote from a Boston Globe Article last January:

So if, as scientists' findings suggest, the visual cortex need not be devoted solely to sight, how does the brain adapt after injury or new environmental influences? Does the brain forge new connections that did not exist before, or are the connections already there lying dormant, pressed into service by the circumstances?

Pascual-Leone's current work with his colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess aims to answer those questions. For the past few years, they have been studying sighted subjects who volunteer to be blindfolded for five days and learn certain nonvisual tasks, including rudimentary Braille. In every case, before subjects donned the blindfold,functional MRI (fMRI) scans revealed little activity in their visual cortices during tactile tasks. After the subjects wore the blindfolds for two days, however, the scans showed bright patches of activity in the visual brain when the subjects used their fingers for tactile or Braille-reading tasks. By day five, the visual cortex glowed steadily during these same tasks. Yet two hours after the blindfolds were removed and the subjects' eyes had readjusted, scans of the visual area of their brains were as dark as they'd been on day one. Once the blindfolds were removed, touching, handling objects, and Braille-reading no longer activated ''sight" in the seeing.

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 02:47:15 PM EST
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Very interesting, Alexandra. Thanks for the links.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 18th, 2006 at 03:27:05 PM EST
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