Savina Balasubramanian, PhD
Title/s: Assistant Professor
Specialty Area: Gender, Sexuality, & Reproduction; Science, Technology, Health, & Medicine; Political & Historical Sociology; Global & Transnational Sociology; Race & Ethnicity; Law & Society; Sociology of Social Knowledge; Asia & Asian America
Office #: Coffey 431
CV Link: CV_Balasubramanian
Savina Balasubramanian is a historical sociologist of politics, gender, and science. Her work has appeared in Gender & Society, Political Power and Social Theory, and the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography and received awards from the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on the sociology of gender and sexuality; science, technology, and medicine; power and society; and qualitative methods.
Balasubramanian’s current book manuscript, titled Intimate Investments: The Science and Politics of Family Planning in Cold War India, argues that global political and scientific dynamics significantly shaped reproductive governance in postcolonial India. Drawing on primary archival materials from 1951-1980, it illustrates how American social scientists reframed population control in India as less a biomedical quest for an unassailable contraceptive than a psychological battle for “hearts and minds" -- a battle that they argued could be won through the deployment of mass communications lauding contraception and nuclear families. By asserting that "modern" Indian families that believed in the virtues of nuclear family relations and “rational” reproductive decisions would secure the psychosocial conditions for capitalism and private accumulation in the country, American social scientists cast their expertise as a bulwark against communist expansion and the formation of more robust welfare states in India and the postcolonial world. Together with these assertions, social scientists’ associations of rational decision-making with masculinity transformed a largely medicalized program focused on women's bodies into a simultaneously ideological endeavor to shape men's reproductive beliefs and decisions. The Indian state, in response, instituted wide-ranging information infrastructures beginning in the 1960s to persuade citizens -- particularly men -- to believe in the virtues of planned conception, private accumulation, and nuclear family arrangements, although much of this infrastructure would eventually stray from American scientists' original vision.
Intimate Investments thus argues that international family planning was not merely a political response to economic underdevelopment and poverty, but also driven by social scientific anxieties over the prospects of capitalism in a new world order. Furthermore, it shows how the Cold War was not only a martial impasse between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but also waged through expert-led interventions into quotidian familial and gender relations in the non-aligned world. In doing so, it challenges prevailing accounts of contraception and family planning in the postwar era as straightforward histories of ever-expanding reproductive rights and sexual liberation, highlighting, instead, their entanglements with neoliberal capitalism. Additionally, the study is one of the first to analyze the scientific origins of the Indian family planning program's erstwhile and unconventional focus on men. Finally, the manuscript sheds light on the transnational contours of postwar American social science, in particular the intersecting fields of mass communications, demography, and sociology.
Northwestern University, 2018
Northwestern University, 2012
Colby College, 2010
Professional & Community Affiliations
- American Sociological Association
- Sociologists for Women in Society
- Eastern Sociological Society
- Society for Social Studies of Science
- Law and Society Association (Collaborative Research Network on Law and Health)
- Social Science History Association
Balasubramanian, Savina. 2018. "Motivating Men: Social Science and the Regulation of Men's Reproduction in Postwar India." Gender & Society 32(1):34-58.
- 2018 Hacker-Mullins Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper, Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology, American Sociological Association (ASA)
Balasubramanian, Savina. 2016. “Contextualizing the Closet: Naz, Law, and Sexuality in Postcolonial India.” Political Power and Social Theory 30:135-158.
van den Scott, Lisa-Jo K., Clare Forstie, and Savina Balasubramanian. 2015. “Shining Stars, BlindSides, and “Real” Realities: Exit Rituals, Eulogy Work and Allegories in Reality Television.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 44(4):417-449.
- 2015 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Section on Sociology of Emotions, American Sociological Association (ASA)
- 2013 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, Division of Sport, Leisure and the Body, Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP)