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
Savina Balasubramanian is a political sociologist of gender, sexuality, and reproduction. Her work combines insights on global and transnational sociology, science and technology, health and medicine, race and ethnicity, and law and society. In particular, she investigates how reproduction has historically anchored political contestations over democratic governance in response to global movements of professionals and people. 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, and race and ethnicity.
Balasubramanian's current book manuscript, tentatively titled Informed Intimacies: Mass Communication and the Science of Family Planning in Cold War India, argues that global political and scientific dynamics significantly shaped reproductive governance in postcolonial India. Drawing on a wealth of primary archival documents from 1951-1980, she illustrates how American communications experts 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 use of mass communications lauding the presumed virtues of contraception and nuclear families. According to American communications experts, crafting "modern" Indian families that made “rational” reproductive decisions and believed in the primacy of nuclear family relations would secure the psychosocial conditions for democratic capitalism, thereby casting American social science expertise as a bulwark against communist expansion in the country and the postcolonial world more broadly. The Indian state, in response, instituted wide-ranging information infrastructures beginning in the 1960s to persuade citizens to believe in the virtues of planned conception. In addition, Balasubramanian analyzes how social scientists’ gendered associations of rational decision-making with masculinity transformed a largely medicalized program focused on the bodies of women into a simultaneously ideological endeavor to shape the reproductive beliefs and decisions of men. The manuscript thus demonstrates how the institutionalization of international family planning was not only a response to economic underdevelopment, but also driven by anxieties over the viability of capitalist democracy in a new world order. Furthermore, it shows how the Cold War was crucially waged through expert-driven interventions into quotidian gender relations and familial institutions in the non-aligned world. Finally, the study is one of the first to analyze the origins of the Indian family planning program's erstwhile and unconventional focus on men.
Balasubramanian's next major project investigates the politics of global and national sex ratios as a case study of knowledge controversies and a window into the evolving entanglements of gender, science, and global security and immigration discourse.
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)