Written by on March 16, 2016

Cal Poly Authors: Governed Through Choice

Political Science Department assistant professor Jennifer Denbow visited Kennedy Library last month for a talk focusing on the Denbow’s new book, Governed Through Choice: Autonomy, Technology, and the Politics of Reproduction. College of Liberal Arts assistant professor Brian Beaton, moderated the discussion.

Background for the Book

Denbow believes a series of formative experiences led her to writing her book.

As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Denbow changed her major from engineering to philosophy because she felt like she wasn’t being heard by her majority male counterparts.

“In retrospect, this experience in engineering school was part of the origin of my feminist consciousness and thinking about how institutions and cultures devalue people’s experiences and knowledge in a systematic way,” Denbow said.

Looking at science through a different lens

While taking a philosophy of science course, Denbow had another realization.

“Science isn’t something just for scientists to think about,” Denbow said.  “There is a really important role for political scientists, philosophers, historians to think about what scientists do.”

The complexities of choice

“Governed Through Choice,” centers around the contradictions that can arise when the notion of autonomy as it relates to reproductive law and technology.

Denow believes that “having more choices and more options doesn’t necessarily make us more free or autonomous.”

One way book explores the implications of this notion is through the regulation of sterilization.

“Having this option of sterilization creates the opportunity for experts to impose it on someone against their will and to withhold it from others when they want it,” Denbow said. “I started seeing how this technology could be important in the governance of people.”

Starting the conversation on the social and political contexts of reproduction

For Denbow, it was important to focus on issues in reproduction particularly as they relate to race, class, and sexual orientation. This is known as intersectionality.

“The idea of intersectionality became really crucial to my thinking about feminism,” Denbow said. “We have so many different experiences and aspects to our identities that we can’t really separate them out.”

With intersectionality in mind, the author hopes her book will help catalyze an alternative understanding to reproductive decisions.
“What are the implications for this choice in regards to reproduction, given that we have such a complex social and political structure that can exert pressures on people?” Denbow said.

Listen to the podcast below for more of the conversation between Denbow and Beaton:

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