UMass Boston

Meredith Reiches

Department:
Anthropology
Title:
Associate Professor
Location:
McCormack Hall, Floor 04
Phone:
617.287.5752

Biography

My research lies at the intersection of biocultural anthropology and feminist science and technology studies. At the core of my research program are two imperatives. The first is to investigate how tenacious, received ideas about sex and gender shape reconstructions of human origins and understandings of contemporary human bodies. The second is to conduct studies of human biology, particularly adolescence, informed by this process of critical evaluation.

Area of Expertise

Biocultural anthropology, feminist science studies, human life history, evolutionary and literary narrative

Degrees

PhD Harvard University

Professional Publications & Contributions

Additional Information

Using a toolkit that includes bioassay, anthropometry, energy expenditure estimation, statistical analysis, literature review, archival research, rhetorical analysis, interviewing, and the formulation and application of evolutionary and feminist theory, my work points both backward and forward in time. I am interested in the evolutionary past—how humans evolved to grow, mature, and reproduce in environmentally responsive yet species-specific ways—and in the social and intellectual past as they inform current and emerging theories of human biology and evolution. No biological question is neutral. My work unites biocultural knowledge production with an interrogation of the histories and contemporary power dynamics that inform inquiries into raced and gendered difference.

Please see the publication list above for completed work. Work in progress includes:

Speak Now: “Sex, Race, and Human Origins: Naturalizing Power in Evolutionary Anthropology.” This book project argues that, in evolutionary theories of human origins, race and gender/sex operate as interlocking, mutually constitutive systems to justify historically specific power relations as natural and inevitable. Often, anthropologists use rhetorical and conceptual sleight-of-hand to make the role of one system in authorizing the other disappear as an object of analysis. My project recuperates the interrelatedness of gender/sex and race in theories of human origins at three key historical moments and in three contemporary biomedical case studies. Throughout, I engage theoretical frameworks that are not commonly placed into conversation: the first, from evolutionary biology, urges us to re-evaluate assumptions of strong selection—for example, the assumption that binary sex and exclusive, different-sex desire are ancestral and highly adaptive. The second, from Black feminist and critical race theory, compels us to take seriously our ethical, intellectual, and affective responsibilities to silent, fractured, and indirect archives. I explore what it would mean to read the archive of human origins, composed of subjectivities that cannot be recovered and of human biological and behavioral materials extracted against a backdrop of colonial violence, in a way that challenges predominantly white and male anthropological longings.

Biocultural Anthropology Lab: I am in the process of establishing a lab at UMass Boston that will use anthropometric and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay techniques to test hypotheses about the ontogeny of sex and gender in cultural context. Stay tuned for updates and student research opportunities!

GenderSci Lab: In my role as Director of Collaborations and Mentoring at the GenderSci Lab, an interdisciplinary lab group run by PI Sarah Richardson at Harvard, I evaluate and respond to contemporary scientific claims about sex and gender difference, particularly those that use evolutionary logic to argue for essential, stable, and binary difference. See the link to our blog above and our forthcoming Commentary in Psychological Sciences for further information about GenderSci Lab’s work.

Demography of Fictional Characters: Together with Françoise Lavocat of Université Sorbonne Nouvelle —Paris 3, I am writing a book that compares the historical demography of nineteenth-century France and England to the population structures of best-selling and canonical novels written during the same period. In addition to contributing to literary studies the narratological concept of demographic style, i.e. the idea that authors populate their texts in characteristic and literarily significant ways, the book demonstrates how state censuses represent specific visions of governed publics. We show that not only authors like Balzac and Dickens, who describe their novels as reflections of the world, but also the government entities responsible for counting subjects and citizens systematically over-represent some demographic sectors while minimizing or excluding others. The pervasiveness of distortion in the fictional and factual conjuring of population contributes to a larger focus in my work on imagined communities—whom do we imagine as having existed in the past, and how does this filter inflect claims of the rightness and stability of identity and power structures in the present?

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