Social justice

My experience with Science for the People (SftP), continuing to this day, but primarily in the 70s and 80s, helped me develop both a stronger commitment to social justice and theoretical tools for enacting that.

I was a member of the Sociobiology Study Group (Jon Beckwith, Freda Salzman, mArion Lowe, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, etc.), which provided some of the most solid scientific critiques of biodeterminism, especially in regard to gender roles. The group investigated issues such as the use of sociobiology to justify sexist social policies. Through multiple projects, we did critical analysis of research women and mathematics. Many feminists draw from that work today.

The group examined a wide range of issues, including the use of computers in the classroom, the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment, and race and IQ studies. The group, and Science for the People as a whole, developed critiques of racist theories from early Greeks through 19th century racists, to contemporary theories.

I moved to Illinois in 1990. It was around that time that the group began to diminish. By 2014 it was in danger of becoming just a memory.

But in April 2014, a conference on the history and legacy of Science for the People, was held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, hosted by the Social Thought & Political Economy Program. Since that conference, organizers rallied to create a revived SftP with a revived magazine. The new SftP has been profiled in articles such as “As Scientists Prepare to March, Science for the People Rebootsand “A Radical ’70s-Era Group Is Relaunching to Help Scientists Get Political Under Trump”.

I attended the 2014 conference and have contributed where I can to the Genetics and Society Working Group.

My participation in SftP has been a great learning experience for me, and I’ve tried to apply ideas from there in all my work. A notable arena was the project on Youth Community Inquiry.

I’ve also been interested in historical developments of social justice. In Democracy and Social Ethics, Jane Addams argues for considering ethics as a relational practice. It is not enough to adhere to the cardinal virtues, such as honesty, but instead to consider the consequences of our actions on others. For example, the railroad magnate Pullman was probably honest with his close friends, but his actions were devastating to his employees and their families. Addams’s writing and community-based work show how we need to move beyond the more limited conception of ethics to one that is socially based.

Céline Jung, Bernard Jung, and I worked on a translation of Democracy and Social Ethics into French, seeing it as relevant to issues in France today, even though it was written in the US over a century ago.

SftP, feminism, anti-racism