The comments made on Summers's speech by those who hadn't read it gave
a more generous view of the asshole's speech than the complete text of
it can support. The early newspaper accounts made it look bad. The
complete text makes really despicable.
From Colin Danby at
under Subject heading: 4 points on Summers transcript.
Many specific points have already been discussed on this list, but the
transcript brings out a few things more clearly.
1. The speech is not just a bunch of hypotheses. Read as a whole it is a
forceful argument belittling the importance of discrimination. Its
logical structure is to put forward five possible causes for observable
disparities in women's employment in higher ed:
a. Women are less willing, in their 20s and 30s, to give a massive
commitment of time, flexibility, energy, and thinking to a single job
b. Men have greater variance in innate ability than women, so that at
the upper end of the distribution, talented men substantially outnumber
c. There are innate differences in tastes that may incline women away
from certain fields
d. Women are socialized by their parents to avoid certain fields.
e. There is discrimination in hiring.
and then to argue that a-c are highly plausible and
empirically-grounded, while d-e, though present, have negligible
effects. (As an economist you can see the implicit regression equation
in Summers' head, with a-c doing almost all the work of explanation).
Summers' rhetoric is consistently favorable to a-c and dismissive of d
2. Summers omits from his possible causes discrimination before the
hiring decision. He also avoids considering any socialization that is
not done by one's parents when one is a kid. You can see his very thin,
neoclassical social ontology -- in Summers' analytical world, people
have no consequential social interaction outside of markets (hiring) and
nuclear families. This speech is one of the clearest demonstrations I've
seen of the blinders on neoclassical economics when it tries to think
3. (b) above is not just a genetic superiority argument but a very
strong one, as in “five to one, at the high end.”
4. As a minor logical point, Summers draws arbitrarily on arguments
based on typical behavior and arguments that assume averages don’t
matter because we’re dealing with elites. The argument about genetic
predisposition applies only to elites several standard deviations above
the mean. On the other hand, arguments about women’s typical behavior
(liking dolls, not wanting to work 80 hours a week) ignore the
possibility that even if these things were true on average, they might
not apply at the extremes of the distribution.
Best, Colin ********
One poster to femecon-l, Robert Cherry, is himself lost in the wilds of
neoclassical economics and his posts pretty consistently exhibit the
worst vices of "the academy." Here Doug Henwood responds to one of
[Note: I'm not a great admirer of Judith Butler's work in general and of
_Bodies That Matter_ (from which Doug quotes below) in particular, but
the passage he quotes can be translated into English and, so translated,
makes some important points.]
From Doug Henwood at
Robert Cherry wrote:
<<< Doug Henwood wrote: "Joanne Callahan took me to task for not
criticizing Summers. I held back only because it wasn't clear from the
news reports whether he'd endorsed the genetic position or just raised
it as a topic for discussion. Now that I've read the full transcript,
it's clear he did endorse it, so I'll criticize him enthusiastically.
... Two questions for the list, though. First, is Summers at all
accurate in this?"
Maybe Doug can clarify how it is appropriate to "criticize him
enthusiastically" while admitting that Summers might be right.>>>
RIght about what? He's invoking genetic explanations as a way of
minimizing the effects of discrimination (and treating the alleged
findings of behavioral genetics as the last word on the issue), and
views discrimination as a matter of taste and not history and social
structures. I don't find anything right in that. I see it as an
excellent example of Judith Butler's point that the invocation of
biology is very often a deeply ideological act that pretends to be just
the opposite, and we should always be suspicious when it happens.
Here's a relevant excerpt from Butler.
[from the introduction to Judith Butler's Bodies That Matter]
What I would propose in place of these conceptions of construction is a
return to the notion of matter, not as site or surface, but as a process
of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of
boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter. That matter is always
materialized has, I think, to be thought in relation to the productive
and, indeed, materializing effects of regulatory power in the
Foucaultian sense. Thus, the question is no longer, How is gender
constituted as and through a certain interpretation of sex? (a question
that leaves the "matter" of sex untheorized), but rather, Through what
regulatory norms is sex itself materialized? And how is it that treating
the materiality of sex as a given presupposes and consolidates the
normative conditions of its own emergence?
Crucially, then, construction is neither a single act nor a causal
process initiated by a subject and culminating in a set of fixed
effects. Construction not only takes place in time, but is itself a
temporal process which operates through the reiteration of norms; sex is
both produced and destabilized in the course of this reiteration. As a
sedimented effect of a reiterative or ritual practice, sex acquires its
naturalized effect, and, yet, it is also by virtue of this reiteration
that gaps and fissures are opened up as the constitutive instabilities
in such constructions, as that which escapes or exceeds the norm, as
that which cannot be wholly defined or fixed by the repetitive labor of
that norm. This instability is the deconstituting possibility in the
very process of repetition, the power that undoes the very effects by
which "sex" is stabilized, the possibility to put the consolidation of
the norms of "sex" into a potentially productive crisis.
Certain formulations of the radical constructivist position appear
almost compulsively to produce a moment of recurrent exasperation, for
it seems that when the constructivist is construed as a linguistic
idealist, the constructivist refutes the reality of bodies, the
relevance of science, the alleged facts of birth, aging, illness, and
death. The critic might also suspect the constructivist of a certain
somatophobia and seek assurances that this abstracted theorist will
admit that there are, minimally, sexually differentiated parts,
activities, capacities, hormonal and chromosomal differences that can be
conceded without reference to "construction." Although at this moment I
want to offer an absolute reassurance to my interlocutor, some anxiety
prevails. To "concede" the undeniability of "sex" or its "materiality"
is always to concede some version of "sex," some formation of
"materiality." Is the discourse in and through which that concession
occurs-and, yes, that concession invariably does occur-not itself
formative of the very phenomenon that it concedes? To claim that
discourse is formative is not to claim that it originates, causes, or
exhaustively composes that which it concedes; rather, it is to claim
that there is no reference to a pure body which is not at the same time
a further formation of that body. In this sense, the linguistic capacity
to refer to sexed bodies is not denied, but the very meaning of
"referentiality" is altered. In philosophical terms, the constative
claim is always to some degree performative.
In relation to sex, then, if one concedes the materiality of sex or of
the body, does that very conceding operate - performatively - to
materialize that sex? And further, how is it that the reiterated
concession of that sex - one which need not take place in speech or
writing but might be "signaled" in a much more inchoate way -
constitutes the sedimentation and production of that material effect?
The moderate critic might concede that some part of "sex" is
constructed, but some other is certainly not, and then, of course, find
him or herself not only under some obligation to draw the line between
what is and is not constructed, but to explain how it is that "sex"
comes in parts whose differentiation is not a matter of construction.
But as that line of demarcation between such ostensible parts gets
drawn, the "unconstructed" becomes bounded once again through a
signifying practice, and the very boundary which is meant to protect
some part of sex from the taint of constructivism is now defined by the
anti-constructivist's own construction. Is construction something which
happens to a ready-made object, a pregiven thing, and does it happen in
degrees? Or are we perhaps referring on both sides of the debate to an
inevitable practice of signification, of demarcating and delimiting that
to which we then "refer," such that our "references" always
presuppose-and often conceal-this prior delimitation? Indeed, to "refer"
naively or directly to such an extra-discursive object will always
require the prior delimitation of the extra-discursive. And insofar as
the extra-discursive is delimited, it is formed by the very discourse
from which it seeks to free itself. This delimitation, which often is
enacted as an untheorized presupposition in any act of description,
marks a boundary that includes and excludes, that decides, as it were,
what will and will not be the stuff of the object to which we then
refer. This marking off will have some normative force and, indeed, some
violence, for it can construct only through erasing; it can bound a
thing only through enforcing a certain criterion, a principle of
What will and will not be included within the boundaries of "sex" will
be set by a more or less tacit operation of exclusion. If we call into
question the fixity of the structuralist law that divides and bounds the
"sexes" by virtue of their dyadic differentiation within the
heterosexual matrix, it will be from the exterior regions of that
boundary (not from a "Position," but from the discursive possibilities
opened up by the constitutive outside of hegemonic positions), and it
will constitute the disruptive return of the excluded from within the
very logic of the heterosexual symbolic.
The trajectory of this text, then, will pursue the possibility of such
disruption, but proceed indirectly by responding to two interrelated
questions that have been posed to constructivist accounts of gender, not
to defend constructivism per se, but to interrogate the erasures and
exclusions that constitute its limits. These criticisms presuppose a set
of metaphysical oppositions between materialism and idealism embedded in
received grammar which, I will argue, are critically redefined by a
poststructuralist rewriting of discursive performativity as it operates
in the materialization of sex.
And here is Colin Danby again, under the heading "socialization,
discrimination, thick sociality, structure"
Re “socialization,” *please* let’s not lapse into the nature|nurture
divide, with genetic predisposition playing the role of nature and
socialization standing for nurture. As I argued a couple weeks ago, this
simplistic split uncritically assumes that observed poor results for
women genuinely reflect something women lack, and that this thing they
lack is rooted in the past -- at birth or in childhood. It’s a way to
pass the buck.
We need attention to current, active, ongoing institutional and social
structure. This realm is inadequately represented by the term
“discrimination,” which too easily gets absorbed into a
methodologically-individualist notion of mere “prejudice” as a personal
taste. “Discrimination” is really a result, with no clearly-specified
mechanism, and without elaboration people will fill in whatever
mechanism they choose to imagine. If you’re a neoclassical economist
that mechanism will be (has to be, I think) individual tastes. You can
see that even in Summers’ most recent statement, the most ample
understanding of discrimination he can manage is that it might include
both conscious and unconscious tastes.
(One of the malign consequences of naively using Summers' grid to fill
in %s is that he has cleverly separated the phenomenon of people
dropping out in their 20s-30s ((a) in my last msg) from that of
discrimination ((e) in my last msg). Not only does one need a complete
list of causal variables, which Summers' list is not, but one needs to
consider interaction between them,)
What the MIT study (http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html) pointed to,
and what even a few moments’ reflection will suggest if you have ever
hung out with natural scientists, is that there is a consequential layer
of thick social interaction in the formation of a scientist, from
mid-undergraduate work onward. The social structure of natural science
is an odd hybrid of elite-recruitment (at each stage a few younger
people are plucked out and encouraged and promoted) and feudalism (labs
with star senior scientists who get funds and support large numbers of
junior colleagues, postdocs, and grad students, in exchange for a share
of the credit for all their work).
If we start with a structural understanding of gender as functioning
within ongoing social relations and interactions, we want to ask how
these densely-social, face-to-face networks work. How do race, social
class, and gender shape them? You can see this in econ: there have been
places I’ve taught where the senior faculty were almost all men, and
they just didn’t hang out with women. The homosociality would be
cemented through sports, or the odd dirty joke. Forming ties with senior
people is vital to getting advice and contacts, getting your papers
commented on, learning of opportunities, getting good letters, and so
forth. Here is where you want to look!
While our pasts are not irrelevant, anyone who supervises students knows
that confidence and a willingness to work really hard are a lot more
important. People can remake themselves, and often do.
If you browse through the archives of the New York Review of Books and
find reviews by Richard Lewontin or S.J. Gould you will find a good deal
of material relevant to this discussion. Also see S.J. Gould's classic,
_The Mismeasure of Man_. (For those not familiar with it, the title was