16 Feb 2009 5:00pm - 6:30pm CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane


Dr Celia Roberts (Department of Sociology, Lancaster University)


Pubescent bodies are usually represented as bodies in tumult. For both boys and girls (although with quite different inflections according to sex), puberty is understood as a time of profound and irreversible change. Scientifically, however, puberty remains somewhat of a mystery: the role of genes versus environmental factors in stimulating particular developmental pathways, for example, is highly contested. Despite this, for increasing numbers of children in wealthy countries, puberty is becoming a time of biomedical intervention. For children whose puberty comes ‘too late’, ‘too early’, or is fundamentally undesired, biomedicine offers pharmacological interventions to bring puberty on or to hold it off till later. Puberty, then, is far from a simple ‘biological’ or ‘natural’ experience today.
In this paper, I tell stories about puberty in order to critically question how pubescent bodies are understood in contemporary biomedical discourses. The paper is based on critical readings of diverse texts, including medical papers and textbooks, media articles, artworks, and internet resources, and is inspired by work in science and technology studies, social studies of health and medicine and feminist theory. My argument suggests that some pubescent bodies – those considered ‘pathological’ – are today becoming sites for seriously consequential biomedical intervention. Feminists should pay attention to this fact, not only because, as I will show, the boundaries of ‘pathological puberty’ are currently being redrawn, but also because we have much to learn here about the ways in which contemporary sexed bodies come into being as bio-social entities. 

Biographical note

I am a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and an active member of both the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies and the Centre for Science Studies here at Lancaster. I work in feminist science studies and have a strong interest in feminist theory, particularly theories of embodiment. My book, Messengers of Sex: hormones, biomedicine and feminism (Cambridge UP, 2007) is an interdisciplinary examination of discourses of hormonal sexual difference in science, biomedicine and popular culture. In it I try to think about how we might understand biological actors like hormones as active, without succumbing to some kind of biological determinism. The work I will present in this seminar is an extension of this research into the area of puberty and relates to research I am doing with Karen Throsby at Warwick University on the genetics of human development.  I have also worked in the area of the new genetics, stem cells and reproductive technologies and am co-author, with Sarah Franklin, of Born and Made: An ethnography of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (Princeton UP, 2006). I am currently working on an EC-funded project on technologies of care and in 2010 will begin another EC-funded project on birth-related patient organisations.


 All welcome. No registration required.

Part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum

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