This Science and Society Social Studies of Science, Engineering, and Technology Dissertation Improvement Grant will help fund ethnographic data collection in support of a study of the practices, relationships, and ethics that structure biomedical transformations of the body among a largely immigrant population of transgender women in San Francisco. As defined here, transgender woman refers to a person who was assigned the identity of male at birth but who self-identifies as a woman, through a third gender category, or outside the traditional binary sex/gender system of male/man and female/woman. It is common for transgender women to use hormonal therapy, silicone implants, as well as cosmetic and gender corrective surgeries in order to cultivate desired forms of the body. In so doing, they enter into a variety of relationships not only with physicians, psychologists, and social workers but non-human agents as well, such as pharmaceutical products and medical technologies. NSF dissertation improvement funds will be used to support a multi-sited ethnography based in the San Francisco Bay Area with transgender women, their medical and healthcare providers, and other community leaders and policy-makers who combined form the network of relationships that make transgender body-making practices possible today. Fieldsites, where participant-observation activities, interviews, and document collection will be conducted, include two medical clinics, a community resource center, social spaces where transgender women gather, as well as four national medical and health conferences where topics related to transgender women and their healthcare providers are emphasized. Organizing this inquiry are three central aims: (1)The biomedical practices of everyday life: To study ethnographically the everyday biomedical practices and experiences of transgender women; the logics that guide these practices; and the meanings associated with biomedical cultivation of transgender bodies. (2) The biosociality of transgender embodiment: To study ethnographically the relationships between transgender women, their physicians and healthcare providers, political leaders, and other stake holders; the forms that these relationships assume; the norms that organize their structure; the values that guide the members' relationships with one another; and the ethical dilemmas and points of contestation that arise within these relationships. (3) Techniques for other biocreative enterprises:To explore how the practices, relations, and ethics of transgender women and their healthcare providers provide knowledge and skills that are necessary for living, thinking, and acting in a world where the biomedical remaking of human life has become a dominant social field of knowledge, practice, and politics. Coordinating research activities with the three central aims will enable this project to empirically investigate how transgender body-making technologies are characterized in terms of everyday practices, social networks, as well as what these practices and relations may say more generally about the stakes associated with the biomedical remaking of human life. The project will contribute to STS, anthropology and gender studies, one of the only ethnographically based investigations of the actors, practices, relations, and ethics associated with the biomedical transformation of the gendered body. This project will also develop a tool-kit of empirically based theoretical concepts that can advance further inquiry into other areas of social life where the biomedical remaking of body becomes a central practice of human life. In addition this study will advance understandings of the role of science, medicine, and technology in everyday life by investigating how a variety of differentiated positioned actors confront the possibilities and ethical dilemmas associated with body altering biomedical technologies.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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stephen zehr
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University of California Berkeley
United States
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