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American Journal of Primatology 56:245–249 (2002)
A Well-Articulated Volume
Review of Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society edited by Shirley
C. Strum and Linda Marie Fedigan. Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2000, xv + 635
pp, 7 fig., $35.
Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society is a provocative
book, in the best sense of the word. As edited by North American anthropologists
and primatologists Shirley Strum and Linda Fedigan, this volume fulfills its title
promise, offering readers an encounter with vital new perspectives on the intersection of science, gender, and society. Over the course of some months, I learned
from, became enthused by, and (on occasion) disagreed with the 24 chapters in
this volume. I wrote one contributor a fan letter, Xeroxed another chapter for a
friend, assigned several chapters to students in my evolution-of-gender course,
and insisted upon reading aloud various passages to family members. Such a
layered encounter, marked by continual engagement (rather than continual agreement), is for me worth more than any other kind.
Primate Encounters stems from a workshop held in 1996 in Brazil. Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and coorganized by Strum and Fedigan,
this meeting brought together scholars from multiple countries working in fields
ranging from primatology (most often via anthropology or psychology) to science
studies. The initial aim was to consider two propositions: that significant shifts
have occurred in interpretation of primate society over the relatively few decades of primatology’s history, and that female scientists played a major role in
that shift.
The workshop, however, took on a life of its own and refused to stay within
neatly drawn boundaries. Participants took an active role, grappling with and
reconfiguring the concepts and questions set forth by the organizers. The key
component of Primate Encounter’s success is its willingness to reflect, and even
embrace, this reconfiguring (which led over the course of the week in Brazil to
real progress in discussing complex topics). The book captures the dynamic flow
of the meeting much more capably than most such volumes. It incorporates the
organizers’ admirably open, nondefensive reflections upon the shifts that occurred.
My favorite is Strum’s, referring to the flurry of challenges from participants:
“All this would have been depressing except that the underlying reasons for the
unraveling of our carefully designed approach were both fascinating and important” (p. 482). Readers, as a result, gain a sense of the difficult process that
underlies attempts to genuinely listen and learn across disciplines; the false starts,
misunderstandings, tensions, breakthroughs, and achievements are all here.
Seven sections comprise Primate Encounters. The first and last consist of
introductory and concluding chapters written by the book’s editors. The second
DOI: 10.1002/ajp.1079
Published online in Wiley InterScience (
© 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
246 / King
through sixth sections, each followed by printed e-mails exchanged between participants after returning home from the workshop, are each organized around
one broad concept: “What Do the Pioneers Say? The Advantages of Hindsight”
(contributions from Thelma Rowell, Alison Jolly, Robert W. Sussman, Robert A.
Hinde, and Jan A.R.A.M. van Hooff); “A Diversity of Primatologies: Other National Traditions” (Hiroyuki Takasaki, Pamela Asquith, Maria Emilia Yamamoto,
Anuska Irene Alencar, and Karen B. Strier); “Enlarging the Lens: Closely Related Disciplines (Naomi Quinn, Alison Wylie, Aleyma Tang-Martinez, Stephen
E. Glickman, and Richard W. Byrne); and “Models of Science and Society” (Charis
M. Thompson Cussins, Brunto Latour, Evelyn Fox Keller, Donna Haraway, Gregg
Mitman, and Brian Noble)1.
This multipart organization reflects Strum and Fedigan’s desire to proceed
comparatively, across closely related disciplines and national traditions. It produces analyses that go well beyond primatology itself to consider culture and
history. In the spirit of the fluid connections that emerged from the workshop
and the book, I will not review the chapters one by one, but instead will discuss
three central issues that cut across sections. These issues can be labeled as the
nature of gender, the role of power, and a shift to science-in-the-making.
What role has gender played in primate studies over the decades? This question clearly depends on what is meant by “gender,” an issue taken up by Fedigan
in her concluding chapter. Most contributors don’t grapple directly with definitions but seem in basic accordance with Fedigan’s notion (p. 500) that gender is
a cultural transformation of biological sex differences.
Jolly, cast (correctly) in the role of primatological pioneer, answers this query
about gender in an intriguing way. She rejects any notion of a drastic shift in
attention to female primates specifically brought about by female primatologists.
Reviewing research projects, conferences, and publications from the early 1960s,
Jolly sees much attention to concerns of female primates given by both male and
female scientists. “I find the fanged male primatology of legend in only a few
exemplars… the shift toward female-centered primatology is arguably much more
a shift in consciousness of gender than a shift in actual content, concomitant
with the rise of female consciousness in many other spheres” (p. 72).
Jolly continues on to say that perhaps we have “invented a male bugaboo” of
male bias in early primatology; after all, “a good story needs a good villain” (p.
81). Hinde concurs with Jolly; work at the Madingley colony in Cambridge, England, centered on females from the early years. Hinde notes that Madingley
was preoccupied with studying female monkeys as mothers, but does not consider the implications of an emphasis on mothering over other aspects of female
monkey behavior. He concludes that the involvement of women (including Rowell)
in the Madingley work did not differentially influence the understanding of the
relative contributions made by male and female primates to social structure.
Reading further in the volume led me to question whether Jolly and Hinde
go far enough in their analyses. Going against received wisdom about early male
bias in how nonhuman primates were studied is welcome, when well thought
out. But what about consideration of other ways in which gender and primatology might intersect? In her chapter, Quinn discusses the marginalization of women
in academia. She builds an effective case for male control of the “center ring” in
academia, at least in her field of cultural anthropology. This control results, in
turn, in males’ deciding which scholarship is rewarded and taken seriously. As
Craig Stanford and Sarah Hrdy attended the workshop, but did not contribute to the book; van
Hooff and Cussins wrote chapters for the book, but did not attend the workshop.
A Well-Articulated Volume / 247
Quinn puts it, what should not be forgotten “is a consideration of the role of men
in gendering academia” (e-mail note, p. 319). Wylie, an archaeologist, clarifies
the point that women in science can remain marginalized even as they gain
strength in numbers and visibility. There may have been equal attention paid by
individual female and male scientists to female and male nonhuman primates,
then, but as shown by Quinn and Wylie, concerns remain about the role of gender in institutionalized science and its affect on scholarship.
Strikingly, some contributors, including Wylie, abandon the idea that gender
is a variable that can be applied to primate studies (or to any scientific endeavor).
A variable is, after all, a fragment that can be isolated and examined on its own.
Many variables may then interact, together creating what is thought of as a
“context” in which science is conducted. But only separate phenomena can be
said to interact (an insight for which I thank the anthropologist Christina Toren).
And the central argument being made by some contributors is that gender is not
a category that can be separated out. Gender is, in Haraway’s words, constitutive, not contextual. This means that gender is part of the very fabric of scientific practice.
In some chapters, the level of jargon used in making this point is frustrating. Haraway, widely known to primatologists for her book Primate Visions,
writes, “‘Gender’ does not refer to preconstituted classes of males and females.
Rather, ‘gender’ (or ‘race,’ ‘national culture,’ etc.) is an asymmetrical, powersaturated, symbolic, material, and social relationship that is constituted and
sustained—or not—in heterogeneous naturalcultural [sic] practice, such as primate studies” (p. 407).
Yet it would be a mistake to allow annoyance with jargon-speak to spill
over into a dismissal of Haraway’s ideas. That gender is constitutive is a powerful idea, and Haraway’s stance is part of a larger push from science analysts
to understand the shortsightedness in claiming that science is merely influenced by outside factors, such as biases and ideologies. In Latour’s view, “the
triple notion of an outside world of nature ‘out there,’ an inner core of science
‘in there,’ and a political or social domain ‘down there,’ can no longer be sustained” (p. 365).
A second issue foundational to Primate Encounters involves power. We have
already seen how inseparable are gender and power in academe. Similarly, primatologists from the United States and Western Europe may seize the center
ring in a way denied to primatologists from other countries. As Yamamoto and
Alencar note, Brazil is host to the largest number of nonhuman primates in the
world, yet its primatology is quite young and has had a “negligible” impact on
the scientific literature (p. 188). Questions of gender are submerged, then, to the
struggle for recognition felt by all Brazilian primatologists. Yamamoto and Alencar
suggest that this struggle parallels the quest for gender equality by scientists in
Western countries.
Taking a similar approach, Takasaki and Asquith discuss (in separate chapters) the long pattern by Western primatologists of ignoring or discounting Japanese primatology. Central to primatological practice in the Kyoto school, writes
Takasaki, have been three elements: strategic anthropomorphism, a structural
view of primate society, and highly valued long-term fieldwork (p. 163). These
traits led to some now-famous breakthroughs (e.g., discovery of the complex unitgroup structure and female transfer in chimpanzees) that were, to varying degrees, resisted in the West, as was (and is) the Japanese penchant for “writ[ing]
very descriptive papers” (Asquith, p. 165–166). Reading these chapters, one gains
an appreciation for how the Western unease with certain Japanese approaches
248 / King
has played out. Asquith shows how Japanese graduate students are virtually
forced to publish in English, only to find that “English-speaking reviewers and
editors cut much of the detail from their submitted articles” (p. 171) and request
other modifications that result in “anglicized contributions” (p. 173). That Japanese are routinely forced, even at international conferences, to speak in English,
without translators, indicates that a similar process may be at work in oral venues. Judging from the Brazilian and Japanese cases, then, I conclude that what
may appear at first glance to be international diversity in primatological journals or conferences may be deceptive. Asquith’s view of power and national origin has parallels to Quinn’s regarding power and gender.
Science-in-the-making is the third axis of analysis in the volume. At the workshop, two distinct models emerged about what science is. These are most clearly
distinct in their ways of relating science to the outside world. In model 1, held by
the scientists in attendance, the scientific method is paramount, with society
held apart. Model 2, embraced by science analysts, sees the outside world as
central to and inside scientific practice, as Latour’s view quoted above indicates.
The variant emphases, then, are “one on outcome and norms, the other on process and practice” (Strum p. 483).
Admittedly, I approached the science analysts’ chapters with some trepidation, but came away surprised and enlightened about the value to primatology of
the field. Thomson Cussins’ “road map” to science studies is a helpful place to
start, because she outlines fundamental concepts such as the principle of symmetry: “The reasons for the beliefs of expert Western scientists should be explained using the same resources as those used to describe prescientific or
non-Western thought” (p. 337). Happily resonant with the cross-cultural approach
within anthropology, this principle does not equate, as Latour points out, to a
denial of the reality of scientific facts!
Most exciting is Latour’s expansiveness in wanting to admit into “the center
ring” (though I, not he, import Quinn’s term into this context) new ways of knowing about primates: “we are allowed to say new things when we enter well-articulated settings” (p. 376). An articulated proposition “offers to establish a
connection between two completely different entities that will give meaning to
both” (p. 374). A good example is Thelma Rowell’s workshop statement, cited by
Latour: “I tried to give my sheep the opportunity to behave like chimps, not that
I believe that they would be like chimps, but because I am sure that if you take
sheep for boring sheep by opposition to intelligent chimps they would not have a
chance” (p. 367). What Latour does with this statement—contrasting opportunity with bias—is worth reading.
For many of us, doing primatology increasingly means engaging with the
public and the media; science studies examine these links too. Mitman effectively brings together these concerns with the workshop’s focus on gender. He
demonstrates that observational methods involving “individual experience, patience and emotion” (p. 422) are correlated not with being female, but with a
tradition in vernacular popular history. (I never thought it sensible to call Goodall’s
approach a female one, when many of her methods had been pioneered by Japanese males). Noble shows that Hollywood and National Geographic do not just
import into their films ideas about theory, method, and gender, but “extend an
entire complex of mediations” (p. 453), and so affect how primatology is taught
when their products are used in the classroom.
As summed up by Strum, then, a shift to science-in-the-making involves a
move from norms to practice, from the global to the situated, and from the isolated to the embedded (p. 484). Whether this shift was embraced by many scien-
A Well-Articulated Volume / 249
tists at the workshop—or whether Strum was particularly well placed to accept
it given her long years of work with Latour—is not clear from the book.
Although I am able here to showcase only some of the chapters and concepts in Primate Encounters, I hope that this limited review whets your appetite for reading the entire volume. Half the fun is comparing chapter against
chapter for points of similarity and difference (and comparing chapters with
post-workshop e-mails, to chart the evolving views of a single writer). One trend
woven through many contributions, for instance, is to note the recent “sea
change” in primatology reflecting greater recognition of sentience and cognition in nonhuman primates.
This volume should come with a cover imprint: “Guaranteed to broaden your
thinking, and that of your students.” Read it; dare to be provoked!
Barbara J. King
Department of Anthropology
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, VA 23187
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