Engineering Kinship: Genetic Technologies, Economic Speculation, and the Queer Body

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Engineering Kinship: Genetic Technologies, Economic Speculation, and the Queer Body

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Linking the critical humanities to the biological sciences, this dissertation investigates how progressive, queer, and anti-racist techniques and technologies of kinship emerge in Progressive Era eugenic cinema and return, reformulated, in twenty-first-century sci-fi film and television. Drawing on research conducted at the Library of Congress, the Wangensteen Health Sciences Library, and the John E. Allen Archives, I contest the traditional narrative that American eugenics was an exclusively right-wing movement by revealing the surprising appearance of several radical elements—feminism, progressive economics, and social welfare reform—within this otherwise pernicious social project. I argue prominent figures as diverse as the African-American physician Dorothy Ferebee and the Sapphic writer Edith Ellis co-opted eugenic discourses to find support for their social struggles. Today, these progressive strands of eugenic ideology have been de-radicalized through the shift from state-sponsored eugenic projects to corporation-driven geneticism. The new genetics movement has adopted neoliberal theories of growth to overcome economic and ecological limits. Pairing ReGenesis and Orphan Black with an analysis of gene patenting cases brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, I argue this speculative future veers away from the progressives’ valuation of queer difference by employing technological means and legal strategies to compel domestic normativity. Divided into two parts, this dissertation offers a comparative analysis of the ideological inheritance left to what I call “New Eugenic Media” from its counterparts in the Progressive Era through a critical examination of two collections, separated by a century: the U.S. Department of War’s hygiene films from 1915-1922 and sci-fi film and television from 2000-2015.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2017. Major: Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society. Advisor: Cesare Casarino. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 402 pages.

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Mathiason, Jessica. (2017). Engineering Kinship: Genetic Technologies, Economic Speculation, and the Queer Body. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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