Magazine article Times Higher Education

Gentlemen's Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men: Books

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Gentlemen's Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men: Books

Article excerpt

Gentlemen's Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men. By Peter Hegarty. University of Chicago Press. 240pp, Pounds 52.50 and Pounds 17.50. ISBN 9780226024448 and 24585. Published 12 August 2013

Peter Hegarty focuses on a relatively obscure disagreement between two prominent mid 20th-century US scientists in order to show how two trajectories of normalisation competed in the human sciences. Gentlemen's Disagreement has two key objectives: first, to show that academic analyses of intelligence and sexual behaviour, as represented by the major works of the psychologist Lewis Terman and the biologist Alfred Kinsey, have co- constructed each other throughout the 20th century. Second, it aims to illustrate the workings of "the intersecting methods of normalization" in the human sciences - Queteletian, in which most individuals are grouped around a central norm, and Galtonian, in which select individuals embody an ideal type. As Hegarty writes about the significance of Terman's and Kinsey's disagreement, "These forgotten small points between these two men provide pivotal vantage points from which components of much larger androcentric discourses linking sexuality and the intellect might be glimpsed." Those two objectives do not always overlap, producing an intriguing but uneven final product.

Directed at an academic audience already familiar with postmodern scholars, this book's arguments would be difficult to follow without previous knowledge of them. The writings of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, Steven Shapin, Judith Butler and Bruno Latour all play into its argument and structure. Moreover, its two objectives in turn suggest two separate but overlapping audiences: those interested in the intellectual history of the human sciences more generally, and those interested more specifically in how that history sheds light on present- day problems in psychology. It may have had greater coherence if Hegarty had chosen one or the other audience.

At the heart of the story is a review article that Terman wrote about Kinsey's landmark 1948 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male soon after its publication, and Gentlemen's Disagreement is at its best in uncovering how the spoken and unspoken criticisms that Kinsey and Terman lobbed at each other shaped their work. Kinsey derided such unclear categories as "happiness" and "masculinity" in Terman's 1938 work Psychological Factors in Marital Happiness and his co-authored 1936 study Sex and Personality; in his own work, he deployed instead a 0-6 (heterosexuality-homosexuality) scale and other quantitative measures that he considered more scientifically robust. …

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