Project (2016-2018)

Survey Blanks, Economized Reproduction, and the Gendered Work of Population

In the mid-1950s, the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center sent out a team of female interviewers to speak to 2,713 women selected to be representative of all married white American women. They were charged with asking what were deemed to be sensitive questions about women’s fertility choices. The answers they recorded would later be tabulated, most likely by female computers, and then further analyzed and ultimately published by three male researchers. The survey emerged out of an effort to understand the origins of the so-called Baby Boom, and it resulted in a remarkably economic interpretation of family planning that came to interpret children as “consumption goods.” My project examines the materialization of gendered labor in a series of paper implements: the “clinical labor” of those interviewed manifested on paper forms (and now stored in electronic databases); the computing labor of women clerks manifesting itself in intermediate paper tables; and the grant letters, books, and popular magazine articles written by researchers with their editors and foundation contacts. But more than recognizing the gendered origins of these paper practices, it helps explain how those papers and practices aided in the construction of new social scientific knowledge explaining gendered relations and predicting the futures of twentieth-century families and nations.