Thursday, October 11, 2007

Q & A with Joan Wolf (Women's Studies Program)

We asked Joan Wolf (Women's Studies Program), who is presenting on Wednesday, 17 October on "The Maternal-Industrial Complex: Risk, Breastfeeding, and Motherhood in America," a few questions about her work:

Please provide a few-sentence description of your presentation's argument.

Joan Wolf: I argue that neo-liberal risk culture combines with an ideology of total motherhood to make breastfeeding something of a moral imperative despite the fact that the medical evidence for breastfeeding's benefits is weak and inconsistent.

MGGCHR: How did you hit on the focus of your current research and what interests you about it?

Joan Wolf:
Initially, I was interested in why academic feminists had said so little about breastfeeding, a process that requires an enormous physical and emotional commitment from mothers. I decided to glance through the medical literature to get a better grasp of precisely what medical benefits were attributed to breastfeeding. Several months later, I began to understand that feminism's relationship with breastfeeding was but one dimension of a much broader and more perplexing question: why, when the scientific evidence is weak and inconsistent, is there virtual consensus on breastfeeding's superiority?

MGGCHR:What is the most interesting place your research has taken you?

Joan Wolf: Mentally, well, I think a lot more about breasts than I ever thought I would. Geographically? I spent a very interesting afternoon in the Austin Babies R Us.

MGGCHR: What is the favorite course that you teach, and why?

Joan Wolf: Reproduction and the Politics of Motherhood. The course is constantly evolving, expanding, and, for me, endlessly fascinating.

MGGCHR: If you had the opportunity to invite any living humanities scholar to come speak at the Glasscock Center, who would it be and why?

Joan Wolf: Probably Joan Scott, who has an uncanny ability to ask penetrating questions and answer them in ways that are simultaneously systematic and nuanced. Or maybe Anthony Giddens, whose written work is often dense but whose ideas are sometimes stunning.

MGGCHR: If you were stranded on a desert island, what material would you want with you?

Joan Wolf: 1. The complete John Coltrane Impulse! recordings (or maybe just my iPod with an inexhaustible battery).

2. Foucault's oeuvre, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and cookbooks to read for fun.

3. Avocados and diet coke.