Fleck Prize 2016: Banu Subramaniam

Ghost Stories for Darwin:  The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity, University of Illinois Press, 2014, by Banu Subramaniam

Offering a narrative that winds as intricately as the morning glory flowers that she studies as an evolutionary biologist, Ghost Stories for Darwin engages feminist STS, histories of science, and the myriad efforts to include women as knowledge makers to confront the ghosts of racism and sexism that have limited how, who, and what we can know.  Subramaniam refuses the constraints of language and discipline that have contributed to these exclusions, unsettling the usual literary forms familiar in STS by using speculative fiction, autobiography, and critical analysis to show how the parallel but largely separate studies of human diversity and of plant variation have divided the living into categories of the desired and undesirable.  Forming new relations across disciplines and forms of life, across continents and across time, Subramaniam calls for all aliens—those living beings excluded by science and politics—to unite to form a new community of knowing.  Subramaniam has written a brilliant book that is optimistic and hopeful, that places imagination at the center of knowing, and brightly illuminates the spectacularly interesting and exciting relationships and knowledges that are possible if we embrace variation.


Banu Subramaniam is Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is coeditor of Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), and Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation (Routledge, 2001). Trained as a plant evolutionary biologist, Banu’s work seeks to engage the social and cultural studies of science in the practices of experimental biology. Spanning the humanities, social, and natural sciences, Banu’s current work focuses on the relationship of science and religious nationalism in India.


I am thrilled and deeply honored to receive the Fleck prize for scholarship in STS. The book, Ghost Stories for Darwin is a deeply personal and intellectual project making a case for the critical need to understand the co-constitution of gender, race, sexuality, and nation, and their co-production with and through the institutions and histories of science and feminism.  It makes a passionate case for an interdisciplinary vision of experimental biology informed by the social studies of science. I am deeply indebted to the leadership and to the members of 4S for their capacious sense of community, and welcoming those of us not formally trained in STS as valued members of the community. My thanks to the many friends and colleagues who have supported, and sustained my interdisciplinary work in an otherwise disciplined academy. My thanks to members of the Fleck Prize Committee for the enormous amount of work that prize committees take. Thanks also to the leadership of 4S for supporting and pushing the boundaries of interdisciplinary work in STS.

2016 Committee Members

Kelly Moore (Chair), Vivian Anette Lagesen (NTNU, Norway), Roland Bal (Erasmus University, Netherlands), and Wen-Hua Kuo (National Yang Ming University, Taipei)