Scientific communities, gay communities and the production of knowledge: The social construction of biological ideas about same -sex sexuality

Sarah A Wilcox, University of Pennsylvania


In this dissertation, I investigate the flow of ideas about biology and same-sex sexuality between science and the larger culture. My research is based on a theoretical framework in which both scientific and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) communities produce and exchange ideas about sexuality. In addition, the mass media disseminate and frame the results of biological research. I examine all three of these sites through a review of the scientific research, analysis of mass media coverage, and analysis of qualitative interviews with scientists and non-scientists of varying sexual identities. The results of biological studies of sexuality have been equivocal, and even those researchers who find the results conclusive have not concluded that sexuality is absolutely and only determined by biology. However, the media pull scientific studies into the public sphere, selecting particular studies as newsworthy because those studies can be related to a popular dichotomy between “biology” and “choice.” In contrast to this persistent dichotomy in media coverage, interview participants had widely varying responses to the idea that sexuality is biological. Some of the interview participants used the words “biology” or “genes” as a way of describing what they felt to be an inner truth about themselves. Other participants rejected a biological basis for sexuality because they believed that biology meant rigid determinism and they believed that sexuality is inherently fluid. For yet other participants, the combined influence of genes and environment was sufficiently flexible to incorporate the idea that sexuality is a spectrum of variability, with different degrees of fluidity for different people. These varying responses to the idea that sexuality is biological were not simply options from which the participants could choose what to think, but were related to their varying proximity to scientific and sexual knowledge communities. The conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that biological research is only one part of the process that culminates in generally accepted knowledge in the culture as a whole. Non-scientific knowledge is not necessarily commensurate with scientific knowledge. Study of the relationship between science and society requires that these multiple forms of knowledge be taken into account. ^

Subject Area

Sociology, General

Recommended Citation

Wilcox, Sarah A, "Scientific communities, gay communities and the production of knowledge: The social construction of biological ideas about same -sex sexuality" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3031736.