Social Science Fictions: The Numeric Imaginary Of Cold War America

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“Social Science Fictions” examines the production of science as an aesthetic category in mid-twentieth century America, identifying scale as its organizing logic and most persistent formal problem. By thinking of science as an aesthetic category, not just an ideological or methodological one, this project reads the scientism of the cold war era as the foundation for a set of literary experiments with scientific modes of representation. As the human sciences of the period newly professionalized and proliferated, a reading public was constituted around the ravenous consumption of scientific data about itself. The encounter between mass readerships and expert knowledges produces a social science fictional discourse charged with reconciling the representational protocols of literary characterization with the statistical aggregates of social scientific quantification. I trace the emergence of an aesthetics of quantification across the genres of science fiction, campus novel, gay pulp, b-movies, and contemporaneous sexology, sociology, and anthropology by reading the print and visual culture that sutured these discourses to one another. Chapter 1 reads responses to the Kinsey reports as indicative of a widespread cultural fascination with quantitative modes of representing human behavior and the social world. I read expert critiques of the reports, magazine reporting on their interview methods, pulp fictionalizations of sexological research, and internal institutional documents of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research along with a novel by Philip Wylie written as an homage to Kinsey. Chapter 2 continues its investigation of the aesthetic imprint of Kinsey specifically and quantitative social research generally by centering the history of the “gay novel” through readings of pseudonymous detective fiction by Gore Vidal and best-selling hustler narratives by John Rechy. Chapter 3 centers the problem space of the campus in the imaginary of postwar science fiction, architecture, and student protest. Through readings of novels by Robert Silverberg and Ursula Le Guin, I show how the university came to stand in for the universe itself in science fictional investigations of utopian institutionality. Chapter 4 reads the convergence of population bomb and atomic bomb panics in the crisis discourse of spaceship earth, centering a reading of The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Heather Love
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