Faces of Babies: Empirical Evidence on the Borders of Biology, Psychology, and Feminism Open Access

Weitzenkorn, Rachel (2017)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/r207tq124?locale=en


Through the case of infant facial expression this dissertation offers a critical history of the scientific evidence of human behavior. Infant researchers are engaged in a creative process of translating emotions that are bodily, historical and cultural into identifiable entities that can be seen in and on the bodies of others. Important feminist work has demonstrated how this process dangerously reduces culturally specific emotions to inert and universal biological markers. Recently however, feminists have begun to reconsider scientific knowledge through practices, material arrangements, and ‘on the ground' engagement with scientists. This renewed interest in materiality has focused on biological evidence such as the brain, the genome, and pharmaceuticals, with less critical engagement with the psychological sciences. Thus, a distinction between mind and body is maintained. This dissertation challenges this hierarchy by tracking the ways empirical observations of infant facial expressions travel between biological, psychological, and social understandings of behavior. It adds to feminist theorizing of the ‘material body' through sustained attention on what material evidence is in our current moment. My research argues that non-expert empirical observations of bodily behaviors--blushing, looking, crying--become locations for mind outside of our disciplinary frameworks.

This dissertation focuses on three infant researchers (René Spitz, Silvan Tomkins, and Ed Tronick) during the era leading up to contemporary neuroscience (1946-1980). Each used the mother-infant relationship to traffic between scientific psychology and interpretative psychoanalysis. Through two layers of source materials, this dissertation shows the contradictions of empirical evidence. First, it analyzes the images produced by each researcher--films, photographs, charts and diagrams. Next, it contextualizes this raw data through the disciplinary location of each researcher--the historical moment of U.S. psychology and changing political views of motherhood and subjectivity. Along with introducing a broadened conception of empirical evidence, this dissertation examines the behavioral sciences as a way to expose the hierarchies of evidence that currently infiltrate feminist projects. Furthermore, this project argues that empirical researchers, themselves, reveal intricate theories of evidence and sensory experience.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Feminist Empiricism and the Tensions of 20th Century Psychology


Chapter Two

Expression of Context: René Spitz and the Paradox of Observational Psychoanalysis


Chapter Three

Biology of Expression: Silvan Tomkins and the Evidence of Motivation


Chapter Four

Feeling for Cognition: Ed Tronick and the sentimentality of Cognitive Science



Babies as Objects and the Problem of Feminism




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