T: The Unauthorized Biography

Collaborative Group

Dr. Katrina Karkazis, Professor Rebecca Jordan-Young


Center for Biomedical Ethics


“The trouble with testosterone,” to borrow Robert Sapolsky’s 1997 phrase, is that “T” is at once a specific molecule and a mercurial cultural figure—a familiar villain and attractive bad boy that supplies a ready explanation for innumerable social phenomena. The difficulties with pinning down T go deeper than scientific versus social versions: there is not a single science of T, and the multiple sciences involve not merely partial knowledges about this molecule, but conflicting claims, applied in sometimes highly contentious contexts. In their coauthored book, T: The Unauthorized Biography, sociomedical scientist Rebecca Jordan-Young and anthropologist Katrina Karkazis examine these divergences and ask which versions gain authority, and for what purposes. Employing methods from anthropology and philosophical and gender studies of science, they analyze scientific research and “T talk” related to five high-stakes domains: sports, science achievement, violence, sexuality, and aging. This book builds on the authors’ deep and complementary expertise regarding testosterone in science, medicine, and culture. Jordan-Young specializes in study design and measurement in the human sciences, especially studies that link biological features to aspects of gender, sexuality, and race. Karkazis brings her expertise in conducting multi-sited qualitative research, particularly focused on scientific and medical approaches to bodies seen as ambiguously sexed. They have been collaborating on this topic since 2011, when they analyzed policies banning women with high natural testosterone from elite sport according to the rationale that high T conveys an unfair “masculine advantage.” Ultimately, their book will present a dense picture that characterizes various sciences of T in relation to the social worlds in which these sciences are produced and used. Award period: September 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017