Selling Simians: Science, Empire, and the Borders of the Human in South Asia, 1925 - 1983


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




If imperial ideologies relied on a slippage between native and animal, how was the relationship between human and nonhuman reconfigured in a postcolonial world? Building on feminist and postcolonial science studies, “Selling Simians” engages this question by charting the history of rhesus monkey export from South Asia. Over the twentieth century, the rhesus monkey became a requisite model of “the human” – essential to research ranging from polio vaccine manufacture to spaceflight to contraceptive development. Yet the interplay of similitude and difference that rendered the species an ideal experimental model equally generated transnational conflicts over export. Following animal dealers, pharmaceutical representatives, nationalists, diplomats, sexologists, antivivisectionists, and scientists, this project traces the sociolegal contests that unevenly abstracted monkey life into a commodity. In so doing, the project explores how knowledge production about gender, sexuality, and the body has been historically entwined with the racialized geopolitics of empire, the Cold War, and postcolonial development.