The left hand of nature and culture
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Ursula Le Guin’s 1969 science fiction novel, The left hand of darkness, imagined a planet populated by androgynous humanoids, entities for whom a sexed identity was a temporary state; individuals would phase through male or female embodiments, with their sex during any given cycle shaped by their shifting social surroundings. Le Guin meant to denaturalize sex difference as foundational to human identity but she did so without one of the tools now on hand for social theorists: gender. Reflecting on the novel in 2013, she remarked that the concept of gender had not been fully available when she wrote the book (see Haraway  for one historical account of the emergence of gender analytics). As a result, Le Guin’s book presented a biologically reductionist vision of “sex,” even as it sought to undermine the notion that sexed embodiment was socially determinative (Think Out Loud 2013).1 The word “gender” does appear in Left hand of darkness, but only once, and then as a simple synonym, perhaps as a totem, for sex as biological identity.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Anthropology Program; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory
HAU, Journal of Ethnographic Theory
HELMREICH, Stefan. “The Left Hand of Nature and Culture.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4, no. 3 (December 2014): 373–381. © 2014 Stefan Helmreich
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