Richard O. Prum

Performance All the Way Down

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The idea that gender is a performance—a tenet of queer feminist theory since the 1990s—has spread from college classrooms to popular culture. In Performance All the Way Down, MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist Richard O. Prum brings gender performativity into conversation with genetics, development, and evolutionary biology, arguing that the sexual binary is not essential to human genes, chromosomes, or embryos. Our genomes are not blueprints, algorithms, or recipes for the physical representation of our personal sexual essences or fates. In accessible language, Prum shows that gene expression is a material action in the world, a performance through which individuals regulate and achieve their own becoming. Human development is a performative continuum from a fertilized egg to a complex adult with tissues and organs, neurological control, immune defenses, psychological mechanisms, gender, and sexual behavior. This complex hierarchy of self-enactment reflects the evolved agency of distinct genes, molecules, cells, and tissues. Sure to inspire a conversation, Performance All the Way Down is a book about biology for feminists, a book about feminist theory for biologists, and a book for anyone curious about how our sexual bodies grow.
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