The Sociology of Biochemistry?

I’m putting Marx’s beard back up in the sky again. A friend of mine I were talking today about gender issues.  She’s taking a sociology of gender class and it seems to be where a lot of our conversations end up these days, which is fine, if a little grating since I’m always watching myself to make sure I’m not making “gendered” statements.  But I’ll save my annoyances with mildly educated sociology majors for another time. Anyway, I was talking about how America is the only country on earth that diagnoses ADD and ADHD.  I ventured to say that maybe the problem wasn’t the biochemistry or psychology of America’s children, but the way we are trying to teach kids in classrooms.  Most ADD/ADHD kids are young boys, and you simply can’t expect eight-year-old boys to sit still and participate in one activity for an hour-and-a-half.  They’re just not wired that way.  Instead, teachers need to adapt their teaching patterns to accomodate the hands-on, tactile way that many boys find to be a more natural way of learning. Her contention in response was, of course, that ADD/ADHD was not a biochemical or psychological thing, but a result of the way that boys are being socialized to behave.  I asked her if she didn’t think that sheer testosterone might have something to do with it.   The hormone, after all, causes aggression, and is found in much larger quantities in males than in females.

Her response?  That actually, quite the reverse is true: it is aggressive behavior which causes the release of testosterone, not the other way around.

Now, isn’t this just another chicken-or-the-egg kind of situation?  My response came from an essay I read by Andrew Sullivan, called “The He Hormone”, which discusses the results of his regular doses of testosterone (Sullivan is HIV positive).  After he injects the hormone into his body, Sullivan reports over the next few days drastically increased aggression, followed by a period of heightened sexuality.  Clearly the chemical, not simply society, has something to do with this, unless you want to argue that the whole thing is due to some kind of placebo effect. 

Regardless, the interaction between psychology, biology, and sociology is undoubtedly very complex, and to me, this kind of thing just sounds like a sociologist’s trump card.  “Oh, well, actually, our field can explain every facet of your behavior . . . ”  As a theology major I would consider it presumptuous to tell a biologist what to think about human origins, but neither would I appreciate it if a biologist were to tell me what to make of Genesis.

Can’t we say that there are multiple perspectives on any given phenomena, and that all must be brought forward in conversation if we are going to make any practical progress on such matters?  Debating the ultimate cause of male ADD does not get us much closer to educating eight-year-old boys, now, does it?

Hmm . . . more on this to come, perhaps.

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One Response to The Sociology of Biochemistry?

  1. fin says:

    oh, man, sorry. i got here as fast as i could.
    at first i thought it was herbert spencer’s chops in the sky.
    alright, so the beard signal isn’t exactly the most efficient way to communicate; not the first thing marx got wrong.

    i liked the little shout out to dawkins at the end there. he’d disagree with you about explaining genesis, and probably offer a reasonably compelling argument, but i’ll leave that up to you two. i’m neither a biologist or a theist.

    i feel like our aspiring sociologist is giving us kind of a bad name. a lot.
    you ask me? and i’m certainly no more of an authority than anyone involved in this conversation, but you’re probably both kind of correct.
    it would be foolish to say that the way in which we socialize the genders at a young age has nothing to do with the way in which they develop, but to deny the role that testosterone plays in that, particularly regarding young american males seems equally foolish.
    to argue that social reasons come before testosterone or the other way around seems to miss the point.

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