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James Wen’s Paper on the Great Leap Famine Receives Commendation

WenLgA research paper about the causes of China’s Great Leap Famine, co-authored by Trinity College Professor of Economics and International Studies James G. Wen, has been honored by the China Agricultural Economic Review as a Highly Commended Paper of 2014.

The paper, “Communal dining system and the puzzle of the Great Leap Famine: Re-examine the causality between communal dining and the famine,” was written with Yuan Liu and Xiahai Wei, both of the School of Economics and Management at South China Normal University in Guangzhou, China. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, which publishes the Review, called the paper “one of the most impressive pieces of work the team has seen throughout 2014.”

The paper examines China’s Great Leap Famine, which took place during the Great Leap Forward campaign of Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party from 1958 to 1961. “The aim of the campaign was to rapidly transform the nation from an agrarian economy into a socialist society with highly developed industry and a national defense,” Wen said. “It turned out to be a great disaster. Around 15 million to 40 million died of hunger, and the economy basically collapsed. The real number has never been published by the Chinese government.”

The official explanation for the famine was bad weather, Wen said. “It was very embarrassing for the Chinese government to admit that this was a man-made mistake.” He said the famine actually began, puzzlingly, after a good harvest in 1958, which saw the highest per-capita grain consumption in rural areas during the famine period, and ended abruptly after this measurement hit the lowest point in 1961. “It was very counterintuitive compared with conventional famines,” Wen said.

When it came to explaining the causes of what he calls a “puzzling” famine, Wen and his co-authors focused on the communal dining system and its compulsory collectivization of the farmers’ food rationing.

As soon as the Great Leap Forward started, Wen said, Mao instituted communal farming and communal dining halls. “He believed if the farmers did not need to cook for themselves, it would save a lot of time for more productive things,” Wen said. “The mistake here was that it was compulsory. Mao took away the rationing of the food from the farmers – the last thing that a farmer could control after everything else was collectivized under the commune system.”

One widely accepted hypothesis, Wen said, was that to feed the urban population, the government’s procurement from the farms was too heavy, leaving the rural population with very little food. However, the paper says that this hypothesis cannot explain why the famine started when the rural per capita grain consumption reached the highest level, but ended when it hit the lowest level. Nevertheless, Wen said, this hypothesis, like the communal dining hypothesis, can explain why the farmers had no incentive to work hard. In this system, the farmers could not leave their land, and they did not get to keep more food if they grew more. This led to the consecutive fall in food production in 1959, 1960, and 1961, he said.

What really triggered the famine, Wen said, was that the communal food was claimed to be free. “So in the first few months after the fall harvest of 1958 you had overconsumption,” Wen said. “The farmers were competing with each other to eat more. In a few months, they exhausted the food. Other famines are related to shortage of food, but this was triggered by overconsumption of food first, followed by meager supply of food.”

By the spring of 1961, Wen said, the famine became so severe that eventually Mao yielded to the reality and agreed that the communal dining halls may have been a bad idea. Instead of admitting any mistake, Wen said, Mao let the farmers decide what they wanted to do, and the farmers chose immediately to claim back their food rationing and went back to preparing food at home.

“It is interesting that we showed that the idealism of sharing everything together often leads to disaster, especially when you force people to share,” Wen said. “If you do anything, you have to base it on people’s voluntary spirit. Even today, it can be a moral lesson to China.”

Currently, farmers in rural China are allowed to migrate to cities to seek jobs but are still not allowed to settle in urban areas, Wen said, creating a “floating population” of about 260 million people. “There is a de facto institutionalized duality between urban and rural. It reminds me of the causes of the Great Famine,” he said. “I have used the lessons from the Great Leap Famine to promote free migration, more secured property rights to land, and free settlement of rural people in urban areas.” Wen’s book on this subject, called Our People Have No Land, was the first of its kind that was permitted to be published in China.

In addition to pursuing his passion for teaching students about the confluence of economics and history at Trinity, Wen is also a specially appointed professor at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.

To read the full text of Wen’s paper, click here.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Per Sebastian Skardal’s Paper in Science Advances Has Implications for Power Grid, Health Care

aSkardal250x250Research by Trinity College Assistant Professor of Mathematics Per Sebastian Skardal on dynamical systems, with many possible biological and technological applications, was published August 21 in the online journal Science Advances.

Titled “Control of coupled oscillator networks with application to microgrid technologies,” the paper was written in collaboration with co-author Alex Arenas, who served as Skardal’s postdoctoral research adviser at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. Their research has implications as widely varied as developing small, independently operating power grids and stabilizing dangerous heart rhythms.

Skardal is an applied mathematician with a particular interest is dynamical systems – which he describes as systems that evolve in time – and their ties with complex networks. “I use the example with students these days of Facebook. Everyone goes on Facebook; it’s a social network, so you have these links connecting different people if they’re friends,” he said. “I study how different groups of people or objects interact and how those interactions lead to particular behaviors. I’m particularly interested in when something big happens in the network, when all the objects start behaving similarly, or when an epidemic grows into a big thing that affects a lot of people.”

This line of research led Skardal to many examples of complex networks in nature that sometimes synchronize and sometimes don’t. “For example, we can observe fireflies in Southeast Asia. The males will actually synchronize their flashing,” he said. “This is actually a pretty phenomenal thing that’s going on.”

Another biological example can be found in cardiac pacemaker cells, which Skardal said have to synchronize so they can send signals to the rest of the heart, and in regions of the brain that need to synchronize for brain activity to work. “And we all synchronize our biological clocks – our circadian rhythms – to the sun or whatever light you see,” he said.

The power grid is one example of mechanical synchronization that is generating a lot of interest now and is one of the theoretical applications that Skardal said inspired the paper.

“Essentially, a power grid is a collection of sources and loads – generators and consumers. Each of these elements is really an oscillator,” Skardal said. “An efficient power grid, or a power grid that is working, is a power grid where all of the sources and loads are synchronized with one another, so they have to move at the same rate. And when one desynchronizes, that basically corresponds to a power failure in that region. What’s even more dangerous is if there is a power failure in one place, it can propagate to the other sources and loads that are close by, leading to a large-scale blackout.”

This new research posits what Skardal calls a cheap and easy method to control synchronization. “What we are interested in here is that these systems generally won’t be automatically synchronized,” he said. “We used what has been discovered in these types of systems and found a nice way to build in a cheap control mechanism. It’s a mechanism of building a descriptor for the system and then being able to identify oscillators – or in this case, sources or loads – that require some sort of intervention to stay synchronized with the rest of the population.”

To put it simply, he said, “We’re adding a little discipline to the poorly behaved oscillator.”

Skardal hopes that this research could contribute to the continuing development of microgrids, which he said are smaller power grids that can operate in isolation from the larger power grid. “They can be connected, but they have the functionality of operating on their own,” he said. These may be used in less-connected parts of the world, and they tend to use more green energy, Skardal said, because they don’t need to be fueled by large power plants.

While this paper focuses on the power grid application, Skardal said he is looking forward to exploring many more theoretical and practical applications for his research. “What we really believe and hope for is that these ideas are actually much more general,” he said. “For instance, when a heart is beating asynchronously, in a ventricular fibrillation sort of state, we could use these ideas to synchronize systems using as little control as possible.

A new member of the Trinity College faculty as of July 1, 2015, Skardal holds a B.A. from Boston College and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Science Advances is an online-only open-access journal established earlier this year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the publisher of Science. The peer-reviewed journal rapidly publishes high-quality, original research in all disciplines of science.

Read Skardal’s full paper in Science Advances here.

An article about Skardal’s paper has been published by IEEE Spectrum here.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Terri Williams has research published in Nature Communications


L-R: Sara Khalil ’15, Savvas Constantinou ’12, Professor Terri Williams, and William Blaine ’15. Photo by John Atashian

Research into the process of segmentation during the embryonic development of arthropods by Trinity College Research Associate Professor Terri Williams, working in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Arizona, has been published in Nature Communications, the prestigious online journal. Titled “Changing cell behaviors during beetle embryogenesis correlates with slowing of segmentation,” the article was published April 10.

Arthropods are a large and diverse group of animals whose bodies consist mainly of repeated segments. With her students at Trinity, Williams explores the embryonic development of segments in order to better understand how development is modified during the course of evolution in the natural world.

Williams said that the collaborative research team found two surprising results that point to a very dynamic model of cell behavior during beetle embryogenesis. “First, beetles don’t add their segments in the regular, clocklike fashion that would be predicted from segmentation clocks in other animals,” she said. “Instead, they slow down in the middle of segmentation, then add segments quite rapidly.”

“Secondly, we labeled cells in the posterior of the embryo in a region called the ‘growth zone,’” said Williams. “What we found was the first direct demonstration that cells in the posterior of an insect embryo do not undergo a lot of cell division, but move quite extensively to elongate the embryo during segmentation.”

“Interestingly, cells marked in the anterior embryo undergo much less cell movement and this switch in cell behavior of the anterior versus posterior clones occurs right after the slow-down in segmentation, suggesting that the two processes might be causally related,” she said.

Joining Williams as Trinity co-authors of the research article were Trinity senior biology major William Blaine ’15; Austin Tewksbury, a 2013 Trinity graduate; and Savvas Constantinou, a 2012 Trinity alumnus and Biology Department research technician.

Williams said that one of the most satisfying parts of her work is being able to create opportunities for students to be connected in collaborative working relationships with colleagues at other institutions of higher education. William Blaine ’15, who has focused on the computer modeling aspects of Williams’s research lab, has worked closely with a research team member at the University of Arizona, regularly comparing notes through online meetings. Sara Khalil ’15, who is currently working on her senior thesis with Williams, spent the summer of her sophomore year working on the arthropod research at the University of Arizona.

​“Throughout the academic year, we have various mechanisms here on campus for students to present research,” said Williams. “I also work with students through Trinity’s Summer Science Research Program. I love that students can have that broader research experience here at a small liberal arts college like Trinity,” said Williams. “It’s like a mini graduate school experience.”

The research on segmentation in arthropods discussed in the Nature Communications article was made possible through a $494,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that Williams was awarded in 2010. More recently, she was awarded a three-year, $488,000 NSF grant to continue her research. This latest grant includes collaboration again with the University of Arizona’s Lisa Nagy, professor, molecular and cellular biology, as well as with Ariel Chipman, associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Earlier this semester, Chipman visited Trinity to give a Biology Department talk.

This second NSF grant also includes collaborative work between Trinity’s Biology Department and its Computer Science Department, noted Williams. Trinity Professor of Computer Science Ralph Morelli is a key contributor working with the research team, she said.

A member of the Trinity College faculty since 2010, Williams holds a B.S. from Duke University and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington.

Nature Communications is an online journal publishing high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences. Papers published by the journal represent important advances of significance to specialists within each field.

Trinity Professor and Alumnus Capture Photo of Light as Both a Particle and Wave

Scientists have known for generations that light behaves as both a particle and a wave. Photographs have shown light behaving as one or the other, but never both simultaneously. That changed with a groundbreaking study by Brett Barwick, assistant professor of physics, and Erik Quiñonez ’14, in collaboration with researchers from Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Barwick and Quiñonez, who contributed to the research as an undergraduate student, collaborated both remotely and in person with their counterparts in Switzerland, led by Fabrizio Carbone, a former colleague of Barwick’s at the California Institute of Technology. A Faculty Research Committee grant made it possible for the pair to go to the EPFL for portions of their research. Their paper, “Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field,” was published by Nature Communications this month.

“It was really exciting to do an experiment that captures both the wave and particle aspects of light in a single image” said Barwick, “and it was particularly satisfying to see a Trinity undergrad, Erik, work with graduate students and postdocs at the EPFL and have the final results end up in Nature Communications.”

The experiment involved hitting a nanowire with short pulses of a laser light. When the light hits the nanowire it is confined by its very small size and creates a standing wave of a particular form of light called a “surface plasmon polariton.” They then shot a stream of electrons near the wire, which interacted with the light on the nanowire. With a transmission electron microscope, the team was able to observe the behavior of electrons in the near field around the wire, behaving as both a wave and particle. The high speed of the microscope made the elusive photo possible.

The news of the study was picked up by media across the United States and around the world. The New York Times featured the research in its evening briefing, and science and technology publications around the world, including Popular Science, have highlighted the achievement.

Two weeks before the publication in Nature Communication came out, another paper entitled “Creating electron beams with light”, detailing how electron vortex beams can be created with light was published in Optics Express, with Trinity alumnus Jonathan Handali ’13 and current Trinity student Pratistha Shakya ’15 as co-authors with Barwick.

Both articles are Open Access articles and can be downloaded free from the respective publishers.

“Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field” is a collaboration among Trinity College’s Department of Physics, the Laboratory for Ultrafast Microscopy and Electron Scattering of EPFL, and the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

New Book on Catalan Identity Caps Productive Year for Thomas Harrington

For a scholar of Catalonia and national identity, recent events in Spain have been “the joy of a lifetime,” said Thomas Harrington, associate professor of language and culture studies. As Catalonia has moved toward independence from Spain, Harrington has been a go-to expert for both media and activists in the Catalan region. Meanwhile, he has been a prolific scholar, publishing two books, consulting on a documentary film, and conducting research with colleagues around the world.

Harrington’s latest book, The Alchemy of Identity, explores the formation of national identity on the Iberian Peninsula. Earlier in 2014, he released Livin’ la vida barroca: American Culture in an Age of Imperial Orthodoxies. In it, he applies the lessons of Iberia to discourse about nationalism and imperialism in the United States. While obviously impressive, the publication of two books is just a sliver of Harrington’s 2014 scholarly output.

Harrington was the subject of several interviews and articles in Catalan media, including El Punt Avui, the Catalan News Agency, Vilaweb, Diari de Prada, La Vanguardia, and the national newspaper Ara. He was also interviewed by the Catalan National Assembly, a group of activists working toward the peaceful separation from Spain.

“The Catalan National Assembly is profoundly democratic,” Harrington said. “They are interested to know what the world thinks of them, and I am sometimes asked for the view Americans might have of their movement.”

He has been called upon to provide his views on other subjects as well. At a conference intended to re-envision the field of Galician studies, Harrington delivered the keynote address. He also assisted in the production of a documentary about Valencian Spanish immigrants to the United States.

What is noteworthy about Harrington’s recent work, in addition to its volume, is that it takes place against the backdrop of the Catalan march toward independence. The Alchemy of Identity in particular is a timely release that offers context into a movement that has been under way for centuries but only recently covered by North American media. For Harrington, it has been something of a perfect storm.

“It’s extraordinarily exciting,” he said. “Catalonia is a small place, so I’ve come to know many of the people involved. It has brought together two of my concerns: democracy and the formation of national identities.”

In an October 2014 non-binding referendum, over 80 percent of those Catalans who voted supported Catalonia becoming an independent state. As Catalan activists work toward separation from Spain, Harrington’s work will continue to take on relevance.  With the region’s rich history and exciting present, Harrington’s pace is unlikely to slow.

“Catalonia is like an infinite onion,” he said. “You pull back a layer, you think you understand it, and you pull back another. Then another. Then another.”

Ethan Rutherford’s Inaugural Reading Delights Packed House in Mather Hall

For his inaugural Trinity reading on Thursday, November 20, Ethan Rutherford, assistant professor of English, was greeted by a capacity crowd in Mather Hall’s Rittenberg Lounge. The dozens of students, faculty, staff, and visitors were not disappointed. Rutherford read “Camp Winnesaka,” a short story from his award-winning 2013 book, The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories.

“Camp Winnesaka” is told from the perspective of a camp counselor, the Head Eagle, whose summer camp is struggling with low enrollment. After the disappearance of Moosey, a stuffed and mounted moose head that serves as Camp Winnesaka’s unofficial mascot, the Head Eagle tries to boost morale by leading his campers to war with neighboring Camp Chickapony. Essentially, everything that can go wrong does, as Rutherford’s introductory comments suggested.

“I know that I tell you guys to keep the death count low in your stories,” he told the students in the room before he started reading. “But do as I say, not as I do.”

“Camp Winnesaka” is one of eight short stories in The Peripatetic Coffin, Rutherford’s debut book. The anthology was named a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, a “Best Book of the Summer” by Publishers Weekly, and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award. It was also a finalist for the both the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize and the Los Angeles Times’ Art Seidenbaum Award, received an honorable mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and won a Minnesota Book Award.

Rutherford’s work has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, American Short Fiction, and The Best American Short Stories. He is currently working on a novel set in the wilderness of Alaska.

Rutherford’s inaugural reading is available as a Trinity College podcast. The Peripatetic Coffin is available from independent booksellers, the Trinity College bookstore, and Powell’s.

Christopher Hager Wins 16th Annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize

Of more than 90 books about slavery and abolition, Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition has chosen a “profoundly original” work upon which to bestow the 16th annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize: Word by Word, by Trinity’s Christopher Hager, associate professor of English.

Christopher Hager (right) with filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Christopher Hager was a finalist for the 2014 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.

In Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing, Hager studies the various writings of everyday slaves, including letters, diaries, and petitions by freedmen. Through them, he examines the relationship between literacy and freedom. For this research, he was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2009.

“The emancipation of American slaves was not only a social and political revolution but also a singular moment in the history of written expression,” Hager said. “Untold thousands of African Americans who had been deprived of literacy gained unprecedented access to education at the same time they achieved their freedom.”

This summer, the book was named a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, along with Camillia Cowling’s Conceiving Freedom: Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro and Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832. Word by Word was also a finalist for the 2014 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.

“Christopher Hager’s Word by Word presents a profoundly original, illuminating approach to reading texts by and about enslaved African Americans,” the jury said of their choice for the prize.

“It’s a great honor to win the Frederick Douglass Prize,” said Hager. “I began working on Word by Word around the time I arrived at Trinity in 2007, and my research generated not only the book but also a class I teach, ‘Literacy & Literature.’ I owe a debt to the Trinity students who have taken that class with me, and to our discussions of some of the material that went into Word by Word.”

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was jointly established by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The $25,000 prize will be presented to Hager at a ceremony in New York in January 2015. For more information, visit the Gilder Lehrman Center’s website.

Johannes Evelein Explores ‘Learning Exile, German Style’ in Common Hour Talk with Colleagues

Exile means many things to many people. Still, there are common threads that run through the writings of many German thinkers who have tackled the subject. Johannes Evelein, professor of language and culture studies, discussed these common themes with his colleagues in the Department of Language and Culture Studies during a Common Hour talk titled, “Learning Exile, German Style: Benjamin, Brecht, Bloch et al.”

LiteraryExilesFromNaziGermanyEvelein examined the recurring themes in German writing about exile, a subject he discusses at length in his upcoming book, Literary Exiles from Nazi Germany: Exemplarity and the Search for Meaning, set for release this summer. One observation Evelein made was the tendency for those in exile to compare themselves to renowned fellow exiles. One example is Bertolt Brecht’s comparison of himself to Homer and Dante.

Another exile who appears frequently in German literature is Ahasverus (also known as Ahasuerus), a figure said to have been cursed by Jesus Christ after taunting Christ on the way to his crucifixion. Ahasverus is also known as “the wandering Jew” or “the eternal Jew” and was co-opted by anti-Semites in propaganda in the years leading up to the Third Reich.

Evelein’s lecture was the final Common Hour of the academic year in a series of talks among faculty members in the Department of Language and Culture Studies that was organized by Thomas Harrington, associate professor of language and culture studies. The series brought together those from various disciplines to present their work and offered opportunities for faculty members to discuss the intersections of their research interests. Evelein’s talk was no exception.

Following his presentation, Evelein’s colleagues weighed in, comparing and contrasting the German portrayals of exile to those in other cultures, including Israel, Latin America, and other parts of the world. Harrington contrasted the German idea of exile, a very individual experience as observed by Evelein, to the more communal experience of Catalonian exiles, one of his areas of research.

Evelein’s book will be available in August from publisher Camden House. In it, he presents a history of the learning process of exile as experienced by German and Austrian writers who left their countries in opposition to National Socialism.

New Book Focuses on Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities

Confronting Urban LegacyConfronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities examines the economic and cultural shifts that have beset the region’s urban centers over the past four centuries. Among the cities it looks at are Hartford; Portland, ME; and Lawrence and Springfield, MA.

The new anthology, published by Lexington Books, is co-edited by Xiangming Chen, dean and director of the Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS) and Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Global Urban Studies and Sociology at Trinity, and Nick Bacon ‘10, who is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Graduate Center and remains affiliated with CUGS.

Confronting Urban Legacy, which is now available, has been called the first academic book to specifically analyze Hartford and other small cities and regions in New England. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the volume includes contributions from sociologists, anthropologists, historians, political scientists, and community leaders.

Part I provides rich historical delineations of the many rises and falls of Hartford, its suburbs, and of Lawrence. Part II offers a broad contemporary treatment of Hartford by dissecting recent immigration patterns, and examining the demographic and educational dimensions of the city-suburban divide by using the case studies of Springfield and Portland. Lastly, Part III explores Hartford’s social, economic and political conjuncture and looks into the future in terms of what the city could become

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said of the book: “Given the current challenges facing cities like Hartford, the content of this volume provides ample fuel for further research and public discussion on the 21st century futures of cities like Hartford.”

And Sharon Zukin of Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, called the work “provocative,” noting that New England “is thoroughly global and highly problematic, divided between poor cities and rich suburbs, ethnic groups representing the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S. South, a shrinking industrial and white-collar economy and a growing nonprofit sector. Here, in a microcosm, is urban society.”

In addition, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution said, “I truly believe that in this century every city needs to understand its special position in the global economy and global networks, building from historic legacies and links. To this end, Chen and Bacon compile a rich and original set of research that positions Hartford and similar small New England cities firmly on the global stage. This is a great platform for rebirth and renewal.”

Among the authors who contributed to this volume are Chen and Bacon; Hartford Courant columnist and editorial writer Tom Condon; and several Trinity faculty members: Janet Bauer, associate professor of international studies; Jack Dougherty, associate professor of educational studies; and Andrew Walsh, associate director of the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life; and Michael Sacks, professor of sociology emeritus at Trinity.

Others who wrote chapters include Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments; John Shemo, vice president of the MetroHartford Alliance; Jason Rojas, Trinity’s director of community relations; Ezra Moser ’10; James Gomes ’75, and currently director of the Mosakowski Institute at Clark University; and Clyde McKee, a longtime professor of political science at Trinity who passed away in 2011.

Two additional contributors are Llana Barber, assistant professor in the American Studies Department at the State University of New York, Old Westbury; and Louise Simmons, professor of social work and director of the Urban Semester Program at the University of Connecticut.

Cut It Out Examines the C-Section Epidemic in the United States

CutItOutCut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America, a new book by Theresa Morris, professor of sociology at Trinity College, examines the exponential increase in the number of cesarean sections, the most technological form of birth that exists today and one fraught with medical complications and negative consequences.

In the tightly written volume, published by New York University Press, Morris challenges most existing explanations for the unprecedented rise in c-section rates, which are physicians practicing defensive medicine; women choosing c-sections for scheduling reasons; and women’s poor health and older ages.

Morris’s explanation is more complicated, taking into account how women are treated by the medical profession, how hospitals are run, and the professional standards in the medical and insurance communities.

She argues that there is a new culture that avoids unpredictable outcomes and instead embraces planning and conservative choices, all in an effort to have “perfect births.”

The book’s conclusions are based on in-depth interviews with women had had just given birth, obstetricians, family physicians, midwives, and nurses, as well as a careful analysis of U.S. c-section rates.

Cut It Out provides a riveting look at an epidemic that greatly affects the lives, health and families of pregnant women in this country.

A member of Trinity’s faculty since 2000, Morris is the mother of two children, the first delivered by c-section and the second by vaginal delivery.

A sampling of what others are saying about the book:

“Engagingly written, rigorously research, and compellingly argued, this book [is] a must-read not only for women’s health advocates and scholars of reproduction, but also for those engaged in health care policy.” – Susan Markens, author of Surrogate Motherhood and The Politics of Reproduction

“By looking at the power structures of the medical, legal, and professional organizations involved, the politics that devalue women, the organizational arrangements and protocols of hospitals, and the professional standards used in medicine and the insurance industry, [Morris] discovers a culture that avoids risk and encourages planning to avoid adverse outcomes. This results in conservative choices in the pursuit of the perfect birth. The author interviewed 130 new mothers, obstetricians, midwives, and labor and delivery nurses and reviewed local and national c-section rates to obtain the data for this study. VERDICT: A useful addition to health sciences and academic library collections.” – Library Journal

“Challenging conventional wisdom, Morris’s interviews reveal that some doctors feel their hands are tied by the legal system, for which a prompt c-section indicates that the hospital has fulfilled its responsibilities to the patient in the event of a lawsuit; hospital policies like constant fetal monitoring, which limits the movement a laboring mother needs to facilitate a vaginal birth, and the requirement that mothers who have already had cesareans cannot have vaginal birth, and medical training that no longer teaches methods of delivering breech or multiple births vaginally…Morris’s powerful book deserves the attention of policymakers.” – Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Theresa Morris calls the c-section epidemic a paradox: doctors don’t like it, women don’t like it, and we know it’s a danger to our health. Yet like a bad habit, we can’t seem to stop doing more and more cesareans. Why? Morris demystifies the paradox in clear, accessible terms: rather than ‘patient choice’ or doctors’ convenience, it is our systems and institutions driving this addictive behavior.” – Jennifer Block, author of Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care

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