Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Reader 1

Jih-Fei Cheng

Reader 2

Cindy Forster

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2017 Eden N Amital


This project seeks to understand anxious and fearful responses to the Zika virus and microcephaly that began circulating widely in February, 2016. My project works to uncover racial histories embedded in the contemporary scientific and medical practice of measuring head circumference. By arguing that microcephaly is a racialized metric of civilizational and human development, I show that responses to Zika’s proliferation invoke state security because Global Northern states imagine microcephaly as a developmental, economic, and cultural lag. Dominant scientific and medical characterizations of microcephaly constitute modern, developed states as such by making political conceptions of normalcy and capacity seem natural: microcephaly is marked as “abnormal” in the scientific literature that instructs the measurement, surveillance, and diagnosis developmental and cognitive disabilities. Seemingly disparate contemporary moments and histories–among them the 2016 Rio Olympics, histories of racial purity and contamination, phrenology, and eighteenth-century racialized notions of sexuality—are inextricably linked to ideals and practices of white, bourgeois subjectivity. Like the diagnostic category of microcephaly, these ideals and practices are inherently unstable and insecure: they cannot exist nor materialize without the economic and social exploitation of racialized and disabled populations.