Leading indicators

The central problem taken up by the body of scholarship reviewed in this Kevin Drum post is not lead poisoning. It is order. Nevin’s 2000 paper defines a preoccupation with public order (whose absence is registered as violent crime) and private or domestic order (whose absence is detected in the form of unwed marriage conception). The effects of lead as a neurotoxin – which are undeniably real – are not considered except insofar as they have a bearing on this problem of order, or are part of a causal chain leading to these forms of disorder.

Disorder as a problem in the management of populations is the only way we can understand rape or murder and unwed pregnancy as being relevantly similar qua foci of a study, or a discipline. Nevin conceptually gathers them as “undesirable behaviours”. Unwed conception is present because of established conventions in criminology (i.e. it has been produced as a social pathology – a sign of poor impulse control – in the literature Nevin refers to.) But we shouldn’t forget to ask the basic question: “undesirable for whom?” Whose interests are most apparent in defining departures from normative-but-contingent family structures by adult women (Nevin includes women 20-24) as deviant? Who are we controlling our impulses for? In defining the heterosexual marriage as the default state for children to be concieved in? In defining conceptions outside this state as equivalent in certain respects to a crime?