Xan Chacko

Xan Sarah Chacko
Women’s and Gender Studies
B.A., Wellesley College; M.Sc., Imperial College and University College, London; Ph.D., University of California (Davis)

Xan Sarah Chacko

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s and Gender Studies

Follows the making and mobilization of scientific knowledge across the biological, environmental, and agricultural sciences, with particular attention to imaginaries of conservation, survival, and hope through the climate crisis.

I am a feminist science studies scholar who uses methods from history, philosophy, and anthropology. I study the histories and practices of scientific knowledge production paying attention to oft-forgotten stories that don’t fit the grand narrative of progress or objectivity. I relish these moments of excess and bring my research, teaching, and writing. My classes engage science using gender as a performative lens through which the intricacies of power, relations of support, and variably distributed credit are scrutinized. 

My commitment to the pursuit of a just science is deeply personal. For the last three generations, my family have grown rice on a small island in the backwater region of Kerala, South India. My earliest memories are of life on the farm, watching and participating in all aspects of the annual cycle of farming. While my academic trajectory has taken me far from the island, I retain a strong commitment to agriculture and to thinking about strategies of coping with the changing economy and climate. 

I started my B.A. in Physics and Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College in 2001 and I am thrilled to return (twenty years later!) as a Mellon Postdoctoral Scholar in Feminist Technoscience studies. At Wellesley, I will continue my book project on the history and practices of seed banking in the twentieth century. The Last Seed: Botanic Futures in Colonial Legacies demonstrates how concepts like ‘biodiversity’ and ‘food security’ are evoked in an neoliberal era to enable the continuation of extractive colonial practices like plant collecting. I use a feminist science studies approach to trouble the science of seed preservation and ask what kinds of futures are made possible by this technoscientific endeavor. The Last Seed pays attention to the gendered practices of care espoused by seed scientists in the banks to ask who it serves to render seeds bankable. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), University of California, a Kathryn Preyer Wellesley College Fellowship, and the University of Aarhus, Denmark,  I conducted research from 2015-17 at seed banks in India, UK, Scandinavia, and US. 

During and after my Wellesley education, I’ve experienced a motley of work environments, including a nuclear reactor control room, a trading floor on Wall Street, a prison to teach mathematics and biology, and a televised science communication platform. I bring the range of skills I’ve accumulated across this idiosyncratic journey to my teaching practice where my students may learn to code, decipher scientific drawings, design citizen science projects, or speculatively imagine technologies that don’t exist…yet.