Pro­fes­sor Deb­o­rah Lynn Stein­berg

Lead­ing fem­i­nist aca­demic who ques­tioned the ex­is­tence of a Jewish gene

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - GLO­RIA TESSLER

THE FEM­I­NIST cul­tural the­o­rist Deb­o­rah Lynn Stein­berg, who has died aged 55, was Pro­fes­sor of Gen­der, Cul­ture and Me­dia Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of War­wick. Her the­o­ries were the re­sult of ro­bust and pen­e­trat­ing re­search into the con­tem­po­rary chal­lenges of the day.

Her many pub­li­ca­tions in­clude a pa­per for War­wick ques­tion­ing the con­cept of a Jewish gene.

The daugh­ter of ra­di­ol­o­gist Ir­win and lawyer Maxine Stein­berg was born and brought up in Los Angeles, USA. She grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, with a BA in Women’s Stud­ies, later gain­ing an MA from Kent Univer­sity and a PhD at Birmingham’s Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Cul­tural Stud­ies.

She was in­her­ently drawn to fem­i­nist cul­tural the­o­ries, which cul­mi­nated in her pro­fes­sor­ship at War­wick in 2008. Stein­berg’s friend and col­league Debbie Ep­stein, whom she met as a fel­low doc­toral stu­dent at Birmingham, de­scribed her as a bril­liant scholar who was also gen­er­ous to her stu­dents, even though some may have found her re­serve and prodi­gious schol­ar­ship in­tim­i­dat­ing and com­bat­ive.

Her chal­leng­ing pa­per for War­wick, Search for the Jew’s Gene, Spec­ta­cle and the Eth­nic Other, was based on the TV Na­tional Ge­o­graphic doc­u­men­tary, The Sons of Abra­ham, in which an­thro­pol­o­gist Tu­dor Parfitt at­tempted to deny or au­then­ti­cate the South African Lemba tribe’s claim to Jewish ances­try. Her study fo­cused on Jewish iden­tity char­ac­ter­is­tics within the history of racial science, partly in the 19th Cen­tury when Jews, she ar­gued, be­came fig­ures of de­based white­ness – “the de­praved prod­uct of in­ter­breed­ing of white and its re­viled Other.”

Jews, as “hy­bridised” Blacks,” were con­sid­ered mem­bers of the “ugly” race – cul­mi­nat­ing in the Holo­caust. In con­clu­sion, Stein­berg asked whether the di­verse com­plex­ity of cul­tural iden­tity could be “cap­tured by a gene,” and whether what was “for­merly re­viled can be re­deemed.”

Her fi­nal para­graph is most telling: “The pos­si­bil­ity of a re­demp­tive science speaks not only to post Holo­caust and post colo­nial dis­course of repa­ra­tion, but – to the imag­ined pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing an eth­i­cal life out of the ashes of hu­man atroc­ity.”

Di­ag­nosed with breast cancer in 2007, she was cleared of the dis­ease in 2013, but it re­turned a year later. Stein­berg’s cancer odyssey in­cludes a per­sonal blog, po­etry, and an an­a­lyt­i­cal study. She co-edited Mourn­ing Diana: Na­tion, Cul­ture and the Per­for­mance of Grief. Her last book Genes and the Bioimag­i­nary: Science, Spec­ta­cle, Cul­ture (2015) was highly ac­claimed. She is sur­vived by her partner Ger­shon Silins, her par­ents and brother David.

Deb­o­rah Lynn Stein­berg: Born May 17, 1946. Died Jan­uary 31, 2017

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