2015/16 Boundaries

Events

Fall 2015

 

Sep 28, 2015
Public Lecture

4:00 p.m. – Foster Auditorium 

Sep 29, 2015
Advanced Seminar

10:00 a.m. – 121 Borland Building

Beyond Boundaries: Interlacing Evolution, Epigenetics, Creativity and Diversity in Understanding Being and Becoming Human
- Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame

Human evolutionary history is ongoing, human creativity is expanding, and human populations continue to grow. Getting a handle on “the human” in the Anthropocene is no easy matter. Inter- or even trans-disciplinary approaches are necessary, and crossing boundaries, ideologies and perspectives is more urgent than ever. But the dialogues needed to best engage these themes, especially those across the presumed humanities-sciences divide, have not caught up. These are not easy undertakings—where does one start? I suggest that the interface of contemporary evolutionary theory, emerging data on physiological and epigenetic systems, and human social complexity is a good place to begin. We are in a time of radical expansion of our ability to understand the processes and patterns of evolutionary change in bodies and behavior. Simultaneously, we are immersed in amazingly rich dialogues about the human across the social sciences and the humanities. Linking these emerging trends offers insight and a potentially fruitful landscape for discourse and advancement. In this lecture I will summarize what I see as core information for this endeavor and, via examples, offer a few possibilities for interfaces that might help us better assess and understand the moving target that is the human.


Oct 23, 2015
Public Lecture

4:00 p.m. – Foster Auditorium 

Oct 24, 2015
Advanced Seminar

10:00 a.m. – 121 Borland Building

The Biology of History: From the Body as Machine to the Metabolic Community
- Hannah Landecker, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

Since its induction into scientic terminology in the nineteenth century, metabolism has been a site of dietetic, medical, chemical, and biological investigation, and a conceptual resource for political theory, philosophy and social science. Metabolic thinking has been constitutive of cultural assumptions and practices, from ideas of interiority undergirding notions of the individual, to the interrelations between animals and plants. More than a history of biology, the story of metabolism since 1839 is a biology of history: it has also reshaped the world in the most practical of ways, from the constitution of food animals to the engineering of bacterial metabolisms. The increasing presence of metabolic disorder in the material landscape has produced an enormous growth in related sciences. This talk presents ethnographic observations from these spaces of contemporary biomedical science where the relationships among industrialization, work, energy, food, and metabolic disorder are being actively rethought and redrawn.


Nov 16, 2015
Public Lecture

4:00 p.m. – Foster Auditorium 

Nov 17, 2015
Advanced Seminar

10:00 a.m. – 121 Borland Building

We are all Lichens: How Symbiosis Theory is Re-Configuring Critical Biological Boundaries 
- Scott Gilbert, Senior Research Associate, Howard A. Schneiderman, Professor Emeritus, Developmental Biology, Swarthmore College

Biology has traditionally defined individuals by the criteria of anatomy (organisms separated from the environment), physiology (organisms whose parts work toward a common end), development (organisms derived from a common precursor cell), genetics (autopoietic organisms whose cells contain the same genome), immunology (organisms that reject non-self), and evolution (that which is selected). Recent studies show that symbiosis, rather than being an exception to the rule, is the rule. A new mode of individuality, the holobiont, has been proposed, consisting of the larger organism and its persistent colonies of symbionts. The holobiont is a multi-lineage organism whose cells function through co-metabolic pathways, whose development integrates the life cycles of several species, and whose phenotype often depends on alleles found in both “host” and symbionts. Natural selection, then, may select for consortia, or teams, of species, and the tree of life may be more like real (i.e., holobiont) trees than we had thought. Birth is more than the generation of a new individual. It also concerns the continuity of the communities. The ramifications of this new view of co-dependent life where “becoming with the other” may be as important as “survival of the fittest” will be examined.


Spring 2016


Feb 25, 2015
Public Lecture

4:00 p.m. – Foster Auditorium 

Feb 26, 2015
Advanced Seminar

10:00 a.m. – 121 Borland Building

The Contested Post-Humanities 
- Rosi Braidotti, Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Founding Director of the Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht University 

In response to complex social, environmental and academic climate changes, this paper adopts an affirmative position. I want to defend the productivity of a posthuman future for the humanities, accounting for the tensions of our times in a grounded manner without being reductive and critical while avoiding negativity. To achieve this, I will develop the following argument: starting from the legacy and the limitations of the debate on humanism between Said and Foucault, I will provide a cartography of the critical humanities in the contemporary university. Then I will proceed to map out some of the ways in which the posthumanities are currently being developed in response to and in dialogue with our globally linked and technologically mediated societies that are marked by increasing polarizations in terms of access to economic, technological and environmental resources.


Mar 22, 2015
Public Lecture

4:00 p.m. – Foster Auditorium 

Mar 23, 2015
Advanced Seminar

10:00 a.m. – 121 Borland Building

Living Our Ancestors' Dystopia: Indigenous Peoples, Conservation and the Anthropocene

- Kyle Whyte, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Timnick Chair in the Humanities, Michigan State University 

Anthropocene discourse often describes futures characterized by climate destabilization leading to the extinction of certain species. Often these futures are described using dystopian themes. Yet how might some Indigenous peoples interpret such futures? While similarities are present given Indigenous concern with conserving native species, it is more accurate to claim that indigenous conservationists focus more on sustaining particular plants and animals whose lives are entangled locally, over many generations, in ecological, cultural and economic relationships with human societies. Indigenous peoples learn from, adapt, and put in practice these relationships to address the conservation challenges they face today, especially the environmental destruction of settler colonialism in North America. What is more, the environmental impacts of settler colonialism have made it so that quite a few indigenous peoples in North America are already no longer able to relate locally to many of the plants and animals that are significant to them. In the Anthropocene, then, some indigenous peoples already inhabit what their ancestors would have likely characterized as a dystopian future. So they consider the future from what they believe is already a dystopia. The lecture explores these ideas in relation to case examples from Indigenous conservation.


Apr 14, 2015
Public Lecture

4:00 p.m. – Foster Auditorium 

Apr 15, 2015
Advanced Seminar

10:00 a.m. – 121 Borland Building

Exceptional and Unconformable Phenomena: Maternal Effects and the Epistemologies of the Life Sciences
- Sarah Richardson, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University

This talk draws on the intellectual history of maternal effects science to pose the question: What forms of scientific practice and discourse result when life scientists encounter phenomena that persistently rebuff study, control, and optimization, and which demand a high tolerance for uncertainty?   The science of maternal effects posits that in addition to transmitting DNA, the maternal body influences descendants’ phenotypes in ways that may constitute a form of heredity.  From the earliest days of genetics, scientists struggled to integrate apparent findings of maternal effects into the nuclear genome-centric model of heredity that grounds the modern life sciences.  The vexing issues posed by ‘exceptional and unconformable’ findings of maternal effects, however, were not limited to their apparent contradiction with the central dogmas of the genetic sciences.  They were also perceived as less ‘knowable’ than the privileged study objects of genetics.  Observations falling into the phenomenological category of maternal effects were distinctly out of step with the epistemic styles—the modes of controlling, intervening, explaining, and theorizing—that came to signify good science in the genetic age.