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All lectures are free open to the public, thanks to the generosity of The Klopsteg fund.  Unless otherwise noted, they will be held in University Hall, Hagstrum Room 201, on Mondays 4:30-6:00pm. 

This year Science in Human Culture will partner with the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE2) at Washington University in St. Louis to co-sponsor a series of public panels and Klopsteg lectures that focus on the intersections of race, science, and medicine. Through this partnership, members of both institutions will have opportunities to participate in events in the series that explore questions surrounding the production of scientific knowledge across the Americas, including institutional barriers, “gatekeeping,” and the construction of expertise; genomics, genetics, and understandings of race; and the roles of science in society in the present and past.

Program Director: Paul Ramírez  

Fall Quarter

October 18 - Bathsheba Demuth, History - Brown University

"The Reindeer and the End of the World: Apocalypse, Climate and Soviet Dreams"

Climate change and other alterations to the Earth caused by human activity are often described in apocalyptic terms: as Armageddon, or the end of the world. Nowhere is this more true than in the Arctic, where the rates of warming are twice that of temperate regions and have been visible for decades. This talk turns to the history of the Chukchi Peninsula, in far eastern Siberia, a place that has experienced radical changes in the past: first with the founding of the Soviet Union and then with its dissolution. Weaving a story of devoted Bolsheviks, Chukchi nomads, and herds of reindeer, it explores what kinds of narratives suit the empirical experience of radical change, what is lost when we emphasize rupture, and what is gained by paying attention to the ruins left by past ways of living as we face a transformed Arctic - and planet. This lecture will be held virtually, please contact Janet Hundrieser for the Zoom link.

Friday, November 5 - 1:00-2:45pm (please note different day and time)

"Gatekeeping & the Publishing Landscape for Scholarship on Race, Medicine & Science"

Holden Thorp, Moderator and Editor in Chief - Science Family of Journals

Gil Eyal, Sociology - Columbia University

Tess Lanzarotta, History, Science in Human Culture Program-Northwestern University

Damon Scott Tweedy, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences - Duke University

Yolonda Wilson, Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics - Saint Louis University

Please register here:

Winter Quarter

January 24  - Tess Lanzarotta - History, Science in Human Culture - Northwestern University

"The Last Biomedical Frontier: Indigenous Health and Settler Colonialism in Cold War Alaska"

In the aftermath of World War II, Alaska emerged as a crucial outpost for national defense and as a destination for growing numbers of white American settlers. As American public health officials, physicians, biomedical researchers, nurses, and technicians flocked northward—drawn by the new job opportunities that accompanied accelerated settler colonialism and militarization—they consistently positioned Alaska as a model for the “Third World.” They found opportunities to carve out new forms of expertise, test novel treatments and experimental interventions, and build new bodies of biomedical knowledge. And they did so with an eye towards the myriad ways that Alaska could serve as a resource, laboratory, or metric for elsewhere. Biomedicine took on many different roles in support of American empire, but the use of Alaska Native communities as proving grounds remained constant. This talk will explore invocations of Alaska as a model for the “Third World” and in doing so will map the connections between settler colonial biomedicine in Alaska and American imperial ambitions overseas.

February 7 - Santiago Molina - Sociology, Science in Human Culture - Northwestern University

"How Scientists Produce Institutions: The Practice and Politics of Genome Editing"

The CRISPR-Cas9 system has been heralded by researchers as a breakthrough biotechnology and has gained widespread use in biomedicine. Despite the over 20 clinical trials for treating genetic diseases with genome-editing technologies underway, the moral basis of modifying human DNA is still debated by scientists, regulators, and patients. This talk reframes concerns over the ethics of genome editing as a problem of institutionalization: How is the idea and discourse of genome editing rendered into a durable set of practices that become routine, legitimated and, ultimately, taken for granted? Methodologically, I draw from participant observation, in-depth interviews, and archival research to trace the organizational, moral, and discursive dimensions of institutionalization. I argue that scientists shape the institutionalization of genome editing by resisting the encroachment of regulatory bodies and carefully maintaining the boundaries of self-governance.

February 14 - Rebecca Seligman and Maddalena Canna, Anthropology - Northwestern University

"From Sensations to Symptoms: The Social Shaping of the Functional Illness Experience"

Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), otherwise known as Conversion Disorder and once known as hysteria, is characterized by abnormal sensory or motor symptoms that are determined to be “incompatible” with neurological disease. FND patients are a challenge for contemporary medicine. They experience high levels of distress, disability, and social isolation, yet a large proportion of those treated do not get better. Patients with FNDs are often misdiagnosed and suffer from stigma, dysfunctional medical encounters and scarcity of adequate treatments. We argue that medicine’s struggle with FNDs is a symptom of the biomedical ontology, which impedes understanding of mind-body processes.  In this talk, we use a cross-culturally and historically situated comparative framework, in order to propose a framework for understanding such processes.  In particular, we examine the work of 3 main, interconnected factors: 1) the role of cultural models and expectancies in shaping the meanings of sensations and the process through which symptoms come to exist; 2) the social scaffolding of such expectancies and exposures along the lines of role enactments structured by gender, race/ethnicity, and class; and 3) the socialization of personal trauma and chronic stress, through which individuals are socially primed to cope or to reframe personal trauma and chronic stress in ways that impact bodily symptoms.

February 28 - Gabriela Soto Laveaga , History of Science - Harvard University, Co-Sponsored with the Center for Race, Ethnicity & Equity at Washington University

"Hydraulic Erasures: Rivers, Irrigation and Experiment Stations in Northern Mexico and India"

In the mid 1960s seeds from an experimental station in northern Mexico helped launch the Green Revolution. Use of these high-yielding seeds transformed farming from Latin America to South Asia. Their status as "miracle" seeds was challenged in a few years when excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides wreaked havoc on the environment and had lasting social impacts on farming communities across the globe. While many have written about the Green Revolution and its consequences, this talk seeks to understand how we construct historical narratives of such events. This talk, then, interrogates whose narratives are erased and which survive by examining the historical contexts of overshadowed histories of the so-called Green Revolution.

March 7 - Gil Eyal, Sociology - Columbia University, Co-Sponsored with the Center for Race, Ethnicity & Equity at Washington University

"Mistrust in Numbers: Regulatory Science, Trans-Science and the Crisis of Expertise"

This talk characterizes the crisis of expertise, especially as it manifested during the covid-19 pandemic, as a crisis of trust in regulatory science. The temporal structure of the facts produced by regulatory science differs from Kuhnian “normal science,” while they also contain profound distributional implications. As a result, they suffer from a set of congenital problems that provoke mistrust in a way that normal science facts do not. While “expertise” is often offered as an answer to these problems, this will demonstrate that it is a symptom of the malaise, reflecting a situation where it is no longer clear how to decide between competing claims to authority as experts. The current mistrust in experts and regulatory science during the pandemic, therefore, is part of a longer and systemic crisis of expertise provoked and sustained by multiple factors. The talk will then offer an unsystematic set of rules of method to observe when addressing the thorny issues involving trust and mistrust: 1) trust is not a subjective attitude that can be measured by a survey; 2) mistrust is not the opposite of trust; 3) trust is a social skill involving a set of ethnomethods for distinguishing between responsible and “blind” trust; 4) attention to temporal framing is key to these methods; 5) disruption of this temporal framing – as routinely happens with regulatory facts, and especially during the pandemic – destroys trust.

Spring Quarter

Friday,  April 8, 2022 - 1:00-2:45pm via Zoom

Co-sponsored with the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Equity at Washington University in St. Louis

Race and the Future of Genomics: More Equity or Less?

Genomics is yielding transformative insights into the genetic makeup of diseases and the impact of environmental factors on human health. At the same time, the field of genomics has powerful implications for health equity, meanings of race and ethnicity, and the intersections between science and the values we ascribe to social constructions. This spring’s virtual panel on Race and the Future of Genomics addresses these and other developments—and asks how scientists, medical practitioners, and the public can ensure more equitable outcomes in the future.

Click here to Register

This virtual event will be moderated by Vence L. Bonham, Jr. (Acting Deputy Director, National Human Genome Research Institute)

Panelists include:

Brett Maricque (McDonnell Genome Institute, Washington University in St. Louis)

Alicia R. Martin (Broad Institute; Harvard Medical School; Massachusetts General Hospital)

Santiago Molina (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Science in Human Culture, Northwestern University)

Ann Morning (New York University, Sociology)

Peter Wade (University of Manchester, Social Anthropology)


April 11 - Mariola Espinosa, History - University of Iowa

"Caribbean Connections: Towards a Global Vision in the History of Medicine"

This talk discusses how the history of disease and medicine, which is usually studied in very localized historical contexts, benefits from also being evaluated from a broader, more global, perspective. The Caribbean provides a perfect example to see how connections among islands and mainland ports—between their inhabitants, their economies, their environments, among others—are manifested in the history of epidemics and of medical knowledge.  Studying the history of disease and medicine in this manner reveals the interconnections between the islands and the networks of medical knowledge to be multi-directional exchanges that at the same time transcend the boundaries of language and empires.

April 25 - Shobita Parthasarathy, Science, Technology and Public Policy - University of Michigan

"The Politics of Inclusive Innovation in International Development: Menstrual Hygiene Management and Sanitary Pads in India"

International development institutions, governments, and social entrepreneurs have become increasingly enthusiastic about "inclusive innovation", which focuses on the development of technologies for and by the poor, to solve problems in low and middle-income countries. Inclusive innovation differs from previous development efforts by relying on market principles to achieve humanitarian ends, and focusing on lower tech devices. Proponents also argue that because the interventions are driven by the grassroots, they are more democratic and have enormous potential to catalyze economic, social, and political change. But what counts as inclusive innovation? How is it shaping the international development agenda? What are the implications for global efforts to promote technology for public good? This talk examines these questions through a case study of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) innovation in India. It demonstrates how, rather than providing solutions to self-evident development problems, inclusive innovation actually shapes both development problems and solutions simultaneously, in areas where scientific and market ways of knowing converge. These ways of knowing claim to be legitimate because they are rooted in local knowledge and expertise. MHM became a problem and low-cost disposable sanitary pads an inclusive innovative solution, in other words, because of the involvement of Indian researchers and innovators, and Indian girls and women as consumers and producers. However, in the process they reinforced narrow understandings of both inclusion and innovation in international development. These findings should stimulate those who are dedicated to ensuring that technology serves the public interest to consider how democratizing efforts are still wrapped up in a political economy that prioritizes scientific, technical, and market expertise, which limits their transformational power.

May 2 - Hugh Cagle, History - University of Utah

"Before the Fact: Science and Social Order at the Edge of the Amazon ca. 1600 "

For Old World observers, the manatees common to the South American littoral were loaded with contradictory meanings. They were delicious fare. Raw materials for indispensible medicines could be sourced from their crania. And although they were unlike any sea-dwelling creature most Portuguese chroniclers had ever known, they were also charmingly familiar: most writers compared them to the common cow. Yet manatees were also associated with sea-monsters, mermaids, sexual transgression, and an assortment of villainous habits.  They were, in short, the very embodiment of colonial disorder. And nowhere is the relationship between colonial cultural preoccupations and the colonial science of animal classification made more apparent than in the taxonomic categories used to make sense of this ubiquitous creature. The history of the manatee and its many taxonomies challenges longstanding claims about the culture of inquiry in colonial Brazil, the intellectual life of colonial sugar planters, the dislocations of merchant capitalism, and about the ways in which indigenous (in this case, Tupí) knowledge became part of metropolitan natural history.

 CANCELLED - May 9 - Danielle Giffort,  Sociology - University of Health Sciences & Pharmacy in St. Louis

"The Specter of Timothy Leary in Psychedelic Science"

Psychedelic drugs are making a comeback. In the mid-twentieth century, scientists actively studied the potential of drugs like LSD and psilocybin for treating mental health problems. After a decades-long hiatus, researchers are once again testing how effective these drugs are in relieving symptoms for a wide variety of psychiatric conditions, from depression and obsessive–compulsive disorder to posttraumatic stress disorder and substance addiction. This talk examines how this new generation of researchers and their allies are working to rehabilitate psychedelic drugs and to usher in a new era of psychedelic medicine. As this team of researchers and mental health professionals revive the field of psychedelic science, they are haunted by the past and by one person in particular: psychedelic evangelist Timothy Leary. Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews with people working on scientific psychedelia, this talk will explore how today’s researchers tell stories about Leary as an “impure” scientist and perform his antithesis to address a series of lingering dilemmas that threaten to rupture their budding legitimacy. This talk presents new information about the so-called psychedelic renaissance and highlights the cultural work involved with the reassembly of dormant areas of medical science. 

May 23 - Daniela Bleichmar, Art History and History - University of Southern California

"Indigenous Knowledge and the Limits of Translation: Mexican Native Manuscripts in Early Modern Europe"

This talk discusses the production, circulation, and reception of Mexican indigenous knowledge in early modern Europe. In the decades following the 1521 fall of the Aztec empire, indigenous authors created manuscripts that present native knowledge of the natural world, the divine, medicine, geography, economics, history, and social customs. These documents, often made for export to Europe, combine indigenous and European practices and perspectives. Although many of these works circulated through imperial and scholarly networks, their reception often reached interpretive dead ends. The talk addresses questions of materiality, mobility, and the possibilities and limits of translation and interpretation on both sides of the Atlantic. It follows indigenous manuscripts in movement and stasis, as knowledge inscriptions and as potential sources for knowledge production, to consider the flow and friction of Mesoamerican indigenous objects and practices in the early modern world.