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.
Program Director: Paul Ramírez
In 1767, the free woman of color Charlotte Dugée absconded from the Paris botanical expedition, for which she was a French state-appointed specimen illustrator, into the forests of Guyane, never to be heard from again. Unlike typical Enlightenment scientific practitioners – overwhelmingly white, male, Europeans – Dugée had been born in the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue, a woman of mixed race and possibly recent manumission. But she had also attained the rare status of brevet, an official designation of expertise, usually granted to scientific practitioners with metropolitan reputations and royal patronage. This talk probes this paradox to center women of mixed race in the story of colonial and Enlightenment science.
In this talk, historian of science and technology Victor Seow will be introducing his new book, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia, which uses the history of East Asia’s onetime largest coal mine—the Fushun colliery—to examine the rise of fossil-fueled developmentalism in the region and, more broadly, the interplay between energy and power in the industrial modern age.
October 24 - Jori Lewis, Author - Co-sponsored with the Program of African Studies
Author Jori Lewis discusses her book Slaves for Peanuts: A Story of Conquest, Liberation, and a Crop That Changed History. The book delves into the environmental history of peanut agriculture, capitalism, and slavery in nineteenth century Senegal. She will also discuss the fine art of writing about complex environmental subjects for a general audience.
February 6 - Santiago Molina, Sociology and Science in Human Culture, Northwestern University
This lecture draws on archival, interview, and ethnographic data on genome editing to explore how the normative limits of new technologies are produced. Genome editing constitutes an exceptional case for analyzing mechanisms of social control in modern science as new normative limits have to be articulated and enforced. Recent instances of deviance and moral unhingement illustrate how technological development in the field is coupled with the blurring of these normative limits. Through an in-depth case study of the controversial first case of the birth of gene-edited babies in 2018, I argue that an opaque system of positive deviance can be found within the genome editing community that contrasts with the responsible and democratic mechanisms of social control that the community presents externally. To make this argument, I look at three sites of social control. First, I trace how the practices of self-governance surrounding genome editing produced a flexible patchwork of normative frameworks. Second, I draw from ethnographic data collected at genome-editing conferences and interviews with scientists linked to the "CRISPR babies" controversy to examine the crisis of legitimacy and the repair mechanisms that followed. Lastly, I draw from observations of ethics and misconduct trainings and of discussions in biomedical laboratories in the San Francisco Bay Area to examine the reproduction of this system of positive deviance.
Illuminating how biomedical capital invests in white and Asian American populations while divesting from Black surplus populations, this talk proposes recent Asian American dystopian fiction provides a case study for analyzing futurities where healthcare infrastructures intensify racial inequality under terms that do not include race at all. Through readings of Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (2014) and other texts, Huang develops the term studious deracination to refer to a narrative strategy defined by an evacuated racial consciousness that is used to ironize assumptions of white universalism and uncritical postracialism. Studious deracination challenges medical discourse’s “colorblind” approach to healthcare and enables a reconsideration of comparative racialization in a moment of accelerating social disintegration and blasted landscapes. Indeed, while precision medicine promises to replace race with genomics, Asian American literature is key to showing how this “postracial” promise depends on framing racial inequality as a symptom, rather than an underlying etiology, of infrastructures of public health.
Set against Mexico’s chronic disease crisis, where type 2 diabetes was declared a national sanitary emergency in 2016, this talk examines the unlikely rise of prediabetes diagnosis as a leading public health prevention strategy and its uptake in clinical care across Mexico City. Extending the modalities of diabetes treatment to those who are not yet sick but rather “at risk” for the disease, prediabetes diagnosis deepens the reach of biomedical surveillance and clinical management of glucose in the bloodstream. And yet, it does so unevenly. Drawing on long-term ethnographic encounters in diverse clinical settings, I show that the contours of the diagnosis and the care of those living with this predisease are deeply entangled with legacies of race and class that divide and disparately valorize Mexican bodies, local institutional political economies, and the vested interests of those promoting the diagnosis across this field. Interested not just in the ontological multiplicity of the “scientific fact” of prediabetes, these narratives also center the real and unequal consequences for the lived experience of “pre-patients” and the health futures they imagine. In doing so, this talk expands on histories of medicine that have examined the rise of pre-disease diagnosis in the United States and Western Europe, foregrounding the violence of extreme inequalities reproduced through clinic-based, biomedical prevention strategies.
April 24 - Daniel Navon, Sociology, Univeristy of California-San Diego
In barely more than a decade, non-invasive prenatal genetic testing (NIPT) has gone from biotech fantasy to a multi-billion-dollar industry available to most pregnant people in the US. This talk explores a series of overlooked social and ethical issues raised by the rapid expansion of NIPT screening. NIPT kits now often screen for a range of less well-understood conditions—like the Trisomy X, XYY, or 22q11.2 deletion syndromes—that are quite common, widely underdiagnosed, and include an untold number of mildly affected people. Many thousands of expectant parents will therefore have to grapple with true positive results that are at once undoubtedly serious and deeply uncertain. I draw on the history of prenatal genetic testing, and modern human genetics more broadly, to develop theoretical parameters for understanding: 1) how the burgeoning NIPT market will unfold; 2) how the deeply personal reproductive choices afforded by NIPT screening may unleash a new “secondary eugenics” with a cascade of complex, socially-patterned effects at the population level; 3) the very specific eugenic and social movement implications for communities and advocacy groups dedicated to genetic disorders.
May 1 - Anthony Ryan Hatch, Science in Society, Wesleyan University
In the mid-19th century, metabolism cages emerged as key experimental infrastructures in biochemistry and animal studies used to capture, control, and isolate the metabolic processes unfolding within a subject’s body. By placing new world animals in a metabolism cage (rodents, dogs, primates, humans, races), precisely controlling their food and water intake, and monitoring and analyzing their biowaste, researchers developed new scientific knowledge about how bodies and environments interact—metabolism cages allowed researchers to open the black box of metabolism. These new metabolic truths formed the basis of new forms of political governance, scientific norms, and cultural practices all of which transform the matter of/in bodies across species. Drawing on theoretical insights from critical race STS and animal studies, this talk explores the design history of metabolism cages as carceral technologies that became part of a broader scheme to establish metabolic dominance over multispecies life. This lecture describes ongoing intellectual and creative collaborations with student researchers and artists in Black Box Labs at Wesleyan University in which we deconstruct black boxes (like metabolism cages) by analyzing the power relationships that shape science and technology.
May 15 - Neil Safier, History, Brown University
How was the language of plantation society ported from the French and English-dominated Caribbean to colonial Brazil in the eighteenth century? What role did agro-industrial treatises play in the perpetuation of systems of enslaved labor as plantation societies shifted from sugar production to a wider array of foodstuffs, beverages, and profit-oriented utilitarian crops? Long understood to be powerful manuals for naturalists and plantation masters alike, these pragmatic instructional texts, focused around questions of climate, natural history, and commodity-driven agriculture, have only recently been understood to have circulated outside the narrow Caribbean world for which they were destined. One iconic protagonist of this translation process was the Franciscan friar José Mariano da Conceição Vellozo (1742-1811), who served as a linguistic conduit for moving natural knowledge from an array of texts produced in colonial cultures around the globe into print – and into Portuguese in particular. This talk examines Vellozo’s multi-volume and multi-faceted Fazendeiro do Brazil (1798-1806) with an eye toward connecting the eighteenth-century natural sciences, the ambitions of expanding plantation-based economies, and the politics of translation across the multilingual geographies of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.
May 22 - Kim Tallbear, Native Studies, University of Alberta
Much of this talk is spoken in the voice of IZ, a character Kim TallBear introduced in the 2016 essay, “Dear Indigenous Studies, It’s Not Me, It’s You: Why I Left and What Needs to Change.” IZ represents the evolving field that began as American Indian or Native American studies in the United States in the later twentieth century. Today, a later disciplinary iteration, Critical Indigenous Studies, represents a coming together of multiple “Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty political movements” around the world, as described by Aileen Moreton-Robinson. The IZ whom TallBear speaks of and from whose collective body she performs this talk, has grown into a twenty-first century expanding discipline. TallBear's object of study and critical polydisciplinamorous engagement is a scientist character who searches for signs of “intelligent” life off-Earth.