Hannah Landecker: Anthropogenic Innards
24 October 2019 | 6pm 8pm
Kensington, Lecture Theatre 1
Much scientific and technological effort was applied in the twentieth century to understanding metabolism, a conceptual domain that encompassed the use of food for energy and building blocks, the processing of oxygen in the service of organismal respiration, and the containment and excretion of biologically hazardous toxicants that reached cells. Metabolism was also a target of engineering and improvement, producing nutrients and chemicals at new scales across many kinds of microbial, plant and animal bodies.
Today we occupy a biochemical landscape that is the legacy of this era: we arrive in the course of this story in a time when Nature is no longer something outside of reason, ready to be assessed by and subjugated to it. Rather, the aftermath of previous forms of scientific and technical reason are written into our cellular processes, with perhaps unexpected effects on the ability to say that bodies live 'in' environments, or even to possess an adequate vocabulary for insides and outsides in anthropogenic biology.
This talk draws on ethnographic and historical work in the biosciences, using examples such as the 'leaky gut' and dysbiologies linked to shift work to think through what is happening to the various membranes, compartments, boundaries, sequences, and other arrangements of space and time that characterise metabolic processes after industrialisation. Working through these examples helps map out a larger picture of the ways in which material relations between social and biological organisation are shifting in the Anthropocene.
Hannah Landecker is Professor and Director of UCLA Institute For Society & Genetics. She uses the tools of history and social science to study contemporary developments in the life sciences, and their historical taproots in the twentieth century. She has taught and researched in the fields of history of science, anthropology and sociology. At UCLA she is cross-appointed between the Institute for Society and Genetics, and the Sociology Department. She is currently working on a book called American Metabolism which looks at transformations to the metabolic sciences wrought by the rise of epigenetics, microbiomics, cell signaling and hormone biology. Landecker’s work focuses on the social and historical study of biotechnology and life science, from 1900 to now. She is interested in the intersections of biology and technology, with a particular focus on cells, and the in vitro conditions of life in research settings.