Life, (Un)Ltd: A CSW Research Colloquium 2011-15

Principal Investigator: Rachel Lee, Director, CSW, and Professor, Department of English and Gender Studies

The broad aim of the Life (Un)Ltd project is to bring together three groups of stakeholders, those interested in postcolonial and race studies, those doing feminist and queer theory, and those working in science and technology studies and medical humanities to develop a broad-based inquiry into the following questions:

How do biotechnologies both ameliorate and produce new health disparities and augment the production of “expendable populations”? What effects have blood transfusion, tissue engineering, transplantation, IVF/gestational surrogacy, ES cell therapy, population genotyping, and experiments in nutritive milieu—to name just a few developments–had on feminist studies, especially those theorizing the circulation of biomaterials in relation to race and (neo)colonialism? How have non-normatively gendered bodies, poor women’s bodies, as well as gestational body parts served as opportune sites and sources for medical experimentation and the speculative contouring of life unlimited? What methods (historical materialist, psychoanalytic, ethnographically realist, deconstructive, cybernetic/systems theory) lend themselves to this feminist bioscientific critique? To what extent have feminist approaches to reproductive labor and childrearing (the emotional labor of cultivating human life) made connections with bioscientific research, practicalities, and ethics? Finally, how have literature and the arts shaped and reflected upon the biomedical imagination?

Events in 2014-15

November 5, 4 to 6 pm, Royce 314
Deboleena Roy: Germline Ruptures: Methyl Isocyanate Gas and the Transpositions of Life, Death, and Matter in Bhopal

Recent theoretical gestures in new materialism aim to develop insights on matter and materiality by taking into account the agency of bodies, environments, and technologies.  While also tending to questions of materiality, feminist and postcolonial STS emphasize the need to contextualize the situtatedness of these bodies, environments, and technologies.  Keeping in mind the interrelated effects of neoliberalism and globalization, Roy will examine the biological, physical and political properties of the chemical agent methyl isocyanate and  how methyl isocyanate has intra-acted with transnational circuits of reproductive tourism, surrogacy, and sperm trade in Bhopal, India and the way in which standards of genetic and reproductive normativity are being represented and reinscribed.

December 2014 will mark the 30th anniversary of the gas leak tragedy that occurred at the Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide plant in Bhopal. As methyl isocyanate continues to exert its effects on the reproductive biology of women, men, and children in Bhopal, remarkably, there is also a growing market of in vivo human labor developing in Bhopal that depends precisely on the promissory futures made possible by the very same potential for reproductive productivity.  Amidst the boom in reproductive services being offered, fears of genetic and reproductive “damage” to the Bhopali population have emerged and many have called for continued biological monitoring and genetic screening of gas victims and their families. By tracing the breaking down of Bhopali survivors’ reproductive bodies, their genetics and their liquids due to MIC exposure, and simultaneously examining the building up of new fetal bodies through the genetics and liquids provided by Bhopali surrogates, her aim is to explore the compound MIC as a catalyst for transplacental migration of transnational circuits of power and biopolitics and contribute to an interdisciplinary conversation between new materialism, feminist science studies and postcolonial STS.

Deboleena Roy is an associate Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University.  She received her Ph.D. in reproductive neuroendocrinology and molecular biology in 2001 from the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto. In her doctoral work, she examined the effects of estrogen and melatonin on the gene expression and cell signaling mechanisms in gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons of the hypothalamus.  Her areas of interest include feminist science and technology studies, philosophy of science, critical disability studies, postcolonial studies, sexuality studies, neuroscience, molecular and synthetic biology, and reproductive health and justice movements.  Her research and scholarship attempts to make a shift from feminist critiques of science to the creation of feminist practices that can contribute to scientific inquiry in the lab.

Banu Subramaniam: Surrogating the Cradle of the World: On the Onto-Espistemological Illusions of Matter

Banu Subramaniam is an associate professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is co-editor of Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation (Routledge, 2001) and Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005). Trained as a plant evolutionary biologist, she seeks to engage the social and cultural studies of science in the practice of science. Spanning the humanities, social sciences, and the biological sciences, her research is located at the intersections of biology, women’s studies, ethnic studies and postcolonial studies. Her current work focuses on the genealogies of variation in evolutionary biology, the xenophobia and nativism that accompany frameworks on invasive plant species, and the relationship of science and religious nationalism in India.

VIDEO:  http://youtu.be/kd4PnKBdf1U?list=UU0Ww3pXUJLXMZb7NB4DEtRw

February 27, 2015, 12 to 2 pm, Haines 352

Kath Weston: Old Macdonald Had a Database: Lessons from the National Animal Identification System

Many of today’s hotly debated surveillance technologies made their debut in applications with animals.  In the United States, the National Animal Identification System is a state-sponsored Big Data scheme that proposes to render each animal destined for the dinner table capable of being tracked and traced, in whole or in part, throughout its material existence, in the name of protecting public health and facilitating international trade.  The NAIS represents a historical shift away from prevention and inspection of food production facilities, toward an investment in traceback operations that attempt to secure the nation’s food supply by securing the animal body.  Under the scheme, each pig, sheep, and cow receives a “unique individual identifier” sutured to its body using a range of surveillance devices and mapped onto a premises registry.  What is at stake in the struggles over animal citizenship, bio-intimacy, and techno-intimacy that have ensued in the wake of implementation of the NAIS?  This talk is based on one of the case studies in the Professor Weston’s forthcoming book, Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World.

Kath Weston is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. Her current work focuses on political economy, political ecology and environmental issues, historical anthropology, and science studies.  She has also published widely on kinship, gender, and sexuality.  Before coming to the University of Virginia, she taught at Harvard University and Arizona State University.  She has also served as a Visiting Professor at Cambridge University, the University of Tokyo, Brandeis University, Wellesley College, and Olin College. Weston has conducted fieldwork and archival research in North America, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  She is a longtime member of the National Writers Union and the author of multiple books.

Events in 2013-14

October 14th, 3-6pm
Life (Un)Ltd Roundtable and Launch Party
Round table featuring Michelle Murphy, Hannah Landecker, Renee Tajima-Peña, Lisa Onaga, Rachel Lee, Diane Nelson, Lindsay Smith and reception to celebrate the debut of a special issue of The Scholar and Feminist, entitled “Life (Un)Ltd: Feminism, Bioscience, Race.”
Read special issue
Watch video of roundtable commentary by Laura Briggs, Deboleena Roy, and Jackie Orr.

November 5th, 4-6pm 
Life (Un)Ltd Lecture Series:  Beyond Life/Not Life: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Cryopreservation Practices and Ethics
Kim TallBear, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin
Cryopreservation enables storage and preservation of bio-specimens—including those taken from indigenous peoples’ bodies, often within earlier ethical and racial regimes—into times and spaces beyond those inhabited by the (once) living bodies. New bioethical responses are afoot. But when they emerge from non-indigenous institutions and philosophical terrain they cannot fully address indigenous peoples’ interpretations and ethical needs. I propose that indigenous responses to cryopreservation technologies and practices can be more fully understood not simply by recourse to “bioethics,” but also by weaving together the approaches of indigenous thinkers historically with newer thinking in indigenous studies, feminist science studies, critical animal studies, and the new materialisms. This talk weaves into conversation diverse intellectual threads in order to help us understand how the lines between life and not life, materiality and the sacred are not so easily drawn for some indigenous peoples. This implicates how we approach from an indigenous standpoint the ethics of the preservation and new use of old biological samples. More fundamentally, this talk interrogates the underlying concept of “preservation” that emerges from non-indigenous institutions in the form of technological and policy practices. Such practices compartmentalize indigenous history, bodies, and landscapes into a historical before and after that undercuts the very idea of indigenous peoples and landscapes as fully alive today.

In Fall 2013, Kim TallBear will begin a new position as Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin where she is currently serving as a Donald D. Harrington Fellow for 2012-13. She is also currently Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Kim studies how genomics is co-constituted with ideas of race and indigeneity. Her book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, is forthcoming in September 2013 with the University of Minnesota Press. Her more recent research project is entitled: “Constituting Knowledge across Cultures of Expertise and Tradition: Indigenous Bio-scientists.” Kim is interested in the role of Native American scientists in the democratization (and making more multi-cultural) of bio-scientific fields. She is also interested in their potential role in the development of scientific governance within tribes. Most recently, Kim has become interested in the overlap between constructions of “nature” and constructions of “sexuality,” including as they are analyzed within the burgeoning literature on “queer ecologies.” She has published research, policy, review, and opinion articles on a variety of issues related to science, technology, environment, and culture in anthologies and journals including Aboriginal Policy Studies; Current Anthropology; The Journal of Law Medicine, and Ethics; Science; The Wicazo Sa Review, International Journal of Cultural Property; and Indian Country Today. Kim also blogs on science, technology, and indigenous issues at www.kimtallbear.com, and tweets at NDN_DNANotes and STS_NDN. She is enrolled Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and is also descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. In Fall 2013, Kim TallBear will begin a new position as Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin where she is currently serving as a Donald D. Harrington Fellow for 2012-13. She is also currently Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Kim studies how genomics is co-constituted with ideas of race and indigeneity. Her book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, is forthcoming in September 2013 with the University of Minnesota Press. Her more recent research project is entitled: “Constituting Knowledge across Cultures of Expertise and Tradition: Indigenous Bio-scientists.” Kim is interested in the role of Native American scientists in the democratization (and making more multi-cultural) of bio-scientific fields. She is also interested in their potential role in the development of scientific governance within tribes. Most recently, Kim has become interested in the overlap between constructions of “nature” and constructions of “sexuality,” including as they are analyzed within the burgeoning literature on “queer ecologies.” She has published research, policy, review, and opinion articles on a variety of issues related to science, technology, environment, and culture in anthologies and journals including Aboriginal Policy Studies; Current Anthropology; The Journal of Law Medicine, and Ethics; Science; The Wicazo Sa Review, International Journal of Cultural Property; and Indian Country Today. Kim also blogs on science, technology, and indigenous issues at www.kimtallbear.com, and tweets at NDN_DNANotes and STS_NDN. She is enrolled Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and is also descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.

March 5, 2014, 4-6pm
Life (Un)Ltd Lecture: The Gender of the Number, the Gender of the Card: On the (Im)materiality of Governance and Biometric Identity in India.
Lawrence Cohen, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Lawrence Cohen is a Professor in Anthropology and South and Southeast Asian Studies and the co-director of the Medical Anthropology Program. His research in South Asia has included the following: aging, postcoloniality, and rhetorics of family decline; Ayurveda and its contemporary transformations; the popular folklore of Ganesh; and AIDS prevention and the emergence of kothi identities. His award-winning book No Aging in India: Alzheimers, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things, appeared in 1998. He is currently writing a book on homosexuality, politics, and commodity aesthetics, and on renal transplantation, the Indian market in organs, and the relation of the operation to modernity and development more generally.

Events in 2012-13

Oct 24, 2012
Life (Un) Ltd / Estrin Family Speaker Series on Women and Science:  Three Times a Woman: A Gendered Economy of Stem Cell Innovation
Charis Thompson, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, UC Berkeley
Read blog posting
Watch video: Part I Part II

Feb 8, 2012
Genomic Testing Across the Lifespan, Institute for Society and Genetics workshop featuring Hannah Landecker, Stefan Timmerman, and others more info

May 7, 2013
Life (Un) Ltd / Estrin Family Speaker Series on Women and Science: Bitter Melancholy: Feminism, Depression, and Aggression
Elizabeth Wilson, Professor, Women and Gender Studies, Emory University

Events in 2011-2012

May 11, 2012: Symposium on Feminism, Race, and Biopolitics
With the aim of widening the Life (Un)Ltd network of interdisciplinary scholars to include regional, national, and international researchers in the areas of feminist STS, Life (Un)Ltd organized a public symposium on May 11, 2012.
The symposium featured both international and nationally renowned speakers organized into two panels: Assisted, Distributed, Outsourced, Foreclosed: Pregnancy and Reproductive Science in Biotechnical Times and Metabolism, Medical Labor, and Toxic Milieux: Cross-Border Intimacies of Bioscience, Biopolitics, and Care. 
The event was supported in part by UCLA Library, UCLA Office of Faculty Diversity and Development; Deans of the Humanities, Life Sciences, and Social Sciences at UCLA; the Partner University Fund project on 21st Century Cuisine, Nutrition and Genetics in France and the United States; the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics; and the UCLA Department of English.
View videos of presentations (YouTube)