T166
Biotechnology, Personal Identity, and Boundaries Across the Globe
Convenor:
Alka Menon (Northwestern University)
Stream:
Tracks
Location:
M215
Start time:
3 September, 2016 at 16:00
Session slots:
1

Short abstract:

This panel traces the effects of biotechnology on personal identity in different contexts. Using the cases of IVF, surrogacy programs, cosmetic surgery and skin care, we demonstrate how biotechnologies help define the body and acceptable bodily practices and interventions across the globe.

Long abstract:

STS scholarship on biotechnological modification of the human body has troubled the boundaries between binaries such as male/female, white/nonwhite, individual/other, natural/artificial, and unitary (that is, whole)/fragmented. STS scholars who study the relation between personal identities and biotechnologies have demonstrated how certain kinds of bodies are selectively invoked to support a given social order, and how bodies are disciplined by biotechnology into fitting social hierarchies. Scholars have remarked on the power of biotechnology to reinforce, police and legitimate typologies of social difference. But experts do not simply act on bodies to discipline them; the effect of biotechnology on ideas about the body may be subtle and unintended. Individuals may also seek out biotechnologies to express aspects of their identities or realize new identities, a fact that companies have used to distinguish themselves in a crowded and sometimes transnational marketplace. This panel traces the role of various biotechnologies, mundane and advanced, in shaping the physical body in multiple national and transnational contexts. Continuing a line of STS research that argues body boundaries are not self-evident, this panel illustrates the effects of biotechnology on personal identity in different state and market contexts. Using the cases of IVF, surrogacy programs, cosmetic surgery, and more, we will trace how biotechnologies play into the politics of defining acceptable bodies and bodily practices across the globe. This panel explores the extent to which individuals tie their identities to their bodies, showing how individuals relate to their bodies under particular political and economic conditions.