Programme

(T089)
Bio-subjects
Location 125
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Joanna Latimer (University of York) email
  • Carrie Friese (London School of Economics and Political Science) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Research on 'bio-objects' explores relations generated around scientific entities (e.g. GM organisms, IVF embryos & transgenic animals). Alternatively this panel explores how & when 'bio-subjects' give (their) life through biomedical science to make meanings & social relations with humans.

Long Abstract

Growing scholarship surrounding 'bio-objects' explores the things in biomedical science that live and give life (e.g. Daston 2001; Vermeulen et.al. 2012). This panel alternatively explores 'bio-subjects', particularly how beings that give (their) life in biomedical science make meanings and social relations with humans. Our focus is particularly on questions of care and worldly becoming. Our aim is to break with scientific preoccupations with object-subject divisions to link questions about bio-objects and bio-subjects through literatures on affect and matters of concern as well as models and modelling. Literature on modelling pays attention to how model organisms have been conditioned through the application of genetic (Kohler 1994; Rader 2004) and other kinds of technologies (Rheinberger 2010; Creager 2002) in ways that generate life as an object of knowledge. Less attention has been paid to the ways human-non-human interactions also figure experimental assemblages to condition both model organisms and knowledge of them. This panel asks how caring for bio-subjects makes life as meaningful social relations. We are particularly interested in papers that explore how and when 'living' materials used in experimental systems (humans, other animals, cells, insects, computers) are figured as subjects and when they are not - including how responsibility for them as subjects is disposed of.

SESSIONS: 5/5

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Ontological Subjects: Modelling Biology's World-Making.

Author: Joanna Latimer (University of York)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on a study of the biology of ageing the paper focuses on models & modelling. It excavates how the relations between different kinds of models enact & challenge boundaries between humans & nonhumans to produce ‘worlds’ in common one moment, & division the next.

Long Abstract

The paper articulates an approach that follows the "models" that biologists of ageing talk about, fabricate and circulate as one methodology for getting inside the messy world of post-genomic science. The history and philosophy of science has focused on models as epistemic tools that work at the boundary between the known and the unknown and which help concretize epistemologies in the generation of knowledge (Green 2013, Rheinberger 2015). In contrast I shift from the functionalism of the biosciences, to bring into view their affective dimensions. Tracking bio-objects has been important for analyses of how the life sciences are entangled in and help produce and reproduce complex networks of interest. However, as Metzler & Webster (2011) assert bio-objects also 'disrupt the conventional boundaries and identities of biological forms and categories, such as the boundaries between human and animals or between the natural and artificial, sitting ambiguously in between those entities that we tend to conceptualize as human subjects and as non-human objects instead'. Drawing on a study of the biology of ageing, including interviews, participant observation, and analyses of visual and textual media, I press this ambiguity and focus on how and when models become ontological subjects, both enacting and challenging the boundaries between the human and the animal, nature and culture, as well as between what constitutes a good life and death. Specifically, I explore how the relations between different kinds of models are performative of not just substance but a 'world' in common, and when they reassert human exceptionalism.

iPS cells as 'bio-subjects' : expansion of experimental system beyond laboratories

Author: Wakana Suzuki (Kyoto University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper argues how stem cells as ‘bio-subjects’ create new social relations beyond laboratories. Based on my fieldwork in a stem cell laboratory in Japan, this paper insists that elusiveness and plasticity of iPS cells expand its “experimental system” (Rheinberger 1997) and transform society.

Long Abstract

Based on my fieldwork in a stem cell laboratory in Japan, this paper argues how stem cells as 'bio-subjects' create new social relations beyond laboratories. The laboratory aims to make new treatment for eye diseases by manipulating artificial stem cells, called iPS (induced Pluripotent Stem) cells. They are trying to compensate damaged retina by new tissue made of iPS cells. This paper focuses on the materiality of iPS cells and how the elusiveness of iPS cells makes new relations. iPS cells are not only tools for scientific discovery or technological development, but they are also living beings which require care (Mol et al, 2010) and new social relation. In a dish, iPS cells are very sensitive and easily affected by other cells, physical or chemical factors. This sensitivity and difficulty to culture the cells requires continuous care and attachment of scientists and technicians. Moreover, iPS cells are difficult to be standardized. Various kinds of methods to create iPS cells have been developed and require tacit knowledge to keep good cell conditions. This elusiveness of iPS cells calls for transformation of regulations and institutional settings. For medical and industrial application and to evaluate safety and efficiency of iPS cells, scientists, regulatory agencies and governments need to create regulations very different from those for drugs and medical devices. I argue, then, that iPS cells transform society as well. Inspired by Hans Jorg Rhinberger's notion of "experimental system" (1997), this paper argue how iPS cells expand its experimental system beyond laboratory level.

Witnessing animal and human moments for the betterment of sciences . The case of the Enviropig.

Author: Karolina Rucinska (Cardiff University)  email

Short Abstract

I invite the audience to this research facility - were transgenic pigs were held. Through witnessing animal [and human] moments (Philo and Wilbert, 2000) without judgment I hope to engage in a conversation that (b)leads to better hard and soft sciences, human and non-human lives and attitudes.

Long Abstract

Michael Lynch (1988) and Lynda Birke et al. (2007) are prominent scholars in STS who have turned attention to the making of a laboratory animal. Their focus was particular in the way that they shifted the focus to relations between caretakers, technicians and animals, during and after the making of scientific facts. They have observed that animals emerge in flesh and disappear as inscriptions, "facts" and dead bodies. This leaves the public, ethicists and critical scholars perplexed. Questions such as, How can one care and not at the same time? or What can we learn from laboratory practices arise. In this talk I will tackle these questions based on a short ethnographic visit to a swine research facility in Guelph, Canada. Here the Enviropigs - transgenic animals destined for human consumption and environmental protection - were based. I invite the audience to this research facility with open eyes, ears and minds. Through witnessing animal [and human] moments (Philo and Wilbert, 2000) without judgment I hope to engage in a conversation that (b)leads to better hard and soft sciences, human and non-human lives and attitudes.

The expansion and valuing of foetal measurements in obstetric ultrasound

Authors: Niamh Stephenson (University of New South Wales - Australia)  email
Catherine Mills (Monash University)  email
Kim McLeod  email

Short Abstract

The expansion of obstetric ultrasound foregrounds the complexities of practioners’ roles. They both strive to facilitate “women’s choice” and, as part of research endeavour into foetal development, they are the gateway to the “populations” required to establish the meaning of new measurements.

Long Abstract

The question of bio-subjectivity is particularly fraught when we consider foetal trajectories. Reproductive technologies such as obstetric ultrasound simultaneously play a role in the "engendering" (Boltanski, 2013) of foetuses into personhood, and in prospective parents' decisions to terminate. Currently, the expansion of ultrasound is being fuelled by the introduction of non-invasive prenatal testing. More foetal anatomy is being measured, and at an earlier gestation. Efforts are being made to link these measurements with a longer list of potential pregnancy outcomes - and to solidify the role of ultrasound in antenatal care. Drawing on interviews and observation in and around ultrasound clinics, this paper examines how increased scanning turns more aspects of foetal anatomy into "enumerated entities" (Verran, 2011). The value of these entities appears naturalised not only through the capacity to measure them but through a prior process of being ordered into more or less desirable or manageable pregnancy outcomes. We examine how practioners' valuation practices entail positioning pregnant women in two ways: as members of the population needed to develop useful screening tools whose future benefits can be collectively deemed to outweigh the costs; and as autonomous patients responsible for decisions about foetal futures. Both modes of positioning obscure the extent to which the valuing of foetal measurements is an interpretative act. We consider some direct challenges to this obfuscation, challenges entailed in the ways that the ultrasounds' expansion is being negotiated by and between some professionals.

Three (de-)Subjectifications in Modelling Practice

Author: Rebecca Hardesty (University of California, San Diego)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic observation, I describe how the members of a neuroscience lab collaboratively modulate the figurations of mice and their neurons as subjects as a part of their practices to model the cognitive effects, recognized as depersonalization, associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Long Abstract

I describe how the subjectification of living systems fluctuates as part of the modelling practices of a lab's neurobiological research on Alzheimer's disease (AD). Drawing on ethnographic observations, I show how despite the laboratory's goal to model the depersonalizing aspects of AD, people with AD do not appear as subjects within the context of the lab's everyday practices. Even though the target system of humans with AD does not figure as a subject in this lab, the model organisms (mice) and their neurons, which serve as models of AD, do emerge as subjects through ordinary material and discursive practices. I will report on how the mice appear as subjects only until their "sacrifice", when their bodies are physically and conceptually discarded in order for the practitioners to obtain the parts which can represent the target system. The cells obtained from the mice emerge most fully as subjects through becoming interlocutors with the lab members. I argue that when the lab members intentionally position, and refer to, the neurons as being capable of answering "questions" in "funny" or "mysterious" ways (via experimentation), they are making visible an interiority which is characteristically accorded to subjects. Moreover, the subjectified cell is socialized and it serves a vital role in bringing together, and making relevant, the diverse backgrounds and methods in the lab. However, in order to make inferences between the model and its target, the practitioners dispose of the cells' subjecthood, by abstracting from the cells' "answers" to produce graphical and quantitative representations.

The Moral Economies of Care in Animal Experimentation

Author: Carrie Friese (London School of Economics and Political Science)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how in vivo scientists talk about animal care and animal welfare as a scientific value. It asks how and when scientists define laboratory animals as 'bio-subjects', which is thematised through Lorraine Daston (1995) notion of a moral economy.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how in vivo scientists talk about animal care and animal welfare as a scientific value. It draws upon two interrelated research projects, both of which have been conducted as part of the Wellcome Trust funded New Investigator Award Care as Science. First, a survey was sent to a random sample of biomedical scientists who use animals in their research and are based in the UK. Second, 58 survey respondents agreed to a follow up qualitative interview exploring, amongst other things, how scientists talk about and define animal care, animal welfare and animal husbandry in relationship to science. Using these two data sets, I ask how biomedical researchers in the UK value animal care in defining what kinds of lives are worth an animal living in order for good science to result. In other words, I ask how and when scientists define laboratory animals as 'bio-subjects'. I thematise scientists discourses of care through Lorraine Daston (1995) notion of a moral economy, where shared values, which that are both related to broader social life and yet particular to science, shape knowledge production.

Caring for the Enemy: Rearing and Releasing Manipulated Mosquitoes

Author: Luísa Reis Castro (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)  email

Short Abstract

Manipulating mosquitoes, employing them to control the diseases they transmit, simultaneously transforms them into problem and solution. This paper examines this ambiguous "worldly becoming" through the practices and concerns in caring for mosquitoes and releasing them to betray their own species.

Long Abstract

The mosquito species Aedes aegypti has recently made headlines around the world: the Zika virus it can transmit, by biting an infected person and spreading the virus in subsequent bites, has been (possibly) linked to cases of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Aedes aegypti is also the main vector for dengue and chikungunya. Vaccines and treatments are currently unavailable for these mosquito-borne diseases, and public health policies have historically revolved around eliminating the mosquito, the "enemy species" (Mitchell 2002; Stepan 2011).

New techniques aim to control these diseases by manipulating the Aedes aegypti: scientists infect it with Wolbachia bacteria to hamper its ability to transmit viruses; genetically engineer it to limit reproduction or development; or sterilize it through irradiation. By rearing these manipulated mosquitoes and releasing them to mate with their "wild" counterparts, these techniques intend to employ mosquitoes as "flying public health tools" (Beisel & Boëte, 2013). In these projects, Aedes aegypeti becomes problem and solution, the mosquito, thus, emerges as an ambivalent "bio-subject".

Drawing on fieldwork at a "biofactory" that produces genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil and interviews with scientists who developed these techniques, this paper parses the ambiguous "worldly becoming" between humans, mosquitoes, and viruses. While anthropologists and STS scholars have pointed to "interspecies intimacy" (Kelly & Lezaun 2014) and "entanglements" (Nading 2014) between humans and mosquitoes, this papers focuses on the ambivalence of practices and concerns that surround the laborious and attentive care for mosquitoes so they can be released to betray their own species (Wanderer 2014).

Paying 'non vulnerable' subjects: Constructions of Vulnerability and the Responsibilisation of Risk in Commercial Healthy Volunteer Clinical Trials.

Author: Shadreck Mwale (University of Brighton)  email

Short Abstract

Conceptions of vulnerability in healthy volunteer trials tend to use medical definitions of vulnerability. This paper argues for a broader view of vulnerability to include wider socio economic structures in which clinial trial subjects take part in such studies.

Long Abstract

Debates about healthy volunteers and risk in clinical trials abound, especially in light of high profile clinical trial that have gone wrong such as the 2006 Northwick Park incident (Hedgecoe 2013) and more recently in January 2016 Rennes France (Mwale 2016). Bioethical debates in response to such disasters tend to focus on healthy volunteers as rational and capable actors. Bioethical and socio-economic understandings of individuals as actors draw on medical understandings of vulnerability and rationalism as the guiding principles of human thought and action (Hale 2007). In this context, healthy volunteers, as adults and free of mental and physical impairment, are seen as capable of rational thought, thus able to understand the contracts they sign to take part in clinical trials. Here, information provision is seen as a solution to ethical dilemmas in human involvement in clinical trials. Drawing on a qualitative research on healthy volunteer involvement in clinical trials, this paper interrogates medical conceptions of vulnerability in first in human clinical trials. Extending Butler's (2014) conceptionalisation of vulnerability, I argue that understanding healthy volunteers as life giving subjects needs to take into account the socio-economic and political contexts in which such acts of volunteerism take place. Specifically, the paper interrogates the limits of vulnerability when linked purely to medical definitions, and asks if healthy volunteers in commercial clinical as life giving su/objects, are made to bear more responsibility than they are capable of.

Logic(s) of Care in Clinical Research

Author: Laura Schnieder (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses advantages and pitfalls of situating the experimental subject in pharmaceutical research with reference to a “logic of care”.

Long Abstract

Experimental subjects in clinical pharmaceutical research seem to be constantly meandering between mere (bio-)"thing-ness", as mediators in an experimental system, and various (bio-)subjectivities e.g. the potential consumer, the team member in creating an innovative study design and the informed, responsible patient. At the same time their involvement at every stage of the trial process can be read as an involvement in a vast array of care practices, like investing in a implicit "gift-relationship" with a collective of patients or being cared for by medical staff to an extent that regular health insurance is rather unlikely to pay for.

With reference to a "logic of care" (Mol 2008) the paper discusses the possibility of developing an integrative analytical perspective on the experimental subject that does not play off concepts of subject and object in clinical research against each other. It critically explores advantages and pitfalls of an approach that situates research subjects in an ongoing, reciprocal process of care. Furthermore, the paper underlines that care practices can only be sufficiently analysed if the complex interweaving of a logic of care with logic(s) of global biocapitalism is taken into account.

Cancer tumours as 'bio-subjects': the social relations of clinical samples in the age of genomic medicine

Authors: Anne Kerr (University of Leeds)  email
Tineke Broer (University of Edinburgh)  email
Emily Ross (University of Edinburgh)  email
Sarah Cunningham-Burley (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how & when cancerous tumours might be considered to be ‘bio-subjects’ in the era of genomics and the drive towards precision medicine.

Long Abstract

Cancerous tumours, are ideal candidates for considering the complexities of subjectivity in contemporary bioscience, given that they are a dynamic product of their host's genomes, wider environment, ife strategies, and biomedical interventions, as well as a source of considerable value for research and innovation. Drawing on preliminary sociological research on tumour samples collected and analysed as part of genomic cancer studies and trials, we will look at how fresh, frozen and preserved tumours produce meanings and social relations throughout their 'lives'. Focusing on how biological materials and data from cancer tumours are extracted, generated, shared and stored, and for which purposes and with what effects, we will look at the implications of these processes for caring practices, the distribution of responsibilities in the clinic and beyond and the meanings attached to cancerous tissue. We will end by considering if and how these processes are related to transforming patient and professional relationships and identities and what this means for our understanding of bio-subjectivity in contemporary biomedical science and Science and Technology Studies.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.