University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

IAS Thursdays: Hannah Landecker on Biofallibility

Biofallibility Today: Antibiotic Resistance and the Biology of History

Thursday, January 30, 2014, at 4:00 pm
Nolte 125

Critical Science Studies presents Hannah Landecker, UCLA Institute for Society & Genetics.

Download as: audio.


Download as: audio.

exhibition-OB6951-lgAntibiotic resistance is discussed here as a practical problem for medicine, agriculture and society that also raises critical theoretical questions about life and history. These examples demonstrate the crossing point of biopower and industrialization: how technologies of biological control produced and applied at scale have unfolded as new forms of largely unanticipated life.

Organized by the IAS Critical Science Studies Collective (Collaborative).

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine.

This event has been designated by the Office of the Vice President for Research to satisfy the Awareness/Discussion component of the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) continuing education requirement.


Hannah Landecker 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.
Is there a twenty-first century biology specific to twentieth century biopolitics and biopower?  The empirical examples of antibiotic resistant bacteria and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are explored here to show how the twentieth century application of control over life has been generative of large scale and largely unanticipated biological change such as horizontal genetic transfer of virulence and resistance traits, and epigenetic dysregulation in metabolism and reproduction.  It is not that control failed, in fact it is in the very efficacy of antibiotics and synthetic hormones that lies the production of phenomena now at the center of life science, from the microbiome to aberrant gene regulation.  Foucault’s analyses were directed in the main at phenomena of the nineteenth century; this talk asks what happens to biopower in the course of the manufacturing revolution, tracing how contemporary theory and practice in the life sciences is increasingly dedicated to understanding the biological effects of previous waves of the modernization and industrialization of life.  This folding back of science on itself makes legible its historical fallibility, understood as the tendency to err, to make mistakes without awareness that lapses or slips have occurred.  Biofallibility refers specifically to how life science has shifted with the industrial global scale of the technical suppression and augmentation of populations of humans, animals and pathogens. Often this shift takes a form and direction and temporal path not expected, nor perhaps even fathomable within the original logics of control.  Antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption have often been posed as practical problems that implicate the humanities and social sciences, in terms of the ethics of body modification with hormones or the social and economic structuring of antibiotic use.  This talk proposes that these phenomena may also be addressed as critical problems for the human sciences, which are directly relevant to models and modes of thinking about historical time, as well as the relationship between critical theory and scientific theory.
Critical Science Studies Collective

Beyond Science and Technology Studies (STS): A Critical Science Studies Collective
Conveners: Jennifer Alexander, History of Science & Technology and Mechanical Engineering (CSE);Susan Craddock, Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies and Institute for Global Studies (CLA); Jennifer Gunn, History of Medicine (Medical School); Susan Jones, History of Science & Technology and Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior (CSE/CBS); Abigail Neely, Geography, Environment & Society (CLA); Dominique Tobbell, History of Medicine (Medical School)

Related Links

Tagged , , , ,

Related Posts

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *