DPDF Student Fellowship Competition > DPDF Student Fellowship Competition 2014

Making the Biotech Body: Technologies, Knowledge, and Global Markets

Open only to doctoral students based at universities within the U.S.

Workshop dates:
Spring- June 4-8, 2014 in Berkeley, California
Fall- September 17-21, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia

This field brings a critical approach to emergent forms of biological identity and their intimate and commercial meanings. Since 1960, a new world of capitalized and commercialized biology has reconfigured understandings and experiences of embodiment. Brain mapping is seen as a guide to criminal behavior, social relations and economic systems; direct-to-consumer genetic testing seems to validate racial categories; massive biobanks control DNA data for private use; and race-based diagnostics and pharmaceuticals reanimate old ideas about human biological variation. These endeavors are the focus of intense marketing. Here we see how biological sciences facilitate an understanding of the human body as a resource to be capitalized, mapped, invaded, miniaturized, disaggregated and reworked as product. Biotechnology ventures make up a multi-billion dollar sector of the global economy and both biological materials and knowledge, to a degree heretofore unseen, are routinely understood as commercial resources. This has consequences for scientists, consumers, patients, policy makers, and broader publics. These phenomena make up a complex social field demanding theoretically and methodologically innovative attention.

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Field Directors

Karen-Sue Taussig
Associate Professor, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Anthropology [ bio ]
Karen-Sue Taussig is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Interim Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research interests include medical anthropology, genomics, eugenics, anthropology of science, biotechnology, and the biopolitics of genetic testing, new reproductive technologies, cloning, and stem cell research. She has published numerous journal articles on these topics, as well as the book, Ordinary Genomes: Science, Citizenship, and Genetic Identities (Duke University 2009). She has received funding from sources including the Wenner-Gren Foundation, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health (NIH), and has been a residential fellow at the University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study. She was also a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and previously taught in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Taussig received her PhD in Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.
Susan Lindee
Janice and Julian Bers Professor of History and Sociology of Sci, University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science [ bio ]
M. Susan Lindee is Janice and Julian Bers Professor of History and Sociology of Science and Associate Dean for the Social Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. She teaches the history of genetics, science and gender, and science and war. Her books include Moments of Truth in Genetic Medicine (John Hopkins University 2005), and The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon with Dorothy Nelkin (University of Michigan 2004). She also co-edited Genetic Nature/Culture: Anthropology and Science Beyond the Two Culture Divide (University of California 2003) and "The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations: World Histories, National Styles, and International Networks," a special issue of Current Anthropology (April 2012). Lindee has received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Burroughs Wellcome 40th Anniversary Award, and funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation and Wenner-Gren Foundation. Her PhD is in History and Philosophy of Science from Cornell University.


Priscilla Bennett
State University of New York at Binghamton, Anthropology
Human-Mosquito Contact: The Tale of a Dead-end Bug.
[ project summary ]
Outbreaks of dengue fever in the Florida Keys from 2009-2010 have led mosquito control officials to request approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes to reduce the transmission of dengue fever from mosquitoes to humans. Transgenic animals are increasingly being developed to improve human health. Engaging in an ethnographic study of contact zones—the subject-shaping encounters where humans, animals and viruses meet—this project will apply a multispecies approach to an analysis of biopower as a novel genetically engineered organism becomes a strategy for disease prevention. New entanglements between species are created within the context of corporate technoscience, opening a space for investigation of the changing politics of life.
Kerri Brown
Southern Methodist University, Anthropology
Old Bodies and New Bodies: Medicinal Plants, Pharmaceuticals, and the Imagining of the Biotech Body
[ project summary ]
Brazil's vast biodiversity has long been useful to its population for medicinal and/or religious purposes. These uses have been in accordance with various cultural conceptions of the body, but recent policies, programs, and research have worked to redefine what it means for medicinal plants to be considered effective. The World Health Organization, the Brazilian government, and pharmaceutical companies have all played a role in defining which medicinal plants are effective and have outlined how medicinal plants can be used "safely" and "rationally". In what ways does this reconceptualization of medicinal plants promote the idea of a marketable, biotech body? My dissertation research will explore the ways in which various communities in Brazil view how medicinal plants heal the body, and how those ideas are changing amidst a climate of regulation, capitalism, and nationalization.
Andrew Gansky
University of Texas at Austin, American Studies
Emotional Calculus: Coding Bodies and Administering Feelings in the Age of Affective Computers
[ project summary ]
This dissertation investigates affective computing, a field engaged in producing computers that can perceive and manage human emotions. My research employs ethnographic studies of affective computing researchers, marketers, and users, contextualized within the historical emergence of emotion as a terrain of professional social management, especially the history of emotional technologies in psychology and medicine. I consider how the main fields for which affective computers are developed—healthcare, security, education, and business—define their particular needs for emotional monitoring, and I analyze how varying subjects experience emotionally responsive machines. Key research questions focus on how these technologies use bodily mapping techniques to code human emotion and program computer perception, and examine the normative dimensions of the resulting archives of human bodies and feelings. I further consider how affective computers transform or displace human emotional labor, and how they shape the exercise of emotional agency.
Matthew John Hoffarth
University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science
Embodied Cognition: The Science and Politics of Risk, Race, and Identity in North American and Australian Cold War Testing Regimes
[ project summary ]
This dissertation is an historical investigation into the social, cultural, and intellectual foundations of the 'cognitive revolution' and the creation and maintenance of the concept of the 'cognitive self' that has flourished since the mid-1950s. In particular, this dissertation explores how the culture of psychological testing that emerged in the United States, Australia, and Canada in the first three decades of the 20th century prefigured the social, political, and ethical dimensions of the early Cold War. This research explores how and why the ideal of the flexible, self-regulating individual emerged in the 1950s and 1960s at the same time as the nascent cognitive sciences were positing inflexible, invariable rules that governed mental life.
April Hovav
University of Southern California, Sociology
The Global Politics of Assisted Reproduction: The convergance of local bodies and global markets and technologies in the Mexican surrogacy industry
[ project summary ]
A multi-billion dollar global surrogacy industry has emerged as the result of innovations in biotechnologies as well as complex regulatory regimes around the use of assisted reproductive technologies and the commodification of reproductive labor. Despite the increasing popularity of multiple destinations for transnational surrogacy, research remains focused on India. Scholars have primarily studied surrogacy as a form of intimate, gendered labor but few have looked at the processes through which women's bodies are leveraged as potential capital on a global scale (Pande 2010; Vora 2013). Using an approach informed by studies of reproductive politics, medical sociology, and science and technologies studies, I investigate how biomedicine and global capital, through the surrogacy industry, intervene on Mexican women's bodies and inform their subjectivities. Mexico is an exemplary case study in how a particular region emerges as a global destination for biomedical tourism and its impact on local reproductive politics.
Safak Kilictepe
Indiana University, Anthropology
Biopower, Citizenship, and Privileged Reproduction: The Politics of Procreation in Turkey
[ project summary ]
Turkey is a pronatalist country, and is one of the world's most rapidly growing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) markets. The current government in Turkey provides IVF funding for married women, who are between the ages of 23 and 39, for a maximum of two attempts. The government does not support any IVF attempts of individuals who do not fit into this age group, who are homosexuals, unmarried, or single. Because in many cases IVF requires more than two interventions, those who do not conceive end up leaving the clinics empty-handed and hopeless as they cannot afford further treatment. Thus, a "stratified reproduction" emerges as the result of the state laws regulating accessibility to ARTs. By employing concepts of biopower and biopolitics, this research seeks to investigate how and through which ways the criteria of eligibility for using/accessing ARTs, shapes the experiences and subjectivities of women experiencing infertility and especially women seeking IVF. I aim to understand the politics of desirable and undesirable state subjects, i.e. citizens, in Turkey, and the effects of these politics on women's everyday lives.
Tess Lanzarotta
Yale University, History of Science and Medicine
The Making of a Biomedical Community: Scientists, Alaska Native Peoples and Historical Memory, 1931-2014
[ project summary ]
My project traces the history of biomedicine in Alaska from 1931 to the present day. It focuses on the role of biomedical research in shaping local economies and livelihoods in Native Alaskan communities and demonstrates the ways a historical study of biomedicine as an economic activity complicates the categories of researcher and subject. In my work, I bring together histories of labor, community, and identity and explore the relationships, evolving over decades, that these concepts have had to emerging biomedical sciences. In doing so, I explore how historical encounters have set the terms for contemporary debates over biomedicine and global biotechnology markets. By viewing biomedical research and the consistent presence of researchers as a fundamental characteristic of Alaska Native communities, rather than solely as an invading force, my work also demonstrates how biomedicine itself has contributed to the construction of indigeneity as an identity category.
Alka Menon
Northwestern University, Sociology
Ethnic Cosmetic Surgery and the Biotech Body in Multiethnic Societies
[ project summary ]
Ethnic cosmetic surgery, an elective practice that changes patients' appearance through modification of racial markers, can be understood as technological manipulation of one's physical appearance to conform to specific ethnic norms. Few scholars have examined the tailoring of surgical interventions to social identities within multicultural societies or compared the meanings of these interventions across societies. My research seeks to understand the varying impact of this practice on raced bodies and notions of race and ethnicity, taking an intersectional approach that also incorporates gender, sexuality, and class. Using participant observation in a cosmetic surgery clinic in the U.S. and interviews conducted with surgeons and patients in the U.S. and either Singapore or Malaysia, my study will examine how surgeons and patients relate specific bodily configurations to group identities. The comparison between the two countries highlights the variable effects of markets and healthcare systems in the modern constitution of the body.
Caitlin E. C. Myers
University of Southern California, Sociology
What To Do When You’re Expecting to Expect: Elective Egg Freezing and Anticipatory Regimes of Imagined Reproductive Futures
[ project summary ]
Egg freezing was pioneered in the 1980s to preserve the possibility of genetic offspring for unmarried women undergoing fertility-threatening treatments. Since the early 2000s, however, a small but growing number of healthy women have elected to freeze their eggs to postpone childbearing. While rates of elective egg-freezing have increased rapidly, clinics in the US report exceedingly low rates of frozen egg utilization. Given the demographic profile of participating women, it is likely that the majority of these eggs will never be used. Why aren't women using their eggs? What explains the gap between the desire to preserve the possibility of childbearing and actually pursuing pregnancy with frozen eggs? What benefits does this technology produce, if not fertility? Using mixed methods, my project investigates the ways in which fertility "preservation" technologies contribute to a reworking of the life course trajectory of women's imagined reproductive futures and the proliferation of gamete markets.
Felix Rietmann
Princeton University, History
Opening the Black Box of “Neurodidactics”: The Mind of the Child between Neuroscience, Pedagogy, and Biomedicine
[ project summary ]
My dissertation will use the rise of "neurodidactics" in and beyond Germany as a lens for exploring the role of neuroscientific investigation in children in contemporary biopolitics. "Neurodidactics" is a recent, highly mediatized, and diverse field of research that seeks to inform pedagogy by neuroscientific insights. Located at the intersection of science, education, and medicine, it offers an exciting opportunity for investigating multi-disciplinary scientific networks, local and global funding structures, and biomedical politics. It also allows us to situate recent neuroscience in a larger historical trajectory of concepts about the infantile mind and medico-pedagogical attempts at controlling and influencing that mind. My dissertation will approach the biopolitics of "neurodidactics" from both perspectives: the immediate setting of biomedical networks and the longue durée of cultural history. By combining ethnographical and historical study, I hope to gain a better understanding of extent and limit of neuroscientific constructions of children's biomedical identities.
J. Maxwell Rogoski
University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science
Brawn and Beauty: The Scientific Search for Fit Bodies and Smooth Skin in the U.S. and Germany, 1890-1960s
[ project summary ]
In the wake of a popular 1925 film, American newspapers reported with amusement on a growing sun-bathing craze in Germany as men and women flung themselves "into a quest for greater strength and beauty" that involved clothing reform, physical culture exercises, and regimes of skin care. This was nothing new. Since the decades before the turn of the century, people and techniques related to bodily management and aesthetic improvement circulated across the Atlantic. Physicians, scientists, and physical culturists developed systems of movement, technological devices, and commercial products that sought to mold flesh and muscle to meet the demands of a modern way of life, industrial labor, and rigors of combat. My work follows these transatlantic points of contact into the 1960s to explore the formative roots and post-war practices of biotechnologies of beauty. I pay particular attention to the interplay between surface and depth and how scientific knowledge forged or disrupted connections between legible and racialized body surfaces and internal moral qualities or hidden tissues. I also explore how physicians and lay reformers engaged in consumerist politics whereby they built commercial enterprises on the sale of remedies for over-civilization.
Kimiko H. Tanita
Florida International University, Anthropology
Commodified Bodies and Embodied Consumerism: Cosmetic Surgery Tourism, Asian Eyes, and the Allure of Cosmopolitan Whiteness
[ project summary ]
Blepharoplasty, or "double-eyelid" surgery is one of the largest growth industries in South Korea, with a 90% Chinese medical tourist clientele (as well as those traveling from Japan and elsewhere in East and South East Asia). Despite its considerable risks: suture cysts, internal scarring, blurred vision, infection, bleeding, and blindness, the rates of this number one most popular surgery amongst Asians around the world continues to increase every year. Through a feminist, medical anthropological, and postcolonial approach, this project investigates the burgeoning and lucrative world of medical tourism as it intersects with biotechnology, the global political market economy, standardized notions of beauty and conceptions of "the body." Thus, I analyze the transnational reconfiguration of practices of modernity, fetishism, and consumption, as well as the nuanced and complicated ways in which "the body" becomes commodified vis-à-vis embodied consumer practices of elective racialized plastic surgeries within the globalized capitalist market.