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.

The dissertations that engage with this project will elucidate the consequences as individuals around the world produce and interact with a wide array of life science knowledge and technologies. Our collaborations will excavate how social life works in relation to the production, circulation, and uptake of new knowledge about life and the constitution of 21st century bodies. We invite students with research interests related to social and humanistic studies of genomics, brain sciences, or other biological endeavors focused on the mapping, enhancement, and/or management of the body broadly conceived. These will draw on a common conceptual focus: a critical analysis of the co-constitution of knowledge, meaning, and identity in the age of biocapital.

We particularly welcome applications from students whose research engages in some way with one or more of these three broad areas of inquiry:

  1. Contemporary intersections of consumption, marketing, technology, and clinical or laboratory practices: in reproductive technologies, DNA testing, race-based marketing, cognitive testing, brain imaging and other domains.
  2. Historical, theoretical, philosophical, cultural, and/or ethical lineages of cognition, genetic disease, brain mapping, the "cognitive revolution" of the 1950s, the emergence of complex technologies of testing, detection and imaging, the rise of biobanking and so on.
  3. Global and/or local markets through which bodies are leveraged as forms of knowledge and of potential (e.g. potential value, potential capacity) including studies of legal regimes, patenting practices, international negotiations around bodies and biology, professional standards and protocols for bioproducts, and collaborations and competitions in industrial networks.

Such projects will contribute to existing disciplinary and interdisciplinary literatures in their own right. We also aim to facilitate projects that make contributions to life sciences communities themselves, in the unfolding public negotiation of questions that have long, complex histories and broad contemporary significance. We welcome students working throughout the social sciences and humanities on projects exploring these vexed intersections to elucidate the practices and significance of science in ethnographic and humanistic terms. Our focus in the workshops will be to lead students in engaging theory and practice, as they turn their queries about the complex worlds of modern biological sciences into dissertations that matter in and beyond their disciplines.


  • Priscilla Bennett

    State University of New York (SUNY) / Binghamton University, Anthropology

    Human-Mosquito Contact: The Tale of a Dead-end Bug.
    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
    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 / Austin, American Studies

    Emotional Calculus: Coding Bodies and Administering Feelings in the Age of Affective Computers
    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
    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
    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 / Bloomington, Anthropology

    Biopower, Citizenship, and Privileged Reproduction: The Politics of Procreation in Turkey
    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
    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
    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.
  • Kit 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
    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
    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
    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
    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.