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Biosocial Relations of Production: The Bio-Graphies of Body Parts

The product of a long process of evolution spanning at least two hundred thousand years, humanity now reinvents itself in a new sense and on a fundamentally new scale, deliberately altering its bodily constitution and development partly by exchanging genes, tissues, and organs with both conspecifics and other animals.
When Mar 06, 2008
from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Where Berg Auditorium, 100 Life Sciences Building
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Gísli PálssonGisli Palsson

Professor of Anthropology, University of Iceland

Gísli Pálsson is Professor at the University of Iceland and, formerly, Professor at the University of Oslo. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Manchester, England (1982). Recently he was appointed Associate Fellow at the Centre for Biomedicine & Society at King’s College, London, and Honorary Member of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Currently, he is the representative for Anthropology on the Standing Committee for the Humanities under the European Science Foundation (ESF) and a member of the Executive Board of the European Association for Social Anthropologists (EASA). Gísli has written extensively on a variety of issues and domains, including biomedicine, the new genetics, biobanks, genetic history, arctic exploration, property rights, language, fishing communities, and environmental discourse. Among his current interests are human tissue collections, the politics and aesthetics of wetlands, and the implications of the new genetics for the understanding of human history and variation. He has done anthropological fieldwork in Iceland, the Republic of Cape Verde, and the Canadian Arctic. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of several books, including Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives; The Textual Life of Savants: Ethnography, Iceland, and the Linguistic Turn; Beyond Boundaries: Understanding, Translation and Anthropological Discourse; and Travelling Passions: The Hidden Life of Vilhjalmur Stefansson. His latest book, Anthropology and the New Genetics, has just been published by Cambridge University Press (2007).

Biosocial Relations of Production: The Bio-Graphies of Body Parts

 

The product of a long process of evolution spanning at least two hundred thousand years, humanity now reinvents itself in a new sense and on a fundamentally new scale, deliberately altering its bodily constitution and development partly by exchanging genes, tissues, and organs with both conspecifics and other animals. This turn of events not only suggests revised division of academic labor, across the now suspect nature-society divide, also, I argue, it demands new kinds of concepts, politics, and ethics. I suggest that in order to capture the biosocialities of modern bioindustries and science it may be useful to speak of biosocial relations of production; this should facilitate sensitivity to differences and similarities in hierarchies involving the reproduction and exchange of body parts both between humans and across the species divide. Understanding the biosocial relations involved is essential for meaningful understanding of ongoing developments in the bioindustries and for informed biopolitics, governance, and bioethics.