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Normalcy 2014

29 January 2014

Hello All! Please check out Normalcy 2014, to be held at the University of Sheffield, 7th and 8th July 2014.

“Theorising Normalcy and the mundane” with Key speakers Tom Campbell, University of Leeds, Lucy Burke, Manchester Metropolitan University, Nirmala Erevelles, The University of AlabamaRod Michalko, University of Toronto and Tanya Titchkosky, University of Toronto

Hope to see some of you there!



Event coming soon….

29 January 2014

Hello All. Happy 2014. Sorry there has been little communication of late!

We are considering new themes for a colloqium- later this year- how do people feel about Enhancement Technologies and the body???We are especially keen to incldue disability related work in this- but are also keen to involve multiple disciplines- engineeting, biology, STS and anything else! Please share thoughts on this!


Event: Critical Medical Humanities

29 August 2013

Hi PFGS Members,

There will be an event at Durham University on the 4th and 5th of November, 2013. It marks the conclusion of Durham University’s Centre for Medical Humanities’ Wellcome Trust Strategic Award. The organizers promise an intense, future-oriented and interdisciplinary symposium, and would love to see members of the PFGS there. Of particular note is an address from one of our Colloquium keynotes, Prof. Bronwyn Parry.

For more details see below.

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Call for Participants: Critical Medical Humanities, 4 – 5 November 2013, Durham University
Organisers:  Felicity Callard, Will Viney, Angela Woods (Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University)

To mark the conclusion of Durham University’s Centre for Medical Humanities’ Wellcome Trust Strategic Award, we are hosting an intense, future-orientated and interdisciplinary symposium.

We invite 50 applicants to join us at Durham University for a special, two-day event, ‘Critical Medical Humanities’, a forum dedicated to new and emerging areas of interdisciplinary research. As well as offering an opportunity to meet with scholars working across the humanities and social sciences, the meeting will interrogate and reinvigorate concepts, practices, and institutions that shape our understandings of health, illness and embodied experience. Organised around five ‘critical’ areas, plenary sessions will open into working groups with opportunities to debate points of contention or agreement, and to discuss participants’ current and future projects.

Critical Neuroscience Jan Slaby (Junior Professor in Philosophy of Mind and Emotion, Free University Berlin), Biocapital: A Template for a Critical Theory of the Neurosciences. With neuroscience playing an increasingly prominent role in a wide range of contemporary research, Slaby’s session on the political philosophy of mind will highlight the ways that neuroscientific findings connect wider, socioeconomic phenomena.

Critical Gender and Race Studies Mel Y. Chen (Associate Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at U.C. Berkeley), Toxic Zones. This session will consider the ambivalent relations, markedly political and otherwise, that assemble around toxic sites, and will explore the peculiar way that toxicity focalises proximities and convergences between certain humans and certain nonhuman arrangements of matter, in orders of race, sexuality, ability, class. Chen will also address disability theory’s ambivalent positions ‘against health’ while highlighting the racial imbrications of such a position.

Critical Public Health Lynne Friedli (Centre for Welfare Reform), Whistle as you Work for Nothing: Positive Affect as Coercive Strategy and the Case of ‘Workfare’. Joblessness and wellbeing are thought to be natural foes but what priorities are being set by government? Friedli’s work on social justice has suggested that some mental health programmes provide a means to monitor and control behaviour. Taking lessons from ‘workfare’, this session will explore the wider effects of contemporary public policy.

Critical Fertility Bronwyn Parry (Professor in Social Science, Health & Medicine, Kings College London), title tbc. Parry’s work explores how biomedicine is changing how, where and with whom we reproduce. This session will examine how human-environment relations are being re-cast by technological, economic and regulatory change.

Critical Collaborations Andrew Goffey (Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts, University of Nottingham), ‘Immune from Criticism: A Case Study in the Ecology of Practices’. Goffey’s session will examine the relations between science and culture tacit in a range of studies that have considered the central importance of immunology to modern Western thinking about health and illness. It will develop an “ecology of practices” (Stengers) approach to the challenges of the medical humanities. 

Places for this event are limited. We particularly encourage early career researchers to participate, and will offer a number of early career researchers the opportunity to be first respondent and/or chair for sessions relevant to their area of research. There is no registration fee and all refreshments will be provided, including a delegates’ dinner.[1]

Applications are open and will remain so until all 50 places are taken. If you would like to be involved, please complete the form on the CMH website:

Further questions about this event should be directed to Catherine Syson: mail.cmh [at]

[1] We are unable to cover transport or accommodation. Durham University is accessible by train (Durham station) and by plane (Newcastle Airport). There are a variety of accommodation options in Durham.

PFGS Colloquium revisited

13 August 2013

Hello all. It’s now been a month or so since the University of Leeds hosted the Postgraduate Forum for Genetics and Society 2013 Colloquium. Those of you who did make it to the event will find in this post a couple of announcements aimed at ensuring the PFGS remains an ongoing community of people interested in common themes. For those who couldn’t make it, you’ll find a selective run down of some of the papers and key themes that emerged over the two days. Due to the breadth and depth of the topics involved, we’ve had to limit our selection to an overview, but all the papers were fantastically prepared, eloquently delivered, and showed excellent promise for the PhD projects that will emerge from them.


Jackie Leach Scully set the opening tone with her paper on scientific responsibility in an age when genomics might be shifting from a preventative mode – in which potential medical problems are identified prior to birth – to a proactive mode, in which much can be done subsequent to birth. Her talk revealed just how little research has been done to date to uncover the experiences of those who live with disability, and several of us found this particularly striking. In her view, researchers have routinely failed to capture the daily lives of those we spend so much time discussing. This seems a provocative challenge, and could well make an excellent topic on one of the new PFGS message boards, which as of last week are live and ready to receive your communications! These are an entirely friendly place for you to discuss research questions, debate hot topics, gripe about PG life, in fact anything at all you think the PFGS community might take an interest in (we’ve already set up a science fiction page for instance!).


One of our first PG speakers, Rob Meckin, discussed the incentives for turning to synthetic biology for the production of many valuable chemicals (in this instance artemisinin). The production of such is already undertaken in extant contexts, contexts which are typically less centrally structured and ensure employment for a larger number of people. There is a well recognised and uncomfortable overlap between the seemingly scientific way of doing things, and the one that guarantees an increased rate of return to the companies involved, regardless of the damage this might do to local economies. Over time, what the synthetic production of artemisinin was said to achieve actually changed significantly, allowing scientists and entrepreneurs to define success and failure (and future expected successes and failures) on their own terms. A rather different industry and different set of futures were implicated in Lucy van de Wiel’s paper on oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing to you and me). Here, the big money potential for expanding the fertility industry lurked in the background, as we focussed instead on the much more personal stories of those women who pursue this treatment and what this decision entails. One central character was the subject of a 2010 Dutch documentary ‘Eggs for Later’, Marieke Schellart as she determines to freeze her eggs, out of hope for a future relationship and against the ‘ticking-clock’ of her looming infertility. Her hope for a future relationship left the characteristics of the male partner implicit, unlike those in Sophie Zadeh’s paper, which focused on the qualities sought by the women in sperm donations. Sophie’s paper began with an historical overview of the origins of artificial insemination, which can be traced back to the early C20th. Many of us are of course familiar with the eugenics movement and the emphasis placed upon the selection of decent breeding partners. What came as a particular surprise however, was that many eugenicists were also strong supporters of artificial insemination in single women, provided of course the donor’s involved were providing seriously good samples.


This in turn became the central focus of our second keynote paper, delivered by Bronwyn Parry. Prof. Parry asked us to think about the contributions made by sperm donors on the west coast of America, and surrogate mother’s in India, in terms of their clinical labor. There is a significant difference between the ways in which both groups are perceived in their different countries, the men donating to California Cryobank being held as the altruistic elite while the women in India are offered virtually no statutory protection in what is most definitely a buyers market. At the same time however, Prof. Parry asked us to look beyond the traditional stories of exploitation that are all too easily associated with the latter. The motivations that lead women into surrogacy in India are numerous, and provided proper controls can be introduced, greater parity between the reified clinical labor of elite sperm donors and the inadequately recognised efforts of surrogate mothers might be reached.


After an incredibly well catered bit of dining from Nat Tallents, everyone went to bed very early so as to be refreshed for the next day’s papers and absolutely nobody jogged about looking for a pub that was actually open. In the opening panel of day two, Charlotte Flint showed us some arresting images of people who had been electronically tagged, but then chose to make their ankle bracelets into fashion items. Some designers even set about producing a series of mini ankle-bags deliberately drawing upon this new celebrity bad-girl culture (and it was most certainly a female phenomenon, though it would be interesting to know to what extent men have attempted to appropriate the meaning of their own state enforced jewelry). Mexican genomics and biobanking was the theme of the second panel, with rich discussion arising between the different approaches taken by the three papers towards issues of public trust, the Mexican genomic bioeconomy and the role of the law. Arley Cruz Santiago then took us through some of the more horrific aspects of Mexican forensics, but also some of the hope that might be returning to families of lost relatives through ‘citizen led’ biobanks, an initiative that she is herself helping to pioneer. The last paper we shall mention in this brief report is that of Ros Williams. Her paper focused on the ways in which the UK collection of umbilical cord stem cells can be bureaucratized and informed by political, racial and economic ideologies. Her analysis of the images used in umbilical cord blood banking advertisement led her to a framing of her work which included Henrietta Lacks, unknowing source of the first “immortal” cultured cell line, now know as the HeLa. Considering the recent news about the agreement reached by the Lacks family and the National Institutes of Health, and its repercussions for descendants of donors, this, we feel is an ambiguously positive note to end on.

Thanks again to all of you who contributed to the colloquium, either by giving a paper or by sharing your work in conversation. Special thanks go to our keynote speakers, many of whom traveled large distances in hectic schedules to be with us in Leeds. We we hope to see many of you again at our future events (so keep an eye out for announcements!). PFGS Committee signing out!

PFGS Colloquium 2013

8 July 2013

Many thanks to all those who took part in the excellent Colloquium at the end of June in Leeds. It was a fascinating couple of days with a wide range of papers and superb keynotes. We’ll be following up with a Colloquium Report and the launch of the Forum boards: stay tuned.

PFGS Committee (both outgoing and incoming)

Symposium Review: Dimensions of Value and Values in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

30 May 2013


Ros Williams recently attended the Dimensions of Value and Values in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies Symposium, held  on the 17th and 18th of April in Edinburgh. She reviews the event and its key themes for the PFGS below. Ros is a doctoral researcher in Sociology at the University of York and her research focuses on the social, political and economic dimensions of the biotechnology industries with an emphasis on umbilical cord blood banking.


The ‘Dimensions of Value and Values in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies’ Symposium, held by Innogen at the University of Edinburgh was a two-day event with a diverse range of talks from academic working with the issue of value(s) in the wide arena of science and technology studies. During the second day, postgraduate students took the helm to discuss the intersections of value(s) in our own research. [Editor’s note: full programme available here]

Day one saw a range of plenaries on research into specific sectors; metrics for analysis of life sciences; and the dynamics and dimensions of value. Professor Donald MacKenzie introduced us to the world of High Frequency Trading (HFT) in financial markets and the array of practices undertaken by stock traders. Interview data were illustrative of the complexity of values at work in the HFT arena. Along with more responsible trading, Mackenzie discussed the practice algo-sniffing (detecting the footprint of an algorithm used by an institutional investor then buying/selling ahead to make a profit). Here, then, there are questions not only about profit accumulation but of the moral terrain of HFT practices.

 Nik Brown‘s talk on contradictions in values gave us an incite into the tensions inherent in any discussion of values. In many ways his talk fed into one of the broader themes emerging from the event. That is, how are we talk about value and values? Are they two separate things? Is the singular noun an allusion to specifically economic value, a Marxian exchange value? In opposition – if indeed the terms of value and values can be opposed – is the collective “values” the signifier of the non-economic, the moral or ethical tensions of something? Brown’s amusing video of C’Elle menstrual stem cell banking illustrates the difficulty of understanding often contradictory value(s). How is something at once waste now recognised as a use value? Indeed, in the case of stem cells, can we always recognise use value? As Brown notes, a use value cannot be deferred, and yet some biobanked stem cells are sequestered because they might have use with the advent of new grafting and typing technologies.

The second day of the symposium gave the postgraduate participants an opportunity to parse their own research through the lens of value(s). The valuation and evaluation processes at play in our various areas of investigation were diverse, though we were all able to recognise them in one form or another. With the assistance of academics from institutions as far away as Canada and Sweden, we attempted to locate practices of value-making in our own research, hitting upon epistemological issues always best unpicked by a group of minds rather than one.

This invitation to reflexivity was all the more fascinating because of the breadth of research being undertaken and the number of people doing so. Students based at universities as far as London made the journey up to Edinburgh to participate. It is, of course, always invaluable to meet other postgraduates working in the STS field. This is particularly true for discussing overarching conceptions like “value” that, whilst seemingly nebulous, are the avenue to recognising hidden links between apparently disparate areas of research. Sperm donation, the film industry, disabled body subjectivity, plant biodiversity – all of these topics being investigated by postgraduates at then event deal with value(s) and processes of (e)valuation.