“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!
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!
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.
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.
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: http://medicalhumanities.wordpress.com/
Further questions about this event should be directed to Catherine Syson: mail.cmh [at] durham.ac.uk
 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.
Continuing with our series of informal interviews with alumni of the PFGS, this post contains a chat with Jamie Lewis. Jamie has been based a Cardiff for many years, and it was there he became involved in the organisation of the 9th Colloquium, with Andy Bartlett. We asked him a few questions about his role in the PFGS, and what he has gone on to do since. We think it is both interesting and useful for PhD students to see the paths taken by early career researchers and we hope you’ll take inspiration from Jamie’s thoughts on life in this field. He also gives some great film recommendations at the end, in more than his capacity as sciSCREEN convenor! You can follow sciSCREEN here @sciSCREEN and Jamie here @JLew1979
1) Tell us a bit about what you do now, and how that relates (or not!) to your involvement in the PFGS. How did you first get involved with the PFGS? What’s the best PFGS memory you have?
I guess my most significant involvement in the PFGS was to jointly organise the 9th annual colloquium at Cardiff in conjunction with Andy Bartlett. This was a rather large and well-attended event that included students from Europe and the US. A report of the event was written for the online journal – Genomics, Society and Policy (GSP). I also organised more local events for the Wales and South West PFGS network and presented on a plenary panel as the PFGS representative at the Royal Society. I actually got involved with the PFGS as a consequence of attending a conference whilst in my 2nd year of my PhD. I conducted my PhD at ESRC Cesagen and currently still have desk space there but I am actually approaching 4 years through a 5-year Research Associate post at the MRC funded Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics in the School of Medicine at Cardiff University examining the Public Understanding and Public Engagement of psychiatric genetics.
2) What were some of the activities you engaged in while part of the PFGS? Tell us about what you think of the idea of mentorship – formal or informal- in postgraduate academia? Does it work? Have you done it?
I haven’t been involved in any mentorship schemes and to tell the truth, I don’t know anything about it but would like to hear more and it sounds interesting. What I can say is that one of the aspects of the PFGS which attracted me was that it sounded like a great support network. Whilst doing my PhD was involved in something at Cardiff called the PostGrad Café and both organisations had similar attributes and endeavours. Essentially they are set up to share ideas, meet people doing similar work to you and going through similar experiences to you, to have the opportunity to present amongst peers in a supportive environment, to make friends and to broaden your networks. If the mentorship scheme builds on and enhances those endeavours then it sounds great.
3) How do you think things in the ‘genetics and society’ research field have changed since you got involved? What is interesting or disappointing about the turns it has taken, and is there anything you’d like to see more attention paid to?
I work in the area of STS and PUS but my heart lies in Sociology. In fact, I tend to call myself a sociologist of science. What I do find disappointing, is when reading some of the papers in the top STS journal I do wonder where the sociology is anymore. Granted STS is an eclectic field but I’d like to think sociology is a significant section of that field. I would also like more attention to be paid towards bioinformatics as an area for STS researchers to study. Bioinformatics is a discipline that appears to be epistemically central to pot-genomic science but is often positioned on the peripheries of academia, why is that? Finally, I would like more qualitative research in the PUS of science and not such an over-dependence in large-scale surveys which I am not sure tells us much about science at all since it is such a diverse and eclectic set of specialisms. The public understanding of theoretical physics is worlds apart from the public understanding of psychiatric genetics.
4) Would you say the PFGS helped in clarifying your research while you were a postgraduate? Establishing a career in the field? Or even just surviving your PhD?(eg, presenting work in progress, getting familiar with online platforms, establishing an online presence, making contacts)
The PFGS was genuinely a welcome distraction. I think I can say with some certainty I would still not have completed my PhD without the PFGS. Doing a PhD has its ups and downs and sometimes it can feel like you haven’t achieved anything that day, that week, even that month. Organising events that were related to the content of my PhD gave me that sense of accomplishment that I needed. It made me feel part of something, it helped my confidence, it embedded me in a field but most of all I enjoyed it. Although, of course, it eats into the time you have to write a thesis, it undoubtedly helped me be more productive with the time I had.
5) Tell us about your work in Public Engagement, working with schools, bringing contemporary science debates (e.g. the ADHD work) to teenagers. What have been some of the challenges/ rewards with this? Have you written about any of it – in what ways (e.g. engaging with government or policy makers)? Is this important? How? What do you make of the reframing of engagement as ‘impact’ or ‘knowledge exchange’?
Wow some big questions here. I have been involved in a number of engagement ventures, helping to create a 2 hour contemporary science debate with Techniquest for A-level students, co-founding and co-organising Cardiff sciSCREEN (cardiffsciscreen.blogspot.com) – a cross-disciplinary programme that promotes the engagement of publics with science and the academy, and working with a range of artists including Julia Thomas (see for example: http://www.genomicsnetwork.ac.uk/media/Translation%20Report_1.0.pdf .). I am actually in the midst of organising another public engagement arts exhibition called ‘How the Light Gets In?’ at BayArt Gallery, Cardiff Bay from July 1st to July 6th exploring past, present and future developments in psychiatry and psychiatric genetics. My approach to engagement has been to take a multi-disciplinary approach, this is extremely rewarding but challenging at the same time. Crossing boundaries is always a step into the unknown and the time spent aligning disparate ideas, ways of working, and ways of speaking can be exhausting but if you are willing to spend the time ploughing through it, it really can broaden your horizon. I very much see engagement as a process though and not an event – to this end I do see some connection between engagement as routemaps or pathways (note the plurality of the term) to impact but of course there needs to be much more conversation, even research, discussing and exploring what impacts means, how you can assess it, over what period of time, and whether quantity should outweigh quality. Personally, I would like engagement to have the same the relationship with research as teaching does.
6) How have your research interests grown or change direction since your PhD? (How in the sense of – what kinds of influences, people, events have prompted your diversification) How do you manage different strands of research interests? Is it important to have secondary fields?
If I was to criticise myself – I sometimes feel as though I am a jack of all trades and master of none. This is probably a product of being a sociologist. I do feel it is important to at least be confident enough to have a global view of your work and how it fits within your wider academic field, and I do think it is important to have other stings to your bow (which may include work in secondary fields) and I do think will become increasingly imperative. That said, I think you need to carve out your particular niche too – what is it you want to be, what is it you want to research, why are you the right person to research it, how do you get all the relevant skills to be the right person to research it. This is still something I believe I am still working on.
7) If you hadn’t stayed in academia, what might you have done instead? Do you mix your academic career with your broader interests? Give us your top five film recommendations!
I would have loved to become a sports journalist, marine biologist and I am fascinated by space but I would probably have become a sports coach of sorts. As you may guess I love sport, but since having the engagement arm to my job I have really started to appreciate the arts too and so you could say mixing science, social science and the arts, is also to mix my academic work with my broader interests. I guess this most clearly shown in Cardiff sciSCREEN, which leads me on to my top five film recommendations. We recently run Robot and Frank as a sciSCREEN and I would definitely recommend the film to anyone, I know others feel differently to me but I also thoroughly enjoyed Never Let Me Go, and I would urge everyone to watch Der Golem on the big screen. Outside of sciSCREEN – I adore Pan’s Labyrinth, really enjoyed Lives of Others, am a big fan of the Godfather trilogy and have yet to see a better comedy than Anchorman.
Thank you very much Jamie for these great answers and sharing your experiences with us!
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!
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)
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.