October 14, 2013
SHEILA JASANOFF: Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
"Laws of Life and Lives of Law: Bioconstitutionalism in Comparative Perspective"
Description: The constitutions of modern states codify the most basic rights that attach to life, and more specifically to human life. Besides these explicit codes, and the legislative and judicial interpretations elaborating on formal constitutional principles, there exist in contemporary societies a variety of tacit presumptions governing life and its entitlements. In this talk, I will compare recent developments in the regulation of biomedicine in three states—the US, Britain, and Germany—to show how a universal commitment to respect for human life nevertheless translates into disparate legal and policy decisions on similar issues. These cross-national variations point to underlying differences in what I call bioconstitutionalism: that is, the principles underlying the state’s life-preserving and life-enhancing functions. Those principles include both substantive norms defining what is due to life and procedural norms dictating how ambiguities should be resolved in borderline cases, and whether that in turn is a task for law or science.
October 21, 2013
GIL EYAL: Sociology, Columbia
"Looping genomes: Diagnostic expansion and the genetics of autism" /Gil Eyal and Dan Navon
Description: Ian Hacking’s framework of ‘dynamic nominalism’ (1995; 2007) has informed a range of work in the social studies of science and medicine, showing that not only do diagnostic classifications shape the individuals to whom they are applied, but that the actions of the “human kinds” thus created loop back to reshape diagnostic classifications, rendering them continuously “moving targets”. In this paper, we propose to extend this insight by showing that changes in diagnostic practice and the ‘looping’ they entail can also modify the genetic makeup of populations. We draw on Liu et al.’s (2010) demonstration that the heritability of autism has increased considerably over the last twenty years probably due to an increase in de novo mutations. While demographic and environmental explanations offered for this increase are definitely plausible, we devise a test for the hypothesis that diagnostic expansion is an important explanatory mechanism for this phenomenon. Instead of looking at the population of known autism diagnoses and asking how has its genetic basis changed, we go about it the other way and examine the trajectory of a set of genomically designated disorders (GDS), namely disorders delineated and diagnosed purely on the basis of a known mutation (typically de novo). We show that for each of these disorders, the association with autism has increased considerably over time, namely that the rates of autism among the people diagnosed with these disorders have increased in the course of the same period that diagnostic expansion and the autism “epidemic” took place. Our analysis indicates that a significant proportion of the ~20% of the autism spectrum that can be attributed to specific genetic anomalies is a result of diagnostic expansion, and that this probably represents the tip of an iceberg. Finally, we discuss the implications of this analysis for the way we understand the relationship between looping dynamics and genetics.
**co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology
October 28, 2013
RUTH ROGASKI: History, Vanderbilt
"Alternative Qi: Science and Spirit in the Making of Modern Chinese Medicine"
Qi （氣）was once the foundational concept of learned Chinese cosmology. While traditional cosmology is no longer the basis for elite learning in China, qi itself has survived as a key component of a modernized, globalized “Traditional” Chinese Medicine. How did qi become modern? What is the nature of this qi? This paper explores one particular chapter in the globalization of qi, as Chinese physicians encountered “Western science” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
November 4, 2013
MARIANA CRACIUN: SHC and Sociology, Northwestern
"The Affect and Science of Psychotherapy"
Description: Though talk therapists' role in treating mental illness has been seriously undermined by pharmaceuticals , they continue to play an important role in the field of mental health. This presentation will compare some of the knowledge-making practices of psychotherapists working in the psychoanalytic tradition with those adopting cognitive and behavioral approaches. My goals are twofold: first, to show that the former rely on their well-disciplined affect as an epistemic tool; second, to argue that the latter's adoption of inscription and quantification has facilitated their ascent to prominence in the field. At stake in these divergent approaches to treatment are not only patients' health, but also these experts' professional standing. Lastly, these distinct expertises have larger implications for how we understand what it means to be a well-functioning human being.
November 11, 2013
DANIEL STOLZ: SHC and History, Northwestern
"The Ottoman Adventures of Lalande’s Astronomy"
Joseph-Jérôme de Lalande, one of the most prominent (and colorful) savants of eighteenth-century France, never traveled to the Ottoman Empire. His astronomical writings and tables, however, were repeatedly read, translated, and commented upon by Ottoman astronomers from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. This talk will focus on four such Ottoman interpretations of Lalande. One in Turkish, the rest in Arabic, they were the work of diverse authors: a court astronomer in Istanbul, a Greek Orthodox official from the Egyptian port of Damietta, an anonymous author in Aleppo, and a scholar at al-Azhar, the famed center of Islamic learning in Cairo. We will examine each of these interpretations for what it can tell us about the role of local context in the translation of science. But we will also put all of them in conversation with their French counterparts in order to address the meaning of a “global” history of science. How did people in specific places choose to employ the same sources in their work, what exactly “traveled” when they did so, and how did it make the journey? How did four readers of the same or related texts, looking at (mostly) the same stars, but living at different times and in different places, produce an astronomy similar to each other’s and to Lalande’s? Or were these projects actually more different than alike?
January 13, 2014
ESZTER HARGITTAI: Media, Technology and Society, Northwestern
"The Social Status Network: Persisting Inequalities in Internet Use"
Much enthusiasm surrounds the opportunities made available by digital media. Indeed, likely more people than ever before participate in discussions and connect with people near and far. While the enthusiasm about new opportunities is thus warranted, who is most likely to participate in and thus potentially benefit from such online engagement? Drawing on findings from several projects including panel data, this talk discusses how more privileged populations are more likely to be engaged in diverse actions online. In particular, such users are more likely to have higher-level Web-use skills, which explains differentiated rates of online participation in many realms ranging from creative output to health information-seeking, from political engagement to job-seeking activities.
January 27, 2014
NORTON WISE: History, Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA
February 10, 2014
FA-TI FAN: History, SUNY-Binghamton
February 17, 2014
MICHELLE WRIGHT: African American Studies, Northwestern
"The Physics of Blackness: Reconsidering the African Diaspora in the Postwar Era"
Description: The problem of accurately representing, much less accurately defining Blackness has plagued academic discourses and studies since the invention of the "Negro" as an inferior being at the onset of the Atlantic slave trade through to anti-racist assertions of Black equality in the West today. In pursuit of a more accurate and therefore inclusive model of Blackness, Michelle Wright argues that the solutions begins with thinking of it as a "when and a where" rather than a "what" (that is, a biological essence fixed on the body). Pursuing the concept of spacetimes as the foundation for racial interpellation, this talk looks at how misinterpretations of Isaac Newton's laws of motion and gravity by Enlightenment philosophers has created the misleading notion of time and space operating as a linear progress narratives, leading not only to obvious problems of claiming some groups or races are more "progressive" than others, but also produce unexpected issues, most importantly the denial of Black agency. Working through some of the challenges to the linear progress narrative and the existence of other forms of spacetime, "The Physics of Blackness" pushes us to consider a multivalent and inclusive model of Blackness that intersects with both Newton and more recent definitions of time as entropy.
March 3, 2014
JAKE KOSEK: Geography, UC Berkeley
"Homo-Apians: A Critical Natural History of The Modern Honey Bee"