Klopsteg Lectures

All lectures are open to the public, thanks to the generosity of the Klopsteg fund, and (unless indicated otherwise below) are held in the Hagstrum Room (University Hall Room 201) on Mondays from 4pm-5:30pm.

FALL 2015

October 5, 2015
Michelle Murphy: History, University of Toronto
"Dying, Not Dying, and Not Being Born: Experimental Exuberance in Bangladesh"

Description: How has life been governed and altered for the sake of improving the macro-economy of the nation? This paper describes the rise of infrastructures of postcolonial experimentality in Bangladesh as a key development in the larger history of the economization of life.   In the history of the economization of life,  "economy" and "population" are two crucial social science objects of intervention that were mobilized to recompose governmentality in many postcolonial nations around the world in the 1960s throug 1980s, including Bangladesh.  The paper argues that Bangladesh was a globally important site for the production of innovative techniques that made up the late twentieth century economization of life.  Experiments were not confined to the lab, the clinic, or the field site, but became the very form of a new kind of governmentality.  Concentrating on the proliferation of family planning projects and the Matlab field site, the paper traces the biopolitical/necropolitical trilogy of dying, not dying, and not being born that was built into infrastructures of postcolonial experimentality.  In so doing, it queries the historical emergence of widespread technoscientific techniques for differentially valuing life in conditions of precarity.

**co-sponsored by the Department of History 

October 12, 2015
Fredrik Meiton: SHC and History, Northwestern University
"Electrical Palestine: Jewish and Arab Technopolitics under British Rule"

Description: In 1921, the British mandatory government in Palestine granted an exclusive, countrywide concession to electrify the area. The concessionaire, a Zionist engineer by the name of Pinhas Rutenberg, soon set to work realizing his grand scheme: a hydro-electrical power station at the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers, connected to a countrywide electric grid.           

   Drawing on records from the Palestine Government, Jewish and Arab press and political organizations, and the archives of the Israel Electric Corporation, the talk highlights an important instance in Palestine's history of negotiating nature, technology, and people. Specifically, it charts the building of mandatory Palestine’s first and only hydro-electrical power plant, and the critical role it played in creating a national electric grid in mandatory Palestine. Naharayim, as the plant was called, was a hydro-electrical machine made up of organic and inorganic elements. Envisioning and building it involved a calculus of environmental, technological, economic, and political variables. And it relied on various and seemingly incongruous forms of expertise. At every step of the process, Rutenberg’s undertaking had to contend with competing claims, emanating from the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine, as well as the non-human environment. By generating electricity and distributing it over an imagined Jewish national space, the imaginary acquired a material dimension. This in turn allowed for the emergence of a national space capable of hosting a number of national objects, such as an economy, industry, agriculture, politics, and culture. The talk demonstrates how the character of those national objects was shaped in critical ways by the negotiations involved in producing them, while also influencing Arab-Jewish relations in ways that reverberates through to the present.

October 19, 2015
Stefanie GraeterSHC and Anthropology, Northwestern University
"An Ethical Objectivity in a State of Corruption: Catholic Science and Heavy-Metal Monitoring in Peru’s Mantaro Valley"

Description: This talk will analyze the situated production of lead exposure data in the Central Andes of Peru. In 2012, a group of Catholic environmental scientists completed six years of longitudinal research in the Mantaro Valley to generate evidence of pollution by the mining industry. The scientific and political practices this Project undertook to generate evidence of environmental contamination formed in relation to local and national opposition against environmentalism, widespread political corruption and violence, and inter-faith Jesuit ethos. Out of this tense political climate and a state of epistemic murk, I show how alliances between transnational and local Christian organizations, scientific practitioners and institutions, and the region’s Archbishop fortified the moral and technical legitimacy of their joint scientific project. While scientific practices and institutions factually legitimized the Church's ethical concerns about heavy-metal contamination, the Church, along with the support of the region's Archbishop, morally sanctified the scientific research. This techno-ethnical congealment made the data collection possible, as well as generating the moral credibility needed to impact regional and national mining policy debates.

November 9, 2015
Maurizio Meloni: Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
"Postgenomic Biopolitics: Race, Class, Gender at the time of Epigenetics"

Description: Postgenomics means an unprecedented temporalization, spatialization, permeability to material surroundings, and plasticity of genomic functioning. In my talk, I argue that postgenomics is a style of reasoning distinct from that of genomics and focus on some of its implications in the relationship between biology and society. There are many entry points to distinguish between genomics and postgenomics but I take the return of soft-heredity, driven by the ascendancy of an epigenetic model of explanation, as the clearest marker for a postgenomic paradigm-shift. Soft-heredity means heredity affected by the parents’ or grandparents’ lifetime experiences, not fixed at conception (Bonduriansky, 2012; Jablonka and Lamb, 2005; Meloni, 2015, 2016). Epigenetics – often confused as a case of G×E interactionist paradigm - is conventionally defined as “the study of changes in gene function that (….) do not entail a change in the sequence of DNA” (Armstrong 2014). However, it means something more profound than trivial interactionism. Epigenetics is about the possibility of transmitting the inherited effects of G×E “inherited “effects that last for many generations even when the environment no longer induces the phenotype” (Jablonka, 2004; Jablonka and Lamb, 2014). Epigenetics is plasticity across time and generations (Jablonka).

  In the light of these novelties, it makes no longer sense to equate biology with genetics, the innate, or a hermetically-sealed bedrock upon which sociocultural differences are laid, three ghosts against which social scientists have been fighting for decades. It is meaningless in postgenomics to think the biological and the social as standing in a relation of mutual exteriority.

  But is for these reasons epigenetics ‘good news’? How the (re)turn to ideas of soft-heredity will impact (and is already impacting) the construction of key sociological categories such as race, gender and class? How the politics of plasticity will contribute to the reclassification of social differences and the understanding of how social inequalities reproduce? What about epigenetic models of health and disease? If, just to give an example, our ancestors’ conditions are transmitted across time, does this mean that poor and oppressed groups are not only socially but also biologically disadvantaged from the beginning of their lives? Are the poor also ‘poor in their genes’? What does it mean the emerging biomedical category of ‘abnormal’ methylation (a key epigenetic marker) levels by which different social groups are being classified? And, more broadly, what about the global dimension of epigenetic findings, their usage in countries like Russia with a tradition of soft-hereditarian science (Graham, forthcoming?). As I will illustrate drawing on historical examples and contemporary applications of epigenetics, it is illusory to expect that soft-heredity will be of necessity less exclusionary than is a genetic view of innate differences.

November 16, 2015
Katayoun Shafiee: Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore
"Machineries in oil: A socio-technical history of Anglo-Iranian oil and its world"

Description: How did the calculative work of formulas shape the history of oil in Iran in the first half of the twentieth century? Instead of offering a complete and chronological history of an oil firm operating in the Middle East, I tell the story of the emergence of a new political actor of the twentieth century, the multinational oil corporation, by working through a series of calculating technologies for managing information that made the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC, renamed British Petroleum after 1954) a success in the first fifty years of its existence. Few historians have looked at the kinds of non-human actors, tools, and machinery involved in the building of such a large-scale political project as an oil industry. Focusing on a series of crises punctuating this history, the talk considers the kinds of puzzles and political possibilities that are opened up in the battle over defining what shape the oil industry and national state will take. I zoom in on the role of an unexpected and unusual actor in this history, a formula, and the ways in which this calculating technology helped transform political issues, such as the replacement of foreign workers with Iranian ones, into a purely technical-economic calculation ensuring the oil company’s total control of not only its recruitment policy, but production rates, and profits. The history of these tools, technologies, and techniques of information management is crucial for understanding the twentieth century politics of the Middle East and the peculiar ways in which countries of the Global South have served as irreplaceable laboratories for producing knowledge and know-how on nature and on society.


January 11, 2016
Paul Ramirez: History, Northwestern University
"title tba"


January 25, 2016
Marion Fourcade: Sociology, UC Berkeley
"title tba"


**co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology 

February 22, 2016
Nicole Nelson: History of Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"title tba"


February 29, 2016
Anto Mohsin: Liberal Arts, Northwestern University Qatar
"Powering PELITAs: Electrification and Development in New Order Indonesia"



April 4, 2016
Nikhil Anand:Geography, Environment and Society, University of Minnesota
"title tba"


April 25, 2016
David Kaiser: Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT
"title tba"


May 2, 2016
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
"title tba"


May 9, 2016
Cymene HoweAnthropology, Rice University
"title tba"



May 16, 2016
Jimena CanalesHistory, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"title tba"