2012-2013 Klopsteg Lecture Series

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 4:00-5:30pm.

Program Director: Professor Steve Epstein (Sociology)

Poster of SHC Fall 2012 lectures

FALL 2012

October 1, 2012

Doctoral Colloq: Welcome! And practice talks for 4S Conference in Cophenhagen

October 8, 2012

Stefan Andriopoulos (Columbia)
"The Experimental Metaphysics of Animal Magnetism: Schopenhauer, Kerner, Poe"

Description: The talk juxtaposes Schopenhauer's surprising account of animal magnetism as "experimental metaphysics" to a thought experiment in the ostensibly factual description of a clairvoyant somnambulist, written by the German physician and spiritualist Justinus Kerner. Kerner's case history was also adapted by Edgar Allan Poe who published a tale about a mesmerist experiment. Yet even though Poe's narrative belonged to the realm of literary fiction, it was reprinted as an authentic news item in various newspapers and popular science journals.
**co-sponsored by the Department of German and the Program in Critical Theory

October 22, 2012

Myles Jackson (NYU)
"Gene Scenes: Patents, HIV/AIDS and Race in the Age of Biocapitalism"

Description: This talk addresses how biocapitalism has defined the relationship between science and society in the twenty-first century. The CCR5 gene, the topic of the talk, has been critical to issues of intellectual property law (patenting) and HIV/AIDS diagnostics and therapeutics, and has been at the center of the debate as to whether or not one may speak of race at the level of the DNA.

October 29, 2012

Lukas Reippel (SHC, NU)
"Assembling the Dinosaur: Museums, Money, and American Culture"

Description: During the second half of the 19th century, the United States transitioned from a fractious young republic into the world's largest producer of goods and services. As this happened, wealthy capitalists such as J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie founded a number of elite cultural institutions, including Museums of Fine Art, Philharmonic Orchestras, Opera Houses, and public parks. In addition, they also invested considerable resources in natural history specimens, most notably dinosaurs. This presentation argues that whereas music halls and art museums served to display their patron's refined aesthetic sensibilities, natural history museums represented another form of social distinction, one that combined epistemic virtues like objectivity with older notions of good stewardship and civic munificence.

Special Date: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 4 PM, University Hall 201

Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (Sorbonne)
"What kind of discipline is Synthetic Biology?"

Description: Despite the multidisciplinary dimension of the researches conducted under the umbrella synthetic biology, this emerging field has been established as a sub-discipline of biology. From an historical perspective, the identity of synthetic biology seems to take inspiration from two already established fields with very different disciplinary patterns: synthetic chemistry and information technology. I will emphasize the contrast of views and agendas between these two disciplinary models. Then I will discuss the significance of this epistemic pluralism. Is it a symptom of "immaturity" in an emerging field? Two divergent futures for synthetic biology will be envisaged.
** hosted by the Program in Biological Sciences with the co-sponsorship of SHC

November 5, 2012

Sergio Sismondo (Queens College, Ontario)
"Key Opinion Leaders: Choreographing the Pharmaceutical Two-Step"

Description : The pharmaceutical industry uses some physicians, called key opinion leaders or KOLs, as intermediaries to influence prescribing physicians. One marketing firm says, for example, that "KOL" is "a convenient shorthand for those people – usually eminent, usually physicians – who we co-opt into our development and marketing strategies." I describe the recruitment and deployment of KOLs, as presented by marketers and others. The KOL concept is owed in part to the work of sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld and his students, studying the influence of mass media on voting behaviour. In this presentation, I introduce that history in order to show how the pharmaceutical industry has successfully established a structure of influence it can use.

November 12, 2012

Jeff Sklansky (UIC)
"The Money Trail: Circulation in Early Modern Science, Political Economy, and Debates Over Currency and Banking"

Description: Circulation was to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries what evolution was to the nineteenth and twentieth, an explanatory framework for a wide range of early modern science and social thought. From bodily fluids, contagious diseases, celestial bodies, oceanic currents, and electrical charges to publications, colonists, coins, and commodities, circulation provided the pattern for many of the "laws of motion" found to govern both nature and society in the burgeoning Atlantic world. This talk will explore the foundational importance of circulation as a master model for modern economic discourse, by examining the ways in which it set the stakes of social struggle over the rise of banking and paper money in England and its American colonies. The talk will consider the emergence of two ideological dichotomies, based on circulation, that formed enduring parameters of public debate: barter versus money and paper versus coin.

December 3, 2012

Doctoral colloq: reading group

Poster of SHC Winter 2013 lectures


January 14, 2013


LUKAS RIEPPEL (SHC Postdoc, History, NU)
"Accounting for Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History"

Description: My project uses the history of dinosaur paleontology during Americaʼs Gilded Age and Progressive Era as a means to examine how the practice of natural history was embedded in broader changes that were happening at the time. I am especially interested in drawing connections between the study of nature and the culture of capitalism. In this talk, I zoom in on the transition from free market or proprietary capitalism to corporate capitalism around the turn of the 20th Century. In particular, I argue that during this period, philanthropically funded natural history museums came to resemble vertically integrated industrial corporations, internalizing the market for raw materials as they integrated forward into mass distribution.

Looking in detail at the accounting techniques that were used to keep tabs on expenditures and maintain oversight of specimen collections, I show that learned naturalists gradually took on the role of middle management. Thus, the history of vertebrate paleontology provides a fresh new perspective on the cultural dimensions of Americaʼs corporate reconstruction around the turn of the 20th century, showing that, among other things, it helped to reshape the very identity of the learned naturalist, effecting deep changes in what it meant to be a professional student of the natural world.


"Contesting the 'Laws of Life': Sex, Subjectivity and Bio/Politics in Early Twentieth-Century Germany and Europe"

Description: Over the past 30 years, the concept of “biopolitics,” as initially formulated by Michel Foucault, has informed a new critical historical approach to the study of modernity. Its impact has arguably been felt especially strongly in the field of German history. Following Detlev Peukert’s pathbreaking 1989 essay, “The Genesis of the ‘Final Solution’ from the Spirit of Science,” most German historians have embraced biopolitics as a means of analyzing phenomena that reveal modernity’s dark side, and of bringing to the fore the oppressive and potentially genocidal implications of attempts to assert power and control over life itself. For German historians, biopolitics has thus provided a new way of researching and reflecting upon the rise of Nazism, and considering the degree to which the German experience of modernity was distinctive—even possibly pathological. However, in recent years historians have revisited Foucault’s formulation of biopolitics and have started to ask whether biopolitics was responsible for producing modern phenomena beyond Nazism.

In this talk, I take up the challenge to examine the other modern legacies of biopolitics for Germany and Europe broadly, and argue that we can arrive at new insights by engaging the intellectual history of feminism. Using archival materials and printed primary sources, I illuminate how biopolitics underwrote early twentieth century feminists’ claims to greater socio-political power, rights and inclusion—albeit in notably problematic ways. I focus on the ways German-speaking feminists engaged the prevailing scientific conflation of feminism and female homosexuality to produce alternative and politically meaningful definitions of Womanhood. To make sense of this historical phenomenon, I consider why and how biopolitics were available to feminists as a political resource at this time, and reflect upon the implications and legacies of these discursive practices.

January 28, 2013

Doctoral colloq: feedback on student work-in-progress

February 4, 2013

JULIE LIVINGSTON (New York University)
“The Sensory Ethic of Care in Botswana's Cancer Ward”

Description: This talk examines the moral intimacies of care in a small oncology ward in Botswana during an emerging epidemic of cancer, part of the surge in cancers across the global south. Based on extensive ethnographic research, it follows the nurses on the ward as they provide bodily care, perform spiritual work, and stave off social death for patients experiencing disfiguring rot, and existential angst. It simultaneously follows the patients and their relatives as they attempt to create a socially and morally meaningful world in the face of cancer in an overwrought and highly bureaucratized institution. The discussion will pay special attention to the inter-subjective phenomenology of care, and the sensory dimensions of bodily distress and rehumanization.
**co-sponsored by the Program of African Studies

February 11, 2013

"Was Hitler a Darwinian?"

Description: Several scholars and many religiously conservative thinkers have recently charged that Hitler’s ideas about race and racial struggle derived from the theories of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), either directly or through intermediate sources. So, for example, the historian Richard Weikart, in his book From Darwin to Hitler, maintains: “No matter how crooked the road was from Darwin to Hitler, clearly Darwinism and eugenics smoothed the path for Nazi ideology, especially for the Nazi stress on expansion, war, racial struggle, and racial extermination.” The philosopher David Berlinski has affirmed: “If you open Mein Kampf and read it, especially if you can read it in German, the correspondence between Darwinian ideas and Nazi ideas just leaps from the page.” These claims are used to discredit evolutionary theory and morally indict Darwin and his disciples, especially Ernst Haeckel. In this talk I will investigate whether such claims are empirically true and whether their moral logic can undermine the theory and impugn the characters of Darwin and Haeckel.

February 15, 2013

FRIDAY @ 12:00pm

“Radionavigation and the Politics of Geographic Knowledge”

Description: During the twentieth century, radionavigation systems created new forms of geographic knowledge that departed radically from the knowledge produced by paper maps. I analyze these systems in two registers. At a macropolitical level, they promoted new kinds of international intervention, from the battles of World War I to GPS-guided humanitarian response. At a micropolitical level, they gave millions of people – pilots, soldiers, anthropologists, teenagers – a newly embedded experience of geographic space. Taken together, I argue that radionavigation offers crucial insight into the history of twentieth-century territoriality and the broad geopolitical shift from the era of internationalism to the era of globalization.

February 18, 2013

Doctoral colloq: feedback on student work-in-progress

February 25, 2013

"Tallying the Insane"

Description: My current project is about statistics and the study of heredity in the twentieth century. While the new science of heredity is usually identified with Mendelian genetics, it was always partly statistical, and human genetics (eugenics) was overwhelmingly statistical. It was associated not only with the laboratory and the breeding farm, but equally with insane asylums, prisons, schools for the feeble-minded, and life insurance companies. The importance of this statistical side of genetics has not disappeared but rather has expanded in the age of genomics and the Human Genome Initiative.
**co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology

March 4, 2013

Doctoral colloq: reading group

Poster of SHC Spring 2013 lectures


April 8, 2013

Doctoral colloq: feedback on student work-in-progress

April 15, 2013

"The Perils and Promises of Microbial Abundance: Novel Natures and Model Ecosystems, from Artisan Cheese to Alien Seas"

Description: Microbial life has been much in the news. From outbreaks of E. coli to discussions of the benefits of raw and fermented foods to recent reports of life forms capable of living in extreme environments, the modest microbe has become a figure for thinking through the presents and possible futures of nature, writ large as well as small. Noting that dominant representations of microbial life have shifted from an idiom of peril to one of promise, we argue that microbes — especially when thriving as microbial communities — are being upheld as model ecologies in a prescriptive sense, as tokens of how organisms and human ecological relations with them could, should, or might be. We do so in reference to two case studies: the regulatory politics of artisanal cheese, and the speculative research of astrobiology. To think of and with microbial communities as model ecologies — as forms of life both dynamic and contingent — offers a corrective to the scientific determinisms we detect in some recent calls to attend to the materiality of scientific objects.

April 22, 2013

SARAH IGO (Vanderbilt)
"Tracking the ‘Surveillance Society’"

Description: This talk explores the cultural effects of new ways of housing and accessing personal data in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. It was in this period that citizens first mobilized around what they had known, in low-grade fashion, since at least the 1930s: that many agencies, public and private, were collecting information about them. New suspicions attended the mundane data-gathering operations of agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and Census Bureau, while hidden monitoring devices, vast warehouses of private information, and menacing bureaucracies loop through the cultural and political texts of the period. Faster computers, larger bureaucracies, and expanding databanks, I will argue, generated novel claims and claimants for the protection of “private” information. They also led to a distinctive understanding of the postindustrial U.S. as a “surveillance society,” which depended on the collection of personal data for its very operation.

April 29, 2013

Doctoral colloq: feedback on student work-in-progress

May 6, 2013

"Environmental Legacies of Twentieth Century Wars"

Description: The environmental impacts of modern wars have been largely ignored in fields of research such as environmental history and military history. Devastation in conflict zones depends on many factors, including both the flow of battle and refugee movements. Further, extraction of critical resources for military needs reaches far beyond battlefields. Ironically, where the human presence is reduced or disrupted, natural systems (including wildlife populations) tend to rebound. And in the longer run wartime damage is repaired to varying degrees, either by natural processes or by human reconstruction. For wars involving American forces, with the exception of Vietnam, environmental damage has been poorly monitored -- in Korea, the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, since World War II most of the world’s many wars have been civil wars, but research on both “resource wars” and “environmental security” tends to marginalize the issue of conflicts’ ecological consequences. Finally, since the end of the Cold War there has been a rising trend of “greening” the military establishments of all industrialized countries, and some integration of environmental considerations in military planning.

May 13, 2013

“Converging on the Gene: The Somatic Mutation Theory of Carcinogenesis”

Description: This paper examines how the emergence in the 1950s of the somatic mutation theory reconfigured the range of causal explanations for carcinogenesis as arising from endogenous or exogenous factors. Since that time, the theory has been so fully assimilated into current thinking about cancer that we often fail to recognize the novelty of its underlying assumption equating mutagenicity with carcinogeneticity, i.e., that the mutagenizing ability of a chemical substance or radiation was responsible for inducing cancer. This idea, which brought together two distinct conceptions of radiation effects, did not gain wide currency until the 1960s, for reasons that had little to do with the double helix or molecular biology.

H. J. Muller had suggested in 1948 that radiation-induced mutations in somatic cells might be responsible for malignancies, and this idea, picked up by other geneticists, gained traction over the 1950s. Muller’s focus on mutations subverted the conventional distinction between the somatic and genetic effects of radiation, and it also focused concern on the carcinogenic potential of atomic weapons fallout products such as strontium-90 and, to a lesser degree, iodine-131. If there was no threshold for genetic damage, then even minute amounts of these contaminants might induce cancer-producing somatic mutations. Such reasoning carried over to realm of chemical carcinogens, particularly in the decade following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962.

A decade later, Bruce Ames developed his eponymous microbial screen for chemical compounds on the assumption that all mutagens are carcinogens. Subsequently, Ames used his test on natural substances from foods and beverages, identifying many as just as potentially carcinogenic as synthetic chemicals. These findings fueled debates over the role of environmental carcinogens in cancer, and hence the effectiveness of industrial regulation of chemicals. To this day, the somatic mutation theory remains a touchstone of cancer etiology and related biological research, even though it does not explain the role of some known cancer-causing agents, such as hormones.

May 20, 2013

Doctoral colloq: reading group and feedback on student work-in-progress