Science in Human Culture at Northwestern University
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KLOPSTEG LECTURE SERIES

 

Klopsteg Lecture Series, 2013-14

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.

Poster of SHC lectures.

FALL 2013

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"

Description: 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"

Description: 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?

 

WINTER 2014

January 13, 2014

ESZTER HARGITTAI: Media, Technology and Society, Northwestern

"The Social Status Network: Persisting Inequalities in Internet Use"

Description: 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 This visit has been rescheduled to November 10, 2014.

NORTON WISE: History, Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA

"The Steam-Powered Gardens of Industrializing Berlin"

Description: The naturalistic beauty of the large landscape gardens in and around Berlin attracts residents and tourists alike. It is not often remarked today, however, that the gardens were built during the nineteenth century with steam engines at their heart, nor that their aesthetic quality derives in part from the engines (now electric motors) that power them. It was not always so. Originally the engines were intended to be celebrated by a wondering public, who visited them in their often splendid houses, designed by such architects as Schinkel and Persius. Over the course of the century, as industrialization developed, ownership of steam-powered gardens continually expanded, from the royal family to individual entrepreneurs to bourgeois colonies to the larger public. The gardens and their engines, therefore, provide a unique opportunity to view the social history of industrialization literally on the ground, by making the now-invisible technology visible once again and by reuniting it with the aesthetics of the gardens.

February 10, 2014

FA-TI FAN: History, SUNY-Binghamton

"Tectonic Shifts: Science, Earthquakes, and Something Big in the 1970s"

Description: With the Sino-American rapprochement in the early 1970s, Chinese and American scientists renewed contact with each other after a long interval of more than twenty years. At the time, one of China's most important scientific projects was earthquake prediction as parts of the country seemed to be entering a period of intensive seismicity. American seismologists, too, were highly interested in earthquake prediction, and, with the recent acceptance of plate tectonics, some of them felt that they were one step closer to that elusive holy grail of seismology. Now the Chinese seismologists and their American colleagues were about to meet.... This paper examines the scientific contact and exchange between Chinese and American seismologists in the 1970s. It explores the theories, instrumentation, practice, and politics of earthquake prediction in two very different societies and discusses what this episode can tell us about the meaning of the science of prediction.

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"

Description: This talk is about the making of the modern bee—the histories of knowledge, capital, and difference that were vital to the ways that the bee has come into being—and the consequences of those contested histories in the early twenty-first century. I hope to treat bees and humans not merely as two different animals in a relationship but as mutually constituted—homo apians, if you will—two species cooked together in the same modern pot. This understanding, that humans and bees come into being together, gives us different ways of approaching and comprehending the current conditions of the honeybee and its futures. This understanding forms the architecture and the central argument of my current work, that honeybees are both a constitutive part of modernity and a means of understanding its unraveling.

 

 

SPRING 2014

March 31, 2014

ANNA KIRKLAND: Political Science, University of Michigan

“Knowing Vaccine Injury”

Description: What is a vaccine injury, and how do we know it when we see it? Who recognizes vaccine injuries, and though what experiences, institutions, practices, and systems of knowledge? In this talk, I present work from my book manuscript on the law and politics of vaccine injury and vaccine safety in the contemporary U.S. Coming to recognize and name a vaccine-related adverse event (or what I term a vaccine injury) is something a wide range of experts and laypeople do from different perspectives and locations. I discuss the ways that parents, doctors, lawyers, federal safety regulators, vaccine compensation court judges, organized activists, and medical officers who screen petitions for vaccine injury compensation define both vaccine injuries and what counts as sufficient knowledge about them. Understanding the knowledge politics of vaccine injury helps us to better conceptualize the persistent difficulty of feeling safe—and being reassured by the government—when the cause of harm is highly disputed and adjudicated in multiple places.

April 21, 2014

SARA SHOSTAK: Sociology, Brandeis

"Exposed Science: Structural Vulnerabilities and the Limits of Environmental Knowledge"

Description: One of the great questions of the genomics era is how molecular technologies will affect our understanding of the environment and its relationships to human health.  This talk examines a specific set of efforts to answer this question -- environmental health scientists' research on gene-environment interaction.  Based on interviews with scientists, policy makers, and environmental justice activists, I demonstrate how these efforts are pervasively shaped by important dimensions of the structure of the field of environmental health science, its relationships with other fields, its central institutions, and the commitments of those working within it. Consequently, this analysis elucidates how scientists’ perceptions of and responses to the structural vulnerabilities of the field of environmental health sciences have both intended and unintended consequences for what we know about the somatic vulnerabilities of our bodies to environmental exposures.

 

April 28, 2014

ALAN MIKHAIL: History, Yale

"Iceland, Egypt, Anthropocene"

Description: In 1783, the Laki volcanic fissure erupted in Iceland. The ash it produced led to cold summers across Europe, the Mediterranean, the Americas, and parts of Central Asia. This presentation considers the impacts of the explosion on Ottoman Egypt and uses this history of Iceland and Egypt to analyze ways of doing global environmental history.

 

May 5, 2014

JOÃO BIEHL: Anthropology, Princeton

"Patient-Citizen-Consumers: Claiming the Right to Health and Dignity in Brazilian Courts"

Description: This talk explores novel forms of social becoming at the interface of law and medicine in late liberalism. While the justiciability of socioeconomic rights is of increasing interest internationally, the volume of individual right-to-health lawsuits in Brazil stands out. What is extraordinary in right-to-health litigation, and what makes it such an urgent object of study, is that it allows the reentry of human voices in public debates about the right to health—its object and scope, the nature of care through and beyond technology, and the public-private interface in contemporary governmental institutions. The presentation draws from multi-level ethnographic research in southern Brazil, where judicialization has become a widespread practice, even among the very poor. People's life chances and health outcomes are overdetermined by the kinds of marketized and juridical subjects they are able to become through appeals to the judiciary, government, and research and health industries that are driven by profit and the construction of new therapeutic market segments. As ethnographers, we must attend to forms of statecraft (national and regional) and jurisprudence, as well as to the kinds of medico-scientific literacies, political subjectivities, and temporary collectives that get built into the para-infrastructure of rights and interests that has accompanied the pharmaceuticalization and judicialization of health. At stake is the articulation of institutional capacities that go beyond the repetition of history, and help to defend people's right to a nonprojected future.

 

May 12, 2014

JEREMY GREENE: History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins

"Vital Objects: A History of Essential Medicines in Global Health"

Description: The post-war drug boom that brought “miracle cures” such as penicillin, cortisone and streptomycin also launched many other less effective remedies that were economically wasteful and often harmful.  Distinguishing exactly which substances were vital to the public health, and which were not, was no an easy task. In 1977, the World Health Organization designated a list of 186 “essential drugs” in an attempt to place these medicines alongside clean water, adequate housing, and a safe food supply in a short list of things necessary to ensure basic living conditions. Since then the methods, metrics, and politics of procuring essential medicines have become increasingly important to global health concerns. Professor Jeremy A. Greene, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine describes the evolution of the essential medicines concept within a longer history of global public health.

 

2013-14
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Science in Human Culture, 020 University Hall, 1897 Sheridan Rd., Evanston, IL 60208
tel: 847-491-3525 | fax: 847-467-2733
Director: Steven Epstein, University Hall, Room 025, shc-dir@northwestern.edu
Administrator: Natasha Dennison, University Hall, Room 020, shc-program@northwestern.edu