The small-scale materiality of human bodies -- genes, microbes, chemicals, hormones -- is increasingly understood as both responsive to broader environmental contexts and a crucial determinant of health and well-being. How are bodies imagined ecologically among anthropologists and those we study?
The materiality of human bodies at the smallest scales -- genes, microbes, chemicals, hormones -- is increasingly being understood as both responsive to broader environmental contexts and a crucial determinant of health and well-being. Phenomena including epigenetics, the human microbiome, cumulative stress, and toxic pollution of various sorts are being cited among the scientific community as having wide-ranging effects that shape personal and social capacities, affects, and inequalities. Activist, indigenous, and popular engagements with such claims operate alongside those of science proper, and in various relationships to it. This panel considers how such new perspectives require re-thinking the social and the personal. How is the human body imagined as an environment among both anthropologists and those we study? What are the implications of imagining a particularly porous and receptive human body, one intimately influenced by its surroundings, and indeed materially inseparable from them? What changes if the human body's material composition is understood to include multi-species stakeholders? Or if human desires, energies, moods, and potentials are being "proven" to be produced at the level of the body's material composition? Such new conceptions do far more than bypass traditional forms of dualistic thinking; they inspire colloquial and analytical re-framing of volition, futurity, responsibility and accountability, inequality and justice, and the ever-vexing "natural". This panel considers Scottish stem cell research, stress and reproduction in California, radiation in post-nuclear Japan, and a critical epigenetics to shed light on these questions.