This panel explores how the notion of an autonomous and individualized "life" is being undermined by recent scientific discoveries and advancements in life-manipulating technologies. Diverse STS scholars with an interest in new ontologies of "life," including ecological and symbiotic, are welcome.
The 2015 4S open panel "'Life' beyond the Politics of Life Itself" brought together 10 diverse papers examining various ways in which recent studies in epigenetics, human microbiome, advanced cell biotechnology, and embryology have transformed the ways in which we conceptualize human "life." The proposed open panel builds on the previous year's success and seeks to bring together more STS scholars who are interested in new ontologies of "life" emerging from recent scientific discoveries of life processes and advancements in life-manipulating technologies. Epigenetics research, for instance, has revealed that environmentally triggered "switches," which are inheritable over generations, are responsible for altering genetic expressions. Such revelation compels us to revisit our notion of a self-contained genetic individual, reopen the nature vs. nurture debate, and rethink technological intervention in procreation. Research on the human microbiota has uncovered the robust roles millions of microorganisms play in regulating the human body from digestion and immune response to cognitive development and psychiatric conditions. Such realization defies our previous understanding of our bodies as belonging to our selves, controlled by our brains and/or genes. This panel explores what STS has to offer in shedding light on the transforming lifescapes that seem to be shifting to an ecological understanding of life from an autonomous one. Some questions we might ask include: Do we see an opportunity to unseat reductionism, individualism, and binarism? What kinds of new techniques of life management are coming? What are the implications of these new forms of "life" for biopolitics?