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Accepted Paper:

Three (de-)Subjectifications in Modelling Practice  
Rebecca Hardesty (University of California, San Diego)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic observation, I describe how the members of a neuroscience lab collaboratively modulate the figurations of mice and their neurons as subjects as a part of their practices to model the cognitive effects, recognized as depersonalization, associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Paper long abstract:

I describe how the subjectification of living systems fluctuates as part of the modelling practices of a lab's neurobiological research on Alzheimer's disease (AD). Drawing on ethnographic observations, I show how despite the laboratory's goal to model the depersonalizing aspects of AD, people with AD do not appear as subjects within the context of the lab's everyday practices. Even though the target system of humans with AD does not figure as a subject in this lab, the model organisms (mice) and their neurons, which serve as models of AD, do emerge as subjects through ordinary material and discursive practices. I will report on how the mice appear as subjects only until their "sacrifice", when their bodies are physically and conceptually discarded in order for the practitioners to obtain the parts which can represent the target system. The cells obtained from the mice emerge most fully as subjects through becoming interlocutors with the lab members. I argue that when the lab members intentionally position, and refer to, the neurons as being capable of answering "questions" in "funny" or "mysterious" ways (via experimentation), they are making visible an interiority which is characteristically accorded to subjects. Moreover, the subjectified cell is socialized and it serves a vital role in bringing together, and making relevant, the diverse backgrounds and methods in the lab. However, in order to make inferences between the model and its target, the practitioners dispose of the cells' subjecthood, by abstracting from the cells' "answers" to produce graphical and quantitative representations.

Panel T089
  Session 1 Saturday 3 September, 2016, -