Modelling cells in risky comakings and devious worlds
Abigail Durrant (Northumbria University)
Alex Taylor (City, University of London)
Paper short abstract:
We use String Figures and Involutionary Momentum to "read against the grain" of a contemporaneous biology characterised by reduction. Working through the design of a tool that models cellular stability, we spin a yarn of "affectively charged" relations between researchers, cells and technologies.
Paper long abstract:
Drawing from her foundational studies of biology, Evelyn Fox Keller writes of a complexity and connectedness that might just characterise our 'devious' world(s). She has traced threads through biology for over 40 years, drawing attention to—amongst other things—how it has often resisted the explanatory powers conferred upon its counterparts in other natural sciences. A pragmatic approach has dominated, she extols, in which unknowns have been a part of biology's messy reality. Looking ahead, to the deepening entanglements between biology and computation, we find contemporaneous imaginaries surrounding cellular life to be testing this lineage. Certainly—as Keller herself has reflected—computation makes possible very particular modes of understanding, ones conforming to what Carla Hustak and Natasha Myers view as a 'reductive, mechanistic, and adaptationist logics' that characterise a prevailing neo-Darwinism. In this paper, we wish to cut across what on the face it appears to be biology's narrowing move. By 'looking askew', we hope to ask more about biology and whether or not it is being rendered computational. Examining a project invested in the computational challenges of modelling cellular stability, and relying on the 'risky comakings' (after Haraway) between actors, algorithms and computational tools, we stay committed to the troubles enlivened by knotted relations. We use two feminist figures, Haraway's String Figure, and Hustak and Myer's Involutionary Momentum, to (re-)tell a story of unfolding relationships between researchers, cells and technologies, spinning a yarn of 'affectively charged' (after Hustak and Myers) relays and knottings that resist singular figurings.
Feminist figures: crafting intersections in theory and practice