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Bio-Humanities Symposium: Experiments in Thinking the Human

Event Type
This event is co-sponsored by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We would like to thank the following co-sponsors for their support: the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the departments of Gender and Women’s Studies, Bioengineering, Political Science, Psychology, and Latina/Latino Studies, and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory.
Levis Faculty Center, 3rd floor main lecture hall (919 West Illinois Street, Urbana, IL)
Mar 30, 2017 - Mar 31, 2017   9:00 am - 4:30 pm  
Originating Calendar
Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH)

A multidisciplinary effort to reimagine human being in the context of developments in the contemporary life sciences that find biology to be responsive to social and environmental factors.



Thursday, March 30

9:00 -- Coffee, breakfast, introductory remarks 



9:30 -- Rachel Lee "The Chemical Sublime: Chimeracological Capacities and Disability Epistemology"

10:00 -- Stephen Taylor "From program music to sonification: representation and the evolution of music and language"

10:30 -- Lisa Blackman "How can we rethink the psychological within the context of the posthuman, more-than-human, non-human?" 


11:00 -- Coffee break



11:30 -- Michelle Wright "Polyvalent Humanities ("Humanities" as in multiple human-ness performances)"

12:00 -- Daniel Goodley "DisHuman: Theorising disability and the human"


12:30-2:00 -- Lunch



2:00 -- Becky Mansfield "Postgenomic plasticity: reproductive anxieties about the human"

2:30 -- Deborah Youdell "Learning human"


3:00-4:30 -- Coffee and plenary reflection/discussion



Friday, March 31

9:00 -- Coffee, breakfast



9:30 -- Craig Koslofsky "Re-Thinking the Human in the Seventeenth Century: Johann Nicolas Pechlin’s De habitu et colore Aethiopum qui vulgo nigritae... (Kiel, 1677)"

10:00 -- Maile Arvin "Regenerating Genealogy as Cosmogeny"

10:30 -- Maurizio Meloni "The Postgenomic Body: Genealogy and Open Questions"


11:00 -- Coffee



11:30 -- Hannah Landecker "Metabolic Ethics"

12:00 -- Neel Ahuja "Intestinal Inhumanisms"


12:30 -- Lunch



2:00 -- Jodi Byrd "The Grounded Relationalities of Being Human"

2:30 -- Arun Saldanha "Materialism for 2017"


3:00-4:30 -- Coffee and plenary reflection/discussion





Neel Ahuja, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Intestinal Inhumanisms" 

My experimental narrative of the bio-inhuman will foreground the interspecies metabolic processes of the digestive tract as the site of 'folds,' 'traces,' and 'cuts' for networked processes of world- and war-making. In the interlinked contexts of biosecuritization and carbon-fueled neoliberalism, the intestinal flora serves as a site for both managing the bodily integrity of the risk-defined human and rehabilitating its ecological connections. Breaking with psychoanalytic construction of the gut as an individuated, gendered site for the affective processing of trauma, I will explore the bio-necro-political interfaces of the digestive microbiome emerging in a series of seemingly unrelated techniques of medicalized intervention: fecal transplantation, methanogenic inhibition, and rectal alimentation.


Neel Ahuja is associate professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he is a core faculty member of the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Program. Drawing on research in postcolonial theory and feminist science studies, Neel’s writing explores the geopolitics of the body (focusing on race, gender, species, and disability) in the context of colonial forms of governance, warfare, and security. He is the author of the book Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species and has written a series of essays on the transnational politics of human-animal relations. He is currently working on a new writing project analyzing global relationships between migration, war, and climate change.



Maile Arvin, University of California, Riverside

"Regenerating Genealogy as Cosmogeny"

In traditional Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) knowledge, humankind was born the second child of Wākea (a god of the sky) and his own daughter by Papa (a goddess of the earth), Hoʻohokulani. The first child, and humanity’s older sibling, was Hāloa, the kalo (taro) plant. In such teachings, Kanaka Maoli are reminded that they have a responsibility to care for Hāloa (symbolizing both kalo and the earth more generally) because Hāloa provides food for Kanaka Maoli. While such knowledges have often been understood solely within the lenses of anthropology or “folklore,” as quaint cultural stories, how might we start rethinking humanity more broadly in such genealogical terms that places humans squarely in genealogical relationship with non-human life? In rethinking humanity, my contention is Indigenous forms of genealogy as cosmogeny, such as the Kumulipo, an epic chant relating both the origin story noted above but also the evolution of all life from the ocean, may have much to offer all of us. While Indigenous origin stories and genealogies are too frequently referenced only in appropriative white hippie or hipster ways, I seek to push us to take seriously what it might mean to reorient and regenerate our understandings of the human as deeply related to all forms of life against the ongoing sanctioning of the post-Enlightenment ideal of Man as a white, male transcendent and self-determining subject.


Maile Arvin is an assistant professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at U. C Riverside. Her fields of research and teaching include Indigenous Studies, Native Feminisms, Pacific Islander and Oceanic Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, and Science Studies. She is currently at work on her first book project tentatively titled "Regenerating Polynesia: Settler Colonialism and the Possessive Science of Racial Mixture." The manuscript examines a diverse collection of nineteenth and twentieth century scientific studies—spanning the disciplines of ethnology, physical anthropology, sociology and genetics—where Polynesians are repeatedly represented as the biological relatives of Caucasians. The book considers the legacies of this scientific knowledge production of Polynesians as almost white, using Native feminist theories to highlight Native Hawaiian and other Polynesian interventions into settler colonial knowledge, law, and representation.



Lisa Blackman, University of London

"How can we rethink the psychological within the context of the posthuman, more-than-human, non-human?"

I would like to explore how we can think the "psychological" within the context of brain-body-world entanglements (mind-matter relations) and the post-human, non-human or more-than-human. I will devise two short interventions/experimental arrangement of forces, based on simulations of work I have done with people who hear voices (in my research and collaborations with the Hearing Voices Movement), and another based on archival research into the problem of suggestion (based on experiments into automaticity carried out by Gertrude Stein and Leon Solomans). I will advance that the biohumanities have neglected subjectivity and often draw on rather conservative psychological theories and concepts to evidence their claims. This is an enduring problem and I will draw out some issues and questions that I hope will convince participants why this matters. The feature or process that will be foregrounded in the interventions is the "beyond".


Lisa Blackman is a professor of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths, University of London. She works at the intersection of body studies and media and cultural theory and is particularly interested in subjectivity, affect, the body and embodiment. She has published four books in this area. The most recent is Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation, (2012, Sage). Her work in the area of embodiment and voice hearing has been recognised and commended for its innovative approach to mental health research and it has been acclaimed by the Hearing Voices Network, Intervoice, and has been taken up in professional psychiatric contexts. Blackman has also made a substantive contribution to the fields of critical psychology and body studies. In this context she co-edits the journal, Subjectivity (with Valerie Walkerdine, Palgrave) and edits the journal Body & Society (Sage). Her other books include Hearing Voices: Embodiment and Experience (2001, Free Association Books); Mass Hysteria: Critical Psychology and Media Studies (with Valerie Walkerdine; 2001, Palgrave); and The Body: The Key Concepts (2008, Berg). Lisa is also acts as a key advisor to the Hearing the Voice project, Durham University (funded by the Wellcome). She is currently working on a book length project, Haunted Data: Social Media, Weird Science and Archives of the Future.



Jodi Byrd, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"The Grounded Relationalities of Being Human"

As foundation work by Sylvia Wynter, Hortence Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Mel Chen, and Alexander Weheliye among many others attempt to show, how we conceptualize the human has entailed a project that converges biohumanities with the biopolitical and biotechnical enterprises of racism, slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. And despite neoliberal narratives of progress and inclusion, the category of the human seems to narrow as colonial capitalism expands dispossession. Within indigenous philosophies, the concept of the human emphasizes relationalities that recognize the agencies, laws, and protocols of land, water, and everything that surrounds us. What might a shifting of human-centered philosophies to an agency of land-centered philosophies allow us to apprehend about histories of colonialism and about the concomittant production of the human as a normative category within the circulation of justice, rights, liberty, and capital? How is the human reconfigured through systems of relations that we might call networks, interfaces, programmatic protocols, kinships, or even normativities?


Jodi A. Byrd is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and an Associate Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she is also a faculty affiliate at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Her work has been published in journals including American Indian Quarterly, Cultural Studies Review, Interventions, College Literature, J19, American Quarterly, Settler Colonial Studies, and Wíčazo Ša Review. Her book, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minnesota, 2011) won the 2013 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Award for best first book. Her next project, Indigenomicon: American Indians, Videogames, and the Structures of Genre, delves into the literary and digital realms of play to think further about how the colonization of American Indians continues to inform imaginary terrains.



Dan Goodley, University of Sheffield

"DisHuman: Theorising disability and the human"

This presentation will draw upon some of my recent work with colleagues in Sheffield and Manchester in Britain and in response to some inspiring writers and writings. Drawing on research projects and intellectual moments of engagement, the presentation considers the ways in which disability disavows normative constructions of the human. I use the term disavowal in its original psychoanalytic sense of the word: to simultaneously and ambivalently desire and reject something (in this case, the human). I will then clarify and expand upon this disavowal - with explicit reference to the politics of people with intellectual disabilities – and make a case for the ways in which the human is (i) a category through which social recognition can be gained and (ii) a classification requiring expansion, extension and disruption. Indeed, an under-girding contention of this paper is that people with intellectual disabilities are already engaged in what we might term a posthuman politics from which all kinds of human can learn. The paper outlines seven reasons why we should ask what it means to be human. Then we will move to focus on four very human elements - support, frailty, capacity and desire - and disability’s place in redefining these elements.


Daniel Goodley is a professor in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. He is interested in theorising and challenging the conditions of disablism (the social, political, cultural and psycho-emotional exclusion of people with physical, sensory and/or cognitive impairments) and ableism (the contemporary ideals on which the able, autonomous, productive citizen is based). Drawing on poststructuralist, postconventionalist, social psychoanalytic and narrative accounts of exclusion and political resistance, he engages with the expertise of non-normative children and their families to expose different ways of ‘being human’. This has extended his interest in critical disability studies to include ideas from queer theory, critical race, postcolonialism and feminism. More generally, he explores how we might understand the human in the 21st Century in a time of technological and capitalist advance.



Craig Koslofsky, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"Re-Thinking the Human in the Seventeenth Century: Johann Nicolas Pechlin’s De habitu et colore Aethiopum qui vulgo nigritae... (Kiel, 1677)"

My work on the history of skin in the early modern world focuses on key developments in the seventeenth century, as Europeans at home and abroad transformed their understanding of human skin. How did they establish a new and all‐encompassing emphasis on the skin's color as the marker of human difference?Skin color arose from a critical and creative appropriation of the latest findings in the biological sciences, such the discovery of the microanatomy of the skin, for the purpose of reimagining and reconfiguring the early modern Christian sense of being human. This reimagining drew upon and collided with other critical developments in the history of skin in this period: intense debates among Christians over skin color as a Scripture problem; new xenographic accounts of distant lands and peoples; and the transformation of the age-old medical doctrine of the humoral body. Thus new questions about the skin and skin color arose from a collision of new and old epistemologies, economic forces, and signifying practices. By the end of the eighteenth century, the science of skin color helped congeal the emerging idea of race into an ontology. My paper examines the work of the Dutch-German anatomist Johann Nicolas Pechlin (1646-1706), who denied the ontological significance of skin color and denounced the slave trade explicitly in his anatomical treatises. Despite this, his findings on skin color were cited by advocates of race slavery well into the nineteenth century.


Craig Koslofsky is Professor of History and Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He works on early modern daily life and has published Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and The Reformation of the Dead: Death and Ritual in Early Modern Germany, 1450-1700 (MacMillan Press / St. Martin's Press, 2000). With support from a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship he is working on a new book, tentatively titled The Deep Surface: Skin in the Early Modern World, 1450–1750. By bringing together a wide range of themes, including medicine, skin color, anatomy, tattooing, branding, cosmetics, scarification, and blushing, The Deep Surface will be the first synoptic history of early modern skin. Together with Dr. Roberto Zaugg (Université de Lausanne) he is editing, translating, and publishing the travel journal of Johann Peter Oettinger, a seventeenth-century German barber-surgeon. Oettinger’s unique account of his travels in Germany, the Netherlands, the Caribbean, and West Africa includes the only German-language description of a slaving voyage in this era.



Hannah Landecker, University of California, Los Angeles

"Metabolic Ethics"

Metabolic ethics is a framework for viewing human action in relation to [human] biology that foregrounds a scientific and philosophical understanding of life as a metabolic process. This short reflection introduces the idea of a metabolic ethics in four steps. I begin with a short presentation of recent developments in biological chemistry that put a spotlight on metabolic process as the unceasingly moving ground of the stability and persistence of living things. The biological chemistry of genome stability is an excellent vehicle for understanding things – such as genomes – as metabolic processes, stable only through unceasing change. Second, I discuss metabolism in relation to idea of environments or environmental determinants for bodily processes. Here I take up the example of arsenic and flame-retardants as participants in the same metabolic processes that are constantly synthesizing and maintaining DNA. Rather than being something from the outside than impinges on the inside, these toxicants are participants in the process that is carbon-one metabolism; it is the anthropocene on the inside, you might say. Inorganic arsenic is methylated much as DNA is methylated, and in the same cluster of chemical reactions in the cell, indeed, they swim in a common metabolic pool. Third, I give some historical context to the separations between bodies and environments breached by this perspective and reflect on the relative non-presence of metabolism in bioethics. Finally, I turn to a brief exploration of the questions raised by the prospect of a metabolic ethics.


Hannah Landecker is a professor of Sociology and Director of the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. She uses the tools of history and social science to study contemporary developments in the life sciences, and their historical taproots in the twentieth century. She has taught and researched in the fields of history of science, anthropology and sociology. She is currently working on a book called “American Metabolism,” which looks at transformations to the metabolic sciences wrought by the rise of epigenetics, microbiomics, cell signaling and hormone biology. Landecker’s work focuses on the social and historical study of biotechnology and life science, from 1900 to now. She is interested in the intersections of biology and technology, with a particular focus on cells, and the in vitro conditions of life in research settings. 



Rachel Lee, University of California, Los Angeles

"The Chemical Sublime: Chimeracological Capacities and Disability Epistemology" 

Drawing upon poetic, (auto)ethnographic, survey research, and novelistic accounts of both environmental disaster (Bhopal gas leak) and slow endocrinological violence (sensitivity to everyday chemicals), this lecture first outlines the gendered barriers to representing the fog brought on by the toxic burden of synthetic chemicals—an effect of consumer capital and industrial modernity’s chemical dependence (e.g., in textile manufacture, agriculture, gardening, and home furnishings). Second, Lee turns to the polyvocal intelligences emergent from those attuned or reshaped by toxic exposures that are sung in forms we tend to construe as the opposite of data—poetry, speculative fiction, and stimming (tactile communication with vibrant matter). Only through a framework attentive to transgenerational epigenetic effects (chronologies of long latency) and an embrace of cross-species resemblances, Lee argues, can we responsively attend to both the ‘costs’ of incautious habits of the past and respect those perhaps permanently altered by their openness to environmental effects.


Rachel C. Lee is a professor of English and Gender Studies at UCLA, who specializes in Asian American literature, performance culture, and studies of gender and sexuality. She is the author of The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America: Biopolitics, Biosociality, and Posthuman Ecologies (NYU, 2014), The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation (Princeton University Press, 1999), editor of The Routledge Companion to Asian American and Pacific Islander Literature (Taylor Francis, 2014), and co-editor of the volume Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace (Routledge University Press, 2003). Lee is currently Director, Center for the Study of Women, Universityof California, Los Angeles and heading a multi-year research project, “Life (Un)Ltd,” addressing the question of what impact recent developments in the biosciences, biotechnology, and in clinical practice have had on feminist studies, especially those theorizing the circulation of population data and biomaterials in relation to race and (neo)colonialism. 



Becky Mansfield, Ohio State University

"Postgenomic plasticity: reproductive anxieties about the human" 

I will focus on the centrality of reproduction in the emerging “epigenetic” style of thought. Epigenetics—defined most broadly as the science of environmental regulation of gene expression and biological development—is one of many contemporary earth and life sciences that is challenging its own dualist preconceptions regarding the separation of humans and nature, bodies and environments. By studying how myriad environmental factors (past and present) affect biological outcomes (present and future) epigenetics is emerging as the science of bodily permeability and plasticity. I will explore how the fetus, in particular, is not only central in this understanding but becomes a repository for new anxieties about the human: anxieties about what is abnormal, what is normal, what is optimal, and how “we” can direct individual and collective development. It is tempting to celebrate recent shifts in the natural sciences because they align with ideas long championed in the humanities, social sciences, and even heterodox natural sciences; it is increasingly clear that we must also be cautious about these shifts—not despite but because of their non-dualist take on what it means to be human.


Becky Mansfield is a professor of Geography at Ohio State University whose broad interests are in Nature-Society Relations, Health and the Body, Political Economy, and Politics of the Environment. In her research on the topics, she draws from feminist, poststructuralist, and Marxist theoretical approaches. The current focus of her research is the new liberal biopolitics of nature and bodies, with a focus on race, gender, and environmental exposures. Current perspectives on environmental exposures emphasize the body’s permeability (the body is not bounded from its environments) and plasticity (bodies are constantly changing and changeable, not given, innate essences). Focusing on how the politics of life changes as conceptions of life change, she is particularly interested in emerging constructions of normality and abnormality, control and responsibility, and links between the science/politics of environmental health and those of reproduction. Her specific research objects have included epigenetics, which is a new form of scientific, policy, and popular knowledge regarding ways the environment shapes phenotype, and contaminated seafood and current public health efforts to use risk to manage effects of women’s seafood consumption on fetal neurodevelopment. 



Maurizio Meloni, University of Sheffield

"The Postgenomic Body: Genealogy and Open Questions"

The postgenomic body refers to an emergent form of life that is taking shape in the fifteen years following the completion of the Human Genome Project. After introducing postgenomics as a different thought-style compared to genomics, one that emphasizes in an unprecedented way the dependence of genomic functioning on time and places, I outline some of the implications of this view for a rethinking of the human body. Gathering from various disciplines (particularly environmental epigenetics and microbiomics), I understand the postgenomic body as a body radically exposed to and in dynamic exchange with its surroundings, a body with a local geography and a history (of the material exposures of its predecessors). Genealogically, the postgenomic body can be understood at the confluence of five (very) different strands: a) a break with the self-bounded, discrete, independent and universally-valid body made by the medical and genetic revolution (sometime between 1850 and early 1900s, with its mono-causal view of disease); b) a (neo-materialist) return to views of the body as plastic and locally determined (imprinted), and the environment as an immediate creator of organismic change that were highly influential from Hippocratic medicine to the early nineteenth century; c) a radicalization of lines of thinking that were present but marginal in twentieth century genetics (in developmental biology, non-Mendelian inheritance, but also certain views of G×E interaction); d) a culmination of neoliberal and consumerist views of health as resulting from personal decisions and responsibility to shape a permeable and flexible body for the better; e) an unprecedented attempt to track, quantify, and digitize the full regime of lifetime exposures that make any person (or social group) molecularly unique. Given the singular mixture of these different sources, and the radical changes we are witnessing in international politics these days, the biopolitics of the postgenomic body remains open to the widest (and wildest) range of political usages, from extreme racism to ambitious claims of environmental justice and reparations (as the deeply ambiguous history of the politics of biological plasticity well exemplifies).


Maurizio Meloni is a social theorist and senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield working on the historical, conceptual, and political implications of the life sciences. He has held in the past two EU Marie Curie Fellowships (Nottingham), a Fulbright scholarship (Chicago), and an annual Membership (2014–2015) at the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science, Princeton, USA. He has also benefited from postdoctoral visiting fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin), and the Bios Centre at LSE (awarded by the European Neuroscience and Society Network). Meloni joined Sheffield in July 2015 in the context of a Leverhulme Grant on epigenetics and public policy. The Leverhulme grant explores how epigenetic knowledge is being used to understand health inequalities, explore its influence on public and policy debates, and assess its broader impact on society. His book Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics was recently published with Palgrave/MacMillan.



Arun Saldanha, University of Minnesota

"Materialism for 2017" 

I would like to introduce into the discussion a philosopher in many ways diametrically opposed to the biohumanities: Alain Badiou. Not only is Badiou the only philosopher today who defends a modern Platonism, complete with the defense of the purity of mathematics, universality, love, and communism, he explicitly sets it against the general turn to bodies and vitalism. For Badiou, there is only humanness properly speaking where there is a strong subjective commitment to eternal ideas. The biological dimension of our existence is pointless compared to the eruption of genuine world-shattering newness (falling in love, creating new art, breakthroughs in science, and political uprisings). I have been thinking for some years now inside the tense space between Badiou and Deleuze. Rather than tabulate how these two giants of present-day post-sixties philosophical materialism differ I would like to think through their differences. There can be little doubt that the most urgent question for materialism today is how to organize collective resistance against the disaster course that is the capitalist growth machine. More specifically, how do we look back, from within this catastrophic situation, on the hundred years since the Russian Revolution? Even The Economist agrees global social and ecological conditions are ripe for a profound disturbance of business-as-usual. Without going into the details of Leninist theory of revolution, the general question is how a materialist analysis of global emergency connects to the affects and strategies of political intervention. 


Arguably Deleuze and Guattari are the theorists most conducive to theorizing the machinic stratifications of the Anthropocene, the epoch in which the earth itself is simultaneously turning humanoid and possibly extinguish life as we know it. But it is not clear whether their self-described “minor" politics can withstand the turn to the selfish and racist authoritarianism we see solidifying across the world since the onset of the Great Recession. My question is, then, whether the post-Deleuzian fold many of us have inhabited is politically and theoretically sufficient for the era of Trump, hypersecuritization, and climate refugees. But while Badiou is probably the most sophisticated theorist of revolutionary subjectivity and the dogmatism of the state, his formalistic austerity makes it impossible for me to be a full disciple of him too. The trick is therefore to allow his philosophy to inflect, not define, our materialism. I will end by discussing some of the more utopian ideas of communists amongst our colleagues in biology.


Arun Saldanha is an associate professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota. His doctoral work was on a rave tourism scene in a coastal village in South India and considered the geography of race relations, globalization and counterculture. In 2007, his first book appeared at the University of Minnesota Press called Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race. It suggests a way of looking at race as a material process. This means that race is based on how different people (economically different, physically different) interact with each other and gradually become divided into racial groups. He has recently started a new research project on Dutch exploration of the Indian Ocean at the beginning of the colonial and capitalist era, focusing on the Itinerario (1596) of Jan Huygen van Linschoten. What is common to both projects is the question of how white people get to travel and establish new connections between Europe and India. Another project he has started is about Prince, the megastar from Minneapolis who died unexpectedly in 2016. Again, the focus is on how to understand Prince’s US and global stature in terms of race, sexuality, mobility, and religion. Saldhana continues doing theoretical research on the question of race, which has brought him to consider vastly different fields, like environmental justice, climate change, philosophy of biology, Marxism, and political theory.



Stephen Taylor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"From program music to sonification: representation and the evolution of music and language" 

The emerging field of bio-musicology (Fitch 2015) and research into the origins of music and language can shed new light on musical representation, including program music (in other words, music “about” something) and more recent incarnations such as data sonification. Although sonification and program music have different aims—one scientific explication, the other artistic expression—similar techniques, relying on human and animal biology, cognition, and culture, underlie both. Examples from Beethoven, Stockhausen, popular music, and my own work will illustrate these links between musicality and representation.


Stephen Andrew Taylor is Professor of Music at the University of Illinois. A 2014 Guggenheim fellow, Taylor composes music that explores boundaries between art and science. His first orchestra commission, Unapproachable Light— inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Testament—was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in 1996 in Carnegie Hall. Other works include the quartet Quark Shadows, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony; and Seven Memorials, a 30-minute cycle for piano inspired by the work of Maya Lin and featured at Tanglewood in 2006. The Machine Awakes, a CD of his orchestra, chamber and electronic music, was released in 2010 on Albany Records. Paradises Lost, an opera based on a novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, received its Toronto premiere in 2013, conducted by the composer. In popular music he works with Pink Martini and rock singer Storm Large.  



Michelle Wright, Northwestern University

"Polyvalent Humanities ("Humanities" as in multiple human-ness performances)"

This talk will explore the question of scale and affiliation when it comes to determining the human. More specifically, Wright will first explore the tenuousness of the category of "human", exploring the ways in which it is always performative (by the actor and/or the audience), and therefore a "when" and a "where" rather than a "what". The talk will then link the "now" of this spacetime (aka "Epiphenomenal spacetime" of the human) to polyvalence--i.e., the fact that our performance of the human is not stable but changes when and where the context changes--before concluding with a tentative exploration of how that performance of the human can be interpreted as produced through coalition (horizontal, or equitable relationships) rather than through a derivative hierarchy (i.e., having one's humanity bestowed by a "superior", whether than be a machine, object, animal or "human").


Michelle M. Wright is a professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan in 1997, and has served on the faculties of Carnegie Mellon University, Macalester College, and University of Minnesota. Born and raised in Western Europe and North Africa, her research and pedagogy focus on the literature and philosophy of the African Diaspora, especially in the Anglophone, Francophone and Germanophone worlds. She is the author of Becoming Black: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2004) and Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), and co-editor of Domain Errors! A Cyberfeminist Handbook with Faith Wilding and Maria Fernandez (Autonomedia Press, 2003), Reading the Black German Experience with Tina Campt (Callaloo, 2004), and Blackness and Sexualities with Antje Schuhmann (Lit Verlag, Berlin, 2007). She is currently working on a project called Feeling Europe: Black Affect in the Heart of Empire



Deborah Youdell, University of Birmingham

"Learning human"

Contemporary formal education is an endeavor in both schooling subjects and inciting those subjects to learn. As children are schooled in the forms of subjecthood that render them recognizable as learners, they are simultaneously schooled in how to recognize, and be recognizable as, the human (and, by extension, the non-human and the abject). Yet while critical/post-structural/feminist work in education has elaborated nuanced understandings of the making of subjects and learners, it has less to say about learning itself.

Knowledge about the influences on and mechanisms of learning is dispersed and remains partial. Here I sketch lines of research in sociology of education, pedagogy, developmental psychology, educational neuroscience and epigenetics and consider what these tell us about human learning. I examine points of contestation and incommensurability as well as possible interaction between knowledges created by these domains, and ask whether and how we might integrate social and cultural theory and research with emerging evidence from new biological sciences.


Compelled by accounts of subjects, bodies and environments tied together in an endless exchange of influence, I suggest that we move across domains, concepts and evidences (subject to cell to economy; ethnographic representation to metabolic pathway to gene methylation; discourse to brain activity to affect; learning to volatile organic compound to human) in order to conceptualise and demonstrate biosocial/biohumanities influences and mechanisms of both learning to be human and the human learning.


Deborah Youdell is a professor of Sociology of Education in the School of Education, College of Social Science at the University of Birmingham. She currently holds a British Academy Fellowship supporting research bringing new biological sciences together with sociological accounts of schooling and subjectivity in order to generate new insights into learning and the learner and establish the usefulness of critical biosocial studies for education. Deborah’s work in the Sociology of Education has been concerned with the relationship between policy, practice and inequalities, exploring how inequalities are connected to subjectivities, everyday practices, pedagogy, institutional processes and policy. This research has spanned issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, social class, ability and disability and has been underpinned by engagements with post-structural thinking about power, the subject, space, and the political. Deborah is currently working with Human Biologist Martin R. Lindley on a new book, Biosocial Education, to be published by Routledge in 2017.



Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

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