12 Oct 2020 5:00pm - 7:00pm ONLINE SESSION (UK Time)


This is an online event hosted via Zoom. Registration online is now closed. For further information email Anindita Biswas.


Hannah Landecker (Professor, Department of Sociology and Director, Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA)



Recent events have seen unusual concern about 'underlying conditions,' with obesity, inflammation, and chronic stress foregrounded as socially-formatted biological determinants of Covid-19 morbidity and mortality. This talk will address the underlying condition as a metabolic one and the methodological and theoretical tools needed to study it. Drawing on interviews and laboratory ethnography, I review the marked metabolic turn currently occurring in immunology, stem cell science, cancer research, stress biology, and many other subfields of bioscience, in which something of renaissance in biochemistry is underway. This turn is in no small part due to the study of contemporary metabolic disorders and the realisation that many industrial effluents, from air pollution to arsenic, function as endocrine 'metabolic disruptors.' The extraordinary prevalence of metabolic disorder is in these domains increasingly conceptualised as an outcome of not just diet or habit, but of the biochemical-energetic milieu of contemporary society. At the same time, but not really in conversation with these molecular health sciences, the social and humanistic sciences have been rediscovering metabolism as a resource for social theory. Because of the perhaps mutually unintelligible languages and conventions of these domains of scholarship, the metabolism of social theory looks almost nothing like the metabolism of contemporary biochemical thought, and remains rather mired in a dyspeptic modernist frame. While the productivist input-output frame of metabolism as labour and waste disposal has generated the conditions with which we live, it cannot now comprehend its own consequent inflammatory crisis. Here I will make the attempt to translate the metabolic (re)turn underway in the biosciences, which takes as its problem space the nature of life-after-industrialisation, into a set of usable concepts and prompts for empirical social science and a reflexive positioning of the analyst of metabolism in the historical specificity of the concept’s evolution.


An event organised by Rescaling the Metabolic: Food, Technology, Ecology Network
Administrative assistance: networks@crassh.cam.ac.uk

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