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Science and Society Summer School (E4S) Deconstructing and Reconstructing Life: From classification to design

H. Stefánsson, G. Testa, S. Jasanoff, M. Haury, C. Chica, Ch. Hentrich, C. Kox, M. Stefan, B. Schläger

Aims

E4S is an EU-funded initiative jointly organised by PhD students and faculty from three academic institutions: European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European School of Molecular Medicine (IFOM-IEO-Campus), and Harvard Kennedy School of Government. E4S will explore how new know-how and technologies emerging from the biological sciences are forcing us to re-examine our worldview, our conception of living organisms, species boundaries and the nature of life.

The aim of the Summer School is to bring together PhD students and postdocs from the life sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences with senior researchers and scholars from a range of different fields for a week of intensive interdisciplinary communication. The main emphasis of the course will be on encouraging discussion and exchange of ideas and insights across disciplinary boundaries. Each day during the course two or three senior scholars/researchers will give overview presentations addressing the different themes of the programme (see below). This will be accompanied by interactive, in-depth discussion sessions throughout the day. Junior participating members of the summer school are expected to be actively involved throughout the course and take turns giving presentations summarising the main conclusions at the end of each day. Senior scholars will be in full attendance on the days of their visits.

Topics

Part I: Deconstructing and ordering living organisms

The first part of this interdisciplinary summer school will focus on how contemporary biology and genetics have uprooted conventional understandings of what constitutes ‘human nature’, as well as categories of humans. These sciences have radically undermined the concepts of individual, community, species, and race, and introduced new terms and concepts such as genetic diversity. These transformations in common conceptions of biological identity invite further scrutiny of the foundations of mega-paradigms like ‘evolution’, by subjecting them to a range of epistemological lenses that are not only scientific and technological but also, importantly, philosophical, social and historical. Re-ordering of the boundary between humans and animals, as under the current heading of chimera research, also lends itself well to investigation from multiple disciplinary perspectives: In what way for example did Darwin’s ideas challenge contemporary boundaries of human and animal? And what has happened to such classifications in the molecular age? Has the fragmentation of life into cells and genes blurred or reinforced the human/animal boundary, and if so with what scientific, social, and moral consequences?

Part II: Re-making life: new bioentities and their meanings

In the second part of the program, we will venture into two fast-moving research frontiers that both exemplify and challenge the understandings discussed earlier.
1) The redrawing of lineages and life trajectories. This includes chimera research, as well as the field of experimentation aimed at changing cell potency within or outside the body, with both generative and regenerative implications. We will look at the wide range of influences, commitments and beliefs that are shaping this redrawing of life, and that are at once epistemological and social. We will ask how the increasing fragmentation of life into functional units such as cells or genes promotes or challenges the processes of boundary drawing that characterise current biology.
2) Synthetic biology, whose emphasis on the reshuffling of parts into new design elements captures in an iconic way the conflation between knowing and making, representing and intervening that lies at the heart of modern science. We will look at the epistemological shift of synthetic biology as well as at the political economy it fuels, and the responses and arrangements it is evoking and/or stabilising in the social world.

Programme

A full programme and session outlines can be downloaded here.

Tutors

Detlev Arendt, EMBL, Germany
David Healy, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
Agnar Helgason, Decode Genetics, Iceland
Stephen Hilgartner, Cornell University, USA
David Hull, Northwestern University, USA
Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University, USA
Jonathan Marks, University of North Carolina, USA
Andrés Moya, University of Valencia, Spain
Paul Oldham, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Alain Prochiantz , College de France, France
Amanda Rees, York University, United Kingdom
Hilary Rose, Bradford University , United Kingdom
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, University of California at Irvine , USA
Patrick Taylor, Harvard University, USA
Giuseppe Testa, SEMM (European Institute of Oncology), Italy
Richard Tutton, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Steven Wainwright, University of London, United Kingdom

Organising Committee

Claudia Chica, EMBL, Germany
Christian Hentrich, EMBL, Germany
Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University, USA
Corinne Kox, EMBL, Germany
Britta Schlaeger, Grant Project Management, Germany
Melanie Stefan, EMBL-EBI, United Kingdom
Halldór Stefánsson, EMBL, Germany
Giuseppe Testa, SEMM (European Institute of Oncology), Italy