How Science and Law Co-Produce Sh!t as Medicine: On Postcolonial Technoscience in the Postgenomic Age
Microbiome studies have grown tremendously in the past decade and represent an emerging field in what is increasingly known as postgenomic biology. The studies reveal that the body—especially the gut—is populated by various microbes such as fungus and bacteria in such a magnitude and variety that biologists have proposed to think of the body as having a distinct form of microbial ecosystem: the microbiome. Depending on the foods one consumes the gut microbial inhabitants of human bodies vary. There is convincing evidence, for instance, that the gut microbiomes of humans living in subsistence economies are more resistant to non-communicable chronic diseases than the gut microbiomes in urbanized and industrialized contexts. One of the therapeutic treatments flowing out of this research is Fecal Microbiota Transplantation. My talk will focus on the question how stool, a substance historically produced as polluted, and which played a defining role in dividing the primitive from colonial modernity, can be turned so effortlessly into a form of biovalue. What do these translations from waste to biovalue—or from shit to medicine—disclose about contemporary technoscience? My hypothesis is that law—as much as science—plays a significant part in this translation. Law and science sanitize the matter of excrement: while science extracts healthy microbes from stool, law universalizes fecal matter and uncouples it from its geography and situated histories. My aim is to place this analysis in a postcolonial framework and to invite sociology to a more intimate engagement with legal technoscience.
About the speaker
Sonja van Wichelen received her PhD in Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam (2007) and held positions in the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University (2007-2009), the Pembroke Center at Brown University (2009-2010), and the Institute for Culture and Society at the University of Western Sydney (2010-2014) before joining Sydney University in 2015. Her general research interests include globalization and human rights, science and technology studies, feminist and postcolonial theory, and the sociology of law. Sonja is the director of the Biopolitics of Science Research Network and research leader of the BioHumanity Theme. She is the author of Legitimating Life: Adoption in the Age of Globalization and Biotechnology (Rutgers University Press, 2018) and Religion, Gender and Politics in Indonesia: Disputing the Muslim Body (Routledge, 2010), co-editor of the Springer/Palgrave MacMillan Biolegalities Book Series, and on the editorial board of Catalyst and The Sociological Review.