Genetics and Biocolonialism in Contemporary Literature and Film


Dr Clare Barker is currently working on a project that explores the representation of genetic research in global literature and film. Funded by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award, this project focuses particularly on postcolonial and indigenous texts that depict or engage with genetic research on indigenous, isolated, or otherwise vulnerable communities. From the Human Genome Diversity Project to the HeLa controversy, there has been significant media attention to, and activist protest against, the way minority groups have been treated by medical science, both historically and in the present day. This has led to medical science and the pharmaceutical industry being framed as agents of ‘biocolonialism’, a term highlighting the power dynamics involved when minority groups are ‘mined’ for their genetic riches. Concepts like intellectual property are often incompatible with nonwestern worldviews and produce conflicts over how human life is valued in the genomic era. 

Dr Barker’s research uses postcolonial critical methodologies to investigate how creative depictions of genetics can help us understand the cultural politics of biomedical research. It explores how scientific discourse and bioethical debate register in fictional texts and considers the ethical implications of how genetic research is communicated and interpreted, particularly when it has the potential to impact upon the welfare and wellbeing of indigenous and minority communities.  

A series of events related to this project will be ongoing throughout the 2018-19 academic year, such as:

Research Symposium: Global Genetic Fictions
25-26th April 2019, Weetwood Hall, Leeds

Research Symposium: Biocolonialism: Perspectives from the Humanities
22-23rd May 2019, Weetwood Hall, Leeds

Conference: Postcolonial Health - Global Perspectives on the Medical Humanities

20-21st June 2019, Weetwood Hall, Leeds 

Call for papers - we are looking for papers to be presented at this event, see more.