Research Symposium: Global Genetic Fictions

A research symposium funded by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award, and part of the University of Leeds research project on ‘Genetics and Biocolonialism in Contemporary Literature and Film’.

As genetic science develops at breakneck speed, cultural representations register in their form and content changing ideas about the self and personhood, consciousness, behaviour and motivation, heredity, and the boundaries of the human body. And yet, ‘western’ science is only one of a number of frameworks that provide explanations for these phenomena.

Knowledge, assumptions and beliefs about what a gene is and what the human genome is, about inheritance, kinship, who owns the body, its parts and ‘data’, are not universal but are culturally produced, culturally interpreted, and culturally situated. For many indigenous communities, for instance, genes may be understood as ‘the ancestors within’ (Grace 1998), a perspective generating different philosophical questions from those raised by ‘western’ scientific frameworks about the make-up of the self and different ethical priorities regarding genetic research.

In this symposium we seek to bring together two recent currents in contemporary biocultural scholarship: a) critical engagement with the representation of ideas from genetic science in media and cultural texts; and b) the development of postcolonial approaches to biomedicine and the life sciences, which interrogate the cultural biases and structural inequalities inherent in these fields. We shall explore the representation of genetic discourse in literature, film, news media, popular culture and philosophy across cultures, and hope to pay particular attention to representations from the global South.


Thursday 25 April

08.30-09.15 Registration and coffee

09.15-09.30 Welcome

9.30-11.00 Panel 1: Mid-Twentieth Century Genetic Science

Jenny Bangham, University of Cambridge: Paper, Blood and Enduring Genetic Fictions

Natalie Riley, Durham University: A Unique and Universal Genealogy: Brain Science and Determinism in A.S. Byatt’s Babel Tower

11.00-11.30 Coffee break

11.30-13.00 Panel 2: Genetics and Reproduction

Clare Hanson, University of Southampton: A Time Before Difference: Cloning in Eva Hoffman’s The Secret

Lucy Burke, Manchester Metropolitan University: Hostile Environments: Down’s Syndrome in Nordic Crime Fiction Since 2008

13.00-14.00 Lunch (Woodlands Suite)

14.00-15.30 Panel 3: Genetic Privacy

Jay Clayton, Vanderbilt University: A Century of Genetic Threats in Film and Television

Paul Hamann, University of Hamburg: Private Data, Global Power: Genetic Privacy in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy?

15.30-16.00 Coffee break

16.00-17.30 Panel 4: Genetic Science and Popular Culture

Loredana Filip, Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg: Genetic Enhancement, TED Talks and the Sense of Wonder

Jerome De Groot, University of Manchester: Post-genomic Identities in Sound and Verse

19.00 Conference dinner (Woodlands Suite)

Friday 26 April

09.00-10.30 Panel 5: Genetics and Race

Josie Gill, University of Bristol: Pharmacogenomics, Racial Medicine and Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt

Michell Chresfield, University of Birmingham: Tri-racial Isolates and Racially Ambiguous Others: DNA Ancestry Testing and the Making of Identity

10.30-11.00 Coffee break

11.00-12.30 Panel 6: Epigenetics and Environments

Lara Choksey, University of Exeter: Epigenetics and Translocality

Frances Hemsley, University of Bristol: Resilience and Epigenetics: Reading Heredity in Racist Environments

12.30-13.30 Lunch (Woodlands Suite)

13.30-15.00 Panel 7: Indigenous Genetic Fictions

Clare Barker, University of Leeds: Warrior Genes

Shital Pravinchandra, Queen Mary University of London: ‘More Than Biological’: Reading Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves as Indigenous Genetic Fiction

15.00-15.30 Closing remarks