Research Symposium: Biocolonialism: Perspectives from the Humanities

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

For many colonised peoples, scientific research has long been identified with the oppressive project of imperialism and colonial exploitation. Population genetics, medical trials, genetic ancestry studies, and pharmaceutical research all frequently target the bodies and environmental resources of indigenous or isolated communities in the ‘gene-rich South’ (Barclay 2005) – often communities still living with the socioeconomic, cultural, and spiritual legacies of colonialism. Interactions between biogenetic research and researched communities expose vital conflicts over how human life is valued in the genomic era, while bioethics struggles to keep pace with the speed of scientific advances. Indigenous activists, scientists, and ethicists have done much to establish new principles and protocols for the conduct and governance of research, but the fields of biotechnology and big pharma remain underpinned by structural inequality and cultural bias.

This symposium seeks to explore contemporary and historical forms of biocolonialism from a variety of perspectives: academic (particularly the humanities), scientific, activist, and those of researched communities. We will explore histories and representations of biocolonial activity in order to consider the ways in which cultural narratives and forms engage with scientific research, indigenous politics, and anti-biocolonial activism.

Topics for consideration may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Representations of bioprospecting, biopiracy and biocolonialism in literature, film, TV, visual art, the performing arts, news media, and popular culture;
  • Biopolitical histories and (post)colonial bodies (e.g. organ theft, medical trials, museums and repatriation);
  • Narratives of blood, bones, marrow, organs, cells, genes, DNA;
  • Indigenous frameworks for bioscientific knowledge, and the inclusion of indigenous and non-western knowledges within research governance frameworks;
  • The translation and value of scientific, bioethical and legal concepts (e.g. ‘inheritance’, ‘extinction’, ‘immortalisation’, ‘informed consent’, ‘intellectual property’, ‘cultural safety’) across cultural frameworks;
  • Critical perspectives on specific biocolonial initiatives, e.g. the Human Genome Diversity Project, the Genographic Project;
  • Alliances and networks between academic critics, creative artists, and biocolonial activists.

We welcome perspectives from across academic disciplines including literary studies, film studies, history, law, media and cultural studies, indigenous studies, postcolonial studies, critical medical humanities, bioethics, and the life sciences. We are also keen to include participation from biocolonial activists and from creative practitioners (writers, filmmakers, visual artists, performance artists) whose work engages with biocolonial activities. We welcome proposals for creative sessions (film screenings, readings, performances, art exhibits).

Please submit 300-word proposals plus a short bio (100 words) to Clare Barker at c.f.barker@leeds.ac.uk. We also have a limited number of spaces for non-speaking participants; if you would like to attend please submit a short description of how the symposium relates to your field of research, creative or professional practice (200 words max). The closing date for submissions is Friday 21 December 2018.

This symposium is part of a University of Leeds research project on ‘Genetics and Biocolonialism in Contemporary Literature and Film’ and is funded by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award [grant number 106839/Z/15/Z]. Attendance is free and catering will be provided for all delegates. Accommodation and travel expenses will be covered for all speakers.