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. 

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

  • How creative works from around the world engage with scientific concepts of the gene, genomics, epigenetics, as well as related ideas including human variation, inheritance and ancestry;
  • How genes, the human genome, heredity, and ownership of genetic information are conceptualised across different cultural frameworks;
  • How cultural texts are both influenced by, and help to shape understandings of, genetic science;
  • How cultural texts negotiate questions of identity (including race, disability, gender, sexuality, and species) in relation to genetics; 
  • Representations of genetic research, including its methodologies, dissemination, and ethics;
  • Postcolonial/decolonial approaches to the power relations within the legal, ethical, regulatory, and market frameworks of the life sciences;
  • The relationships between genre, form and genetic representations.

We welcome perspectives from disciplines including literary studies, film studies, history, law, media and cultural studies, critical and cultural theory, philosophy, postcolonial studies, critical medical humanities, disability studies, and bioethics. We are also keen to include participation from creative practitioners (writers, filmmakers, visual artists, performance artists) whose work engages with genetic science, and 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 (200 words max) of how the symposium relates to your field of research, creative or professional practice. 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.