Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Biologies
Secondary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
The materiality of human bodies at the smallest scales -- genes, microbes, chemicals, hormones -- is increasingly being understood as both responsive to broader environmental contexts and a crucial determinant of health and well-being. Phenomena including epigenetics, the human microbiome, cumulative stress, and toxic pollution of various sorts are being cited among the scientific community as having wide-ranging effects that shape personal and social capacities, affects, and inequalities. Activist, indigenous, and popular engagements with such claims operate alongside those of science proper, and in various relationships to it. This panel considers how such new perspectives require re-thinking the social and the personal, and how this rethinking entails resistance, resilience, and adaptation on the part of both humans and anthropology itself. How is the human body imagined as an environment among both anthropologists and those we study? What are the implications of imagining a particularly porous and receptive human body, one intimately influenced by its surroundings, and indeed materially inseparable from them? What changes if the human body's material composition is understood to include multi-species stakeholders? Or if human desires, energies, moods, and potentials are being "proven" to be produced at the level of the body's material composition? Such new conceptions do far more than bypass traditional forms of dualistic thinking; they inspire colloquial and analytical re-framing of volition, futurity, responsibility and accountability, inequality and justice, and the ever-vexing "natural". This panel spans research from stem cells to flavor chemistry, from the microbiome in Japan, to toxic fertility in California, to brain tissue and dementia in Korea, illuminating ways that anthropology is suited to examine -- and contribute to -- such re-imaginings.