Bioengineering: from Terraforming to Designer Babies
Terraforming planets, designer babies, human cloning, cyborgs, and many more utopian, as well as dystopian, imaginaries involve the technological transformation of nature—or, in other words, a will to manipulate biological matter. This in itself is nothing new: as early as the 16th century, Francis Bacon claimed dominion over nature as a matter of human survival. Five centuries later, after the discovery of DNA ushered genetic engineering into being, “dominion” appears closer than ever—if not the transcendence of certain biological constraints. With advances in technology, new horizons proliferate—dreams of curing diseases, growing organs on demand, and innumerable possibilities for modifying the human body, none of them independent of ethical, political, and economic ramifications. What is the science behind biological engineering? And what motivates human aspirations towards it?
In this course, we will explore, on the one hand, the core biological principles that inform biotechnology, from the molecular level to the organismal. On the other, we will examine the emergence of biotechnologies within the system of capitalism and their implications from both political and policy perspectives. What is synthetic biology? How does tissue engineering work? What real constraints limit the imagination of what bioengineering can, and should, do? And how does bioengineering blur our categories—of organic, inorganic, and even human? Readings will draw widely on primary scientific literature, statements from scientific conventions on biotechnology and biological patents, and theoretical writing by, among others, Daniel Nicholson, Erwin Schrödinger, Donna Haraway, Philip Pauly, and Stuart Newman.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 09 — April 30, 2024