STS@OSU Conference Workshop Paper Abstracts

All participants are expected to read and engage their choice of two works in progress. There is a choice of three papers for each of the two workshop rounds. Authors will only have the first five minutes to frame the work that they shared. They will then silently listening to the conversation about their work. An appointed discussant will have the first 10 minutes before opening the floor for group discussion. The authors will only be able to speak and verbally engage their interlocutors in the last 15 minutes of the workshop time. Please register by February 28, 2019. After you have registered, one of the conference organizers will send you links to download the drafts for discussion. By signing up for the conference, you understand that these are works in progress and must not be circulated beyond the workshop without prior permission from the authors. After you have read the paper descriptions below, please register here.


Workshop Round 1 (9:30am-11:00am):

“Inside the Fever Museum: US public health history as global health history”

Adia Benton

This chapter weaves together observations from the CDC’s David J. Sencer Museum, the artifacts collected and displayed there in the Ebola exhibit, and the stories they tell — in other words, the social lives of these objects, and the material cultures they inhabit. The chapter draws on multiple interviews with the museum’s curator, multiple visits to the museum during the two years of its Ebola: People + Public Health and + Political Will exhibit (including a curator tour with a senior medical epidemiologist involved in the outbreak response), and after the exhibit was taken down. Informal conversations with people who contributed items for the collection and museum staff (i.e. security) are also included.

Drawing together the themes outlined elsewhere in the book – deracination, intervention, enclosure, and repair – to analyze the museum data, I elaborate a theory of US global health’s ideological formation. Objects displayed in the exhibit and the stories behind their selection, installation, and orientation, order museum visitors’ understanding of what US public health imagines itself to be, the globe it imagines and constitutes in the name of ‘global health.’ The exhibit also reflects and shapes public health practitioners’ perceived and intended (albeit censored) impact on the social world into which it intervenes. Although the CDC is one of many US health organizations involved in epidemic emergencies in the Global South, it plays a pivotal role in the public and US cultural imagination, and as a strategic technical partner with other US government agencies, African ministries, and non-governmental organizations. This role is delineated in the museum’s textual, visual and spatial narrative about its role in “securing” and promoting the world’s health and the health of the American people. Through these layered narratives, the CDC shows itself to be a central organizing node in global health histories-in-the-making and in global health’s ideological formation.

Adia Benton is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone, and frequently writes about global health, infectious diseases and the politics of knowledge in these fields.

“Incommensurable Rights? Health, Work, and Livelihood in Lead Exposure”

Stefanie Graeter

During a World Bank campaign to remove lead from gasoline in 1998, the Peruvian state discovered scandalously high levels of lead contamination “by accident.” Occurring at the cusp of Peru’s neoliberal reforms designed to expand transnational extractive industries, the scientific detection of severe human lead exposure at mining sites triggered a transnational controversy–– between neo-extractive economics and the value of human life–– that remains unresolved to this day. “Incommensurable Rights?” moves from lead’s scientific discovery to a pivotal 2012 congressional decision over whether to reopen the bankrupted, smoke-belching La Oroya smelter, owned by the most infamous U.S. polluter in the Andes. The chapter argues that the disagreement between laborers and activists over the relative merits of clean air versus viable livelihoods enunciates two sides of the same political wrong: the unequal social distribution of material wellbeing. Work and health, however, have become de facto opposed as incommensurable alternatives within neoliberal logics of extractive governance. This work will be Chapter 1 of the book, Mineral Incorporations: Ethical Sciences, Contaminated Politics, and Bodies with Minerals in Peru’s Neoextractivist Era. 

Stefanie Graeter is a Cultural Anthropologist and Center for Latin American Studies Lecturer at the University of Chicago. Her ethnographic research on lead toxicity politics examines the potential for scientific activism to unsettle the moral and material economies of Peru’s transnational mining industry, one of the world’s top metal commodity producers. Thinking from social worlds of ecological ruin and racialized inequalities, her work conceptualizes how entanglements of labor, livelihood, and toxicity trouble prevalent concepts of environmentalism, health, and human rights.

“Lively Labor and Deadly Capital: Value, Health, and Communisms to Come”

Kaushik Sunder Rajan

This essay attends to the question of “communism” through a conceptualization of value. This is grounded, on the one hand, in empirical concerns with the life sciences and biomedicine, as they have come to adopt more capitalized and corporatized modes of production through the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first. On the other hand, it adopts a Marxian theorization of the value-form, as constitutive to the dynamics of capital. Thus, the essay simultaneously reflects upon the notion of value in biocapital, and upon methods for its analysis, in relation to a conjuncture of monopolized, financialized corporate capital. It concludes by reflecting upon the political stakes of the concept of value, as an abstraction that animates the dynamics of capital, and as it materializes in particular sectors, situations and locales.

[Note: the paper was written for a conference, “Communism 17”, organized in Rome by a collective of Italian communists in 2017, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This version, submitted here, is the redrafted version, for review, translation and publication in a collection that will come out of the conference, in Italian. The call of the conference and the collection was to explicitly think the question of “communism” for our times – hence the particular orientation towards (and in some ways, deferral of) this question. Comments at this stage are most welcome!]

Kaushik Sunder Rajan is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He works on the political economy of the life sciences and biomedicine, and is the author, most recently, of *Pharmocracy: Value, Politics and Knowledge in Global Biomedicine* (Duke, 2017). He is beginning a new research project which looks at intersections between health and law in South Africa and India. The paper presented here is a preliminary attempt to think through some of the contours of this project.


Workshop Round 2 (11:15am-12:45pm)

“MDMA is not Ecstasy: The production of pharmaceutical safety through documents in clinical trials”

Katie Hendy

Non-profit efforts to develop the recreational drug MDMA (“Ecstasy”) as a prescription pharmaceutical provide a unique opportunity to examine recent theorizations of pharmaceuticals as fluid objects. This new scholarship emphasizes the processes through which the efficacious capacities of pharmaceuticals are transformed in new informational and material environments.  Drawing from ethnographic research, this article interrogates MDMA researchers’ own distinction between their investigational product (IP), MDMA, and the street drug Ecstasy. While researchers maintain that pure MDMA is distinct from the street drug Ecstasy, this article argues that difference between the two is in the making in these clinical trials. More specifically, this article argues that the difference between MDMA and Ecstasy hangs not on a distinction in substance, but on the development of MDMA’s clinical safety. This article tracks the production of safety through the inter-connected work of clinical documents, which manage both which bodies are allowed to absorb the drug and which bodily events count as effects of the drug. MDMA’s safety emerges not from the substance itself, but from the careful management of relations through these documentary practices.

Trained in science and technology studies and medical anthropology, Katie Hendy‘s research and teaching examine the intersection of politics, regulatory science and pharamceuticals. Her research agenda is currently formulated around one central ethnographic questions: How is the boundary around licit substances and licit use policed in legal, therapeutic, and regulatory contexts?  And what kinds of knowledge claims are mobilized to support these boundaries?  These two questions tie together her doctoral research on the MDMA(Ecstasy) clinical trials–which examined how how an illicit, underground spiritual-therapeutic experience was being transformed into a standardized and regulated therapeutic practice–and her upcoming research on pharmaceutical surveillance and opioid therapy.


“Land and Sea”

Cameron Hu

In the shale fields of West Texas, where multinational oil corporations now attempt to reinvent themselves through massive experimentation on non-conventional rock, geological science looks increasingly marginal to the future of oil. What does it mean for a science to lose application to its usual object? My chapter considers the significance of this unspectacular transition for the political ontology of hydrocarbon molecules and the theory of imperialism. Examining the global adventure of American petroleum geology from the close of the Cold War to the present, I characterize the changing spatial and temporal orientation of petro-industrial growth in which an extensive problem of discovery gives way to an intensive problem of manipulability. This shift ultimately raises questions about the coherence of customary distinctions between “finding” and “making”—distinctions basic to much political economy—and by extension, about emerging folds in the international division of labor and global division of nature.

Cameron Hu is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Chicago. His dissertation is an ethnography of the global frontier in unconventional oil. His most recent essay is “‘A jungle that is continually encroaching’: The time of disaster management,” in Environment and Planning D.


“Truth Without Justice: Identifying the Remains of the Disappeared in Chile”

Eden Medina

In the 1990s, the Chilean government formed a team of forensic scientists to identify the skeletons of those who had been executed or disappeared by the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). This paper focuses on the 126 skeletons exhumed from one burial site—Patio 29—a lot in the General Cemetery in Santiago where the military buried hundreds of bodies in graves marked N.N. (nomen nescio). It connects this exhumation to the history of forensic anthropology in Chile and the ways human rights groups and government organizations were collecting data on the human rights crimes that were taking place while Pinochet was in power. The paper constitutes the first chapter of a book manuscript in progress and sets the stage for a larger story of identification and misidentification.  In 2006, the Chilean government announced that at least 48 of the 126 sets of remains exhumed from the Patio 29 site had been misidentified.

Eden Medina is Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing, Affiliated Associate Professor of Law, and Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research uses technology as a means to understand historical processes and she combines history, science and technology studies, and Latin American studies in her writings. She is the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile and co-editor of Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology and Society in Latin America.