4/12/19 – GTD Colloquium: Ontology of the Gene and the Politics of Genetic Modification

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Date(s) - 04/12/19
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm


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On 4 December 2019, from 15.30-17.00 a Globalisation, Transnationalism & Development Colloquium will take place. The lecture will be held by Dr. Esha Shah (Wageningen University)  and is on the topic of “Ontology of the Gene and the Politics of Genetic Modification”.


“There could be never a Newton for the blade of grass” said Kant. For the anti-reductionist scientists and philosophers Kant’s dictum means that biological processes involving irreversible time are so complex that they could never be explained purely in physical and chemical terms. Why and how the method and philosophy of reductionism operates in the individual affective life of scientists and how in the creative struggles of scientists, reductionism is sustained, adopted, questioned or challenged is the main focus of my recently published book Who is the Scientist-Subject? Affective History of the Gene (Routledge, 2018). In this presentation, I will first introduce my book.

The second part of the presentation will focus on the way Kant’s dictum can be interpreted in relation to the conversations between science and society on genetic modification, taking the recent case of gene-editing tool CRISPR. CRISPR is widely hyped to have revolutionary potential for generating novel crops, including eradicating malaria in Africa by releasing modified mosquitoes in the environment. I will discuss how these conversations on the gene-editing are overly focused on the consequences – good and bad – and how the front-end science of the complex ontology of the gene is rarely discussed in these conversations.  I will discuss the complex ontology of the gene as it is currently understood in two landmark projects – the  sequencing of the human genome and Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements – in relation to the way the gene is presented by scientists in the CRISPR conversations. What implications the incorporation of the philosophy of front-end science on the complex ontology of the gene would have for the back-end politics of the governance and regulation of the gene-edited products is the question that I will finally discuss in my presentation.


About Dr Esha Shah

Esha Shah is an Assistant Professor with the Environmental Science Group at Wageningen University. All her past and current research is focused on anthropology, history and philosophy of science and technology with special reference to traditional and modern water control technologies in India, GMOs, Green revolution, farmers’ suicides. More recently, she is developing her research interests on ‘affective histories’ of the modes of development, normativity, rationality, and knowledge practices, including the way human subjectivity shape objectivity in science and engineering. She is currently working on the following research projects: 1) the way ideals and practices of manliness and masculinity shaped the colonial history of dam engineering, and 2) the way ‘imagineering’ mega-hydraulic infrastructure such as large dams and the colossal National River Interlinking Project in India are concretely manifested in creating distinct political identities and subjectivities.



When: Wednesday December 4, 2019, from 15:30-17:00

Where: Spiegelzaal, GG 80-82 (Soiron building)