health

Workshop 4: Ilana Lowy, ‘‘Designer babies’: embryos and foetuses as experimental objects’

Ilana Lowy (Centre de Recherche Medicine, Science Santé et Societé (CERMES), CNRS, Paris) opened her talk stating that the dream of deciding the baby has a long tradition and practical as well as emotional importance. Lowy emphasised that it is a small object by volume but very important politically. She proceeded in explaining the recent development of perfection in medically assisted reproduction as a domesticated technique in France (women try to forget rather extraordinary measures that lead to pregnancy, naturalising stress). 

Workshop 3: Brian Balmer and Norma Morris, 'Who is the 'guinea-pig' in human experimentation?'

Brian Balmer and Norma Morris (Science and Technology Studies, UCL) discussed their empirical work and its relevance to the theme of Experimental Subjects drawing on a nine-year collaborative research project on how volunteers understand their participation in biomedical research. Their research has involved interviewing women who have volunteered for a test scan using a new medical imaging technology about their experience of being a volunteer. They discussed three ways of understanding the 'experimental subject' that they have encountered in their research. First, they argued that the healthy and patient volunteers themselves are the experimental subjects being experimented on by biophysicists, and then being interviewed by social scientists. Next, they claimed that another type of 'experimental subject' emerges from their relationship with the biophysicists and they discussed the ambiguity around this relationship as either collaborators with the biophysicists or social scientific experimenters on the biophysicists.  Thirdly, they reflexively made themselves into 'experimental subjects'  and discussed how the biophysicists and volunteers constructed their identity in the course of their interactions.

Workshop 1 - Melissa Leach, 'Experimenting with Development'

Melissa Leach (STEPS, University of Sussex) opened her presentation observing that it has long been said that Africa is a laboratory, used as a site for many projects that exemplify experimentality on a narrow scale – in the sense of clinical and field trials. Following this she argued more broadly that the development project can be seen as experiment, generating its own institutions and industry; its own experimental practices; its own ways of dealing with uncertainty, evaluating and reaching closure. Leach illustrated how more broadly still a far more global ‘experimental condition’ is exemplified, as the global systemic effects of interlocked, unpredictable changes become apparent (i.e. climate change, food and energy crises, pandemics). In her talk she offered some thoughts on how experimentality operates at each of these levels and made several cross-cutting observations and arguments that apply (in different ways) to all.

Experimentality - life and magic!

The Annual Research Programme defines the main topics of debate that unfold in the Lancaster University hub of inter- and post-disciplinary, intra- and inter-institutional encounters, the Institute for Advanced Studies. This year's programme, 2009-2010, is called Experimentality and is billed in this way as "a unique, open-ended conversation about the power of experimentality", beginning with a launch on October 14-15:

"Experimentality is a year-long collaborative exploration of ideas and practices of experimentation in science and technology, the arts, commerce, politics, popular culture, everyday life, and the natural world.

Over the course of the academic year, the programme will run a range of workshops and arts events, culminating in an international conference, The Experimental Society, on 7-9 July 2010."

In this blog I will collect some anecdotes and ideas, stories and viewpoints, perhaps even some analysis and maybe a rant or two, hopefully food for thought, about the kind of experimentality that surrounds the practices of magic healing in the Amazon with the use of what the shamans call teacher or power plants. These are special, sacred plants that facilitate the access to intuitive knowledge about the world, particularly in the context of patients with problems - or for prophylactic purposes or to "simply" develop spiritually. It will mainly focus on the use of ayahuasca, which will be grounded in a politics of social movements and presented from the perspective of autonomous development, as opposed to the predominant Euro-American developmentalism perspective, which is centred upon ideas and politics of private property, industrialisation, teleological investments in high technology, as fixes.

Coming to terms with shamanic experimentality is a deeply political matter. The destruction of the forest in which the healer learns her skills from the wild of the plants threatens the sustainability of the healers' practices: their schools are burning and being demolished.

I will take some material from the Colonos - Amazonia por la Vida blog, which has a diverse collection of "stories (and rants), reflections, photos, analysis and maybe even some good ideas - often relevant for the Amazon or for life in general".

Looking forward to a year of experimentality and hopefully some magic! :)

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