MUSE Seminars

 

Medical Museion hosts a seminar series aimed at investigating current questions and problems facing science communication and museum practices in the light of the recent history of the biomedical sciences. The papers will present scholars working on material culture, science communication, medical science and technology studies and related fields. The Museion MUSE seminar series is part of a science communication/public engagement research project aimed at developing new research-based and experimental methods in science communication, as well as furthering theoretical engagements in this area.

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When and Where? Seminars will take place at 15.00-16.30 in the auditorium at Medical Museion at Bredgade 62, 1260 København K.

 

 

June 1st: From the Body as Factory to Eating Information: A Short History of
Metabolism

Speaker: Hannah Landecker, UCLA

 

 

Abstract:

Metabolism, understood as the chemical conversions of food into bodily matter and energy, has since its formulation as a scientific concept in the nineteenth century been a fundamental aspect of biochemistry, philosophies of life, and to a certain extent, social and political theories of the social body. The elaboration of metabolism and then intermediary metabolism framed the body as a factory or a chemical laboratory for the interconversion of matter and energy by which the outside world and its constituent plants and animals were incorporated and transubstantiated into the metabolizing organism’s body. Claude Bernard observed pithily that “The dog does not get fat on mutton fat. It makes dog fat”; metabolism was central to the practical and physical understanding of the maintenance of the individual body of the eating organism even in the face of the necessity of constantly ingesting the outside world ­ eating others.

In philosophy, metabolism came to occupy a role as part of the defining line between the living and the not living; to metabolize was to live. In social theory, Marx found in scientific accounts of metabolism a fecund source of inspiration for the understanding of exchange, and since that time the idea of social or industrial metabolism ­ societies having metabolisms ­ has played a role in the imagination of systems of individuals as social bodies.

In the metabolic sciences today, there is a marked shift away from classic metabolism, in which a concern with manufacturing and production is being transformed by a concern with regulation and synchrony. Food is as much an informational signal as a chemical substrate, and the timing of its presence is as important as its quantity or content. Metabolism is regulatory mechanism for the organism in a changing environment; it is being re-theorized as a mode of inheritance of environmental conditions, for example in ideas of predictive-adaptive signaling, where the developing fetus uses cues from maternal metabolism to anticipate the nutritional state of the world it will be born into. Such contemporary ruptures throw into sharp relief the historical specificity of previous philosophical, social, and scientific uses of metabolism as a universal and timeless quality of organisms and their autonomy as enclosed and autonomous metabolizing systems.