Tuesday 8 May, Kyra Landzelius from the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Göteborg University will give a seminar talk at Medical Museion with the title “The Genealogy of a Categorical Trickster: The Preterm Baby as Modernity’s Transcription”.
Kyra Landzelius is a medical anthropologist. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and since coming to Europe she has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University and a Lise Meitner fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Science, Technology and Society, Graz. She is currently working on a book provisionally entitled “Via Prosthetic Worlds: The Multiple Inventions and Technological Uncanny of the Preterm Baby“.
Read abstract here…
The Genealogy of a Categorical Trickster: The Preterm Baby as Modernist Transcription
My research explores the socio-technical invention and intervention of one of modernity’s most grandiose productions, and one of humankind’s most frail. I refer to the exquisitely engineered life form known as the preterm baby, aka the ‘Preemie’, which I contend present us with a paradigmatic embodiment of the aims and ambitions (as well as ailments) of modernity. Biomedicine has overcome extraordinary physiological and technical hurdles in order to reach now a historic moment where a human born halfway along the gestational calendar has a 50/50 chance of survival outside the womb. Approximately 10% of all births in Western(ized) countries are preterm, yet the numbers are on the rise everywhere; for—in direct contrast to most medical success stories—the patient population actually increases as the art and science of healing become more adept at keeping alive ever-younger recruits.
This makes the preterm baby a particular kind of wonder:
– a biologically-unprecedented human-machine dyad
– a precariously-ill, but not necessarily diseased patient
– a still-fetalized family member
– a public media spectacle (and, at times, public scandal)
– a provocative challenge for governance
In this presentation, I wish to explore the bounary transgressions put in place by this new category of person- one who represents a logical if hyperbolic extension of the modern self. Preemie personhood is not engendered by technoscience alone; rather, it represents a dynamic project taking shape in and across multiple domains—domains of kinship, of citizenship, of sociality, of politics. In the hospital, the home, the courts of law and legislation, in the workplace and in the community, and, not least, via media channels (both conventional and interactive media)—the Preemie has come into existence: as an ontological novelty, an uncanny patient, a cyborg kin, an enigmatic celebrity, a contested citizen. While Preemies continue to problematize the actual and conceptual boundaries of ‘normality’, they nevertheless are increasingly mainstreamed into our society, families, and worldviews.