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Monthly Archives

January 2012

At the margins of life and death

By Biomedicine in museums

As I wrote the other day, Medical Museion hosts the Graduate Programme of Medical Science and Technology Studies here at the University of Copenhagen.

Now we are proud to announce a graduate course titled ‘At the Margins of Life and Death’, to be held 21-23 August 2012.

The aim of the course — which is organised by associate professor Mette Nordahl Svendsen and professor Lene Koch from the Section of Health Services Research here in Copenhagen — is to present “notions, materialities and regulations of life and death in the laboratory, in the clinic, and among patients and users of medical science and technology”.

Looking at “how borders between life and death are established in socio-material practices”, the course “takes up issues of suffering, dignity and the quality of life related to medical science and technology”, and will be structured around three themes: beginnings of life, extensions of life, and endings of life:

“The life in question may be the cell, the embryo, the newborn, the comatose, the old, the demented, the research animal. Analytically and methodologically the course draws on sociological, historical, and anthropological approaches to practices of life and death”.

The course is aimed at doctoral students from public health and the social sciences and gives 5,2 ects credits. The course format is lectures in the mornings, student presentations and discussions in the afternoons.

Invited lecturers include professor Sharon Kaufman, Dept of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, UCSF and professor Lynn Morgan, Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts.

It costs 4,680 DKK for students who are immatriculated at the Copemhagen Graduate School of Health Sciences. Register before 15 May 2012 via

On acceptance participants will be asked to submit a paper of five pages by the 1st of August. Papers should describe how the PhD project takes up the theme of life and death. During the course each participant will have 20 minutes to present his/her paper, which will be followed by comments from resource persons as well as a general discussion. Admission for Ph.D. students will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Applications from external participants will be considered after the closing date. The application must be sent via the web-application.

More information from Mette Nordahl Svendsen.

(featured image by bitzcelt)

Mundane design vs. fine sci-art: two realms of aesthetic practice in science communication

By Biomedicine in museums

I’ve been invited by the philosophy of science group in Gothenburg to give a talk to their Theory of Science seminar group on Friday, 3 February — titled ”Mundane Design vs. Fine Sci-Art: Two Realms of Aesthetic Practice in Science Communication”.

Here’s the abstract:

Sci-art has become an increasingly important dimension of science communication through printed media, museums, science centers and the web. Ranging from beautiful images on scientific journal covers to tissue-engineered wet-art installations, sci-art has become a recognised subgenre of the contemporary fine arts; it has entered art schools and caught the interest of gallery owners and art reviewers. It has also drawn the attention of major funding agencies, like the Wellcome Trust, as a means for strengthening public engagement with science. However, the popularity of fine sci-art risks eclipsing another, and perhaps even more important, realm of aesthetic practice in science and science communication, viz., mundane design (everyday aesthetics). In this presentation, I shall reclaim everyday aesthetics and the sensory qualities of research as a central aspect of science and, as a consequence, of science communication.

Among other things, I’m going to show and discuss some of the videos that Astrid has shot for the ‘Everyday aesthetics of biomedicine’ project, like this one:

The seminar will be in room T340, Olof Wijksgatan 6 (Gamla Hovrätten) in Gothenburg (Sweden), 3 February, 1-3 pm.

The nice and fuzzy feeling of TED talks

By Biomedicine in museums

One of my favourite science bloggers, biochemistry professor Larry Moran (Sandwalk), comments in passing on the TED talks — the global institution which the sci-tech-design-online segment of the creative class loves to attend and watch:

There’s a certain mysticism about TED talks that I deplore. In order to be a successful TED talker you need to be articulate and clever. You need to be engaging and just a little bit radical—though not too radical. That’s just about all it takes to get an enthusiastic standing ovation from the people who comes to listen to these 18 talks. What you’re actually saying doesn’t really count for anything as this example plainly shows.

The mantra of TED talks is “Ideas Worth Spreading” but if you think about it there aren’t very many important new ideas that can be explained in 18 minutes. On the other hand, if you want to spread ideas that your audience already agrees with then TED talks are just the thing for you.

Right! I always wondered why I like to watch TED talks. I’ve never really felt I learned anything from them that I didn’t somehow knew before. So what it’s about is the nice and fuzzy feeling of being in agreement with a good-looking, charismatic, reasonably famous, and relaxed speaker (TED talk speakers are always extremely relaxed).

Maybe it’s the same feeling evangelical Christians have when they go listening to their favourite charismatic preacher on Sundays?

MUSE seminar #1: From Material Culture to Material Heritage

By Biomedicine in museums

We are proud to invite to the first seminar in our new MUSE seminar series:

Roland Wittje, University of Regensburg

From Material Culture to Material Heritage:
History of Contemporary Science Beyond the Linguistic Turn

Auditorium, Medical Museion, Bredgade 62, DK-1260 Copenhagen K
Thursday 26 January, 3-4.40 pm


Getting our hands dirty in the messy worlds of the laboratory and the storage room, and to entangle with the commemorative practices of scientists and technicians when it comes to contemporary material heritage does not belong to the common experiences of historians of science. Studying contemporary laboratories and their materiality has so far been the domain of sociologists and ethnographers. Despite the recent ‘material turn’ in cultural studies, engagement with the material world often remains a linguistic exercise, extending at the utmost to an excursion to the sanitised and academically encultured world of the museum exhibit.

For historians of science, I argue, engaging with the ‘unfinished’ material world of contemporary science poses many opportunities. By taking the material seriously beyond the linguistic turn and exploring local university departments and their recent histories through their material heritage, we can observe everyday science and confront scientists and technicians’ cultures with those of historians’. By engaging with recent material heritage, we can make an important contribution to enhancing the awareness about this heritage, its implications for history writing, as well as its documentation and preservation.

MUSE-seminarer for alle der er interesserede i forskningskommunikation

By Biomedicine in museums

Alle som er interesserede af forskningskommunikation (på eller uden for museer) er meget velkommen til Medicinsk Museions nye MUSE-seminarrække.

Seminarrækken er en del af Medicinsk Museions projekt om “science communication”, som stiler mod at udvikle nye forskningsbaserede og eksperimentelle metoder for forskningskommunikation såvel som at udvikle teoretiske tilgange inden for feltet, specielt i lyset af den moderne biomedicins historie.

Vi inviterer forskere som arbejder med materialitet, forskningskommunikation, science and technology studies, videnskabsteori, museologi og relaterede områder.

Hvis du er interesseret i at deltage i seminarerne — eller måske endda selv præsentere noget — kontakt Karin Tybjerg ( eller Adam Bencard (

Follow our staff at the ScienceOnline conference in Raleigh on Twitter

By Biomedicine in museums

Two of our staff members — Nina Bjerglund, who’s working on social media for public health communication (read her posts here) and Daniel Noesgaard, who has created our web universe — are now on their way to Raleigh, North Carolina, to take part in the ScienceOnline 2012 conference.

I’m going to have the #scio12 hashtag window on Twitter open 24/7 — there’s already (the day before the conference) a lot of interesting activity on it. In addition, Danny will be tweeting from @dnnyboy and Nina from @bjerglund.

They’ll be back on Monday, so we expect to focus next Tuesday’s internal staff meeting on the latest news about how to communicate science through blogs, Google+, Twitter, Diaspora, Academia, LinkedIn, Facebook, you name it.

Museums, materiality and global politics

By Biomedicine in museums

There has been quite of a trend of thinking museums in terms of globalisation. For example, critical museum people are discussing the place of their institutions on the global scene (for a very good take on this, see here), and curators have begun to discuss their work in terms of the transnational nature of collections and acquisitioning (see, for example, here).

One of the interesting things that could come out of this merger of museum/collection studies and globalisation is a rethinking of the role of materiality and materialism for understanding the contemporary world. Thinking the world in materialist terms, which was very prominent in marxist thinking between the 1930s and 1970s which largely buried with the demise of historical materialism in favour of discourse founded in social constructivism — which is still dominant, also in museology.

And that’s why I find the conference on ‘Materialism and World Politics’, to be held at the LSE on 21-22 October, 2012, so interesting. The point of departure is current debates about “rational actors, agency in a physical world, the role of affect in decision-making, the biopolitical shaping of bodies, the perils and promises of material technology, the resurgence of historical materialism, and the looming environmental catastrophe” which has emerged during the last decade in contrast to “the dominant discourses of neorealism, neoliberalism and constructivism”.

As the organisers point out, the common materialist basis to these discussions has largely gone unacknowledged, and therefore they want to push the critical edge further by focusing on material factors for world politics.  — with panels about affect, biopolitics, discourse and materiality, philosophical materialism, historical materialism, scientific realism, etc.

300 word abstracts for paper proposals should be sent to by 16 April, 2012. A selection of the conference papers will be published in Millennium: Journal of International Studies, volume 41, no. 3.

More here.

Museum Boerhaave saved until 2016

By Biomedicine in museums

In the late spring of 2011 we received the bad news that Museum Boerhaave (our history of science sister museum in Leiden) was in the risk zone of loosing its state support if it couldn’t raise enough “extra eigen inkomsten” by the end of the year.

But yesterday’s good news is that the museum has now succeeded to raise the extra income and can receive state support until 2016. As Marta Lourenco writes today on the public rete mailing list:

However, perhaps the most important thing to note is that the Boerhaave has successfully raised one million euros from donors in such a short period – and that is truly remarkable for any museum of science in the world, let alone in present-day Europe.

Congratulations, all dear friends and colleagues in Leiden, to your good work in the past year!

Read more here (unfortunately only in Dutsch).