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Biomedicine in museums

From contested to standardized and stabilized objects and categories: the next Postgraduate Life Sciences and Society Network symposium, Helsinki, June 2008

By November 10, 2007No Comments

Last January the Postgraduate Life Sciences and Society Network held its second annual symposium (‘Contested Categories’) here at Medical Museion in Copenhagen. Now it’s time for the third symposium in the series: ‘Standardising objects, stabilising categories’, 12-15 June 2008 at the Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, Finland. Here’s the announcement:

Developments in biomedicine and biotechnology have done much to challenge and recast the ways in which life itself is understood and intervened upon. Aspects of human life that have been regarded as foundational have recently opened up for modification, enhancement and improvement. These developments have caused heated political, ethical, legal and sociological debates. They have also reconfigured epistemological categories central to western understanding of life, such as the social and the biological, the nature/culture dichotomy and the human/animal boundaries. However, parallel to these processes of unfolding there are multiple efforts to establish, stabilise, and standardise novel objects, methods, categories, rationalities and practices connected to the field of life sciences. There is, for example, the fixing of a scientific object within a laboratory; creation of a diagnostic category or a health care practice; standardisation of an industrial product or a procedure; and establishment of a legal category or a section. Moreover, there seems to be, in social, political and ethical analysis, a corresponding introduction and establishment of analytic concepts like biovalue, bioethics, biosociality, somatic subjectivity, or genetic citizenship. 

The symposium will focus on how both empirical objects and conceptual categories are being established and solidified:

Firstly, how and why do certain objects, methods, etc. become instituted in the practices of life sciences? Secondly, how does this institutionalisation take place with regard to the analytical concepts used to describe the current developments in life sciences? What is left out when an object, category or concept is being formalised and fixed? What kinds of political, ethical, legal and sociological controversies and debates are involved? As in the Network’s previous symposiums, we inquire into what are the theoretical and methodological implications and challenges we face when studying life sciences. How can interdisciplinary and comparative approaches help in analysing the present characteristics of life sciences?

The symposium will be a closed workshop of 20—25 presentations. Abstracts (max. 300 words) should be sent by email no later than 31 January 2008 to Mikko Jauho ( or Mianna Meskus ( Participants will be asked to write a short paper of approx. 5 pages (2000 words) that will be distributed in advance. For further info, see

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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