21A.355J / STS.060J The Anthropology of Biology, Spring 2009
The Anthropology of Biology
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If the twentieth century was the century of physics, the twenty-first promises to be the century of biology. This subject examines the cultural, political, and economic dimensions of biology in the age of genomics, biotechnological enterprise, biodiversity conservation, pharmaceutical bioprospecting, and synthetic biology. Although we examine such social concerns as bioterrorism, genetic modification, and cloning, this is not a class in bioethics, but rather an anthropological inquiry into how the substances and explanations of biology — increasingly cellular, molecular, genetic, and informatic — are changing, and with them broader ideas about the relationship between "nature" and "culture." Looking at such cultural artifacts as cell lines, biodiversity databases, and artificial life models, and using primary sources in biology, social studies of the life sciences, and literary and cinematic materials, we rephrase Erwin Schrödinger's famous 1944 question, "What Is Life?" to ask, in the early 2000s, "What Is Life Becoming?"
synthetic biology, genetics, Charles Darwin, evolution, eugenics, bioprospecting, ethics, biodiversity, race, molecular biology, sociology of science, construction of identity, intersex, biotechnology, narratives and metaphors