Potential Energy and the Body Electric
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Physics tells us that potential energy is the capacity to do work that a body possesses as a result of its position in electric, magnetic, or gravitational fields. Thinking of “potentiality” in an electric idiom and with reference to its place in human biological processes that implicate electric phenomena, such as the pulses of action potentials that animate the heart and brain, can afford novel angles into contemporary biomedical enactments of humanness. This paper explores the material and rhetorical power of electric potential in cardiac and neurological medicine, paying attention to how discourses of “waves” of energy format the way scientists apprehend bodies as emplaced in time—in a time that can be about both cyclicity and futurity. Attention to electrophysiological phenomena may enrich the way anthropologists of the biosciences think about potentiality, taking scholars beyond our established attentions to the genetic, cellular, or pharmacological to think about the body electric.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
University of Chicago Press, The
Helmreich, Stefan. “Potential Energy and the Body Electric.” Current Anthropology 54, no. S7 (October 2013): S139–S148. © 2013 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
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