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Decolonizing Biology? Epigenetics and the longue durée history of the permeable body as a third spac

Biology & History Colloquium | Dr. Maurizio Meloni | Oct 27th, 2023 (Friday)

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Title:  Decolonizing Biology? Epigenetics and the longue durée history of the permeable body as a third space beyond the Western-Indigenous binary.


Amid growing international calls to decolonize scientific curricula and practices, I discuss in this paper the emergence of epigenetics as the culmination of a longer history of biological permeability of the body and a third space beyond Western-Indigenous binaries. I first ask how compromised the history of biology with imperial infrastructures of knowledge is, from early botanical investigations to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and the twentieth century development of eugenics. Secondly, I trace a possible historical path toward a less Eurocentric and more inclusive view of bodies/environment practices before the rise of Western hegemony in the 16th c. Theorized in different cultural contexts from China and India to the Arabic peninsula and the Mediterranean, the transregional circulation of what has been called the permeable or porous body in the period between is used in this talk as a strategic venue to reconnect histories beyond taken for granted opposition of Western and non-Western ontologies of the body. I argue that this prehistory explains the current fascination with epigenetics (as a molecular version of body permeability) in non-Western context. Finally, I look at recent work carried out with my team (Natasha Rooney) in the context of my Australian Research Council grant on Epigenetic Models of Plasticity in the Global South (2019-2023). I suggest understanding the peculiar history of epigenetics as an attempt to challenge hierarchical and mechanistic views of biology (DNA as master code) and as such having the potential to contribute to a decolonized science of life.

About the Speaker:

Maurizio Meloni is a social theorist and a science and technology studies scholar. He is the author of Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics (Palgrave, 2016: Winner of the Human Biology Association Book Award, 2020), Impressionable Biologies: From the Archaeology of Plasticity to the Sociology of Epigenetics (Routledge, 2019), co-editor of Biosocial Matters (Wiley 2016), and chief editor of the Palgrave Handbook of Biology and Society (2018). He is currently Associate Professor in Sociology in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University, Australia, where he was previously an ARC Future Fellow (2019-2023).


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