Rescaling the Metabolic | New CRASSH Research Network
Rescaling the Metabolic: Food, Technology, Ecology is a new CRASSH Research Network co-convened by our associate member David Nally with Maan Barua and Thomas White.
This research network interrogates the concept of metabolism and evaluates its potential for understanding the politics and governance of the living and material world. It explores the metabolic from molecular to global scales, across a broad range of geographical and cultural contexts. Metabolism draws attention to new forms of industrial agriculture: the global population of 23 billion broiler chicken, accounting for 70% of the biomass of all birds in the world, and which has resulted in the creature becoming a signature of the Anthropocene’s stratigraphy, is a case in point. Metabolism is at the forefront of contemporary capitalist intensification: interventions at cellular levels and along biochemical pathways are opening up new molecular frontiers of accumulation. This harnessing of the metabolic is closely entwined with a vast infrastructure of storage, cold chains and just-in-time logistics: techno-metabolic systems, with their own demands for energy and resources, and their own effluvia in the form of carbon emissions and toxic chemicals are generating new zones of governance and loci of environmental politics. Health risks emerging from metabolic intensification, marked by virulent events including avian influenza in sites of industrialised livestock production, are prompting new forms of biopolitical surveillance and intervention.
Rescaling the Metabolic explores new understandings of the politics and governance of life, materials and processes. Through a programme featuring talks by leading thinking on metabolism, readings groups focusing on classic and contemporary texts, and discussions between scholars across the social and ecological sciences, this research network seeks to develop provocative ways of conceptualising the relations between food production, capitalism, technology, bodies, and the environment.
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Inflammatory Remarks: The Metabolic Turn in Bioscience and Beyond | Hannah Landecker (UCLA)
12 October 2020 | 17:00-19:00 (GMT)
Recent events have seen unusual concern about “underlying conditions,” with obesity, inflammation, and chronic stress foregrounded as socially-formatted biological determinants of Covid-19 morbidity and mortality. This talk will address the underlying condition as a metabolic one and the methodological and theoretical tools needed to study it. Drawing on interviews and laboratory ethnography, I review the marked metabolic turn currently occurring in immunology, stem cell science, cancer research, stress biology, and many other subfields of bioscience, in which something of renaissance in biochemistry is underway. This turn is in no small part due to the study of contemporary metabolic disorders and the realization that many industrial effluents, from air pollution to arsenic, function as endocrine “metabolic disruptors.” The extraordinary prevalence of metabolic disorder is in these domains increasingly conceptualized as an outcome of not just diet or habit, but of the biochemical-energetic milieu of contemporary society. At the same time, but not really in conversation with these molecular health sciences, the social and humanistic sciences have been rediscovering metabolism as a resource for social theory. Because of the perhaps mutually unintelligible languages and conventions of these domains of scholarship, the metabolism of social theory looks almost nothing like the metabolism of contemporary biochemical thought, and remains rather mired in a dyspeptic modernist frame. While the productivist input-output frame of metabolism as labour and waste disposal has generated the conditions with which we live, it cannot now comprehend its own consequent inflammatory crisis. Here I will make the attempt to translate the metabolic (re)turn underway in the biosciences, which takes as its problem space the nature of life-after-industrialization, into a set of usable concepts and prompts for empirical social science and a reflexive positioning of the analyst of metabolism in the historical specificity of the concept’s evolution.