Spring 2016 Colloquium Seminars

Tuesday talks, SFU Burnaby
Free and open to all. Brown bag lunch


Biological Properties: Genetics, US Patent Law, and the Accumulation of the “Primitive” in a Biocapitalist Age

January 26    

Dr Coleman Nye, Assistant Professor, Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University

Coleman Nye is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her current book project, Speculative Science: Gender, Genetics, and the Futures of Life, examines the performative dimensions of breast and ovarian cancer genetics in the contemporary US. Samples of this research have appeared in TDR: The Drama Review and Women and Performance. She is also collaborating with Sherine Hamdy on a graphic novel about global bioethics entitled Lissa (Arabic for "Still Time").

Abstract: On April 15, 2013, women gathered on the steps of the US Supreme Court carrying signs that read, “Human Genes Belong to Human Beings, Not Corporations,” and “I Take Back My Genes.” Inside, the Court was hearing oral arguments in the landmark case of Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. – a case that has been called the Brown v. Board of Education of genetic science. At stake was the patentability of human genetic materials, specifically the BRCA genes, commonly referred to as the “breast cancer genes.” The central legal question undergirding the case was: Is genetic material isolated from a body an unpatentable product of nature or a patentable “manmade” invention? A range of definitional quandaries emerged in and around the Myriad case, as various legal, lay, and scientific actors debated the biological properties of genetics (what is a gene?) and the problem of genetic property (who, if anyone, owns a gene and under what conditions?). By contextualizing the oral arguments and ultimate outcome of the legal case within a deeper history of patenting life, this paper examines the ethical and epistemological stakes of legislating biological property. Specifically, this talk theorizes how discourses of race and gender were strategically mobilized in legal attempts to define nature, personhood, and property in the domain of genetics, and how this legislation has, in turn, shaped research and access in minority and women’s health.


Expose, Oppose, Propose: Cognitive Praxis in the Struggle for Global Justice

February 23

Dr William K. Carroll, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria

William K. Carroll’s research interests are in the areas of the political economy of corporate capitalism, social movements and social change, and critical social theory and method. A member of the Sociology Department at the University of Victoria since 1981, he established the Interdisciplinary Program in Social Justice Studies at the University of Victoria in 2008 and served as its director from 2008 to 2012. His books include The Making of a Transnational Capitalist Class, Corporate Power in a Globalizing World, Corporate Power and Canadian Capitalism, Remaking Media (with Bob Hackett), Critical Strategies for Social Research, Challenges and Perils: Social Democracy in Neoliberal Times (with R.S. Ratner) and Organizing Dissent. Two books are forthcoming in 2016: Expose, Oppose, Propose: Cognitive Praxis in the Struggle for Global Justice and A World to Win: Counter-Hegemony and Contemporary Social Movements (with Kanchan Sarker). His current project, “Mapping the power of the carbon-extractive corporate resource sector” (co-directed with Shannon Daub) is an interdisciplinary partnership of several universities and civil-society organizations, tracing modalities of corporate power within the global political economy, and focusing particularly on carboniferous capitalism in western Canada.

Abstract:  Since the 1970s, economic globalization has fuelled concerns that democracy is being hollowed out. Transnational social movements have developed as advocates of “democratic globalization”. Alongside and in support of these movements, transnational alternative policy groups (TAPGs) have emerged: think tanks that provide evidence-based critiques of neoliberal capitalism while promoting democratic alternatives to the corporate agenda of top-down globalization. In this lecture I explore the networks, discourses and practices through which transnational alternative policy groups exert political and cultural influence, and I assess the challenges they face as transnational change agents in an era of economic and ecological crisis.

OUTLIERS: Non-Standard Experience and Disruptive Ethnography in Integrative Medicine

March 29

Dr Vincanne Adams, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, University of California, San Francisco  

Vincanne Adams, PhD, is Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at UCSF and in the joint Program for Medical Anthropology at UC Berkeley.  She has published widely on critical global health, medical science and social politics in Tibet, Nepal and China, and on post-disaster New Orleans.  Her current work explores the world of integrative health in the US.

Abstract:  I take up the concept of outliers to explore the messy and frustrating cartographies of integrative medicine in a US community.  Outliers does not, in my use, refer to the Malcolm Gladwell sense of an advantaged production of exceptionalism and success—a story Americans frequently like to tell about themselves. Rather, outliers here refers to those phenomena and experiences that lie outside of and beyond the edges of success, that hover in an indiscriminate place of confusion and contrary propositions, irregular and frequently marginal in relation to mainstream and conventional medical phenomena.  Outliers are often “off the graph” or uncountable, or they call out for accountability indices all their own.   Using research on the phenomena of chronically ill children and the work of an integrative physician whose approaches to food-related diseases are highly contested, I offer a preliminary map of the multiple and non-uniform contours of this world.  Outliers, I argue, may help us think about not only alternative ways of accounting for and achieving health, but also conceptualizing how we do disruptive ethnography.