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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Fall 2012

Fall 2012

HUM 597A

Synthetic Biology in Question


  • Celia Lowe (Anthropology and International Studies)
  • Gaymon Bennett (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center)

Course Meeting Dates and Times:

  • Monday, Oct 29, 9:30-11:20 am, Communications 202
  • Monday, Nov 5, 9:30-11:20 am, Communications 202
  • Tuesday, Nov 13, 9:00-6:00 pm, Communications 202*
  • Wednesday, Nov 14, 9:00 am-1:00 pm, Communications 202*
  • Monday, Nov 19 9:30-11:20 am, Communications 202

*Synthetic Biology Conference - times may change slightly

1 Credit (C/NC)
Time Schedule

Designed for graduate students across the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and professions, this course aims to prepare students to engage with and reflect on a two-day conference on “Synthetic Biology in Question,” to be held at the Simpson Center for the Humanities on November 13 and 14, 2012. Over the last decade, engineers, social scientists, funders and the media have established synthetic biology as a prominent new brand of bio-engineering, one promising the routinized and standardized engineering of living systems. The brand’s success has turned on its claims to technical novelty and a re-imagined future of health, wealth and security, as well as the fact that proponents offer a unified story to justify and draw together divergent research programs—from the modularization of genetic circuits to the production of biofuels. Crucially, synthetic biology’s rise to prominence has been facilitated by the sustained engagement of scholars from the human and social sciences, who have helped make talk of ethics, openness, and security part of synthetic biology’s self-definition.

This micro-seminar will examine synthetic biology's rise to prominence, and pose the question of the extent to which synthetic biology may be exemplary of the dynamics of new engineering and scientific subfields as well as the political, ethical and cultural conditions of their rise and stabilization. It will examine the ways in which social scientists, philosophers, anthropologists and others have involved themselves in synthetic biology's formation, and raise the question of the ethics of such attempts at collaboration.

“Synthetic Biology in Question” is part of Biological Futures in a Globalized World, a jointly sponsored project of the University of Washington and the Center for Biological Futures at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

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HUM 597B

Transnationalism, Visuality, and Identity: A Microseminar with Shu-mei Shih

Instructor: Edward Mack (Asian Languages & Literature)

Course Meeting Dates and Times:

  • Tuesday, October 30, 3:30-5:30 pm, Communications 202
  • Tuesday, November 6, 3:30-5:30 pm, Communications 202
  • Wednesday, November 14, Colloquium, 3:30-5:30 pm, Communications 202
  • Thursday, November 15, Katz Lecture, 6:00 pm, Kane 220
  • Tuesday, November 20, 3:30-5:30 pm, Communications 202

1 Credit (C/NC)
Time Schedule

How do bounded notions of national, ethnic, racial, and class identity function amid constant flows of capital, cultural products, and populations? What new formations have appeared within these transnational contexts? What new methodologies and concepts do these contexts demand of those engaged in the study of languages, literature, film, and history, to name only a few of the disciplines affected?

This microseminar, organized to frame the visit of visiting Katz Lecturer Shu-mei Shih (Asian Languages & Cultures, Comparative Literature, and Asian American Studies, University of California Los Angeles), will explore these critical questions by examining her three most recent books—Minor Transnationalism (2005), Visuality and Identity (2007), and The Creolization of Theory (2011)—as well as her current work on “comparison as relation.”

Students will gain familiarity with the vocabularies of transnational cultural studies, and deepen their analysis of historical and emergent cultural formations and the politics of identity. Successful completion of the course requires completing assigned readings, attending consistently, and actively participating in seminar discussions.

For more information on this course, click here

Shu-mei Shih specializes in comparative Chinese, Sinophone, and Asian American literatures, with research emphases in transnational feminism, minority discourse, modernism, (post)humanism, and (post)colonialism. At University of California, Los Angeles, she co-directs the “Cultures in Transnational Perspective” Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in the Humanities, which promotes comparative studies of minority cultures in transnational contexts. Her Katz Lecture is the keynote for the international conference New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World at the University of Washington, November 15-17, 2012.

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