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The Anthropology of Potentiality: Exploring the Productivity of the Undefined and Its Interplay with Notions of Humanness in New Medical Practices

Symposium 144 Participants
Seated: Michael Montoya, Lynn Morgan, Sahra Gibbon, Karen-Sue Taussig, Stefan Timmermans, Mette Svendsen, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, Stefan Helmreich, Jianfeng Zhu Standing: Kalindi Vora, Mervyn Scheepers (Hotel Staff), Robert Simpson, Klaus Hoeyer, Andriana Petryna, Carrie Friese, Sebastian Mohr, Tine Gammeltoft, Sharon Kaufman, Emily Martin.

Wenner-Gren Symposium #144
28 October-4 November 2011
Hotel Rosa dos Ventos
Teresopolis, Brazil

PUBLICATION: "Potentiality and Humaness: Revisiting the Anthropological Object in Contemporary Biomedicine." Current Anthropology (54), Supplement 7, October 2013.Current Anthropology Symposium Series Cover


Carrie Friese (London School of Economics, UK)
Tine Gammeltoft (University of Copenhagen, DENMARK)
Sahra Gibbon (University College London, UK)
Stefan Helmreich (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA)
Klaus Hoeyer, organizer (University of Copenhagen, DENMARK)
Sharon R. Kaufman (University of California, San Francisco, USA)
Sandra Soo-Jin Lee (Stanford University Medical School, USA)
Emily Martin (New York University, USA)
Michael J. Montoya (University of California, Irvine, USA)
Sebastian Mohr, monitor (University of Copenhagen, DENMARK)
Lynn M. Morgan (Mount Holyoke College, USA)
Andriana Petryna (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
Robert Simpson (Durham University, UK)
Mette N. Svendsen (University of Copenhagen, DENMARK)
Karen-Sue Taussig, organizer (University of Minnesota, USA)
Stefan Timmermans (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
Kalindi Vora (University of California San Diego, USA)
Jianfeng Zhu (Fudan University, CHINA)

Organizers' Statement:

This symposium was convened to discuss humanness and potentiality in the context of new medical practices. At the beginning of the 21st century potentiality serves as a central concept in the life sciences and medical practices.  We see the constant reiteration of utopic and dystopic visions of the future of humanness; a burgeoning market for molecular biology and pharmaceuticals marketed as delivering control of individual futures; and multiple and often conflicting scientific representations of humanness through the prisms of genetics, proteonomics, epigenetics, microbiomics, etc.  Everything and everybody seem to be discussed in terms of potential.  In public representations and contemporary scientific research gene therapy has the potential to intervene in genetic conditions; genetic testing the potential to reveal aspects of individual pasts and futures; stem cell research has the potential to regenerate human tissue to treat spinal cord injuries, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s disease; pharmcogenomics has the potential to use new knowledge of human biological variation to develop personalized medicine tailored to the specific susceptibilities of particular individuals; not yet identified organisms have the potential to yield novel and useful genetic sequences.  Potentiality appears to suffuse conceptualizations of life everywhere in the life sciences:  In the lab, in the clinic, in social policy, and in the public at large.  Other medic