[-empyre-] [–empyre–] Refiguring the Future, Week 3: Hackability of the body.

Camilla Rostvik cmr30 at st-andrews.ac.uk
Thu Mar 21 03:29:53 AEDT 2019

Hello everyone,

The question of access to the body is such an interesting one. As a historian of the menstrual cycle, this makes me think of the long history of ‘hacking the cycle’ and hormonal contraceptive. The menstrual cycle has been regulated, changed, hidden and commercialised for many decades now, yet we know very little about the long-term consequences of these drugs, or the societal, emotional or environmental consequences. For a really critical perspective on this, I recommend Holly Griggs Sweetening the Pill.

I wonder also if Paul B Preciado’s pharmapornographic capitalism concept is useful here (from Testo Junkie), even though it was written before many of the bodily technologies/hacking became profitable. His discussion of commercial testosterone, Viagra, Prozac, hormonal birth control and more, seems very relevant to the current public discourse about drugs and the body.

A third thing that comes to mind as a historian is the story of DNA, a discovery that made a lot of biohacking possible at all. I wrote about Rosalind Franklin a few years ago, the scientist who was dismissed as a key contributor to the discovery despite her canonical X-ray image Photo 51. By looking at the image without her consent, and without later telling her they had, famed scientists Francis Crick and James Watson were able to suggest the double-helix structure. Although many people have pointed out how problematic this history is, as well as Watson’s brutal personal politics, the DNA story has recently (and finally!) been further questioned from a critical race perspective in public discourse. First, through the increased debate about Watson’s racist remarks, which he claims are scientific (they are not). Second, through the increased use of DNA testing to prove ‘pure’ ethic heritage. In stark contrast to Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Internet and never patented it, and continues to be involved in the question of ethics and techno science, Watson’s ‘invention’ has been (and this may be an unpopular opinion) mostly useful for profit margins. As Preciado posits, everything can be sold - including the body, its parts, its hormones and politics.

So, thinking about these theories and historical points of reference, it seems to me that the question of hackable bodies and ethics were never removed from politics. In fact, they have long and difficult histories that can shed some light on the current moment, confusing as it may seem to us today.

All best,

Dr Camilla Mørk Røstvik
Leverhulme Research Fellow
University of St Andrews
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