Upcoming Colloquium: Dr. Elizabeth Johnson on ‘Reproducing Bees: Value and Bricolage in Biometric Practice’

Please join us this Friday at 3:30 in Smith 304 for the second of our spring quarter colloquia. Elizabeth Johnson will be joining us from the University of Exeter. Her talk is titled Reproducing Bees: Value and Bricolage in Biomimetic Practice. As always, please join us following the talk for a reception in Smith 409.  Remember that she’s also giving a Biofutures talk as well on Thursday (3:30, SMI 305) titled “Unsettling Life/Death: Living with and as jellyfish” as well! Find her abstract below:
Reproducing Bees: Value and Bricolage in Biomimetic Practice
To overturn superstition and myth, Francis Bacon lauded rational inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge. By “torturing nature for her secrets”, Bacon argued, scientific practice could engender a “happy match” between the nature of things and human understanding. Therein, he suggested, lay the “sovereignty of man”. 
Challenging this conception of exceptional human sovereignty and the mastery over nonhuman life has become an increasingly central task in human-environment geography and other areas of the humanities. Much of that work, conceived through Actor Network Theory, ’thing theory’, and ’new materialisms’ has destabilized human exceptionalism by elevating the contribution of nonhuman life to historical change. In this paper, I follow those argument by drawing on my own observations of the making of Harvard’s RoboBee, an ongoing project in biomimetics that now boasts an 80 microgram flying actuator that can hover and move using flapping flight. But rather than elevating the labor of bees, I consider how human labor is not as exceptional as Bacon, Karl Marx, and others once considered. While, from many perspectives, the making of RoboBees represents incredible human hubris, my work reveals that many of the narratives that differentiate human and nonhuman forms of labor lack validity. Rather than purpose-driven engineering, I find practices best considered as bricolage, part of an unexceptional story of human labor relations in the university. This, I argue, raises important questions about the production of value in scientific practice and the institutional structures in which those practices are couched.

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