UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Conference on Feb. 16-17 to explore "What's Left of Life?"

– A group of scholars, artists, social scientists, biologists and public intellectuals will gather at the University of California, Berkeley, Feb. 16-17 to explore connections between their own work and a world beset on one hand by ongoing wars, genocides, and epidemics and on the other by life-extending technologies, the promises of stem cell research and potent new pharmaceuticals.

A central goal of the "What's Left of Life?" conference is to demonstrate the contributions of both the humanities and the life sciences to debates over important contemporary issues. It follows on the heels of a similar effort, the "Humanities and the Public World" forum launched earlier this month by UC Berkeley's Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

"We hope that this conference will be the first in a series of projects like this at UC Berkeley that open necessary and compelling conversations between the humanities, life sciences, social sciences and the arts," said Jessica Davies, a UC Berkeley graduate student in rhetoric who studies the intersections of science and literature. She and Christopher Roebuck, a UC Berkeley graduate student in medical anthropology, are the main organizers of this conference.

"Biological science has been producing dramatically new possibilities for human life and death, but what do these possibilities mean to us?" asked Janet Broughton, dean of arts and humanities in UC Berkeley's College of Letters & Science, and a philosophy professor. "Which changes should we welcome, and which should we resist? The arts and humanities give us the intellectual and imaginative frameworks we need when we face these life-and-death questions of meaning and value."

Topics and their presenters will include:

  • "Machine Thinking," by David Bates, UC Berkeley rhetoric professor
  • Medicine's increasing use of techno-scientific innovations, by Adele Clark, a sociologist at UC San Francisco
  • Third World cosmetic surgery and the work of 20th century French biologist, philosopher, surgeon and eugenicist Alexis Carrel, by Lawrence Cohn, UC Berkeley anthropologist
  • The film," Children of Men," which explores a world without human regeneration and what it means to live, by Donna Jones, assistant professor of English at UC Berkeley
  • Longevity, death and ethics, by Sharon Kaufman, UCSF professor of medical anthropology
  • Scars and regeneration, by Catherine Malabou, professor of philosophy at the Université de Nanterre in Paris and a visiting professor in rhetoric at UC Berkeley
  • The novelty of life, by Paola Marrati, professor of humanities and philosophy at Johns Hopkins University
  • Equipment, ethics and ontology, by Paul Rabinow, UC Berkeley anthropology professor and author of "A Machine to Make a Future: Biotech Chronicles"
  • "The troubled biological individual," by Joan Roughgarden, a biological scientist at Stanford University and author of "Evolution's Rainbow"
  • "Cooke's Bones: An American Morality Tale" involving the theft from a funeral home of the late Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke's bones for a tissue recovery business, by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, UC Berkeley anthropologist and head of Organs Watch, a medical human rights project
  • Technologically modified human bodies, by Susan Stryker, a San Francisco filmmaker, independent scholar and transgender activist
  • Selling, donating and trafficking women's eggs, by Charis Thompson, associate professor of rhetoric and gender and women's studies, director of UC Berkeley's Science, Technology and Society Center, and author of "Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technology."

The conference also will feature a screening of "Glass Body," a film by British performance artist Anna Furse. In the video, Furse explores the use of ultrasound in obstetrics and in vitro fertilization in an era where printout images of images produced by ultrasound become keepsakes for family albums. It also examines the meaning of a "transparent body" in what Furse calls a "spectacular culture." In the online version of "Glass Body" viewers can interact via a "Touch Me Reproductive Toy."

The conference will be held in the Wurster Hall Auditorium, near the intersection of Bancroft Way and College Avenue. A map is online at: http://www.berkeley.edu/map/maps/CD56.html.

The program is free and open to the public. Video of the event will be Webcast on the site afterward.

The conference has nearly a dozen sponsors, with major support coming from a Townsend Center strategic working group of faculty and graduate students that is called "Regeneration: Humanities and the Life Sciences."