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Disrupting Life/Not Life: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Interspecies Relations and the New Materialisms

Memorial Hall
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s):
Dr. Kim Tallbear

Dr. Kim TallBear is Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of Texas at Austin and a Fellow of James Voss-Texas Instruments Regents Professorship in Australian Studies.  Sponsored by the UK Political Ecology Working Group (DOPE), this talk begins with a critical reading of a particular set of human-on-human relations—those involved when scientists (disproportionately white Western men) sample indigenous peoples in the course of human genome research. Many of the bio-specimens in circulation today were taken from indigenous peoples’ bodies during earlier ethical and racial regimes. New bioethical responses are afoot. But when they emerge from non-indigenous institutions and philosophical terrain they cannot fully address indigenous peoples’ interpretations and ethical needs. I propose that indigenous responses to genome technologies and practices can be more fully understood not simply by recourse to “bioethics,” but also by weaving together the approaches of indigenous thinkers historically with newer thinking in indigenous studies, feminist science studies, political ecology, critical animal studies, and the new materialisms. This talk weaves into conversation diverse intellectual threads in order to help us understand how the lines between life and not life, materiality and the “sacred” are not so easily drawn for some indigenous peoples. This implicates how we approach from an indigenous standpoint the ethics of the preservation and new use of old biological samples. More fundamentally, this talk interrogates the underlying concept of “preservation” that emerges from non-indigenous institutions in the form of technological and policy practices. Such practices compartmentalize indigenous history, bodies, and landscapes into a historical before and after that undercuts the very idea of indigenous peoples and landscapes as fully alive today.

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