Life beyond information: Contesting life and the body in history and molecular biology

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This chapter is a study of parallel obsessions; of intangible wires crossed, creating sparks of metaphors and bursts of imaginative energy. These obsessions run complicated courses through two seemingly distant scientific landscapes, those of molecular biology and history, but, as I will attempt to map out, there is a sense in which the preoccupations of post-genomic scientists and complexity-sensitive historians share a similar sense of a reconfiguration of their subject matter. Within molecular biology, this reconfiguration is tied to the intense interest in the protein, which increasingly is occupying centre-stage in post-genomic research; in this new development in the life sciences, life scientists ‘can be seen turning from matters of code to matters of substance - that is, from spelling out linear gene sequences to inquiring after the three-dimensional materiality, structure, and function of the protein molecules’ (Myers 2008, 163). This turn from matters of code to matters of substance is, as I will argue, echoed and reverberated in the preoccupations of a new orientation with the historical study of the body in history. Within history, and even in the humanities more generally, there seems to be a renewed desire to examine ourselves and the subjects we investigate as part of a material world, rather than one made from codes, language, symbols and discourses; as one German philosopher writes, it is as if ‘we found ourselves in the middle of time and in the middle of objects, with a desire to become part of this material world’ (Gumbrecht 2008: 522).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContested Categories : Life Sciences in Society
Number of pages20
PublisherTaylor and Francis/Routledge
Publication date2016
ISBN (Print)9780754676188
ISBN (Electronic)9781317160427
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2009 Susanne Bauer and Ayo Wahlberg.

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