Current Research Projects and Cooperations

Information about past research projects.

Ensuring public health through mobilizing death

Expectations as future-making practices in the bioeconomy of transgenic mosquitoes

Förderung:    Fritz Thyssen Stiftung für Wissenschaftsförderung
Laufzeit:   Oktober 2021 bis September 2023
Projektleitung:   Dr. Josef Barla

Mosquito-borne diseases such as the Zika virus and malaria are increasing dramatically word wide. As traditional methods of vector control prove to be little effective and often harmful to local ecosystems, new approaches are sought for tackling this public health crisis. Amongst the most promising ones are genetic strategies which use the mosquitoes’ own biology and reproductive capabilities against themselves. These approaches not only turn the mosquitoes into a public health tool but also promise the large-scale eradication of mosquito-borne disease.

Starting from the hypothesis that rather than only commodifying the vital processes of ‘life itself’ (Franklin; Rose), death and eradication is inscribed into the mosquitoes’ genetic code in order to ensure public health, the aim of my research is twofold: First, I explore the role of expectations as future-making practices in the bioeconomy of transgenic mosquitoes through which not only ‘speculative value’ (Sunder Rajan) is generated but also particular futures made present at the exclusion of others. Second, I argue that these novel genetic strategies mark a broader shift in molecular genetics from the production of ‘biovalue’ (Waldby) to what I will call ‘necrovalue’—that is, the technoscientific mobilization and economization of death itself as that which entails value. (Project: Az.


Suspended Life - Exploring Cryopreservation Practices in Contemporary Societies

Funding:    European Research Council (ERC Advanced Grant)
Duration:   April 2019 to March 2024
Supervision:   Prof. Dr. Thomas Lemke
Researchers:       Dr. Veit Braun, Dr. Sara Lafuente-Funes, Ruzana Liburkina 

Cryopreservation practices are an essential dimension of contemporary life sciences. They make possible the freezing and storage of cells, tissues and other organic materials at very low temperatures and the subsequent thawing of these at a future date without apparent loss of vitality. Although cryotechnologies are fundamental to reproductive technologies, regenerative medicine, transplantation surgery and conservation biology, they have largely escaped scholarly attention in science and technology studies, anthropology and sociology.

Cryosocieties explores the crucial role of cryopreservation in affecting temporalities and the concept of life. The project is based on the thesis that in contemporary societies, cryopreservation practices bring into existence a new form of life: “suspended life”. “Suspended life” enables vital processes to be kept in a liminal state in which biological substances are neither fully alive nor dead. Cryosocieties generates profound empirical knowledge about the creation of “suspended life” through three ethnographic studies that investigate various sites of cryopreservation. A fourth subproject develops a complex theoretical framework in order to grasp the temporal and spatial regimes of the different cryopractices.

Cryosocieties breaks analytical ground in three important ways. First, the project provides the first systematic and comprehensive empirical study of “suspended life” and deepens our knowledge of how cryopreservation works in different settings. Secondly, it undertakes pioneering work on cryopreservation practices in Europe, generating novel ways of understanding how “suspended life” is assembled, negotiated and mobilised in European societies. Thirdly, CRYOSOCIETIES develops an innovative methodological and theoretical framework in order to address the relationality and materiality of cryopreservation practices and to explore the concept of vitality and the politics of life in the 21st century.

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Lab for Studies of Science and Technology

The Lab for Studies in Science and Technology (LaSST) is an interdisciplinary research network established in 2019. It brings together sociological, anthropological and geographical expertise to investigate the complex challenges of technoscientific developments in contemporary societies. LaSST is dedicated to initiating collaborative projects in teaching and research, and aims at coordinating the activities of scholars working on science and technology at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and beyond.

LaSST hosts the MA program “Science and Technology Studies: Economies, Governance, Life” at the Goethe University Frankfurt. The program is coordinated by the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology, and invites students from inside and outside of Germany to apply.

Another important activity of LaSST is the ‘Frankfurt Kitchen STS’– a discussion group that brings together sociologists, cultural anthropologists, political scientists, human geographers, literary scholars, historians of science and others interested in old debates and new developments in Science and Technology Studies. The name has (at least) two components. First, it refers to the location of the meetings: the kitchen area of the Sociology Department at the Goethe University (PEG 3G 204). Second, it alludes to the famous Frankfurt Kitchen: a political technology that serves as a constant reminder that in design oppression and liberation are hardly ever separable from each other. The ‘Frankfurt Kitchen STS’ is not a reading group; rather, it provides space for engaging in discussions about STS with the help of guests, texts and other materials.

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Contested Legitimacy of Regenerative vs. Established Biomedicine in Brazil

On the Circulation and Co-regulation of Immunostimulant Therapies for Autoimmunity

Funding:         German Research Foundation
Duration:   2019 to 2022
Supervision:   Dr. Márcio Vilar

How does the development of a new therapeutic model, whose potential emergence threatens the hegemony of an already established biomedical model, affect, and how is it affected by law, science and society? To anchor this question in a particular context, I conduct an anthropological study into how scientific innovation, established biomedicine and informal health care co-exist and interface in contemporary Brazil, and how their relations are mediated by legal institutions and other actors. For it, I delineate and explore ‘life assemblages’ related and interconnected through the use of ‘immunostimulant drugs’ for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, which are conventionally treated with ‘immunosuppressant drugs’ worldwide.

My central case study is the ‘anti-brucellic vaccine’ (VAB) – a drug that was produced in Brazil and largely used by patients against several autoimmune diseases. After more than 10 years seeking to become authorized by medico-legal authorities, the VAB remained an object of controversies and was recently taken as basis for the development of a further biotechnological innovation called Complex of Essential Amino Acids (CAE) that is currently experiencing a process of approval. So much so that it is currently commercialized as a ‘manipulated/experimental drug’ while clinical tests are running in parallel.

Inspired by Actor-Network-Theory, I follow the VAB/CAE in order to re-trace associations and map the main relations that have constituted it as a biotechnological innovative agent and, simultaneously, as an object of judicial dispute and regulation. Related to that I compare the VAB/CAE case to other cases of circulation and regulation of immunostimulant drugs as contested innovations in Brazil, such as the synthetic phosphoethanolamine. In so doing, I weave an ethnography of the VAB/CAE out of a multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork through participant observation (including autoethnography) and, complementarily, digital methods and documentary research.

It seems that, from an international perspective, the VAB/CAE case reveals how research into the production, circulation and regulation of immunostimulant therapies for autoimmune diseases in Brazil can provide critical insights into the emergence of regenerative medicine as a transnational process. Moreover, whilst shedding light on legal conflicts between established regulatory science and challenging innovative biotechnologies, the VAB/CAE case highlights how the renewal of established biomedicine for autoimmunity partially unfolds by means of informal pharmaceutical economies, other cultures of legality and respective moralities.

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