Frames /sing


Biocultures Manifesto: Disease, Technology, Selves and Knowledge

Adrian over at immanence posts the Biocultures Manifesto which he tells us was originally published in New Literary History back in 2007. Certainly worth repeating here:

* Science and humanities are incomplete without each other.
* It is untrue that the humanities are the realm of values and the sciences the realm of facts.
* Science isn’t hard and the humanities aren’t soft.
* You can’t fully understand the results of a given data set without knowing the historical, social, cultural, discursive fields surrounding the data.
* Any contemporary research needs more than a cursory background in history and in the history of the concepts it employs.
* You can’t study a subject that is an object.
* You can’t study an object that isn’t a subject.
* Diseases are disease entities.
* If you divide truths in half you get half-truths.
* If you divide knowledge, your knowledge is divided.
* Pain is always in your head because your brain is.
* Nothing human is universal or atemporal.
* Embodiment is necessarily biological, and knowledge is always embodied.
* A fact is a socially produced conclusion.
* Bodies are always cultural and biological.
* Selves today are embodied, biologized, shaped by medical knowledge.
* The body-whose, what, when, where-is always in question.
* The boundary between organic and inorganic is no longer clear.
* Technology has become human; humans have become technologies.
* Patients and experimental subjects are part of the decision-making process.
* Science can be postmodern; postmodernisms can be scientific.
* Biology, as a science, cannot exist outside culture; culture, as a practice, cannot exist outside biology.

I have say that I agree with nearly every one of these points (though not big on the subject/object distinction, and the bit on truth and knowledge seems a bit trite). All in all, a nice formulation of principles.  Adrian offers several links, including this.

5 responses to “Biocultures Manifesto: Disease, Technology, Selves and Knowledge

  1. anodynelite March 14, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Very important stuff to keep in mind… I was reading the Pasteurization of France earlier, after that essay on biosemiotics that you suggested, and both fit well within the bounds of this manifesto. I’m surprised that essay was the first time I’d heard the term “biosemiotics”–more and more I think this needs to become a new discipline altogether, not just one class in an STS department, or something like it–the way media studies became its own subject, rather than one class in a sociology dept.

  2. kvond March 14, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I whole-heartedly agree, and it is nice that you mention STS, which very well might be incorporated within it, the two of them carrying heft together. I’m glad to hear that you found the essay fitting in nicely with the Pasteurization of France. I have not thought of that specific connection.

    For my part, I am coming to this notion of biosemiosis from another direction, paricularly that of the under-developed Semiotics of Augustine, and the recent semiotic reading of Descartes. I’m wary of Peirceans (they just love their terms, and there is too much of a humanist/objectivist Realistm bent for me), but this seems the best non-Representationalist, epistemic way to go forward.

  3. Mark Crosby March 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Beware of Peirceans, as you might be wary of mathematicians and ontologists, as well! I’ve followed the Peirce list for years and most members seem more interested in science, as opposed to art (but probably because they’ve had to compete for survival with Analytical philosophers – you know, those Sokal & Bricmont types 😉

    Biosemiotics has been around for a long time. I actually found my way to an interest in Continental philosophy through various references and searches from biosemiotics boards.

    * Alexei Sharov’s BIOSEMIOTICS site was one of the first I found (see – which is a bit different from the original site of 10 years ago 😉
    * Kalevi Kull, in Tartu,
    * Claus Emmeche at
    * Jesper Hoffmeyer at

    All have warm places in my heart for their willingness to make their most important essays available online. Hoffmeyer, in particular, develops Yuri Lotman’s concept of the SEMIOSPHERE:

    “In my definition the semiosphere is a sphere like the atmosphere, the hydrosphere or the biosphere. It penetrates these spheres and consists in communication: sounds, odours, movements, colours, electric fields, waves of any kind, chemical signals, touch etc. The semiosphere poses constraints or boundary conditions to the Umwelts of populations since these are forced to occupy specific semiotic niches i.e. they will have to master a set of signs of visual, acoustic, olfactory, tactile and chemical origin in order to survive in the semiosphere”.

  4. kvond March 14, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    All wonderful links and references. Thank you.

    I like mathematicians for mathematics, and ontologists for ontologies, but sometimes find the attempt to marry them premature to the theory.

    The semiosphere is a wonderful concept, and I love the quote. Will investigate. I am hopeful to gain bridges to my own notion of Conjoined Semiosis.

  5. kvond March 14, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Following Mark’s references, here is a very short yet comprehensive rundown of the core concepts and principles of Biosemiotics, provided by Sharov:

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