EASST 2018 Presentation

Abi­gail Dur­rant and I gave our paper Mod­el­ling Cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds” at EASST last week, in the fab­ulous Fem­in­ist Fig­ures pan­el.

Mod­el­ling cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds

ABSTRACT
We use String Fig­ures and Invol­u­tion­ary Momentum to read against the grain” of a con­tem­por­an­eous bio­logy char­ac­ter­ised by reduc­tion. Work­ing through the design of a tool that mod­els cel­lu­lar sta­bil­ity, we spin a yarn of affect­ively charged” rela­tions between research­ers, cells and tech­no­lo­gies.

Draw­ing from her found­a­tion­al stud­ies of bio­logy, Evelyn Fox Keller (2009:301) writes of a com­plex­ity and con­nec­ted­ness that might just char­ac­ter­ise our devi­ous” world(s). She has traced threads through bio­logy for over 40 years, draw­ing atten­tion to — amongst oth­er things — how it has often res­isted the explan­at­ory powers con­ferred upon its coun­ter­parts in oth­er nat­ur­al sci­ences. A prag­mat­ic approach has dom­in­ated, she extols, in which unknowns have been a part of biology’s messy real­ity.

Look­ing ahead, to the deep­en­ing entan­gle­ments between bio­logy and com­pu­ta­tion, we find con­tem­por­an­eous ima­gin­ar­ies sur­round­ing cel­lu­lar life to be test­ing this lin­eage. Cer­tainly — as Keller her­self has reflec­ted — com­pu­ta­tion makes pos­sible very par­tic­u­lar modes of under­stand­ing, ones con­form­ing to the reduct­ive, mech­an­ist­ic, and adapt­a­tion­ist logics” that char­ac­ter­ise a pre­vail­ing neo-Darwinism (Hus­tak & Myers 2013:77).

In this paper, we wish to cut across what on the face it appears to be biology’s nar­row­ing move. By look­ing askew’, we hope to ask more about bio­logy and wheth­er or not it is being rendered com­pu­ta­tion­al. Examin­ing a pro­ject inves­ted in the com­pu­ta­tion­al chal­lenges of mod­el­ling cel­lu­lar sta­bil­ity, and rely­ing on the risky comak­ings” (Har­away 2016:14) between act­ors, algorithms and com­pu­ta­tion­al tools, we stay com­mit­ted to the troubles enlivened by knot­ted rela­tions. We use two fem­in­ist fig­ures, Haraway’s String Fig­ure, and Hus­tak and Myer’s Invol­u­tion­ary Momentum, to (re-)tell a story of unfold­ing rela­tion­ships between research­ers, cells and tech­no­lo­gies, spin­ning a yarn of affect­ively charged” (Hus­tak & Myers 2013) relays and knot­tings that res­ist sin­gu­lar fig­ur­ings.

Ref­er­ences
Har­away, D.J., 2016. Stay­ing with the trouble: Mak­ing kin in the Chthu­lu­cene. Duke Uni­ver­sity Press.

Hus­tak, C. and Myers, N., 2012. Invol­u­tion­ary momentum: Affect­ive eco­lo­gies and the sci­ences of plant/insect encoun­ters. dif­fer­ences, 23(3), pp.74 – 118.

Keller, E.F., 2009. Mak­ing sense of life: Explain­ing bio­lo­gic­al devel­op­ment with mod­els, meta­phors, and machines. Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press.