21A.303J | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

Anthropology of Biology


There are three seven page papers, due sessions 5, 9, and 12.

Paper One—Due session 5

Write a 7-page paper on one of the topics below. A strong paper will move beyond answering the question to advancing and defending an argument of your own about why the dynamics you discuss unfold as they do.

  1. Apply readings from our Evolutionary Narratives section to an analysis of readings in our What is Life? Session. What are the narratives, metaphors, analogies, and naturalizations that animate the models of life advanced by Schrödinger, Margulis and Sagan, and Bedau? What do such narratives include? Leave out?
  2. Find a popular presentation of genetic knowledge (in e.g. The New York Times, Discover, Time, etc.) and, drawing on the tools offered in our Evolutionary Narratives section, analyze its narrative and argument, mapping out the logical structure of its claims in the way Keller, Helmreich & Paxson, and Marks both encourage readers to do. Then look for the original scientific article on which the popular presentation is based and compare it. Are there differences between expert and popular presentation? Similarities? What sort? Why?
  3. Looking at our readings about Biopolitics, characterize and interpret the beliefs about “life,” “nature” and “evolution” that motivate the people or organizations examined in articles by three of the following authors: Taussig et al., Petryna, Nguyen, and Redfield.

Provide a bibliography, formatted in the way you see sources cited in the syllabus.

Paper Two—Due session 9

  1. Look closely at readings from our Biology for Sale and Biodiversity, Natural and Artificial sessions. The commoditization of “life” operates at a different scale for the objects described by each article (i.e., for organism, cells, compounds, genes, seeds, genetic databases) Focusing on three examples, discuss how scale might matter for how the commoditization of life—biocapitalism—unfolds. Use Chapter 2: Sex from Sarah Franklin’s Dolly Mixtures to help you argue your answer to this question.
  2. What do categorization of plants, fish, animals, and humans have in common? Use readings from Biodiversity, Natural and Artificial (e.g., Gusterson, Haraway, Mansfield) (you may also or alternatively draw upon readings from Animals, Wild and Domestic) and Race in the Genomic Age (e.g. Duster, Reardon, Montoya) to discuss the question.
  3. What is sex? How do recent researches in biology (e.g., in sex determination, in intersex definition, in in vitro fertilization, in cloning) variously impact that question? In light of your answer, compare and contrast “race” and “sex” as modes of classifying humans.

Provide a bibliography, formatted in the way you see sources cited in the syllabus.

Paper Three—Due session 12

For this paper, you may choose your own topic, so long as it is about the cultural, political, religious, and / or economic dimensions of biological science—in short, so long as it is about matters we have discussed in class. You may choose to go into further depth about a topic we have treated in class, or you may scout out a fresh subject (We didn’t read in this class, for example, about bioterrorism, the pharmaceutical industry, or epigenetics. I’m sure you can think of other topics, too). Regardless of the topic you choose, however, you must engage with readings from this class that are relevant to your topic (you can’t write more about cloning in monkeys, for example, without using Franklin’s Dolly Mixtures). While the paper is not meant to be a full-blown research paper, I do expect you to do some research to find what has been written on your topic; two or three scholarly articles or an article and a book are probably sufficient, but check with me if you have any questions. Check with me in any event, since I will likely be able to guide you toward relevant articles or books.

This paper, like the previous two, will be a 7-page paper, and will represent 25% of the subject grade. Provide a bibliography, formatted in the way you see sources cited in the syllabus.

Be prepared to deliver a five-ish minute presentation to the class about your paper on the day the paper is due.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments