Landecker, H. (2024). Life as Aftermath: Social Theory for an Age of Anthropogenic Biology. Science, Technology, & Human Values0(0).


Anthropogenic pressures now shape the development, interrelations, and evolution of microbes, plants, animals, and humans. In an age of oxidative stress and failures of DNA repair, cytokine storms and microbial dysbiosis, social scientific theory stutters in the face of biological consequences of forces it masterfully detailed, from biopower to looping kinds. Concepts of the fallibility of knowledge from the unanticipated consequence to the wicked problem are too generic to fathom the nature of the living within reconfigured biotic-abiotic relations in the aftermath of industrialization. Working through examples—genetic modification in weed control, and solvents in cryobiology—this paper offers a novel analytic for anthropogenic biology specific to the relations between knowledge and life in the wake of the industrial twentieth century: a novel patterning of living matter and process from the molecular to the ecological arising with forms of biological control. Changes in pathogens and hosts, targets and bystanders are specific to the form of control but not anticipated by it, illegible within its originating logics. Hubris gone moldy, anthropogenic biology grows from forms of power that overestimate the comprehensiveness of their own efficacy, mistaking the ability to temporarily control living things for full knowledge of them.

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