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2014 Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture

Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture-Professor Stefan Helmreich

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
7:00 PM
Lander Auditorium, Hutchison Hall, University of Rochester

2014 Morgan Lecture Series Poster

Stefan Helmreich

Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology
School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Download the Flyer [11MB]

This year’s Morgan Lecture reports on an ongoing multi-sited, multi-method ethnographic project investigating wave science — the study of periodic, oscillating, and undulating phenomena — in different fields, from cosmology, to biology, to oceanography, to sport, to social science. Fixing on waves as scientific things — amalgams of the formally described and materially instantiated, of the conceptual and empirical — the project examines how scientists apprehend and model waves as entities that cross the boundaries of the human and the ahuman, the agentive and the overdetermined, and the cultural and the natural. What waves are taken to be — their ontology — is in transformation as novel scientific modes of measurement, inscription, and description bring them into legibility.

Stefan Helmreich is Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology at MIT. He received his PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University and he has  held fellowships at Cornell, Rutgers, and NYU. His research examines the works and lives of biologists thinking through the limits of "life" as a category of analysis. Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009) is a study of marine biologists working in realms usually out of sight and reach: the microscopic world, the deep sea, and oceans outside national sovereignty. This book, winner of the 2010 Senior Book Prize from the American Ethnological Society, the 2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize from Society for Cultural Anthropology, and the 2012 Rachel Carson Book Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science, charts how marine microbes are entangled with debates about the origin of life, climate change, property in the ocean commons, and the possibility of life on other worlds. An earlier book, Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (University of California Press, 1998) is an ethnography of computer modeling in the life sciences. In 2000, it won the Diana Forsythe Book Prize from the American Anthropological Association. Helmreich's newest research concerns the cultural circulation of such abstractions as "water," "sound," and "waves." His essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Representations, American Anthropologist, and The Wire.