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Egenis · Research

Transgenic Organisms

Jean Harrington and Christine Hauskeller

Start date



Homepage: Email: Jean Harrington


The common idea that bodies and organisms are ‘natural’ is not only increasingly ‘slipping away’ through postmodernist modes of thinking in both the philosophy of science and society at large, but also through the concrete modulations to mammal organisms in biomedical research. Gene therapy and cellular interventions mix natural with alien tissue or genetic material for disease modeling, functional improvements and medical cure of diseases. The cyborg, a revolutionary concept that widely elicited ‘yuk’ responses when introduced in the discourses of the philosophy and sociology of science in the 1980s and the mouse with the human ear on its back (Vacanti Mouse) produced by researchers at Wisconsin and MIT in 1995 were scandalous theories and items then. Today intensified interventionist bioscience is established to the degree that standardized plants and animals have become industrially produced commodities. Equally, the ‘natural’ human body has become altered through a variety of genetic and tissue interventions reminiscent of the cyborg in that it is being ‘repaired’ with the use of standardized genes and tissues that move across species.


This research investigates the development and normalization of standardizing organisms for, in and through biomedicine in its epistemological, practical and ethical dimensions. The project represents a continuation of the above aspects that figure prominently in our research of the ‘translational space’ (i.e. the interaction between science and medicine for novel treatments for humans).

At present we include three levels of enquiry:

  1. The epistemological dimension, i.e. the understanding of species and kinds and the tension between ‘nature’ and the being made to be something.
  2. The practical level, i.e. the pragmatics of international science and pharmaceutical industries, of medications and therapies and of using things in a standardized manner.
  3. The ethical sphere, i.e. the conflict between the universal value of life (be it human and/or animal) and the degree to which this conflicts with the apparent requirements to improve the quality of human life.


Currently we are undertaking a literature analysis on model organisms in the laboratory and we have conducted some first days of fieldwork.


Harrington, J. and Stephen, N. "A Social Science View on the FRAME Symposium: Identities and Networks." ATLA: Alternatives To Laboratory Animals, 2010, 38(Supplement): 101-4.


Harrington, J., ‘Is re-production a ‘local’ affair? The effect of culturing routines on stem cells’. Joint Egenis/Max Planck Institute for the History of Science Workshop, Negotiating Identity: Objects and Methods of Reproduction in 20th Century Life Sciences, Max Planck Institute, Berlin. May 2010.

Harrington, J. ‘Animal Models in the Laboratory.’ Workshop ‘Negotiating Identity. Objects and Methods of Reproduction in 20th Century Life Sciences’, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Egenis joint event, 3 April 2009, University of Exeter.

Harrington, J. Poster presentation ‘Animal as Artefact: Tensions surrounding the animal model in stem cell research.’ FRAME Symposium, ‘Human Alternative to Animal Studies’, 8-10 September 2009, University of Nottingham.