Photo by Nicola Gadler

Uncanny Bodies Workshop – Biomedicine and making the Familiar Strange

We are excited to be organising a workshop on the theme of the Uncanny, here in beautiful Edinburgh. The workshop will be designed as a space for discussion, active reflection and collaborative writing.

The key objective of the workshop is to use the notion of uncanny bodies as a catalyst for thinking through, theorising and writing about how people experience contemporary biomedical knowledge, practices and technologies in relation to their own and other bodies.

New medical technologies are capable of generating estrangement; implantable devices (such as mechanical heart s and valves) cannot be considered to be alive themselves and yet autonomously maintain and support life in their recipient organisms; imaging technologies and devices are enabling us to see inside and visualise bodies and diseases in new ways; ever more detailed and personalised data about our bodies contribute to the creation of new identities and subjectivities.

In addition to these technological developments, our understanding of the underlying science breaks down the traditional human-non-human animal divide. Aside from the Human Genome Project showing that we share most of our DNA with other species, the human body is also host to a mass of other species of bacteria and fungi, and is reliant on these species for symbiotic relationships essential to our well-being. When looked at from this angle, the very meaning of ‘the human’ is destabilised and made foreign.

Freud’s reliance on short stories to explore the uncanny in his essay underlines the power of literature. As advances in science and technology generate new uncannies, new fictional approaches to these advances may help us understand our emotional responses to them. Scottish literature has long been associated with the uncanny. The word itself is Scots in origin, and fictionalised accounts of Edinburgh deal with many uncanny tropes. Edinburgh is also home to scientific innovations such as the world’s first successfully cloned animal, which open up new ways of thinking about the relationship between science and the uncanny.

Together we will be:

  1. exploring whether the concept of the uncanny can contribute to on-going social scientific theorising about bodies in relation biomedical knowledge, practices and technologies;
  2. thinking through how contemporary biomedicine and, more specifically, sociological and humanities research and writing on biomedicine, bodies and technology can be used to revisit and rethink Freud’s initial articulation of the uncanny and its relationship to human and non-human bodies;
  3. experimenting with different modes of writing to articulate different aspects of biomedicine, bodies and technologies, and in doing so to foster collaboration between academics and literary writers with an interest in the uncanny, bodies and biomedicine;
  4. publishing an anthology of academic, creative non-fiction and fiction writing on the theme of uncanny bodies, and to use this to mark the anniversary of Freud’s initial publication of ‘The Uncanny’ through a series of dissemination events.