CHID 222: Biofutures Winter 2010

Course Description


M1:30-2:20 JHN 102

TTh1:30-2:20 MLR 301

Discussion Sections on Wednesday and Friday

Instructor: Phillip Thurtle, thurtle@u.washington.edu

Office: Padelford B 102

Office Hours: Monday 3:00-4:00 and Thursday 10:30-12:00


Teaching Assistants:

Adam Nocek, anocek@u.washington.edu

Nancy White, ncwhite@u.washington.edu


Peer Facilitators:

Shanna Dulin- s.nilud@gmail.com - Eugenics and disability studies

Shealeigh Heindel- ilestbienfait@gmail.com - Gender, sexuality, control/manipulation of bodies (specifically female, trans, and intersex bodies) and the institutional/structural oppression of bodies, identity discourses, eugenics, queer theory, liminal identities

Eliot Hemingway- elhcorb@u.washington.edu -Methods of critical inquiry, games as media

Omar Shaukat- omar.shaukat@gmail.com -Cinema, music, and new media.

Joshua Snider- joshuadsnider@gmail.com -Foucault, Time and Space, historical contingency, intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identity issues



This class explores key legal, ethical, cultural, scientific, and commercial aspects of the rapidly changing world of biotechnology and bioinformatics. It specifically asks how new discoveries in biology encourage us to rethink issues of ownership, communication, geography, identity, and artistic practice. The class will be structured around six specific case studies that students will use to understand some of the major themes of BioFutures. Come find out about the often exhilarating and frequently frightening scenarios for the future of your body.

Students will be specifically encouraged to ask the following questions:

What are the ethical and legal issues involved in patenting human cell lines?

How are recent biotechnologies portrayed in science fiction films? What can we learn by studying these portrayals?

What does it mean to suggest that biotechnology is part of "an information society"?

How are race, class, gender, and disability mapped onto or intersect with biomedicine?

How are artists using live organisms in their art work? What can we learn about art, ethics, and scientific practice by studying this work?

How do scientists manipulate space and time in the laboratory?

This class is designed to appeal to all. No prerequisites needed!


·      Students will acquaint themselves with important emergent issues surrounding biomedicine and the dominant ways that these issues have been studied, including biopolitical, political economic, science and technology studies, disabilities studies, philosophic, cultural, literary, and media studies analyses.

·      Students will gain familiarity with common procedures used in the biomedical sciences.

·      Science students will gain confidence in applying humanistic research themes to scientific topics while humanities students will gain confidence reading and analyzing scientific texts and concepts.

·      Students will gain practice researching and composing original research papers.

·      Students will improve their communication skills through their participation in discussions held in the lecture hall and discussion sections.

·      Students will improve their reading skills by completing reading assignments and writing upon what they thought were the major themes of these assignments during class.

·      Students will gain a sense of how different ways of explaining the world (science and the humanities, for instance) can complement each other.

Assignments and Grading:

Class participation: 30% of total grade

This includes attending and contributing to lecture and section and completing in-class “free writes” and pop-quizzes when requested (these will be graded on a “credit/no credit” basis). Students are expected to come to lecture and section having read and prepared to discuss the readings for the week.

Short assignments: 35% of total grade

Students will complete three short assignments during the course of the quarter. Each of these assignments are designed to develop specific analytical skills, while improving overall writing skills. These assignments are listed on the class schedule below and instructions for completing the assignments will be given before the assignments are due. Specific assignment due dates are listed in the class schedule. Assignments 1 and 2 are each worth 10% of your total grade, while assignment 3 is worth 15%.

Research Paper: 35% of total grade

8 double-spaced pages using 11 point Times New Roman font or an equivalent. You will need to reference at least four sources in your research (only one source can be from the class reading list and only two sources can be from the WWW). Appropriate topics and essay organization will be discussed in discussion sections.



The following materials are available at the University Book Store:

Robert Mitchell, Helen Burgess, and Phillip Thurtle, Biofutures: Owning Body Parts and Information (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). Please note, this is the main source of reading for class. It is also a DVD-ROM. Participation in class is dependant upon being able to access the materials on the DVD.

Robert Mitchell, Bioart and the Vitality of Media

Philip K. Dick, Ubik

Brian K. Vaughn, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr., Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned (Vertigo/DC Comics, 2003)

Also, single short readings are available on the class WWW site.

Send questions about this workspace to Phillip Thurtle.