Call: The 21st Century Body (London symposium)


‘The 21st Century Body’

18th May 2012, London

Exciting developments in the life sciences and their application in biotechnology are helping to provide pioneering cures and therapies for inherited and degenerative diseases. Consider genomics and genetic based therapies, neuroscience and neuropharmacology, ICT implants and prosthetics, nanomedicine and care of the ageing and you will see how the way in which we perceive ourselves and those around us is slowly being recast.  As our knowledge and its application continues to grow and expand, the range, scope and magnitude of what we are able to achieve seems to be limitless.

This interdisciplinary symposium is convened in order to build capacity as well as consolidate existing scholarship on perspectives on the human body and identity in the face of new advances in emerging technologies.


Technology forecasters point to advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology as an ‘enabling technology’ which opens up further opportunities when combined with other technologies.  This “convergence” of new emerging technologies therefore becomes a matter of great debate. This is seen, for example, when advances in nanoscience converge with developments in biotechnology, which also utilise developments in information technology to capture and simulate human abilities using artificial intelligence systems and, more controversially, cognitive science.  As the animal–human distinction becomes increasingly blurred, it is plain to see the increasing growth of human power over nature in all of its forms including traditional and contemporary understanding about human nature itself. More than just speculative science fiction, talk of brain implants and neural imaging, cyborg enhancement and virtual reality simulation is suddenly becoming a pressing reality.

At this time we are faced with a key question: what does it mean to be human in the 21st Century? A series of identity crises emerge. Against the backdrop of developments in ICT, and especially in virtual contexts we are keen to ensure that our identities are protected and can be authenticated appropriately, without fear of them being reconstructed by others. Likewise, concern is expressed over the question of privacy and surveillance when we encounter new forms of identifying technologies such as biometrics which could challenge our freedom and dignity. As genetic and neuroscience technologies evolve, they provoke and unsettle some of our traditional perceptions of who and what we are.

It is envisaged that this symposium will contribute to the conversation on this theme and by drawing from insights and ideas from across the disciplines, the aim will be to chart challenges to, and changes in perceptions of identity and the human body in the 21st century.

Some key questions this symposium will aim to address include the following:

  • Is human identity being transformed, redefined or superseded through new developments in medicine and technology?
  • Do these new emerging technologies present as radical and revolutionary changes to how we see ourselves (as is sometimes claimed)? Or, are they in fact no different to their predecessors?
  • How are we to evaluate or assess the moral significance of these new technologies to our identity as humans?
  • What does it mean to have identity and to be identifiable in the 21st Century?
  • Are new technologies helping to redefine what we recognise as the human body? Are they in some ways helping to make the human body redundant? If so, in what ways?
  • What are the social, ethical and policy implications of these changes, both locally and globally, as we increasingly encounter the rapid expansion of biotechnologies worldwide?
  • Is altering the shape and appearance of the body contributing to our loss of contact with the body? How does this affect traditional ideas about the mind/body distinction?

Suggested topics:

  • Ageing and immortality;
  • Artificial intelligence; the Turing test; machine understanding;
  • Artificial life; computational biology;
  • Biometrics;
  • Cognitive science;
  • Converging technologies (nano–bio–info–cogno);
  • Ethical and social implications of advances in emerging technologies;
  • Genetics;
  • Human enhancement;
  • Implant technology;
  • Medical anthropology;
  • Neuroscience.

Organising committee

Dr Yasemin J. Erden, CBET, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham
Deborah Gale, MA, King’s College London
Matt James, Director, BioCentre
Matteo Bregonzio, PhD research candidate, Computer Science Department, Queen Mary University, London
Aaron Parkhurst, PhD research candidate, Medical Anthropology, University College London
Alison MacDonald, PhD research candidate, Medical Anthropology, University College London


We invite submission of abstracts in the first instance, with a word limit of around 500–750 words (maximum), and not including references. The abstract should clearly outline main arguments and conclusions of the paper.  On the basis of these abstracts, the academic organising committee will compose a short list of speakers to be invited to submit full–length papers for presentation at the symposium, which will be held in London in May 2012.

All abstracts must be submitted through EasyChair (in a Word attachment; without inclusion of personal details to allow for blind reviewing). EasyChair link to be posted shortly.

Successful papers will be considered for inclusion in a special publication on the same theme.


Tuesday 28th February 2012 – Deadline for submission of abstracts (500–750 word limit)

Monday 30th April 2012 – Final version of papers to be submitted ahead of symposium

18th May 2012 – Symposium, University College London


For more information on submissions, please contact the organizing committee directly.

See webpage for details:–The-2st-Century-Body-.php


The organising committee is grateful for the support provided by BioCentre and the Department of Anthropology, University College London.


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