Empirical Projects

My empirical work disentangles the relationship between the production of knowledge and the reproduction of social order. I use ethnographic, interview and archival research to study how practices, categories and technologies become culturally and institutionally entrenched in modern societies. I am pursuing this line of research through two projects: the first examines how emerging practices and technologies are legitimated in biomedicine, and the second seeks to understand how and why people’s bodies and tissues are recruited into this process. 

The Biopolitics of Genome Editing

A scalpel and tweezers picking at a DNA double helix

This project examines the social, scientific, and political struggles being waged over the revolutionary genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9. With over 20 clinical trials for treating genetic diseases with CRISPR-Cas9 underway, stakeholders continue to debate issues of equity, racial justice, ethics, and ableism surrounding the modification of human DNA. This project reframes these struggles as a problem of institutionalization: How is the idea and discourse of genome editing rendered into a durable set of practices that become legitimated and taken for granted? To address this question, I conducted participant observation and in-depth interviews in academic laboratories, regulatory agencies, and international conferences. I argue that scientists concentrate decision-making power through partnerships with biopharmaceutical firms, philanthropic funders, and regulators, leaving patient communities, disability justice advocates, and civil society groups on the sidelines. 

Race, Ethnicity and Nation in Biomedicine

This project explains the use of population categories in human biology from the mid-twentieth century to the present. To understand the genealogy of population genetics, I analyzed published articles, meeting symposia, and training manuals produced by the International Biological Programme (IBP, 1964-1971), a multi-national effort to create a repository of blood samples and physiological data from indigenous populations. I then compared this research program to contemporary databases of human genetic variation. I found that the logic of classification that supports the use of ethnic, racial, and national population categories was developed in the 1960s as a response to racist science but also reproduced local forms of difference-making. By showing how current logics of classification derive from this neo-colonial and extractive science, this project contributes to social scientific research on race in biomedicine and the implications of genetic ancestry testing. Findings from this project have been published in New Genetics & Society, and Perspectives on Science.