Haunting Biology: Science and Indigeneity in Australia

Haunting Biology: Science and Indigeneity in Australia


The bodies of Indigenous Australians have been an object of western scientific enquiry for the entirety of the colonial encounter. Drawing on both famous and obscure episodes in the history of scientific research on Indigenous bodies and populations, this talk will tell a larger story of how and why biological knowledge about Indigenous Australians was produced over the twentieth century and up to the present. Each new discipline that sought to produce biological knowledge about Indigenous people claimed new theories or methods that were superior to previous modes of knowledge production. Along the way, thousands of bones, hair samples, blood samples, pathology slides, placental samples and much more were acquired, collated and stored in museums and laboratories across Australia and the countries of the global north. The material persistence of samples over decades and centuries folds together the fates of different scientific methodologies. Blood, bones, hair, comparative anatomy, human biology, anthropological genetics, direct-to-consumer ancestry testing and precision medicine all haunt each other across time and space, together with the many racial theories they produced and sustained. Along the way, I consider the possible ways of responding to these ghosts of biological difference and argue that only one is viable: living with them. 

About the Presenter:

Emma Kowal is Professor of Anthropology and Deputy Director of the Alfred Deakin Institute and Founding Convenor of the Science and Society Network at Deakin University. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist who previously worked as a medical doctor and public health researcher in Indigenous health. Much of her work is at the intersection of science and technology studies, postcolonial studies and Indigenous studies. She has won many awards for her research and is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. Her publications include the monograph Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia and the collection (co-edited with Joanna Radin) Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World. Her talk will be based on her forthcoming book, an outcome of her current ARC Future Fellowship. 

This seminar will take place via Zoom:


Meeting ID: 950 7255 0608
Password: 603360

Date & time

Mon 30 Nov 2020, 1–2pm


Via Zoom


Professor Emma Kowal


School of Sociology


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