Book Review: Rendering Life Molecular, Natasha Myers

I’ve got a new book review published in New Genetics and Society on Rendering Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter by Natasha Myers. I really enjoyed this valuable and thought provoking book! Thank you to Martyn Pickersgill for facilitating the review!

Yoshizawa, Rebecca S. (2016) “Rending Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter, by Natasha Myers (book review).” New Genetics and Society.

New Publication: Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil

The article resulting from the collaborative study I conducted in Brazil is now available online first. It is currently open access. It will be published in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 

Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil


Little is known about public perspectives of scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas. Gaps in knowledge potentiate ethical and clinical problems regarding collection and applications. As such, this study sought to assess the perspectives of placenta donation of a sample of women. Postpartum women’s perspectives on placental donation were assessed at the State University of Campinas in the Centro de Atençäo Integral a Saúde da Mulher (CAISM) maternity hospital using a cross-sectional survey (n = 384) and semi-structured interviews (n = 12). Surveys were analyzed quantitatively and interviews were analyzed qualitatively using grounded coding; results were compared. The average age of respondents was 27. Fifty-six percent had more than one child, 45% were Caucasian, 38% were mixed-race, 74% identified with a Christian faith, 52% had high school education or higher, 13% regarded the placenta as spiritually important, 72% felt that knowing what happens to the placenta after birth was somewhat or very important, 78% supported the use of the placenta in research and medicine, 59% reported that consent to collect the placenta was very or somewhat important, 78% preferred their doctor to invite donation, and only 7% preferred the researcher to invite donation. Interviews suggested women appreciate being part of research and that receiving information about studies was important to them. Informed by these results, we argue that women support scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas, want to be included in decision making, and desire information about the placenta. Placentas should not be viewed as “throwaway” organs that are poised for collection without the involvement and permission of women. Women want to be meaningfully included in research processes.

Authors: Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa, Maria José Duarte Osis, Simony Lira Nascimento, Silvana Ferreira Bento, Ana Carolina Godoy, Suelene Coelho, and José Guilherme Cecatti

I would like to thank the anonymous reviews and editors of the journal for their incredibly thoughtful comments. Their contribution raised the quality of this article immensely.

I’m very excited about the contribution this research makes regarding public perspectives of the use of human placentas in scientific research and medicine. They survey instrument that was developed for this study can be deployed in other locations toward the development of locally-appropriate protocols and practices regarding human placental donation, collection, and research. Please contact me if you are interested in collaborating on a survey of another population!

New Publication: Book Review of Rom Harré’s “Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrödinger’s Cat: Scenes from the Living Laboratory”

I wrote a book review for the journal Public Understanding of Science of Rom Harré’s Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrödinger’s Cat: Scenes from the Living Laboratory (Oxford University Press, 2009). Here is a short excerpt:

Harré spends considerable time describing the use of plants in experiments, phenomena that demand more scholarly and public attention. He paints a picture of science teeming with diverse vital matter: animals, plants, bacteria, lichen, humans, and even “imaginary beings.” The implied thesis emphasizes research with life rather than on life.

I think the book would work well as reading material for introductory courses in science studies or animal studies.

Public Perspectives on the Utilization of Human Placentas in Scientific Research and Medicine: New Publication

I have a new publication appearing in the journal Placenta entitled “Public perspectives on the utilization of human placentas in scientific research and medicine.” Here is the abstract:

Placental tissues are frequently utilized by scientists studying pregnancy and reproduction and in diverse fields including immunology, stem cell research, genetics, cancer research, and tissue engineering, as well as by clinicians in many therapies. Though the utilization of the human placenta in science and medicine has benefitted many people, little is known about public perspectives of this phenomenon. This review addresses placental donation, collection, and utilization in science and medicine, focusing on public perspectives. Cultural values and traditions, ethical paradigms and concerns, public understandings of science and medicine, and political considerations may impact perceptions of the utilization of the placenta in science and medicine, but systematic study is lacking. It is argued that knowledge of public views gained from empirical investigation may underpin the development of collection protocols and research projects that are more responsive to public will, spur more extensive utilization in science and medicine of this unique organ, and/or aid in the realization of the mobilization of knowledge about the placenta for clinical and educational ends. New avenues for research on public perspectives of the placenta are proposed.

Keywords: Placenta donation, Public understandings of science, Ethics, Donor perceptions

I wrote this article to point to the lack of research on public perspectives of the placenta, address the implications of this gap, and call for more research attention. The article serves as a backdrop for one of my current collaborative studies, which assesses women’s perspectives of donating the placenta to science and medicine in Campinas, Brazil.

I would like to thank the editors of Placenta and their anonymous reviewers. I was impressed by the process, feedback, and their willingness to consider publishing the work of a social scientist in a scientific journal.

I am very interested to hear comments and in particular would like to know of the perspectives of women who have given birth, women who have donated their placentas or been asked to donate, and scientists who study the organ. What is the meaning of the placenta for you? What do you think about the use of placentas in scientific research and medicine?

New Publication: The Barker Hypothesis, Obesity, and Transdisciplinarity

I have an article appearing in the most recent issue of the journal Social Theory and Health entitled “The Barker hypothesis and obesity: Connections for transdisciplinarity and social justice.” It is the culmination of work on the Barker hypothesis and obesity first set in motion by a visit to Queen’s University in March 2010 of epidemiologist David Barker and an invitation to present to him a 5 minute talk regarding sociological perspectives on his work. Here is the abstract:

Obesity is the object of incredible amounts of resources and attention purportedly aimed at reducing corpulence and increasing health. Despite this, consensus with respect to the definition, causes or solutions is lacking, making obesity a prominent knowledge controversy. In this article, I argue that the Barker hypothesis, a theory of foetal development, can support the redistribution of expertise necessary to address this knowledge controversy. A vast scientific literature confirms its argument that many diseases can be traced to the conditions for development in utero determined by the commingling of temporally and spatially complex processes. The Barker hypothesis does not support solely reductionist, biophysiological paradigms of health and disease, but rather evinces complex understandings that span biology, social positionality, place and generation. I argue that this makes the hypothesis significant for transdisciplinary studies of health and disease, and prompts consideration beyond the conventional bounds of epidemiology to new sites of understanding and action that may support movements concerned with body politics and justice for fat people. I point to literature on the potential for injustice engendered by the Barker hypothesis, and suggest that these critiques reveal the very necessity for transdisciplinary collaboration on obesity in the first place.

Alongside Dr. Barker’s visit, I found critical inspiration and challenges for ideas in this article in what is sometimes called “the fatosphere,” a nebulous collection of blogs and bloggers who write about fat. For example, I highly recommend Australian blogger Definatalie (Natalie Perkins) for her critical and candid writing style and her powerful artwork regarding fat.

The arguments I present in the article are tendentious and represent my attempt to contribute to the already-tendentious terrain of obesity. I welcome any feedback on the article.

New Publication: “Body Worlds’ Plastinates, the Human/Nonhuman Interface, and Feminism”

My article entitled “Body Worlds’ Plastinates, the Human/Nonhuman Interface, and Feminism” was recently published in a special issue on the nonhuman in the journal Feminist Theory, edited Myra J. Hird and Celia Roberts. Body Worlds is an exhibition that displays dissected human bodies that have been preserved by a process called plastination which infuses them with a polymer that purportedly makes them impervious to decay. While the exhibition’s creators claim to display “real human bodies,” because they are made with significant amounts of plastic and other materials, I argue that these exhibits are ambivalently human. But they are also ambivalently nonhuman as they can still engage the spectator in decidedly human, affective encounters. In this way, they signal a grey area in the human/nonhuman duality that underpins much of our economics, politics, and ethics. In this article, I discuss the important implications this has for feminism, which has always grappled with the questions of who should be granted the status of human and what privileges such status should confer.

I thank Dr. Hird and Dr. Roberts for their support in the writing of this article, as well as Dr. Kirsten McAllister and Dr. Zoë Druick, who supervised this research at Simon Fraser University.

I would be very happy to hear any comments readers have regarding this article.


Body Worlds is a hugely popular exhibition that claims to offer a reverential and educational experience of the ‘real human body’ through the display of plastinated dead human bodies. However, because they are posed, staged, and composed of significant nonhuman artifice, plastinates are ambivalently ‘real’ as human bodies, let alone ‘real’ as humans. Plastinates are as much nonhuman as human, and neither category fully accounts for them. In this article, I discuss the consequences of this for feminist theory. Approaches in feminist theory that reify, either implicitly or explicitly, a human/nonhuman binary framework are challenged by plastinates. I show that locating plastinates within either ontological category, though not fully accounting for them, enables feminist critiques of the exhibition; however, these categories also paradoxically permit forms of violence with which feminists are typically concerned. In this way, I argue that plastinates force feminist thought to the very interface of the human/nonhuman divide. When applied to Body Worlds, these concepts at best form a heuristic ontological hinge whose angle is determined by ethical and political commitments, illustrating the ways in which key ontologies should be seen as political strategies more or less amenable to feminist goals, but not more or less true. I argue that what lies at the crux of this hinge, in the case of plastinates, is death, and suggest that Body Worlds demands that the interface of death with life become a key feminist concern.

New Book Review: “The Nature of Sexual Desire” by James Giles in Anthropological Forum

My book review of The Nature of Sexual Desire by James Giles appears in the most recent issue of Anthropological Forum. This book presents a useful argument that does not fall into either social constructionism or biological determinism; however, in the review, I relate my critique of its understanding of gender which I found to be uncritical in important ways and largely uninformed by feminist scholarship. Do readers have any comments on the book?  

New Publication: “Tissue-Fragments” in McGill Sociological Review

McGill Sociological Review is a graduate, peer-reviewed academic journal housed in the Department of Sociology at McGill University. I’m a big supporter of graduate journals and very much value the professionalizing role they play in the development of the skills and careers of emerging researchers. Having worked for two graduate journals myself, I understand the tremendous amount of effort it takes to turn them into successful and thriving sites of academic exchange, so I appreciate the effort that the editors, peer-reviewers, and others commit to the journal.

McGill Sociological Review has just launched its second volume, which contains an article of mine entitled “Tissue-Fragments.” Here is the abstract:

Matter from bodies becomes tissue, rather than this being an ontological given. Practices and heterogeneous collectives of actors, including histological study, organ donation, biopsies, hospital waste collection, and therapeutic uses of tissue products imbue tissues with complex social and cultural lives. These tissue lives are contradictory, producing tissue as an intelligible and acceptable object as well as a contested and unstable one. I argue that tissues represent a duality of fragmentation and wholeness, sometimes metonymically standing in for the body in which they originated (e.g. biopsies), sometimes associated solely with a “laboratory life” (e.g. tissue cultures), and sometimes becoming a new part of an existing body (e.g. transplants). While these processes have been elaborated in the literature, we lack a terminology that captures and accounts for them. As such, in this paper I propose the notion of the “tissue-fragment” as a way to conceptualize these entities more fully in their biotechnological and embodied existence.

I’d be pleased to hear any comments you may have!

The Barker Hypothesis: A Call to Transdisciplinary Responsibility

World renowned epidemiologist and reproductive biologist David Barker visited Queen’s University this week to give two lectures on his pioneering work that has spurred a paradigm shift in understandings of the etiology of disease. Thanks to my supervisor Dr. Myra Hird and Dr. Anne Croy in Anatomy and Cell Biology, I was given the incredible opportunity and privilege to have a 10 minute audience with Dr. Barker during his visit to the department. I took that opportunity to argue that his work demands that we undertake transdisciplinary research, and emphasized the kinds of contributions sociologists could make to his projects.

In his 500 or so academic publications, Barker has advanced what has come to be known as the “Barker hypothesis,” or the developmental origins of adult disease. According to his theory, conditions in the maternal womb have a programming effect on fetal physiology, a phenomenon called fetal programming. Much of Barker’s work has focused on the effect of maternal nutrition on fetal programming. It has been found that if a fetus is deprived of adequate nutrient supply in the womb, it will be irrevocably “programmed,” predisposing it to a whole host of diseases: cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer to name a few. Thus Barker emphasizes developmental plasticity, the malleable quality of life in development, as important to the etiology of disease. Barker has further shown that there is a significant generational aspect to disease, profoundly challenging today’s “lifestyle” discourse. Using data from the Helsinki cohort (a group of people born between 1934 and 1944 in Helsinki, about whom a rich amount of data was collected including their mother’s height, weight, age, parity; the weight and shape of the placenta; antenatal follow-up data; and socioeconomic status), Barker has shown that a woman’s lifelong nutrition significantly impacts her children’s risk of disease. Thus Barker’s talk was entitled “Your Mother’s Mother: The Key to your Health.”

Low socioeconomic status is associated with poorer access to nutritious food. This makes the transdisciplinary implications of Dr. Barker’s work quite clear. I’m quoting here from my talk:

Significantly, what this means is that social structures do not merely determine relations between people; they can also have biological effects. In this way, we can say that although social structure is often thought to be intangible and abstract, it is part of tangible phenomena like fetal programming. Conversely, biology can have social effects. For example, generational patterns of disease match patterns of socioeconomic status, suggesting that living and dealing with disease may be a cause of poverty. In other words, there is a dynamic cross-talk between the social and the biological.

This is not a biologically-essentialist argument. I further argued in my talk:

The problem is that social scientists tend not to favour biological explanations for what they deem to be social phenomena like poverty. They observe social phenomena, determine social facts, and give social explanations for those facts. Similarly, scientists observe biological phenomena, determine biological facts, and provide biological explanations for those facts. In the case of the Barker hypothesis, these strict distinctions are challenged: social and biological facts are irreducibly the same type of fact. Fetal programming has biological and social dimensions that cannot be separated apart if a comprehensive understanding is sought – and I believe that this is what we seek.

Transdisciplinary approaches to the study of health and disease then are, in my opinion, called for when considering the prolific work of Dr. Barker.

It was my pleasure to share this argument with Dr. Barker during his visit to Queen’s University.

Update: An article I wrote on this topic appears in the journal Social Theory and Health.

Recent Publication

My first sole-authored, peer-reviewed publication was recently published in a special issue of Poroi on the rhetoric of science. It is entitled “Meat My Hero: ‘I have a Dream’ of Living Language in the Work of Donna Haraway, Or, Ride ‘Em Cowboy!,” Poroi: Vol. 6: Iss. 2: p. 3-14, available at: .

I start the paper with inspiration from a favorite blog of mine,, and from a particular “fail” on that blog.

In the introduction to the special issue, the editor had this to say about my piece:

It is a well-known feature of rhetorical discourse that it treats examples as more than mere illustrations. It allows them to guide inquiry and, if they are compelling, to count as proofs. Rebecca Scott’s Meat My Hero explores a funny but telling example of a child’s mistake to explicate and commend Donna Haraway’s approach to science studies. Scott’s close analysis of the example makes the main points of Haraway’s approach clearer than they sometimes are in academic paraphrases, or, truth be told, her own writings. In its very clarity, Scott’s explication constitutes an argument on behalf of Haraway’s insights into the institutional folkways and value-laden commitments of science, especially its masculinist gender bias.

I’m eager to hear any comments or feedback you might have on the article.