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Constructing/Contesting Mobilizations: Biopolitics, Activism and Identity - Workshop Report

June 27 2008

Venue: Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University

Organised by: Cesagen, Lancaster University


This was the second workshop to be held as part of an initiative by Cesagen, Egenis, Innogen and the Genomics Forum for Policy and Research to jointly investigate dimensions of the use of genomics and genetic knowledge in the contemporary politics of identity. The collaboration takes the form of five workshops held across the network, each of which concentrates on an aspect of the overarching theme that draws upon the particular expertise and interests of each centre. The first workshop, held at Egenis at Exeter University focused on debates about categorization and definition of ethnicity in governmental practices of census-taking and immigration, the second workshop – as reported here – discussed forms of health activism, the third workshop in the series will examine the forensic use of DNA and the expansion of genetic databases for law enforcement, the fourth workshop will consider concepts of family and parent-child relationships within legal, political, clinical and scientific domains. The final workshop, scheduled for May 2009, will be synoptic, bringing together the issues addressed and explored over the previous year. Go to to find out more about the series and future events.

The workshop reported here was held at Cesagen, Lancaster University, on 27 June 2008 and involved twenty-three participants from the Genomics Network and other leading academic centres in the UK and Canada, France, Ireland, and the United States.
The workshop aimed to examine three interrelated questions: How should we conceptualise forms of patient and public activism associated with health, medicine and science? Do these forms of activism entail the substantiation of new collective forms of identity? What challenges do these pose for thinking about politics and identity more broadly? Accounts of contemporary biopolitics describe a significant historical shift away from the state as the guarantor of health to the emergence of multiple actors mobilising around health, medicine and the promises of science. How we understand these actors as constituting particular forms of collective social action is highly contested. One perspective has tended to highlight questions about how actors mobilise, create and draw on resources, establish organisational structures, and seek to influence the political and scientific agenda. Another perspective is more concerned with the way these actors represent new forms of sociality and are creating new forms of collective identity.

The event was organized by Richard Tutton, Flo Ticehurst and Alex Plows, all at Cesagen. Thanks are due to Kate Wright and Keith Calvert at Cesagen Lancaster who provided vital administrative support, and to Rachel Dechenne who prepared a transcript of the workshop on which much of this report is based.,24163,en.t4.html