- Race, time and folded objects: the HeLa error
- Theory, Culture and Society
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- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Given their commitment to practices science studies have bestowed considerable attention upon objects. We have the boundary object, the standardized package, the network object, the immutable mobile, the fluid object, even a fire object has entered the scene. However, these objects do not provide us with a way of understanding their historicity. They are timeless, motionless pictures rather than things that change over time, and while enacting 'historical moments' they do not make visible the histories they contain within them.
What kind of object could embody history and make that history visible? We might learn from Michel Serres about objects and time, and about the way that histories cannot be left behind. The image of a dog cadaver, constantly orbiting a projectile in space, might turn out helpful here. Inspired by Serres, I suggest the folded object is a way to attend to the temporality and spatiality of objects.
In this paper, I explore this new object by unravelling the history of a DNA reference sequence. I show how, ever since it was produced in the early 1980s, attempts have been made to filter race out of the sequence. That effort has failed due to what one could call 'political noise'. Making and remaking the sequence have left traces that cannot be erased.
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