Postdoc. Philosophy, History, and Social Studies of Biology (Germany) Deadline: Oct. 15, 2019

Ruhr University Bochum

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Starting on

January 1, 2020

Duration

Three Years

Funding

Yes

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Program Details

The Institute of Philosophy at the Ruhr University Bochum seeks applications for a post-doctoral research position. It will be part of the Emmy Noether-research group “The Return of the Organism in the Biosciences: Theoretical, Historical, and Social Dimensions” (PI Dr. Jan Baedke), financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft).

The successful candidate is expected to actively contribute to the above project from a perspective that addresses relevant current trends and issues in public health, personalized medicine, policymaking, etc. Research collaborations with other members of the group (and with members of the Chair of History and Philosophy of Science) are encouraged. The candidate will also be expected to participate in international workshops and conferences. She/he will enjoy the groups’ administrative facilities and financial support. In addition, there is the possibility, though no obligation, to do some teaching in either English or German.

Project summary: Individuality is a key concept in human societies. How we define individuals and their boundaries affects our social relations, what kind of rights and duties we have, as well as when we are considered healthy or sick. In all these realms, the biological side of humans’ individuality – the organism – plays a crucial role. Currently, after many decades dominated by the paradigm of the gene, the concept of organism is making a comeback in the bio- and biomedical sciences. The organism is again recognized as a causally efficacious, autonomous, and active unit that transcends the properties of genes – especially in fields like epigenetics, niche construction theory, and evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo). This project investigates these recent developments from a perspective of integrated history and philosophy of science. It focuses on (i) biotheoretical and conceptual, (ii) historical, as well as (iii) social and anthropological dimensions of today’s ‘return of the organism’. Especially, it aims at offering solutions for theoretical and societal challenges of organism-centered biosciences in the 21st century. This concerns the problem, (i) that while organisms are increasingly recognized as agents that actively construct their own development and their environments, large genomic datasets also reveal that they are inextricable linked with and fully embedded in their material and social environment. This ambiguous new character of the individual – to stand out and at the same time to disappear – leads to various methodological and explanatory challenges in the biosciences. This complex current situation can better be understood (ii) when compared to periods in the history of biology, especially in the early 20th century, in which the organism emerged as a central unit in biology. In order to identify the relevant conceptual debates and the solutions they offer with respect to today’s challenges, archival research is combined with methods of text mining. Finally, this project investigates (iii) how current individualistic and anti-individualistic developments in biology drive trends in personalized medicine and public health debates. This includes, first, novel responsibilities of individuals as self-determined health care agents, but also new worries about social heteronomy. Second, the ambiguous status of the organism stirs debates about suitable targets of policy interventions – individuals or collectives (e.g., social and ethnic groups) – to combat diseases such as cancer and obesity. This includes the biomedical trend to return to racial classifications for studying disease susceptibilities of environmentally embedded individuals.

Eligibility/ Requirements

A PhD in philosophy, social sciences or another relevant discipline. The candidate should have expertise or some knowledge in one (or more) of the following fields:

  • Science Studies (especially of the life sciences)
  • Social Philosophy
  • Health Disparity Studies
  • Race Studies
  • Social epigenetics

Experience in ethnographic research is an additional (though not necessary) methodological expertise. Mastering the German language is not required.

Application Process

If the applicant meets the relevant general requirements and personal qualifications, the salary is based on occupation group 13 TV-L of the pay scale for the German public sector. Please submit your documents electronically to jan.baedke@rub.de under the subject line “Application Emmy Noether PostDoc” by 15th October 2019. Short-listed candidates will be interviewed (if necessary, via Skype). For any further inquiries please contact jan.baedke@rub.de.

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