Speculative Science

Gender, Genetics, and the Futures of Life


Through a case study of breast and ovarian cancer genetics in the US, Nye’s current book project explores the speculative mechanisms at work in biotechnological processes of knowing and intervening in women’s bodies. Speculative Science contends that patients and scientists are increasingly highlighting the social contingencies of genetic inquiry, rather than treating these scientific objects as neutral or given. From the clinical practice of treating genetic risk much like already manifest disease to legal disputes over whether genetic materials are bodily natures or patentable scientific inventions, Nye’s project details the cultural, affective, and economic work of materializing genetics. Pairing ethnographic and historiographic research with critical analysis of visual, literary, and material cultures, she follows breast and ovarian cancer genetics as it takes shape across the domains of patient art and activism, scientific labs and medical clinics, political policy and promissory markets, and the Supreme Court. In so doing, Nye details a speculative epistemology of science-in-the-making that lays bare the unstable, ongoing cultural work of “making up” biological matter and meaning. She suggests that these speculative practices in genetics have opened up new spaces for constructing and contesting the political, economic, and social dimensions of technoscience and more broadly, of “life itself.” At the same time, Nye attends to the ways in which these emergent technoscientific regimes newly obscure, exploit, or imagine social inequalities.

Samples of this work have been published in Women and Performance and TDR (The Drama Review), and recognized with a prize nomination by the Society for Medical Anthropology.

Lissa (Still Time)

a graphic novel of loss, friendship, and healing

Coleman Nye is collaborating with Sherine Hamdy (Brown University) on a graphic novel that examines bioethics in a global context. Based on Nye’s work in the US on cancer genetics and Hamdy’s research in Egypt on organ transplantation,  this graphic work of fiction follows the lives of two best friends – an Egyptian woman and an American woman – as they grow up together in Cairo and navigate difficult medical decisions and divergent sociopolitical realities. It is forthcoming in 2017  through the ethnoGRAPHIC series at University of Toronto Press.