CFP – Workshop and Collective Study, Ecological Dimensions of Bioethics

chinese2“Plain Genealogy, Disciplinary Formation, and the Context of Health & Healthcare”

Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Thursday evening, October 16th to
Sunday noon, October 19th, 2014

This workshop is predicated from a strange, historical fact: At its origin in the late 1920s, “bioethics”–die Bioethik—was the name for an ecological ethic.  In this German tradition, the ethics of life on Earth is bioethics.  In the 1970s, however, Van Rensselaer Van Rensselaer PotterPotter introduced the term into Anglophone scholarship modifying its depth and breadth to focus on human health in ecological context.  For Van Potter, bioethics is the logical yet anthropocentric extension of Aldo Leopold’s “land ethics” in which life on Earth as a whole becomes the horizon—a contradictory connection, in fact.  But the narrowing of bioethics did not stop—on the contrary, it intensified with the rise of the bioethics industry as we now inherit it.  Today, bioethics is a field—in some institutional settings even a discipline—that focuses on the ethical issues surrounding human healthcare, from its research to its practice in a range of settings.

How did we arrive at the much narrower bioethics that is established disciplinarily today, and what became of its ecological context, its Umwelt?  Critically, should bioethics be divorced from its ecological context?  And if not, what would it be to re-stitch bioethics back into that context, back into the original organic continuum from which it has apparently become severed?  These are provocative and difficult question–exceedingly ambitious and dangerously vague–and they make the historical origin of bioethics all the more odd by being so. We want to examine bioethics’s genealogy, its disciplinary boundaries and the normative dimensions of ecological contexts of health and healthcare.

We call for researchers whose work will address one or more of the following three currents with an eye to the conference topic:

  1. The Genealogy of Bioethics. How has the concept of bioethics become what it is?  What shifts have occurred and why?  What can account for the changes in the problems that motivate the field? How has bioethics become decoupled from or coupled to concepts and disciplines throughout its history? Are there extra-problematic causes of bioethics’ evolution—causes outside the so-called intrinsically motivating problems of bioethics itself, e.g., matters of institution, funding, culture, or “historical problematization”?
  2. Critical Disciplinary Formation of Bioethics. How are bioethicists formed—disciplined, if you will—so as to focus their work in the narrow way bioethics currently does? How does the disciplinary formation of bioethicists bear on the historically emergent exclusion of ecological concerns from the bioethical? What practices, curricula, market realities, etc. form the contemporary bioethicist in such a way as to exclude the ecological? What are the pragmatic reasons for this formation? What are the deficits of it?
  3. The Ecological Contexts of Health or Healthcare. What concepts need to be reconstructed or constructed new to stitch bioethics back into its ecological context, and is this desirable? What are the relevant points of ecological context for bioethics? How does bioethics relate to public health? What concepts or problems of public health are most important for bioethics and how is their juncture to be understood, with what bearing for bioethics, and with what as-yet-unthought areas of questioning? How do the ecological dimensions of health and the ecological dimensions of healthcare cohere—or do they fail to cohere at important points? What should be made of the incoherence? What normative concepts articulate the ecology of health? Are there aspects of ecological ethics that, although important for grasping the salient matters of health, cannot be accommodated within the contours of healthcare currently? What should bioethics say of these if anything? Does the linkage between bioethics, public health, and ecological ethics fall afoul of the paradoxes of biopolitics?

Submission Instructions

Please send a research working-paper proposal to Jonathan Beever ( by no later than May 1st, 2014.

  • Proposals should clearly identify which research current you intend to address at the top of the page before the proposal title.
  • They should be prepared for blind review with your full contact information in the body of the email.
  • They should be between 500 and 1000 words long in the main body.
  • Please indicate: your research question, method of inquiry, hypothesis or likely thesis, and the relevance of your research to the conference topic.
  • Those whose proposals are selected will be notified by May 31st, 2014.
  • Full papers will be due by August 31st, 2014.
  • All papers will be circulated (not for reproduction or citation) to every workshop participant by September 18th, 2014.
  • Sessions will not be lectures reading papers but oral presentations of the problem of the paper and the subsequent inquiry, with the assumption the participants have read the paper already.
  • All papers will be selected and then considered after the conference for a book (not simply a conference volume)—a collective study- designed in line with the design of this workshop (i.e., in four sections). The papers should be written with this aim in mind. For publication, they should be substantially revised after the conference to take light of the whole of the participants’ work and whatever has been learned at the conference by the writer.
  • Further Information