24 Apr 2013

Characters and Classifications in the Life Sciences

Any classification rests upon criteria that are used to determine to which class an object belongs, such as morphological characters in the case of biological taxonomy or symptoms in the case of nosology. The workshop will put forward the somewhat neglected question how those criteria are chosen, defined, individuated and represented, with a particular focus on the life sciences.

From natural history and medicine to laboratory biology, specific practices have been developed to abstract from particulars to general categories while coping with the intrinsic variability and time dependency of organic beings. The choice of characters can be determined by theoretical, pragmatic or political considerations. Operations that individuate characters can range from descriptive practices and comparative strategies to manipulative procedures. The contributions will focus on practices, representations and conceptual work that are performed in order to obtain and stabilize characters and classes as objects of science.

With this focus on characters some general or case specific questions concerning classification can be re-asked, for instance, whether classification constitutes a particular way of knowing, whether it is pragmatic or essentialist, how it modifies identities and power relations and how controversies about classification are settled.Programme

9:30-10:00 Arrival

10:00-11:00 Robert Meunier (ICI Berlin):
The Biological Character Concept – Historical Trajectories and Conceptual Distinctions

11:00-12:00 Benjamin Dawson (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar):
Hegel and the Rationality of Observation

12:00-13:30 Lunch break

13:30-14:30 Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter, UK):
Linnaeus and the Four Corners of the World

14:30-15:30 Mathias Grote (TU Berlin):
Microbial Species as Practices – Enrichment Culture, Purification and Microbial Taxonomy Before DNA, c. 1890-1980

15:30-16:00 Coffee Break

16:00-17:00 Lara Keuck (HU Berlin):
Disease Classifications as Abstractions in Practice

17:00-18:00 Final discussion


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)

Organized by

Mathias Grote
Lara Keuck
Robert Meunier

In English

First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: Characters and Classifications in the Life Sciences, workshop, ICI Berlin, 24 April 2013 <>