Return of the Organism

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‘.
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ROTO Lecture Series

Talks will be online via Zoom. Please register for each talk individually.

Upcoming talks

21.10.2021 6:00 PM CET
Register here
Grant Ramsey (KU Leuven), Cristina Villegas (Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research): Evolutionary Dappling: How developmental constraints and drives can be evolutionary causes

15.11.2021 4:00 PM CET
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Isabel Smallegange (University of Amsterdam): Evolutionary explanations of developmental plasticity in the male dimorphic bulb mite (Rhizoglyphus robini)

23.11.2021 4:00 PM CET
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Thomas Pradeu (CNRS & University of Bordeaux): Cancer in the context of the organism

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Three Dimensions

Theoretical Dimensions

  1. What are organisms and what environments? What roles do they play in explaining evolution?
  2. What biological individuals are organisms? Can concepts of physiological and evolutionary individuality be united?
  3. How can we reconcile current trends towards highlighting organismic agents while, at the same time, dissolving individual organisms in their environment? What are meaningful boundaries between organisms and environments?

Historical Dimensions

  1. What were the questions and theoretical assumptions and challenges of organism-centered biology in early 20th century (in organicism, holistic biology, dialectical materialism)?
  2. What can we learn from these previous approaches in the current debate about the return of the organism?
  3.  How have understandings of the organism-environment relationship changed throughout the 20th and 21st century?

Social & Anthropological Dimensions

  1. How do individualistic and anti-individualistic trends in biology affect biomedicine (e.g., personalized medicine), public health debates, and policy making?
  2. Who is a suitable health care target and who should take responsibility for health interventions, individuals or collectives?
  3. What are new trends to biologize individuals and their social contexts? Why do new environmentalist views of race emerge to classify individuals?


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