“Knowing your constituencies: New perspectives on the politics of the corporal body”

By Scott F. Gilbert
Adam Bencard, Discussant

24 February, 2022 at 17:00–19:00


The body politic metaphor extends in different ways depending on how one views one's body. There have been three main claimants to the dominant view of the body. The classical view is that the brain is the locus of identity, and that if I were to transplant my brain into you, you'd be me. This perspective privileges culture. A second view is that the immune system is the regulator of body identity. If I were to graft your skin onto my skin, it would be rejected. This view privileges defense. A very current view is that the genome determines identity. This view privileges heritage. There is now a fourth claimant, the holobiont body, a body where over 50% of the cells are microbial symbionts that are integrated into the physiological, anatomical, developmental, and immunological processes of the body. The development of the body occurs through teams of species, and immunity is a holobiont function wherein microbes and zygote-derived cells cooperate for mutual defense. Thus, the body can be considered as a political entity that has many differing constituents.

Scott F. Gilbert
Scott F. Gilbert

Biographical Sketch: Scott F. Gilbert

Scott F. Gilbert is the Howard A. Schneiderman Professor of Biology (emeritus) at Swarthmore College, where he has taught developmental genetics, embryology, and the history and critiques of biology. He is also a Finland Distinguished Professor (emeritus) at the University of Helsinki. He received his B.A. in both biology and religion from Wesleyan University, and he earned his MA in the history of science and his PhD in biology from the Johns Hopkins University.

Scott’s biological research concerns how changes in embryonic development can generate evolutionary novelties, and it has two foci. The first set of studies investigates how the turtle gets its shell. The second focus concerns the integration of symbionts into a holobiont, and how the symbiotic microbes and host cells “become with the other.”

Scott currently has three co-authored books in print: (1) Developmental Biology (now in its twelfth edition); (2) the newer textbook, Ecological Developmental Biology, which is attempting to bring together aspects of embryology, ecology, and evolution; and (3) Fear, Wonder, and Science in the Age of Reproductive Biotechnology, a science trade-book concerning both the scientific and emotional aspects of reproductive biotechnology.

Scott has received several awards for his work in education and evolutionary developmental biology. These include the Viktor Hamburger Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, the Alexander Kowalevsky Prize in Evolutionary Developmental Biology, and the Service Award from the Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology. He has been awarded honorary degrees from the University of Helsinki and the University of Tartu.