Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas

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University of California Press, Jan 5, 2009 - Social Science - 403 pages
"Since I first read, and then taught, Helmreich's extraordinary essay on alien kinship and the biopolitics of gene transfer in marine biology and biotechnology in 2003, I have been swimming eagerly in his alien oceans, waiting for this book, eager to feast. A multi-sited and deeply sounded ethnography of ocean microbiologists and their subvisible critters, Alien Ocean dunks the reader in seas of blue-green capital and rampant globalizing viral traders in gene currency. Tangled in sentiment and science, salty microbial webs infuse dreadful and promising figures of aliens and familiars. In this rich study of microbial oceanography we meet the extremeophiles of a mortal earth—an earth better named ocean, where deep-sea dwelling, heat-loving archaea are dredged to tell stories of unlikely kin, extraordinary technology, planktonic globalizers, and Hawaiian indigenous activists. This is a book about networks of loves and disciplines that is hard to put down."—Donna Haraway

"This book is as wondrous as the otherworldly creatures whose apperception it recounts, from one of the most innovative cultural anthropologists writing today. Helmreich shows how the water covering the earth demands of scientists a planetary optic haunted always by the figure of that which lies just outside the limits of the imagination—the alien. Deep-sea creatures turn out to be connected to networks of knowledge, economy, politics, and culture that reshape everything from the shifting shorelines of Georgian barrier islands to the postcolonial futures of Hawai'i. Alien Ocean challenges longstanding constructs of causation, system, and replication that are the foundation of scientific knowledge itself."—Bill Maurer, University of California, Irvine

"Taking us from laboratory workbenches to the cramped confines of the Alvin submarine, Helmreich immerses readers in his ethnographic account of a scientific field, marine microbiology, concerned with questions of fundamental importance—what is life? what is a planet? is there a difference? Alien Ocean—inviting and challenging in its empirical and theoretical scope, in its humor and serious play, in its deft handling of scientific material—will set a new standard for the anthropology of science."—Mike Fortun, author of Promising Genomics: Iceland and DeCODE Genetics in a World of Speculation

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About the author (2009)

Stefan Helmreich is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (UC Press).

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