copyright M. Barendse
Prof. dr. Marli huijer (The Hague University & University of Groningen)

Bodily time boundaries in technological times

In most present-day science and technology studies, the human body is viewed as a historical construct: it is thought to be variable and multiple. Nonetheless, there is also recognition, even in social constructivism, for the fact that the embodied existence has rhythms and time boundaries that are difficult to modify. Although humans are among the most flexible beings in terms of the range within which they can vary body rhythms, this flexibility has clear limits. In the long history, in which humans have evolved in conjunction with the dark-light cycle of the earth, virtual every body function has developed a circadian (circa-one-day) rhythm. Monthly cycles and circannual rhythms influence rhythms and durations of bodily processes: there are seasonal trends in the body's hormonal and immune responses, in conception rates and the occurrence of death. Technologies are only to a certain extent able to change these rhythms and durations. The body's need to sleep, for example, is irresistible. Some may require less, but no one can live without it. Life expectancy has increased immensely, but the length of the maximum life span remained fairly constant (ca 115 years). Human bodies are virtually unable to retreat from the irreversibility of time, expressed in the chronological succession of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, death.

The time boundaries set by the contemporary human body are not always easy to combine with the temporalities of modern, technological culture. Passing the boundaries, set by bodily times, generates tensions that result in loss of health and capabilities.

In the workshop, the inescapable temporal make-up of the body will be grasped as a philosophical problem to reflect on the relationship between the body and the technologically and socially mediated view that the body can be adapted, without problems, to demands of contemporary culture.

Marli Huijer, is educated as a general practitioner (MD 1982, GP 1985) and philosopher (1991, cum laude). She is Associate Professor in Philosophy and Professional Practices at The Hague University, studying the orchestration of contemporary temporalities. In addition, she is Senior-Researcher in Philosophy at the University of Groningen, studying the implications of genomics on the construction of time (funded by NWO-Societal Aspects of Genomics). From 2002-2005, she was appointed Opzij-professor at the University Maastricht (alternating chair) - with special attention to gender and genomics. Her previous research focused on citizenship, democracy and genomics. She is the author of De kunst gewoon te leven. Aids en de bestaansesthetiek van Foucault (1996) (on Aids and Foucault's aesthetics of existence), and the co-author of Factor XX. Vrouwen, eicellen en genen (On women, egg cells and genes) (2004). She is currently writing a book on genomics and the construction of time.