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Culturing Life

Culturing Life

How Cells Became Technologies

Hannah Landecker

ISBN 9780674034761

Publication date: 03/30/2010

How did cells make the journey, one we take so much for granted, from their origin in living bodies to something that can be grown and manipulated on artificial media in the laboratory, a substantial biomass living outside a human body, plant, or animal? This is the question at the heart of Hannah Landecker's book. She shows how cell culture changed the way we think about such central questions of the human condition as individuality, hybridity, and even immortality and asks what it means that we can remove cells from the spatial and temporal constraints of the body and "harness them to human intention."

Rather than focus on single discrete biotechnologies and their stories--embryonic stem cells, transgenic animals--Landecker documents and explores the wider genre of technique behind artificial forms of cellular life. She traces the lab culture common to all those stories, asking where it came from and what it means to our understanding of life, technology, and the increasingly blurry boundary between them. The technical culture of cells has transformed the meaning of the term "biological," as life becomes disembodied, distributed widely in space and time. Once we have a more specific grasp on how altering biology changes what it is to be biological, Landecker argues, we may be more prepared to answer the social questions that biotechnology is raising.


  • In Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies, Landecker offers a history of the development of cell culture in biology that is sparkling with originality and insight. She has an anthropologist's eye for nodes of cultural significance even as her narrative arc is deeply historical. The book weaves a rich tapestry of biological, historical, and cultural connections.

    —Angela N. H. Creager, Associate Professor of History, Princeton University


  • 2008, Winner of the Suzanne J. Levinson Prize


  • Hannah Landecker is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Book Details

  • 288 pages
  • 5-1/16 x 7-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press