Workshop The Emergence and Dissolution of (Medical) Knowledge Uncertainty and Openness


31 May 2017, ETH Zurich

Workshop with ZGW Guest Professor Tobias Ress (McGill University)


Knowledge is not fixed, but unstable, uncertain and evolving. In his recent book Plastic Reason (2016), Tobias Rees anthropologically investigates brain research in twenty-first-century Paris and the ‘plasticity’ of knowledge. Based on several years of fieldwork with neuronal researchers, he argues that know-ledge – like the experimental systems of the natural sciences – is ‘contingent on unarticulated conceptual presuppositions’ that differ from place to place. Scientific thinking and knowledge production is, therefore, a very regional and relational, but also unstable and inherently uncertain affair. For Rees, this inherent uncertainty and relationality – which he sees as a form of radical openness – is a central aspect of what (laboratory) researchers do when they produce knowledge. He thereby shows that uncertainty is necessary for new knowledge and thinking to emerge, as it ‘derail(s) yet another setup, [opens] yet another, unforeseen horizon’.
Whereas Rees takes brain science as an empirical example, his insights have a much wider relevance for understanding how knowledge emerges, evolves and dissolves again, so the working hypothesis behind this workshop. On the occasion of Tobias Rees’s sojourn as a ZGW academic guest, this event is desi-gned to capitalize on his expertise and joins junior and senior researchers in the fields of history, anthropology, and philosophy to think about the relevan-ce of his conclusions for knowledge production in medical science. Presen-ters address how the uncertainty, instability and ambivalences of knowledge that Rees identifies in Plastic Reason play out in their own fields of research, by sharing insights from fields ranging from brain science, stem cell research, mental illness, IVF, and surrogacy.

Date and Time: 31 May 2017,  

Venue: ETH Zurich, Zentrum, Rämistrasse 101, HG F 33.5

Conveners: Vanessa Rampton and Janina Kehr (Medical Humanities Worksing Group)

Contact: or

Participation is by registration only. If you are interested, please contact the conveners bevore 19 May 2017

Detailed Program (PDF, 82 KB)

Page URL:
Wed Jul 19 10:56:29 CEST 2017
© 2017 Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich