Brave New Law: Legal Personhood in the New Biosciences

3 October, 2017

The Biopolitics of Science Research Network has been awarded funding for a Pop-Up Research Lab by Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC).

The SSSHARC Pop-up Research Lab scheme is one of four grant schemes from SSSHARC’s interim funding programs in 2017, which called on applicants to develop a three-week intensive research program around a problem of real-world and theoretical significance, to be held on campus.

The project Brave New Law: Legal Personhood in the New Biosciences, led by Sonja van Wichelen, explores how bioscientific advances in the field of neuroscience, epigenetics, research on the microbiome, and immunology are encouraging thought provoking problems for the foundational legal principles of personality as well as their attendant notion of personal rights.

The 21st century is witnessing a profound transformation in law and society because of the implications of the new biosciences and biotechnologies. New applications are emerging that radically challenge our conceptions of nature and law and that demand new tools in the Humanities and Social Sciences to adequately respond and analyze these emerging practices. The objective of the Pop-Up Research Lab starts with the premise that these new developments provide novel opportunities to thinking anew about the nature and structure of legal personhood.

Hence, complex issues are emerging in the intersection of law and biology, an area of law that is quickly expanding and displaying highly composite problems that are challenging existing legal regimes. The Pop-Up Research Lab in August 2018 aims to explore these problems of what can be called emerging issues in “biolegality”—the coming together of biology and legality—and to revisit the concept of personhood in posthuman and relational ways.

Activities will include an international workshop, a public forum, and a master class for graduate students. They will bring together anthropologists, sociologists, legal scholars, historians, cultural theorists, and political philosophers from Australia, Europe, UK, and the US. Several scholars and students from the Pop-Up Research Lab will also participate at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science which will be held in Sydney directly following the Pop-Up Research Lab.

More details will follow. For inquiries please contact Sonja van Wichelen (