Elizabeth Johnson
HASS Research Fellow


Research interests

Elizabeth’s work centers on the relationship between material processes, knowledge production, and politics. Her research has focused on emerging connections between the bio-sciences, technological innovation, environmentalism, and political economy. She is primarily interested in how “life itself” and its study are increasingly becoming economically valued and politically significant through technological change and patent legislation. She explores how these trends open up new avenues toward life’s privatization and weaponization while also recasting nature as a participatory actor in the process.

Research projects

Biological Life & Labor
Elizabeth’s doctoral thesis offered the first critical study of the growing field of biomimicry, which draws on biological life as inspiration for technological production to make life “work for us rather than against us.” That research is now the basis of a book manuscript, Life’s Work: Biomimesis and the Labor of New Natures. The book aims to develop a rigorous account of the ethical and political implications of biomimicry’s emerging ‘natures’ and the laboratory environments in which they are produced. It explores how concepts traditionally ascribed only to humans—labor, value, production, and knowledge—are being remade as attributes of nonhumans, with implications for how we consider animal ethics and the politics of more-than-human life.

Enclosure & the ‘Natures Not Taken’
In a pair of articles with colleague Jesse Goldstein, Elizabeth is exploring how the positive eco-social potentials of biomimesis are routinely stifled through privatization and ideologies of technological progress.

Lobster Ethics, Laboratory Encounters
Drawing on ethnographical experiences of experimentation on lobsters, this work explores the limits of traditional frameworks for animal ethics. Contrary to work that encourages geographers to attend more closely to bodies—human and animal—this research explores the ethical potentials of site-specific engagements capable of connecting animal research to larger networks of biopolitical and geopolitical significance.

Anthropocene Politics, Connecting the Geo- and Bio-
Growing out of a series of paper session co-organized with colleague Harlan Morehouse at the AAG conference in 2013, Elizabeth is exploring the integration of human and geologic histories as well as social and biological processes. With Morehouse and other colleagues, she keeps a blog on these issues at www.geocritique.org.

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