Unsettling Life/Death: Living with and as jellyfish
In light of climate change and new threats to life on earth, questions of mortality and immortality in marine organisms have become an increasingly pressing concern. As harmful algae and jellyfish blooms threaten fisheries and put human health at risk, heightened attention has been paid to their extraordinary life cycles in attempts to protect coastal economies. But the study of ‘strange’ marine life cycles also seemingly offers more than the promise of ecological security. Research on the so-called “immortal jellyfish”, Turritopsis dohrnii, for example, has provided scientists with hope of eliminating the ultimate risk to human life: that of 'natural' death. Drawing on the work of Frederic Neyrat, I consider how the awareness of our mortality in the face of climate change is in tension with scientific practices that continue to pursue a ‘fountain of youth’ through research on the bodies of marine organisms. The presentation reflects a portion of emerging research in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Exeter and elsewhere, in which we are exploring how a-typical life-cycles of nonhumans might help us to rethink “struggles for survival” beyond desires for immortality and biopolitical drives for power over life.
Elizabeth Johnson is a research fellow with the Science, Technology, and Culture Research cluster and Department of Geography at the University of Exeter. Her work centers on emerging connections among the bio-sciences, technological innovation, and environmental change. 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. Her work has been published in the journals Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, Acme, and Progress in Human Geography. She has papers forthcoming in Theory, Culture, Society and Society and Space. She is working on a book entitled Life’s Work: Biomimesis and the Labor of New Natures.