Dominant hormone protocol : directed life and the biopolitics of chemical messages

Date

2024

Authors

Funk, Julie M.

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Abstract

In 1905, Ernest Starling introduced hormones as “chemical messengers” to physicians at the University College London. In his lectures, Starling claimed that hormones “coordinate” the functions of the organs and that the discovery of hormones would allow physicians “absolute control” of the human body. As his para¬¬digm treats hormones as bioinformation in a communications system where hormones are signalled and directed through the body toward target cells, I argue that hormones have emerged as a technology of biopower in scientific and medical practices. Engaging in intersectional theories of biopower, my dissertation bridges conversations across Feminist Science and Technology Studies, Communication and Media Studies, and Cultural Studies to address how various industries’ representations, organizations, and directed flows of hormones produce and manage neoliberal subjects globally. This hormonal management is most starkly felt by those who resist or find alternatives to its many forms, including medical standardizations of gender affirming care, reproductive management, and hormonal pollution. I turn to scholarship across feminist science and technologies studies by Donna Haraway and Michelle Murphy, and to micha cárdenas’ work on algorithmic analysis in media studies, to think through the relations between hormones-as-information and directed life. Building on Alexander Galloway’s theorization of information protocol as biopower, I offer the term “dominant hormone protocol” to describe a system which directs hormones to and from certain subjects to manage those lives. Through this term, I show how hormones enact power differently across gendered, racialized, and species-distinct subjects. I turn to fictional and nonfictional stories of hormonal relations by Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Barbara Gowdy, and Drexciya as sites for rethinking protocol and countering the bioinformational model of Starling’s chemical messenger paradigm. Ultimately, I demonstrate how stories not only inscribe dominant hormone protocols but can also be speculative sites for imagining counterhegemonic alternatives to the flow of chemical messages.

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Keywords

hormones, biopower, protocol, science and technology studies, gender and sexuality studies, affect theory, chemical messengers, media theory, Ernest Starling

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