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Study information

Experimental Geographies: Bodies, Brains, and Bombs

Module titleExperimental Geographies: Bodies, Brains, and Bombs
Module codeGEO3143
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Gail Davies (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

What does it mean to live in a world increasingly shaped by experimental infrastructures and logics, from global experiments in climate engineering, cities using science to drive regional development, to companies enrolling people into clinical trials or extracting everyday data? Have experiments replaced mass production as the driver of the global economy, as some have argued, or do these logics have a longer history? What are the geographical characteristics of unfolding experimental processes: where are they based, who do they involve, who benefits, and who carries the risk?

In this module we explore the links between science, society, and space that have led to the rise of experimental geographies. We look at work by geographers on how the production of knowledge is situated and shaped by social identities, such as class, ethnicity, and gender. We consider how economic development, science policy, and state planning intersect with science to create international experimental infrastructures. We engage with film and artistic interventions as people seek to make sense of emerging experimental identities. My own work involves collaborating with scientists, policy-makers, artists, and publics. This work is woven into the module to support discussion of how geographers can contribute to these debates.

The module builds on ideas around the co-production of science introduced in second stage geography modules such as GEO2316 Volatile Planets and GEO2317 Climate Change: Science and Society. Its focus on the life sciences complements other final stage geography modules on risk, animal geographies, technology, and/or health. It is open to all and does not require detailed scientific knowledge. It is designed to promote curiosity and a critical interest in how the histories of experimental science, colonial practices, military technologies, and current economic imperatives combine in the contemporary experimental geographies of bodies, brains, and bombs.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module provides a theoretically-informed and empirically-rich account of changing experimental practices. We focus on the histories and spaces of experiments. We look critically at how and where experiments are assembled, what they include and exclude, and consider what makes an ethical experiment. Taught topics include the birth of experimental science, the institutionalisation of knowledge, the experimental cultures of cold war science, changing practices of secrecy and ethical responsibility, engagement with experiments in art and popular culture, and the future spaces of experimental science. Assessment is through a research log, based on your responses to set readings each week, and one coursework essay in which you explore a theme from the course through a case study of your choice.

The module is taught through lectures, discussions, readings, films, podcasts, and informal group work. Sessions are intended to be enjoyable and enhance employability through the development of personal skills and confidence in critical thinking, small group discussions, and written analysis. Throughout we integrate engagement with news media, science policy, art, and film to enhance discussions and develop analytical skills. Understanding geographical arguments about the place and responsibility of science in society is increasingly vital for research and other roles across government, consultancy, charities, media, as well as in academic research. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Outline the key ideas associated with a geographical analysis of experimental practices
  • 2. Use empirical case studies to indicate how and why experimental practices have changed over time
  • 3. Explain how relations between science and politics are constructed in different cultural and geographical contexts
  • 4. Explore the relationships between experiments and publics in film, art, and everyday practices

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 6. Explain the nature of change within human societies
  • 7. Develop syntheses of how social, political, and economic factors shape distinctive geographies

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Communicate ideas, principles, and theories effectively and fluently
  • 9. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument; identify, acquire, evaluate, and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 10. Reflect on the process of learning and evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses

Syllabus plan

The module is divided into three sections:

Part 1: Making Space for Science

  • When, why and with what implications did the laboratory emerge as the privileged place for experimental science?
  • How did this shape the divide between science and politics, and experts and publics?
  • What new knowledges about plants, animals and people were developed through laboratories, field stations and other institutions?
  • How did science travel through imperial links, trade practices, professional institutions, and political ambitions?
  • In what ways does this history shape relations between experimental practices and different publics today?

Part 2: Experimental Cultures and Cold War Science

  • What are the factors shaping different experimental cultures, focusing on the post-war programmes of American, European, and Russian science?
  • How did the geopolitics of the Cold-War affect experimental practices through the movement of expertise, the development of infrastructure, the bodies studied, and the links to military science?
  • What are the implications of carrying out science in spaces of secrecy, in the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere?

Part 3: Emerging Experimental States

  • Are the spaces of scienceon the move once more with the contemporary rise of the biosciences in Asia?
  • How are diverse publics now being bought into experimental practices, through citizen science projects, art-science collaborations, and as participants in clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies?
  • Who gets to benefit and who might be put at risk, if we follow some commentators to suggest we are now all participants in a global experiment?

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching20Interactive course seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Online lectures
Guided Independent Study20Preparation for seminars and lectures
Guided Independent Study50Wider Reading
Guided Independent Study50Coursework preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Interactive course seminars Group discussions, presentations, and work completed on padlet1-10Feedback is provided through Group discussions, presentations, and work completed on padlet

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research Log505 entries of 400 words submitted in two stages1-10Written
Essay 502000 words1-10Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research LogResearch Log1-10August Ref/Def
Coursework EssayCoursework Essay1-10August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Jasanoff, S. (ed), (2004) States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order, London: Routledge
  • Livingstone, D (2003) Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press
  • Massey, D., and Wield, D. (2004). High-tech fantasies: Science parks in society, science and space. Routledge.
  • Ong, A., Collier, S. (eds), (2005) Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, London: Routledge
  • Pickerill, J., (2019) Experimentations. Keywords in Radical Geography: Antipode at 50, pp.118-122.
  • Powell, R. C. (2007). Geographies of science: histories, localities, practices, futures. Progress in Human Geography, 31(3), 309-329.
  • Rajan, K.S. (ed), (2012) Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics and Governance in Global Markets, Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Sismondo, S., (2003) An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, London: Wiley-Blackwell
  • Smith, C. J Agar, G Schmidt (eds), Making Space for Science: Territorial Themes in the Shaping of Knowledge Basingstoke: Macmillan

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Please explore the web resources which are available via ELE.

Key words search

Experimental geographies, geographies of science, politics of knowledge, public understanding of science, science and society, science policy, art-science.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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