“Modified (Hu)Man: Traditions, Vulnerabilities and Possible Futures” Panel at the “Iran at the Crossways: Documentaries and Dialogues on a Changing Society” Film Forum

Friday, November 12th, 2021, 7:00 p.m. [CET]

Modified (Hu)Man: Traditions, Vulnerabilities and Possible Futures

(introduction by Dr. Melike Şahinol)

Body modifications are used not only to “repair” injuries or enable recovery after illness but also to enhance human performance. Consequently, we would like to highlight the practices and symbolic effects of such interventions. What are their empowering potentials, but also what are the emergent vulnerabilities of bodies in general? The films of this thematic block focus on the traditions, vulnerabilities, and possible futures of diverse body modifications in relation to gender as a social construct. They illustrate individual journeys of different bodily perceptions and interventions through time and space by showing the relationship between nature, culture, and the body with science-art as well as cultural and fictional contributions. In doing so, they raise questions about the relationships between socio-cultural coding of body modifications and notions of technology in science, art, and culture. In the center of the film screening stands the Iranian feature film Stepfather’s Legacy that revolves around a man who is ready to get married and undertakes techno-medical modification efforts as an investment in his corporeal capital. A series of four short films from the “BIO·FICTION Science Art Film Festival” encourages the audience to reflect on the social implications of emergent technologies. By taking a fictional look ahead, we raise the question: Quo vadis, Modified (Hu)Man?

7:15 p.m. [CET]

Films (in screening order)

0:02, 2018, USA, Emma Allen, oD

A “Grey Matters” collaboration between artist Emma Allen and neuroscientist Daisy Thompson-Lake, Adam is an animated portrait illustrating some of the underlying neurological processes and emotions associated with depression.

Aphasia Mechanica
0:03, 2010, USA, Daniel Warner, oD

Black and white impressions of mechanical parts in the human body.

Stepfather’s Legacy
1:07, 2015, Iran, Nima Mahdian, OmdU

A man who is planning to marry suffers from hair loss and baldness, leading him to experiment with various forms of medical treatment and even surgery. Although his efforts are an investment to boost his position on the marriage market, they ultimately expose the vulnerabilities of his masculinity.

Carlottas Gesicht
0:05, 2018, Germany, Valentin Riedl & Frédéric Schuld, dt./OV

As a child, Carlotta didn’t expect the people around her to have faces. She didn’t even recognize her own face. Years later, she learns about a rare, untreatable deficit of her brain. It was art, after all, that offered her a way to finally recognize herself.

The Auxiliary
​0:08, 2018, Belgium, Frédéric Plasman, OmdU

Alone in front of her reflection in a collapsing world, someone desperate, feeling unfairly discredited, is going to end it all. But who is she and why?

9:00 p.m. [CET]

Round Table [EN]

Moderation: Melike Şahinol

Panel discussion with Başak Ağın, Sümeyra Buran, Claudia Liebelt, Nacim Pak-Shiraz and Christopher Coenen.

Short biographies of the panel discussants

Başak Ağın, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English Literature and a faculty member at TED University, Ankara, Turkey. She has authored a Turkish monograph Posthümanizm: Kavram, Kuram, Bilim-Kurgu (Posthumanism: Concept, Theory, Science-Fiction, 2020) and edited Ekofobi Hipotezi (2021)—M. Sibel Dinçel’s Turkish translation of Simon C. Estok’s The Ecophobia Hypothesis (2018). Currently, she is editing a Turkish handbook of environmental, medical, digital, and posthumanities,  co-editing Ecofeminism and World Literature: African, Middle Eastern, and Asian Perspectives with Douglas Vakoch and Posthuman Pathogenesis: Contagion in Literature, Media, and Arts with Şafak Horzum. 

Sümeyra Buran is a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of California Riverside (from Istanbul Medeniyet University) since she was awarded a research grant by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) in 2018. She is the founding and coordinating editor of Journal of Posthumanism, the editor of Posthumanism Series by Transnational Press London, a committee member of BIPOC at the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA), and a country representative (Turkey) at the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA). She is the editor of a collection Edebiyatta Posthümanizm (2020) by TpLondon, co-editor with Sherryl Vint of a collection book Technologies of Feminist Speculative Fiction: Gender, Artificial Life, Reproduction (2021) by Palgrave, co-editor with Jim Clarke of a collection Religious Futurisms (2022) and the author of a monograph Su-fi: Sufi Science Fiction to be published by Routledge (2022).

Christopher Coenen is senior researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (KIT-ITAS). At ITAS since 2003. Before moving to Karlsruhe in 2009, based in Berlin at the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB), which is run by KIT-ITAS. As team member or project leader, he has conducted more than 15 projects on behalf of such institutions as the German Parliament, the European Parliament and the European Commission. Currently, he is, amongst other things, in charge of the coordination of the EU-funded project SYNENERGENE on synthetic biology, a large-scale stakeholder and public dialogue and agenda-setting action plan with more than 20 partners from three continents, and the Editor in Chief of the journal NanoEthics (Springer). Among his main fields of interest are a wide variety of societal, political, philosophical, and cultural aspects of synthetic biology, nanotechnologies and neurotechnologies, and the ‘human enhancement’ topic.

Claudia Liebelt is Professor in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Free University of Berlin. Her research foci are in the Anthropology of the Body and the Senses, Gender, Religion and Sexualities. She has authored Caring for the ‘Holy Land’: Filipina domestic workers in Israel (Berghahn, 2011) and has edited a volume on Beauty and the norm: debating standardization in bodily appearance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Her second monograph on Istanbul Appearances: Beauty and the Making of Middle-Class Femininities is currently under review.

Nacim Pak-Shiraz is Personal Chair of Cinema and Iran at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on cinema and visual culture in the Middle East, particularly Iran. Professor Pak-Shiraz has also curated a number of film festivals in Edinburgh, and has been as a jury member and speaker at several international film festivals in the Czech Republic, Turkey and Iran.

The panel “Modified (Hu)Man: Traditions, Vulnerabilities and Possible Futures” is organized by Melike Şahinol, Burak Taşdizen and Gülşah Başkavak. “Iran at the Crossways: Documentaries and Dialogues on a Changing Society” film forum is organized as part of IRSSC, and is part of Max Weber Foundation’s project Knowledge Unbound, and is funded by German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

“Entangled Empowerment: Connecting Shared Hair Transplantation Practices for Men in Turkey and Iran” presented at the “Connecting Themes Conference: Contested Knowledge in a Connected World” in Berlin

Burak Taşdizen presents the selected findings of “Hair:y_less Masculinities: A Cartography”. Photograph: Kamyar Nematollahy.

Dr. Melike Şahinol and Burak Taşdizen presented the selected findings of the ongoing research project “Hair:y_less Masculinities: A Cartography” at the “Connecting Themes Conference: Contested Knowledge in a Connected World” organized by Max Weber Foundation in Berlin, Germany on September 16-17, 2021.

Their paper titled “Entangled Empowerment: Connecting Shared Hair Transplantation Practices for Men in Turkey and Iran” was part of the thematic discussion “Reshaping Gender Norms: The Intersections and Transformations of Gendered Empowerment” chaired by Prof. Christina von Hodenberg of German Historical Institute London. We share below the paper abstract.

Irrespective of gender, techno-medical possibilities are causing profound transformations in the human body, promising empowerment.  As a result, there is a growing cultural enthusiasm for cosmetic surgery, revealing itself in the promotion of a range of cosmetic treatment options tailored towards men and women alike in billboards placed around metropolitan areas of Turkey and Iran, the two of the most popular global destinations for health and beauty. These two countries, compared to the world, stand out with the number of hair transplantations carried out for men regarding their facial and chest hair. Connecting these two countries through their shared hair transplantation practices for men, we aim to discuss unifying but contested elements of masculinities construction that are intertwined with empowerment.

We discuss three dimensions, enabling and contesting the emergent empowerment through hair transplantation practices. First dimension regards purity and cleanliness, which could often be traced to religious meanings and affects. Secondly, empowerment is framed by socio-political currents as in different moustache and beard styles often associated with specific socio-political attitudes. Last dimension points to the emergent beauty norms often related to emergent masculinities. Our qualitative research discloses individual yet connected empowering practices and techniques around hair transplantation entangled with the three above-mentioned dimensions reshaping masculinities.  

Şahinol & Taşdizen, 2021

You could read more about the conference here, and find the conference program here.