26 June – 3 July 2022

Living Relations

Course organizers

Janet Browne (Harvard University), Christiane Groeben (Naples, local organiser), Nick Hopwood (University of Cambridge), Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter), and the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn

Confirmed faculty

Jenny Bangham (QMU London, UK), Maaike van der Lugt (Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin, Paris Saclay, France), Terence Keel (University of California LA, USA), Noémie Merleau-Ponty (CNRS/IRIS Aubervilliers, France), Erika Milam (Princeton University, USA), Justin E.H. Smith (Université Paris 7 - Denis Diderot, France), Marianne Sommer (Universität Luzern, Switzerland), Banu Subramaniam (Amherst College, USA), Emily Varto (Dalhousie University, Canada)

Introduction to the theme

“Relations” in the life and medical sciences have a richly varied history, including the history of genealogy and notions of kinship, of heredity, systematics and phylogenetics, of ecology and human-animal relations, and of cultures and environments of disease, health care and healing. This summer school will chart the metaphorical traffic between these domains, and the manifold ways in which living relations have been visualized. Genus and species, the key concepts of ancient Greek metaphysics and logic, had genealogical connotations, and there is evidence – as for many other cultural contexts, for example, among the Lao or in Ming China – that diagrammatic and even gestural representations of genealogy existed in ancient times, though few traces have been preserved. Late medieval and early modern Europe appears to have been a particularly productive hotbed of genealogical visualisations, with tables of consanguinity and affinity regulating incest prohibition and inheritance in law, with trees of Jesse recounting Christ’s lineal descent, and with family trees and genealogical tables (Ahnentafeln) being deployed to prove nobility or, within the Iberian empire, “purity of blood” (limpieza de sangre).

Though such systems of social, religious and racial discrimination were firmly rooted in concepts of filiation, they did not immediately translate into corresponding relations among plant and animal species. For a long time, these were rather allocated fixed positions on a hierarchical “chain of being” that reflected timeless relations of perfection and privation, betrayed to this day by a language of “higher” and “lower” that connotes relations of dominance and servitude. Only in the decades around 1700 did naturalists first debate whether bifurcating diagrams, which by then were in routine use to classify organisms along a linear series of progressive differentiation, could reflect the ‘natural affinities’ observable among plants and animals.

Paradoxically, in the long run, the eighteenth century seems to have come to the conclusion that it was neither the scale nor the tree, but rather the network that best described relationships among species within a complex, but balanced economy of nature in which each organism, whether “low” or “high,” had a crucial role to play. It took a good further century to separate out “true” affinities or “homologies” – reflective of a common history of evolutionary descent and retrievable through painstaking morphological, palaeontological, embryological and cytological investigations – from “analogies,” that is, the similarities, associations and often surprisingly intimate symbioses that emerge from the “striving,” to cite Charles Darwin, of “all organic beings … to seize on each place in the economy of nature.”

As a consequence, and popularized above all by the German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel, the “tree of life” became the “canonical icon” (Stephen Jay Gould) for visualizing phylogeny. Evolutionary affinities, like parasitism and commensality, now reflected the temporary outcome of adaptations and shifting power relations throughout the history of life. Especially in racial anthropology, the construction of lineages and phylogenies based on linguistic, cultural and physical features, such as minute anatomical details of the skull, made it possible to emphasize, depending on context, both closeness in terms of a shared evolutionary history and separation in terms of linear, progressive evolution towards “higher” forms of humanity. That racist and anti-racist discourses have tended to play on this register of possibilities offered by tree diagrams explains to some extent its overwhelming dominance in representations of human phylogeny.

The picture of an inexorable rise of “tree thinking” is complicated, however, by the fact that, in parallel, kinship itself became a subject of explicit analysis or “literalization” (Marilyn Strathern) in research initiatives that, interestingly, crossed the line between the sciences and humanities. Independently of each other, Francis Galton and Henry Lewis Morgan built on a long-standing juridical tradition to propose analytical schemes allowing for the exact investigation of pedigrees and kinship terminologies. Kinship became measurable in terms of distances spanning a network of relations connecting any individual with any other in a potentially infinite population.

These innovations fed into major disciplinary strands of the study of natural and cultural inheritance in the twentieth century: research on “kinship systems” in social and cultural anthropology, on the one hand, and eugenics, genetics and population genetics, on the other. In both areas, though pursued largely independently, the study of genetic relations held the promise to reveal deep structures underlying the evolution of organic and social systems. Phylogenetics in particular received major innovative impulses from the “modern synthesis,” which brought together population genetics with ecology, systematics and evolutionary biology. With the advent of the computer, numerical taxonomy, cladistics and molecular clocks placed the study of organismic affinities onto a quantitative, seemingly objective basis, which continues to inform the life and human sciences, including commercial technologies of ancestry testing.

The customary assumption that “blood is thicker than water” (David M. Schneider) may have motivated much of this research, as is particularly evident in the study of human blood group distribution or in the theory of “kin selection.” It should be noted, however, that genetically construed kinship follows a combinatorial rather than a dichotomous logic. Genetic kinship never strictly implies closeness because the combinatorial processes from which it arises can always generate surprising relations. In conjunction with new reproductive technologies, this has resulted in an upheaval of traditional notions of kinship that anthropologists and sociologists targeted in “new kinship studies” from the 1990s.

Such upheavals were not restricted to applications of reproductive technologies alone, however. Work on the so-called “tree of life” has brought to light surprising evolutionary affinities as well. Horizontal gene transfer through hybridization and other vectors like viruses is revealing an undergrowth of crosslinks between distantly related organisms, and new understandings of symbiosis, especially of microbiomes within their macrobial hosts, are casting fresh light on inter-organismic dependencies. Echoing François Jacob’s (and, more indirectly, Claude Lévi-Strauss’) notion of evolutionary “tinkering,” modern geneticists seem to imply that the tree of life was always really a net, because “nature was always a genetic engineer” (Stefan Helmreich). Current debates – within anthropology with its new materialism and more-than-human approach, and within the life sciences with their emphasis on transgenics and systemic interactions – could therefore turn the focus to forms of relatedness beyond the tree that further an ecosystem-oriented thinking along the lines of coalitions and shared environmental risks.

“The secret of aristocracy is zoology,” Karl Marx proclaimed in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843), while Charles Darwin, in his On the Origin of Species (1859), held that “all true classification is genealogical” and that “community of descent is the hidden bond which naturalists have been unconsciously seeking.” Such statements not only reference the long-standing practice of using kinship and descent to define and articulate social relations, often involving projections onto the natural world. They also point to the ideological functions that such biocultural concepts have had in the western tradition. Today, evolutionary theory and genomics together elucidate the multifarious “affinities” that exist between living beings; that “we” – humans, animals, plants, but also “lower” organisms like fungi, bacilli and viruses – are all “related” and rely on our “entanglement” with others appears once again to be indisputable. Yet at the same time, technologies of associating diseases, behaviours and even political inclinations with genomic markers, or tracing one’s descent back to hypothetical ancestors in the Pleistocene, betray a continuing obsession with social, cultural and racial distinctions that feed into an overwhelming concern, at the present moment, with global identity politics of exclusion and inclusion.


The 2022 School is financially supported by the Thyssen Foundation, the National Science Foundation (grant ID 1921617), the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, and the collector George Loudon.

The theme for the 2022 Ischia Summer School partly draws on ideas developed in the context of the project “In the Shadow of Trees: The Diagrammatic of Relatedness as Scientific, Scholarly, and Popular Practice” funded by a Sinergeia grant by the Swiss National Foundation (CRSII5_183567).

Structure and resources

Lectures last for up to 30 minutes in one-hour slots, leaving at least 30 minutes for discussion.

Seminars will focus on pre-circulated texts from the readings list. Students have been allocated to seminar groups (see programme below) to prepare the seminar in consultation with the seminar leader. Successful formats have included an introduction by the seminar leader (5–10 mins), then short informal contributions (2–3 mins) in which the student presenters table questions set by the seminar leaders followed by discussion in smaller groups and reporting back led by the presenters, but other collective and interactive ways of engaging with the reading materials are welcome. Where relevant, feel free to draw on your own projects to shape the discussion.

To access reading materials, log in to the summer school website (using the login details you received from our web administrator). A box with a link to a .zip archive of .pdf files (about 50MB in total) will be visible on the right hand side, or bottom, depending on your device.

The online discussion forum is meant for announcements and to facilitate discussion. It is publicly visible, but only Ischia participants can post new discussion topics. You have all been allocated to seminar groups, and we suggest that you create a discussion topic for each of these groups in order to prepare the seminars. “Subscribe” to the 2022 Announcements category to receive emails notifying you of new postings to the forum. We encourage you to present yourself and your work under the “2022 Participants” topic with at least a link to your homepage. There is guidance on how to use the forum and a FAQ page; otherwise contact the web administrator.


The School starts with registration and a reception on Sunday afternoon, and ends after dinner on Saturday night. Given ferry times, this means faculty and students leave throughout Sunday 3 July to catch various planes or trains.

Until a preliminary timetable is available here, look at the previous schools for a general timetable.

List of readings

The list of readings are publicly available. The files themselves, however, are protected by copyright laws; so the participants will be given a login to downloadable archive of PDFs (typically 80MB).

Emily Varto

  • Thomas R. Trautmann. “The whole history of kinship terminology in three chapters: Before Morgan, Morgan, and after Morgan”. Anthropological Theory 1 (2001), pp. 268–87.

Maaike van der Lugt

  • Christiane Klapisch-Zuber. “The Genesis of the Family Tree”. I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance 4 (1991), pp. 105–129.

Justin Smith

  • Justin Smith. Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), Ch. 7.

Terence Keel

  • Michael LaForgia and Jennifer Valentino-DeVries. “How a Genetic Trait in Black People Can Give Police Cover”. New York Times, May 15, 2021.
  • Selection from “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States”, National Academy of Sciences Report, 2009.

Marianne Sommer

  • Marianne Sommer. “Population-Genetic Trees, Maps and Narratives of the Great Human Diasporas”. History of the Human Sciences, 28 (2015), pp. 108–145.

Erika Milam

  • William Rankin. “Making Time in the Twentieth (and Twenty-First Century)”. In: Kärin Wigen and Caroline Winterer, eds. From the Age of Discovery to Our Digital Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), pp. 14–34.
  • Excerpts from: Clare Walker Leslie, Keeping a Nature Journal, 3rd ed (Story Publishing, 2021). 

Jenny Bangham

  • Amy Harmon. “After DNA Diagnosis: ‘Hello, 16p11.2. Are you just like me?’”. New York Times, December 28, 2007. For video embedded in article:
  • Daniel Navon. “Assembling a New Kind of Person.” In: Daniel Navon, Mobilising Mutations: Human Genetics in the Age of Patient Advocacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), pp. 171–191.

Banu Subramaniam

  • Banu Subramaniam. “Like a Tumbleweed in Eden: The Diasporic Lives of Concepts”. Contributions to the History of Concepts 14 (2019), pp. 1–16.

Noémie Merleau-Ponty

  • Merleau-Ponty, Noémie. “A Hierarchy of Deaths: Stem Cells, Animals and Humans Understood by Developmental Biologists”. Science as Culture 28 (2019), pp. 492–512.


Sunday, June 26
16:30 – 20:00 Registration and welcoming reception at Hotel Isola Verde
20:30 Dinner at hotel
Monday, June 27
09:30 – 10:00 Welcome and introductions
10:00 – 11:00 Meet the participants I
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee
11:30 – 12:30 Meet the participants II
12:30 – 15:30 Lunch
15:30 – 16:30 Introduction to the theme ‘Living Relations’ by Staffan Müller-Wille
16:30 – 17:30 Lecture by Emily Varto
Genealogical Thinking in the Ancient Greek World
17:30 – 18:00 Coffee
18:00 – 19:00 Seminar led by Emily Varto
Ancient History and the ‘Invention’ of Anthropological Kinship
  • Malina Buturovic, Anin Luo, Henry-James Meiring
19:00 – 19:30 Open discussion
20:30 Dinner at hotel
Tuesday, June 28
09:00 – 10:00 Lecture by Maaike van der Lugt
Naturalizing the Law / Legalizing Nature: Consanguinity and the Impediments to Marriage in Medieval Europe
10:00 – 11:00 Seminar led by Maaike van der Lugt
Is It a Tree? Visualizations of Kinship in Medieval Manuscripts
  • Jens Amborg, Xenia Utvieska, Niklaas Goersch
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee
11:30 – 12:30 Lecture by Justin E.H. Smith
“Variety Compensated by Identity”: Leibniz on Human Diversity
12:30 – 15:30 Lunch
15:30 – 16:30 Seminar led by Justin E.H. Smith
Race as Generational Series, Species as Visible Aspect: Taxonomy and Human Diversity in the Seventeenth Century
  • Maxime Guttin, Anyely Marin Cisneros, Lufeng Xu
16:30 – 17:30 Open discussion
17:30 – 18:00 Coffee
18:00 – 18:30 Intervention by Janet Browne
18:30 – 19:30 Lecture by Terence Keel
Belief, Race, and Nihilism in American Biomedical Science
20:30 Dinner at hotel
Wednesday, June 29
09:00 – 10:00 Seminar led by Terence Keel
The Moral and Racial Politics of Death Investigation in United States
  • Thomas Anderson, Theo Di Castri, Javier Martinez Dos Santos
10:00 – 11:00 Lecture by Marianne Sommer
The Diagrammatics of Human Kinship in Anthropology
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee
11:30 – 12:30 Seminar led by Marianne Sommer
Trees, Maps, and Narratives of Human Kinship and Evolution
  • Anna Christensen, Miles Kempton, Emma Kitchen, Andrea Núñez Casal
12:30 – 13:30 Open discussion
13:30 – 20.30 Lunch and time for activities
20:30 Dinner at hotel
Thursday, June 30
08:40 – 10:00 Transfer Ischia Porto → Naples
10:00 – 10:30 Coffee break in the Fresco Room of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn
10:30 – 11:00 Welcome by the President of the Stazione, Roberto Danovaro
Introduction to facilities by Christiane Groeben
11:00 – 12:00 Visit to labs, in groups of 7–9 people
12:00 – 13:00 Visit to the Aquarium and/or the Darwin-Dohrn Museum
13:00 – 19:00 Discover Naples
19:25 – 20:40 Transfer Naples (Porta di Massa) → Ischia
Friday, July 1
09:00 – 10:00 Lecture by Erika Milam
Drawing Connections: Maps, Pictures, and Graphs of Relatedness in Twentieth-Century Evolution
10:00 – 11:00 Seminar led by Erika Milam
Marking Time: Creative Strategies for Visualizing History
  • Stefan Bernhard-Radu, Zi Yun Huang, Caitlin Kossmann, Theo Tomking
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee
11:30 – 12:30 Lecture by Jenny Bangham
On the Social Relations of Human Genetics
12:30 – 16:00 Lunch
16:00 – 17:00 Seminar led by Jenny Bangham
“It’s Like Meeting Family”: Mutations and Relations in Genomic Medicine
  • Yingchen Kwok, Alyssa Newman, Queenie Ng
17:00 – 17:30 Coffee
17:30 – 18:00 Intervention by Nick Hopwood
Haeckel’s Embryos
18:00 – 19:00 Open discussion
20:30 Dinner at a local restaurant
Saturday, July 2
09:00 – 10:00 Lecture by Banu Subramaniam
Thinking with Empire: Botany and the Afterlives of Colonialism
10:00 – 11:00 Seminar led by Banu Subramaniam
Decolonizing Biology
  • Lucía Granados-Riveros, Jaime Landinez, Salina Suri, Salome Rodeck
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee
11:30 – 12:30 Lecture by Noémie Merleau-Ponty
Alive: Cells, Biologists, and the Lab
12:30 – 15:30 Lunch
15:30 – 16:30 Seminar led by Noémie Merleau-Ponty
Unpacking Lab Liveliness through Death
  • Saliha Bayir, Patrick Ferre, Alison Renna
16:30 – 17:00 Coffee
17:00 – 18:00 Open discussion
18:00 – 19:00 Concluding discussion
20:30 Dinner at hotel
Sunday, July 3
Departure Ciao – Arrivederci!


There is a charge for students of €300 each, covering hotel accommodation and all meals; students also need to pay for their own travel to Ischia.

The directors will consider requests to waive the charge for qualified students unable to raise the money themselves, when supported by a detailed financial statement and a letter from their institution’s head.


Applications had to include:

  1. a statement specifying academic experience and interest in the course topic (max. 300 words),
  2. a brief cv,
  3. a letter of recommendation.

Application timetable:

1 April 2022
Deadline for applications – applications must have been received by Midnight CET,
14 April 2022
Students notified of application outcome,
27 May 2022
Registration fees and/or registration forms due.

Application procedure:

Applications have to be sent by email to the following address:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The body of the email should start with the applicant’s full name (surname, first name, and middle names or initials if desired). The 300-word application, the CV and the recommendation letter should be attached as files (preferably PDF format), named with your surname+firstname and indicating whether it’s your application (‘app’), CV (‘cv’), or recommendation (‘rec’).

Example: Applicant Alfred E. Neumann attaches to an email (1) their 300-word statement of interest named NeumannAlfred-app.pdf, (2) their brief CV named NeumannAlfred-cv.pdf, as well as (3) their supervisor’s recommendation letter named NeumannAlfred-rec.pdf.

After submitting, you should have received confirmation within 24 hours that your attachments arrived in readable form.

Alternatively, the candidate might send only their application and CV as above, with the recommendation emailed separately by the recommending 'sponsor'. In that case, confirmation was be emailed both to the candidate and the sponsor.

Please contact the website administrator for any technical problems.

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The summer school is funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the US National Science Foundation, the collector George Loudon, and the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.

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