Connected and Plastic. Porous boundaries of humans, environments and machines in biomedicine

UNIL principal investigator

Dr Luca Chiapperino , Faculty of Social and Political Sciences

UNIPD principal investigator

Prof. Stefano Crabu, FISPPA


Joint seminar / conference involving early-stage researchers


Neurological and psychiatric conditions in western societies are increasingly shaped by new devices as exemplified by the case of nanotechnologies, virtual reality-based therapies and artificial intelligence. The advancements and discoveries in related fields, such as neurosciences, encourage leveraging brain plasticity as a new possibility of intervention and treatment of chronic pathologies, potentially improving the patient’s quality of life. Indeed, today some human faculties can be replaced or enhanced through total integration with technologies, as in the case of prosthetics, or by brain computer interfaces applications where technologies become part of human cognition. Findings from molecular neurosciences and epigenetics also show that exposure-based therapies relying (among other things) on virtual reality-based technologies have a quantifiable effect on the biological underpinnings of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety- and stress-related disorders. In addition, due to investments in artificial intelligence, technologies are increasingly becoming capable of performing certain tasks entirely autonomously, thus also reconfiguring the doctor-patient relationship, promising to relieve the healthcare system of the burden of chronic diseases.

These parallel – yet cognate – uses of technologies, devices and therapeutic vectors to re-shape patients' bodies (and brains) redraw the boundaries between humans, environments and machines prompting a wealth of ethical, social and political reflections.

This two-days joint seminar will explore these different dimensions of biomedical approaches to our connected and plastic brains, to assess their implications ranging from health practices and policies to care relationships, to the reconfiguration of patients' identities as well as to the care environments and civil rights of these new hybrids.

In addition, it also sets out to explore whether these practices demand to resituate neurosciences in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), in ways that diverge – and are nonetheless partly nested within – the interest the discipline had expressed into the “decade of the brain” at the end of the 1990s.  Is a novel contemporary understanding of the self and society at stake in these novel practices of intervention into our brains? And how does this affect differentially all the societal (e.g. patients, caregivers, health practitioners researchers, policy-makers) partners involved?


A two-day joint seminar will be organised, involving doctoral students, post-doc and early-career researchers in social science and humanities, as well as researchers working in STEM fields interested in considering epistemological, ethical and social issues related to biomedical innovation and future emerging technologies. Specifically, the joint seminar will be focused on a broader reflexion related to the porous boundaries between human, environments and machines with regard to the effects of emerging technologies for health and healthcare.

The whole programme of the joint seminar is intended to foster active networking among the STS Labs in Lausanne and Padova with the aim to promote a fruitful follow-up among participants and therefore enhancing cross-national community building. The joint seminar will constitute an excellent opportunity also for postgraduate students and early-career researchers who are interested in cross-disciplinary perspective among the humanistic perspectives on biomedical challenges.

Potential for follow-up activities

The joint seminar has been projected considering the following follow-up activities between Padova Science Technology and Innovation Studies research unit (Pa.S.T.I.S. at FISPPA Department, University of Padova) and the STS Lab (Institut des sciences sociales, University of Lusanne):

  • ­ working papers and/or research articles with comparative perspective among Italy and Switzerland;
  • ­visiting exchanges among UNIL and UNIPD;
  • ­joint seminars for Ph.D. students of both universities;
  • ­writing join research projects.
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