DFG continues funding of the Life Sciences – Life Writing Research Training Group

Following the positive assessment of the Life Sciences – Life Writing Research Training Group at Mainz University, the German Research Foundation (DFG) recently announced extension of its support for the project launched in 2014 by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). The group will receive financial support to the tune of EUR 2.2 million over the next funding period to look at the correlation between new developments in biomedicine and borderline human life experiences. The questions at issue here regard technologically-assisted reproduction, the implications of neuroscience and resilience research when it comes to day-to-day life, and the use of intensive care in the case of patients in extremis.

The Life Sciences – Life Writing: Boundary Experiences of Human Life between Biomedical Explanation and Lived Experience research and training program is to bring together the natural sciences, medicine, and the humanities. It aims at generating alternative perspectives on what it means to be human and establishing mutually shared methodological pathways to the interpretation of human boundary experiences at the points where medicine, the individual, and society meet. The group focuses in particular on boundary experiences relating to physical, capability-related, and temporal factors. As research resources, the group members use, for example, material on the experiences of individuals with eating disorders and those who have been exposed to trauma and also analyze autobiographical reports on perceptions of illness and situations of crisis.

„In our clinical day-to-day work, we frequently see that medical treatment may cause – though unintended – very challenging boundary experiences in patients. We should see it as our ethical and social challenge to understand how such boundary experiences arise and what they stand for and mean. In our Life Sciences – Life Writing program, we hope we can obtain a fundamental grasp of this,“ pointed out Professor Norbert W. Paul, the coordinator of the research training group and Director of the Institute of the History, Theory, and Ethics of Medicine at the Mainz University Medical Center.

„The very starting point of our work was the question of the extent to which autobiographical narratives of boundary experiences of human life, or life writing, can help medicine and the life sciences find access to this aspect. At the same time, medical progress is forcing the humanities and cultural studies to rethink their own interpretations and ways of reading a reality that is becoming increasingly complex,“ stresses Professor Mita Banerjee, co-coordinator of the research training group and a professor at the Obama Institute of Transnational American Studies in the Department of English and Linguistics at Mainz University.

With the intention of acquiring their academic qualifications and experiencing academic independence early on in their careers, a total of 12 doctoral candidates have completed the structured research and training program offered by the research group since 2014. In a competitive procedure, they had been awarded the necessary graduate or post-graduate scholarships. Among those who have completed the structured research and training program are students of medicine, the natural sciences, the humanities, and cultural studies. In addition to the Institute of the History, Theory, and Ethics of Medicine, other institutions at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz involved in the Life Sciences – Life Writing project are the departments of American Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Pharmaceutical Biology, Molecular Biology, Psychosomatics, Perinatology, German Studies, Sociology as well as the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB). Additional cooperation partners during the second funding phase will be the German Resilience Center in Mainz as well as the Biotechnologies, Nature and Society Research Group of the Institute of Sociology and the Department of Psychoanalysis of the Institute of Psychology at Goethe University Frankfurt.

Further information on the Life Sciences – Life Writing program at:

Christine Forcina
Coordinator of the Graduate School Life Sciences – Life Writing
Coordinator International Programs
Institute of the History, Theory, and Ethics of Medicine
Mainz University Medical Center
phone +49 6131 17-9545
fax +49 6131 17-9479
e-mail: forcina@uni-mainz.de

About life sciences
At least since the mid-20th century, the life sciences have played a central role in our understanding of the world and what it means to be human. It is because individuals are embedded in a socio-cultural environment on the one hand and in a material sphere on the other that we have this divergence between disciplines in the form of natural sciences and humanities, to which the life sciences, social sciences, and cultural studies have been subsequently added. In the case of biomedicine, which explores and seeks to preserve human life using scientific methods, there is a marked emphasis on models derived from the natural sciences as orientation aids for rational decision-making and action and these have the concept of the human being as an organism at their core. In contrast to this, the humanities and cultural studies have, also since the mid-20th century, been highlighting the role of individual experience and the multi-faceted means of access that individuals have to the world around them.

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