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International Symposium "Women for Future"

Human intelligence creates unlimited ideas, research and technologies that have high impact on the development of societies and the human being itself. Do we actively design the future without reflecting this impact? How do we want to connect with and within technologies? How do we shape our environment for us and for other living beings? How do we engage with evolutionary demands emerging between biology and culture?

At the symposium “Women for Future” we will present and discuss approaches of renowned and upcoming female scholars on how to think about and engage with the future. We will foster dialogue with the audience in order to reflect together about how we can create a more fine-tuned awareness of challenges and possibilities of our shared futures.

Date: July 1-2, 2015

Location: Lecture Hall C2, Campus of the University of Vienna/Court 2.6, Spitalgasse 2-9 


Program Folder for download.

Wednesday, July 1

9:00-9:30: Coffee

9:30-10:00: Welcome Addresses and Introduction by Renée Schroeder & Sigrid Schmitz

Heinz Faßmann (Univ.Prof. Dr., Vice Rector of the Universtity of Vienna)

Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek (Federal Minister of Education and Women's Affairs)

Gabriella Hauch (Univ-Prof. Dr.; Department of History, Supervisor of the Gender Justice Focus, 650th Anniversary of the University of Vienna)


10:00 - 12:00:

Stream I: “Human-Technology-Networks: For a Future Worth Living ”

We are connected! Humans interact with digital technologies, with machines, prostheses, brain-computer interfaces; they develop virtual identities and change their bodies and minds; the fate of biology seems to be abandoned. However, fascinations of cyborgian becomings in terms of communication, efficiency, mobility and more-than-human enhancement also oscillate with ambivalences against the accompanying normative values, concerns of access and exclusion, and horrors of control and exploitation accompany these developments.

The speakers of this session pose questions how cyborgian hybrids blur the border between body, technology, culture, and society. They will discuss the challenges of future visions of human-technology-networks and their impacts in terms of improvement or destruction of humans in technologized societies.

Sigrid Schmitz (Dr. habil., Gender Studies, University of Vienna):

Judy Wajcman (Prof. Dr., London School of Economics and Political Science):
Pressed for Time: Digital technologies and the multiple rhythms of everyday life

The technologically tethered, smartphone addicted figure is an image we can easily conjure. There is a widespread perception that life is faster than it used to be, that we constantly feel rushed and pressed for time. Digital technologies are blamed for this speed-up: they are seen as inexorably driving acceleration of the pace of everyday life. But is the pace of life really faster and what is the role of technology? Why do we vacillate between regarding digital devices as the cause of time pressure and turning to them as the solution? In this talk I will argue that technologies do not have a life of their own. The contemporary imperative of speed is as much as cultural artifact as it is a technological one and is inscribed with gender power relations.

Karin Harasser (Prof. Dr., University of Art and Design Linz):
Parahumans/partial agencies. New protocols for old problems

The lecture will develop an understanding of our "acting with" technology in the framework of Donna Haraways and Isabelle Stengers epistemology of response-ability. It will argue against a teleological account on posthumanism and for a situated understanding of bodies and technologies in the mode of futurum perfectum: Only later we will have understood what they were able to. This his great consequences on how we conceive of technologies in the present, as we are dealing with both systems of domination and tools for worldbuilding.


12:00 - 13:30: Lunch


13:30 - 15:30:

Stream II: “Quo Vadis Homo: Evolution Between Nature and Culture” 

Epigenetics, an expanding field of molecular biology, proposes radically new ways of thinking about the human in the environment. It shows how gene expression – that is the way in which our genes become translated into the living structures of our bodies and minds – is continuously influenced by the environments we live in and how we live in them. From an evolutionary perspective, epigenetic adaptation might lead the way for genetic change, proposing new mechanisms for how living beings have evolved and are still evolving. In this panel we will discuss how these new approaches affect biological research, but also which kind of social and ethical questions are raised if the social and the biological are understood as intimately intertwined.

Renée Schroeder (Univ.-Prof. Dr., Max F. Perutz Laboratories, Dep. of Biochemistry and cell Biology, Universtiy of Vienna):

Soojin Yi (Ass.-Prof., School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology):
DNA Methylation, Phenotypic Plasticity and Human Evolution

Research in the last decade has made it clear that a critical component of gene regulation occurs through the chemical modification of genomic DNA and the proteins that organize eukaryotic DNA into chromatin. This form of gene regulation, termed epigenetics, enables organisms to modulate environmental signals to cellular changes. DNA methylation is an essential epigenetic mechanism with significant roles on development and regulation. In particular, DNA methylation is deeply implicated in human diseases such as cancer and neuropsychiatric diseases. While previous epigenetic studies have typically focused on humans and mammalian model systems, recent evolutionary analyses reveal that DNA methylation is phylogenetically widespread, and thus is an ancient molecular mechanism. Studies of DNA methylation in distantly related species has highlighted how epigenetic mechanisms enable entirely different forms (phenotypes) to emerge from similar genomes. Moreover, DNA methylation may facilitate the evolution of different molecular processes in different species. An interesting example is found in studies of human specificity and DNA methylation. In this talk I will discuss the phylogenetic distribution and evolution of DNA methylation, examples of diverse roles DNA methylation play in divergent species, and unique epigenetic trajectories of human brains.

Joelle Ruegg (Dr., Center for Molecular Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Sweden):
The Epigenome: A Bridge between the Genes and the Environment

Early-life experiences can leave their imprints for a lifetime. This is common knowledge and the basis of many psychological approaches. Biology, however, used to focus on the inherited traits, the genes, that were thought to be responsible for everything from disease susceptibility to personality.  Indeed, the gene products define the identity of a cell, the interactions between them and within an organ, and thus the functioning of the whole body. Still, although all cells in an organism have the same genome, their function and shape can vary drastically. The reason for this is that gene activity is regulated differentially in every cell, and this regulation on top of (Greek: epi) the gene sequence is called epigenetics. And, epigenetic patterns are changed in response to environmental factors. Thus, the epigenome can be seen as the biological substrate for the environmental impact on our body and mind.

During in utero development, we are particularly sensitive to environmental factors such as maternal nutrition and stress, but also to antropogenic chemicals. Endocrine disruptive chemicals (EDCs) are a group of chemicals that interfere with our hormonal systems, and their abundant use has raised great concerns. Studies in experimental and wildlife animals as well as epidemiological data indicate that exposure to EDCs affects development, possibly by inducing epigenetic changes. In my talk I will discuss how studying epigenetic mechanisms not only leads to fundamental biological insights but also to toxicological information important for risk assessment and, hopefully, to means how to reverse adverse impacts of the environment.


15:30 - 16:00: Coffee break


16:00 - 18:00: Keynote

Sheila Jasanoff (Prof. Dr., Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University):

Cosmopolitan Visions: Science, Citizenship, and the World of Tomorrow

 On the occasion of a great anniversary of a great university it is appropriate not to dwell chiefly on past achievements but to reflect on the future of the long record of teaching and learning that we are here to celebrate.  My theme today is our role in creating both the storehouse of disciplined knowledge (Wissenschaft) and the forms of life that belong with particular forms of knowledge and ways of knowing—an intertwined phenomenon that I call co-production. I will suggest that while our knowledge of nature has moved ahead by leaps and bounds during the centuries since this University’s foundation, our understanding of which knowledges we privilege and how we should live with the fruits of that knowledge, now and in the future, remains more primitive. In particular, our social and political institutions, including the global scientific community itself, seem at times oblivious of the ways in which we, as human beings and societies, have changed along with our scientific enlightenment. We have acquired, for example, insights into the processes of knowledge creation, and the ethics and politics of knowing, that were not obvious in times when science was seen simply as a mirror of nature, retracing the hand of God. Today’s pursuit of science thus calls for simultaneous reflection on ourselves as material, social, and moral beings, capable at our best of absorbing both the content and the limits of knowledge. Science, even at its most certain, does not hold answers to how we should act. The world of tomorrow therefore needs to be a cosmopolitan world, allowing for multiple imaginations of the good, and built on a principle of epistemic humility that allows us to deploy our Wissenschaft with precaution and charity instead of blind hubris.


19:00 - open end

Science Heurigen

Zum Martin Sepp, Cobenzlgasse 34, 1190 Vienna - Grinzing

Take Tram-Line 38 from Station Währingerstraße/Spitalgasse to final station Grinzing.

Map from Final Station to Heurigen


Thursday, July 2

9:30 - 10:00: Coffee


10:00 - 12:00:

Stream III: “Living together well in the Anthropocene: Global Change and Multi-Species Survival”

We have entered the anthropocene, a geological period in which humans have become the defining force on earth. Man´s present activities endanger not only countless species, but also humans themselves and possibly the global ecosystem. Although science is quite clear on this, and has been warning at least since the Club of Rome´s “Limits to Growth” in 1972, the path has not been altered to date. Is living together well in the Anthropocene an illusion? What would it take to operate within the planetary boundaries, respecting all life on earth? How can this become reality? Is there still time? What contribution can science make? Rooted in the science background of the panelists, this discussion will also draw on their multiple experiences at the science policy interface.

Helga Kromp-Kolb (Univ.-Prof. Dr., Institute of Meteorology, University for Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna):

Katherine Richardson (Prof. Dr., Leader of the Sustainability Science Centre and PI at the Center for Macroecology, University of Copenhagen):
A “safe operating space” for human development

Following the discovery of agricultural practices, some human societies established permanent settlements. As populations grew, many of these societies recognized that their own wellbeing was best ensured by enforcing some sort of local environmental management (restrictions on where waste could be deposited, etc.). Today, acceptance of local and regional environmental management is widespread.  Recent discoveries in the natural sciences – not least of which human interference with the climate system - now provide overwhelming evidence that the continued development of human societies demands management of the Earth’s resources at the global level, i.e. that humans become stewards of the Earth System. This talk examines how natural science can provide guidelines for this management.

Diana Ürge-Vorsatz (Prof. Dr., Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy and Dept. of Environmental Sciences and Policy, CEU Budapest):
The Anthropocene – in light of its past and future

Human civilization is a few thousand years old at most. This time is equivalent to not even a second as compared to, for instance, the 135 million year period dinosaurs dominated the Earth. Even within these few thousand years, the last century, and within that the last few decades, have witnessed an unprecedented dynamic of development in technologies and ways how we interact with our planet. The talk illustrates the dynamics of human development on the scale of geologic and biologic past, highlight some developments that raise serious questions related to the future of the Anthropocene. The presentation uses the IPAT logic to disentangle the key trends that particularly influence the feasibility of the long-term dominance of the homo sapiens on Earth. While the science is not ready to provide answers, the talk will provoke the audience by asking a few difficult questions that are at the core of the long-term survival of human civilization.


12:00 - 13:30: Lunch


13:30 - 15:30:

Panel Discussion: "Responsible Governance of Futures. Raising a Strong Voice"

The symposium will connect the thematic discussions and challenging questions with the speakers.

Chair: Ulrike Felt (Univ.-Prof. Dr., Department of Science and Technology Studies, University of Vienna)


15:30 - 17:00:

Networking and co-operative work between expert scholars and junior scholars

Wine & Cheese

c./o. Dr.in Sigrid Schmitz
Gender Studies
Alserstr. 23, Top 22
A-1080 Wien

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