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Calculable bodies: Analysing the enactment of bodies in bioinformatics

  • Jan van Baren-NawrockaEmail author
  • Luca Consoli
  • Hub Zwart
Original Article


In this paper, we analyse how human bodies are understood and viewed in bioinformatics, partly based on participant observations of a basic bioinformatics course and interviews with bioinformatics researchers. With the proliferation of genomic data, bioinformatics has come to play a crucial role in developments in the biological and biomedical sciences. It is thus worth looking at the role of bioinformatics in current understandings of human bodies. Our analysis shows that bodies in this context can be understood as networked and calculable, along the lines of the analytical logic of informatics. Central to this view are the genome sequences that do not, as in earlier narratives on genes as essentially informational, contain bodies completely. Rather, bodies are enacted as accessible through these sequences. In the process, bodies are continuously matched to the digital image of a normal body. This normal body is an ideal rather than an average body, an ideal that arises from the possibilities and restrictions of science and computer technologies.


Bioinformatics Genomics Sequence data Human bodies Calculable bodies Normality 



The manuscript is comprised of original material that is not under review elsewhere. All interviewees have been informed that the interview data would be anonymised and used for a research project on bioinformatics and human identity. None of the authors have any competing interests—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript.


Funding was provided by Centre for Society and Genomics (NL).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Science Innovation and SocietyRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Erasmus School of PhilosophyErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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