Dana Simmons – Hunger and the Latent Commons

HOS Colloquium
Event date: 
April 4, 2018 - 12:00pm
Dana Simmons
University of California, Riverside
Seminar Series: 
History of Science Colloquium
Co-Sponsored by: 
The Program in History of Science and IHUM

Living beings seek nourishment. Fruit flies, ocean filter feeders, vertebrates, worms, trees, bacteria, arguably share, in some form, experience of hunger. Genes associated with hunger and sustenance appear in popular science media, as evidence for our common evolutionary bonds. This paper traces an experimental history of hunger. I recount two proximal histories of hunger science, which unfolded at Johns Hopkins University in the 1950s to 1970s: that of Eliot Stellar, an experimental psychologist working with white rats, and that of Vincent Dethier, entomologist and specialist in fly behavior. Stellar studied rats' hunger as a model system for a cognitive psychology of human motivation and learning. Dethier studied flies' hunger as a complex of season, place, chemosensation and motor activity. Conversations between the two scientists invite us to consider the productivity of experimental model systems, and the status of hunger as a “latent commons.” Anna Tsing (2015) theorizes latent commons as, “fugitive moments of entanglement, …ubiquitous, [though] we hardly notice them, and …undeveloped.” Both Stellar and Dethier sought to build a latent commons, a shared interspecies world, around hunger. In this paper I follow the two scientists’ paths to gauge the past and future potentials of hunger as latent commons.