The zombie has proven itself not only as a powerful popular metaphor and a legitimate subject of pop culture scholarship, but also as a strong tool of critical thought in the field of biomedicine. This paper draws from research in my PhD thesis, in which I use the zombie as a modelling tool to critically think about hegemonic biomedical narratives of the body. I am particularly interested in the reciprocal relationship between the zombie and biomedical narratives; not only is the zombie employed as a metaphor, adjective, or modifier in biomedical discourse, it is also used to model real-world biomedical crises, to think through philosophical conundrums, and is the subject of various hypothetical thought experiments where real-world logics are applied to fictional zombie scenarios.

My paper explores the potential of the zombie as a modelling tool, focusing on the phenomenon of microchimaerism. Microchimaerism occurs when foreign cells or DNA are present within the body of an individual. I am interested in how the zombie can be thought of as a chimaeric body (and vice versa), where nature and science meet to challenge lay knowledges of immunology and selfhood. Everyday understandings of a self/other binary, along with immunological narratives of foreign invasion into the homogenous threatened self, produce overly simplistic and largely inaccurate ideas of the body and immunity. Drawing on the scientific and feminist scholarship of academics such as Karen Barad, Margrit Shildrick, and Aryn Martin, I explore how microchimaerism radically queers classical biological narratives of immunity and homogeneity. In bringing together the zombie with microchimaerism, this paper proposes the chimaeric zombie body as a site for creatively rethinking ethical and ontological knowledges of ‘self’ and ‘other.’

About the speaker

Mia Harrison is a doctoral candidate in the Gender and Cultural Studies department at the University of Sydney. Her research uses the zombie as a modelling tool to critically think about heterogeneous embodiment and bioethics. She is also a Research Associate in the Digital Ethnography Research Centre at RMIT University in Melbourne and the co-host of the pop culture podcasts “Trope Watchers” and “A Clash of Critics.”

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