Biocultural Creatures: Toward a New Theory of the Human
Samantha Frost is Associate Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the coeditor of New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, also published by Duke University Press, and the author of Lessons from a Materialist Thinker: Hobbesian Reflections on Ethics and Politics.
Chapter 5 reconsiders whether we can think of living creatures as discrete organisms rather than as merely effects of the environmental relationships and dynamics in which they live. In other words, it reconsiders the ontological “itness” of biocultural creatures. It does so by exploring the temporality of the relationship between organisms and their habitats. The chapter explains how the permeability of germ cell membranes entails that a creature’s response to a habitat in one generation can shape the development and growth of offspring in subsequent generations via epigenetic markers. The chapter proposes that the cross-generational carrying-forward of creatures’ responses-to-habitat indicates that organisms are noncontemporaneous with their habitats. This noncontemporaneity makes organisms exceed the determinations of their habitats even as they cannot be thought apart from those habitats.