Michael Osborne

Michael Osborne

dates de séjour

01/09/2011 - 31/12/2011
01/09/2012 - 30/11/2012
03/09/2013 - 16/12/2013






Orgean State University, Corvalis, États-Unis

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

Altruistic Vitalism and Epigenetics: Scientific and Social Physiology in Context

Projet de recherche 2014-2015

y research investigates primarily French scientists and social theorists of the French Third Republic (1879-1940). It examines the uses of the terms parasite and parasitism and reviews definitional disputes over the nature of parasitism which accelerated in the last half of the nineteenth century.

The term parasite, which in antiquity connoted common dining activity free of harm to the participating organisms, acquired new valences as biologists studied lichens and organisms where parasites and hosts seemed to co-adapt and sometimes merge into one other. Biologists like Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden added additional precision to the term, and while no consensus was achieved by the 1920s, the term as used in biology came to imply that parasites caused harm to their hosts and that parasitism was largely, if not exclusively, an inter-specific relationship. Biologists including Claude Bernard, Rudolf Virchow, and Edmond Perrier pondered the nature of parts and wholes on the cellular level, and some of their ideas, principally those of the neo-Lamarckian Perrier, were incorporated into the social thought of the era while France tired to integrate its colonies into a Greater France and was beset by strikes and anarchist activity.

The appropriation of biological concepts by promoters of Solidarism, a theory of social cohesion infused with organicism, was selective as regards parasitism where it was applied to human to human relationships and thus violated the inter-specific consensus established by biologists.





Projet de recherche 2012-2013

Biochemistry and biophysics, allegiance to a physiological determinism derived from Claude Bernard’s work on experimental medicine, and laboratory methods applied to animal models have advanced knowledge of human physiology. These tools have been productive in virtue of their ability to isolate and explain phenomena such as the glycogenic function of the liver. Another approach, one rather common among physicians in Provence around 1890, ran counter to this reductionistic paradigm and promoted a vitalistic physiology which attempted to account for the social and spiritual life of human organisms. The approach evaluated how life in the human community affected individual physiology and well-being. In this it was similar to the emergent science of epigenetics in elucidating social and environmental factors impacting inheritance and well-being. I will use this residency to draft a book informed by the newer science of epigenetics, convene a one-day conference on this topic, and prepare the revised papers for publication.


Osborne discovered the history of science as an undergraduate at Oregon State University, where he benefited from charismatic and intellectually demanding professors. Before becoming a professor he worked for a number of government and private agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fellowships or grants from the National Science Foundation, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the Camargo Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and other agencies have supported his research and that of his graduate students. Before returning to OSU he was professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he continues as Research Professor of Environmental Studies and History and bioethics leader for human embryonic stem cell research. He is currently completing a book under contract with the University of Chicago Press titled The Emergence of Tropical Medicine in France.


Michael Osborne