CE26 - Innovation, travail

The environment and human health across life and social sciences – ENVIROBIOSOC

The environment and human health across life and social sciences

The EnviroBioSoc project aims at determining whether or not it is actually possible and suitable to overcome the state of plurality characterzing the study of environnementally induced diseases by looking for an integrative and interdisciplinary approach to the environment. This approach would combine the various ways the environment is conceived and operationalized in health studies, both in life and social sciences.

The environment as determinant of our health: a pluralistic situation

The ENVIROBIOSOC project's starting point is the acknowledgment of a situation of pluralism in the way the environment is conceived, defined and operationalised in the study of human health and disease through the biological, biomedical and social sciences. The objective is to answer the following two questions: 1) is it possible and souhaitable to overcome this conceptual and epistemological pluralism by an integrative approach combining the various approaches in the study of the health-environment relationship; 2) under what conditions can such an interdisciplinary and integrative approach produce an epistemic and/or pragmatic gain (if any), i.e., for the advancement of our knowledge, and for our ability to prevent and treat the diseases it induces in order to produce socio-economic benefits? To answer these questions, all of them are addressed systematically through the biological, biomedical and social sciences, and from the perspective of the debate in contemporary philosophy of science on scientific pluralism. The first task is devoted to a detailed review of the concept of environment across the biomedical and social sciences studying environmentally induced diseases. The second is an exploration of possible ways of integrating all these studies and to assess under what conditions an integrative approach may bring epistemic and/or pragmatic gain (if any). The third task is to produce an analysis of the corresponding modes of collaboration between life and social sciences studying environmental health or, at least, to assess how disciplinary studies of environmentally induced diseases could benefit from each other.

The methodology used throughout this project is both comparative and collaborative. What is comparative is the analysis of the way the environment is conceived, defined and operationalized by researchers in life and social sciences studying environmentally induced diseases. What is collaborative is the way we deal with the main challenge of the project, which is trying to integrate research works made by scientists belonging to different epistemic cultures. The whole team of collaboratoris pluridisciplinary and has already called itself for cross-disciplinary collaborations (between philosophers of science, biologists, physicians, epidemiologists, anthropologists, sociologists, etc.).
The main methodology used consists in reading and developing a conceptual and epistemological analysis of research literature, in life and social sciences, on environmentally induced states of health and disease.

Gaëlle Pontarotti was recruited as a postdoctoral fellow in September 2020. I immediately organised with her the workshop «The environment: from the natural sciences to the humanities and social sciences« in order to draw up a panorama of the ways of conceiving the environment through the natural sciences and the humanities and social sciences, and thus to begin to highlight their common points and their differences. Secondly, I set up regular collaborations with Elodie Giroux, philosopher of medicine (Pr, University of Lyon 3), and her colleagues involved in a project called EpiExpo (Epigenetics and exposure). We organised a working group on «Social environment and biological incorporation« where, with other colleagues (historians, philosophers, sociologists of science and epidemiologists), we discussed a number of concepts mobilised in the literature on environmentally induced diseases (incorporation/embodiment, embedding/embedding, local biologies, etc.) At the same time, I started working assiduously with Elodie Giroux, who was already working at the time on the plurality of environmental concepts and in particular on a new concept from epidemiology, the exposome. This collaboration led us to be invited together to the workshop «Postgenomic Determinisms: Environmental Narratives after the Century of the Gene« organised by Jan Baedke and Azita Chellappoo at the Rühr Universität in Germany (by videoconference, 25-26 March 2021). We presented a joint paper on environmental determinism in exposomics research. Our presentation, entitled «Narratives in exposomcis: a reversed epistemic determinism?« will be published in 2022 as an article in a special issue of the journal History and Philosophy of Life Sciences. My collaborations with Elodie Giroux and her colleagues in Lyon also led to the organisation of the international and multidisciplinary colloquium «Epistemological and practical issues of integrative approaches in health-environment« (in videoconference, 4-5 February 2021). We have had the agreement of the Palgrave publishing house for the publication of a volume on the themes of the workshop, under the direction of Elodie Giroux, Yohan Fayet and myself (we will sign the contract shortly). It is in this volume that I will publish an article that I have started to write with Gaëlle Pontarotti. This article's working title is «The Environment of What? Looking for an operational account of the biosocial environment in public health«.

3 articles in progress + a collectif volume (in English) to be published at Palgrave.

1 monthly seminar (from January to June 2022): alternation of closed sessions (working group) and of open sessions (invited speakers).

Recruiting a 1 year postdoc working on task 3 of the project.

Organization of a 2-day closing meeting (first semester 2023).

Publications:
1.Merlin F & Giroux E (2021) « Narratives in Exposomics: A Reversed Epistemic Determinism? » Online Workshop Postgenomic determinisms: Environmental Narratives after the Century of the Gene, Ruhr Universität Bochum, 25-26 mars 2021
2.Pontarotti G (2021) “Epigenetics and the biology of race: Naturalism, environmentalism, constructivism” Online Conference, ISHPSSB 2021, 13-20 juillet 2021
3.Pontarotti G.(14 mai 2021), opinion column in Le Monde about the relationship between environment, epigenetics, and race.

Communications :
1.Organization of the workshop «The environment: from natural to human and social sciences«, IHPST Paris, 5-6 November 2020
2.Organization of the online meeting «Epistemological and practical issues of integrative approaches in health-environment studies«, 4-5 February 2021

The environment and its role in the origin of human health and disease is currently a common research object in life sciences (in particular, environmental epigenetics) and in social sciences (e.g., in medical anthropology and social epidemiology). However, the way it is conceived, defined, and operationalized is tremendously heterogeneous. First of all, it is not homogeneous within biological and biomedical sciences themselves (e.g., behavioral epigenetics, environmental epigenetics, epidemiology, etc.). Second, as one should expect, the concept of environment and its measurements are especially heterogeneous between life sciences (both biological and biomedical research) and social sciences. It can be limited to material factors internal and/or external to our bodies, which is often the case in biology, but can also include higher level factors of different nature (psychological, social, economic, historical, and cultural), which is mostly the case in social sciences. What is considered as the environment can thus have different, not necessarily overlapping, spatio-temporal boundaries, that which implies different ways of representing and modelling the process leading to environmentally induced pathologies. The ENVIROBIOSOC project asks whether it is possible and suitable to overcome this state of conceptual and epistemological pluralism by looking for an interdisciplinary integrative account combining the various approaches used to study the relationship health-environment, in life and in social sciences. It also investigates under which conditions an interdisciplinary and integrative approach leads up to some epistemic and/or pragmatic gain (if any), i.e., for our knowledge about the impact of the environment on our health state, and for our ability to prevent and treat environmentally induced illness, and so to produce socio-economic benefits. The main originality of this project is to tackle these issues in a systematic way across life and social sciences, and from the point of view of the debate, in contemporary philosophy of science, on scientific pluralism. Thus, the sort questions addressed will deal with the way the environment, as inducer of health and disease states, is conceived and operationalized in the life and social sciences. Which attitude should we adopt toward the multiplicity of concepts and metrics of the environment across all these sciences? Is such a plurality temporal and solvable, and how, or is it permanent and ineliminable? And what does this imply for the research approach adopted in the life and in the social sciences? In order to answer to all these questions, the ENVIROBIOSOC project is structured in three tasks. The first aims at dressing a detailed overview of the concept of environment throughout life and social sciences that study environmentally induced diseases. The second aims at exploring possible modes of integration of the various ways the environment and diseases it induces are studied across all these sciences, and at evaluating under which conditions an integrative approach would bring about some epistemic and/or pragmatic gain, if any. The third task aims at investigating the corresponding modes of collaboration between life and social sciences in environmental health studies or, at least, the possible ways disciplinary studies of environmentally induced diseases can take advantage from each other. The establishment of ENVIROBIOSOC will allow to produce a comprehensive philosophical reflection on all these issues, in permanent and strong collaboration with researchers in biological, biomedical, and social sciences.

Project coordination

Francesca Merlin (Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

IHPST Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques

Help of the ANR 256,778 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2019 - 36 Months

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