“Life’s Work: Biomimesis and the Labor of New Natures”

Practitioners of so-called “biomimicry” have worked together to create objects like lotus-inspired paints, gecko-inspired adhesives, and lobster-inspired robots by reverse engineering “natural” or nonhuman lifeforms and redirecting them as solutions for human problems. Environmentalists, economists, government officials, and practitioners alike imbue this practice with the potential to engineer a more ecologically sustainable and politically stable future, calling it a “key driver of innovation” and a “game changer” in technological production. As biomimeticists disembodied and re-embody nonhuman lifeforms, however, they also destabilize historic understandings of life and society and challenges many of the concepts that undergird traditional political frameworks, such as territorial borders, notions of human exceptionalism, and conceptions of “life” itself. By connecting together the stated aims of biomimetic production with ethnographic observations of its practice, my work brings these disjunctures to light as well as the potentials of biomimetic design. Arguing that biomimicry creates new life worlds as it creates new technologies, I am interested in how biomimicry–and the forces of evolution that inspire it– are acts of value production.