Life, time and the organism:Temporal registers in the construction of life forms

Berry, Dominic and Palladino, Paolo Salvatore Andrea (2018) Life, time and the organism:Temporal registers in the construction of life forms. Journal of the History of Biology, 52 (2). 223–243. ISSN 0022-5010

JHBFINAL.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (211kB)


In this paper, we articulate how time and temporalities are involved in the making of living things. For these purposes, we draw on an instructive episode concerning Norfolk Horn sheep. We attend to historical debates over the nature of the breed, whether it is extinct or not, and whether presently living exemplars are faithful copies of those that came before. We argue that there are features to these debates that are important to understanding contemporary configurations of life, time and the organism, especially as these are articulated within the field of synthetic biology. In particular, we highlight how organisms are configured within different material and semiotic assemblages that are always structured temporally. While we identify three distinct structures, namely the historical, phyletic and molecular registers, we do not regard the list as exhaustive. We also highlight how these structures are related to the care and value invested in the organisms at issue. Finally, because we are interested ultimately in ways of producing time, our subject matter requires us to think about historiographical practice reflexively. This draws us into dialogue with other scholars interested in time, not just historians, but also philosophers and sociologists, and into conversations with them about time as always multiple and never an inert background.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Journal of the History of Biology
Additional Information:
The final publication is available at Springer via
Uncontrolled Keywords:
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
05 Mar 2018 13:28
Last Modified:
24 Feb 2023 00:24