Claire Webb

Claire Webb

Historian, Anthropologist of Science, 2020-2021 Berggruen Fellow

Biography

Claire Webb is a historian and anthropologist of science. An internship at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in 2008 sparked the topic of Webb’s dissertation: Technologies of Perception: Searches for Life Beyond Earth. She historically and ethnographically tracks how scientists have made knowledge around unknown objects since the late 1950s in the U.S.: imagined extraterrestrial microbes and beings. Embedded with the Breakthrough Listen Lab at U.C. Berkeley since 2016, Webb’s unparalleled access to the SETI community offers a deep analysis of how scientists’ practices of radio astronomy inform their imaginations of the alien. She uses feminist theory, post-humanist thought, philosophy and history of science, and STS scholarship to parse scientific conceptions of intelligence, liveliness, and the Other. Claire was the 2019-2020 NASA/History of Science Society Fellow at the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. Claire is most proud of centering feminist approaches in academia, and theorizing race, gender, and ability as concepts inextricable from scientific practice. She is also proud to have followed threads of scientific inquiry, participating in adventures that have led her to LIGO, CERN, and a NASA mission in Tahiti. At Berggruen, Webb plans to launch a second major project, Biotechnical Beings, Posthuman Others. Under the Institute’s Transformations of the Human project, this postdoctoral research asks: How is the development of AI technology in tension with researchers’ purported desires to model, enfold, and predict biological processes? How do computational processes equip AI systems with ethical and moral parameters? Webb’s interdisciplinary approach will investigate human-machine interactions through the lens of feminist theory to reconsider bodily sensation and ability around technology.