Wendy Wheeler

Wendy Wheeler

Emeritus Professor of English Literature and Cultural Inquiry, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities; London Metropolitan University

Wheeler has researched and written on biosemiotics and culture since 2005 when she was introduced to the work of Jesper Hoffmeyer, Kalevi Kull, Søren Brier, Frederick Stjernfelt, John Deely and others. She has been particularly influenced by the work of Gregory Bateson in thinking about living communicative systems, and about how formal and organisational patterns and semiosis in nature are repeated in cultural and aesthetic forms and meanings. She is especially interested in the ways in which biosemiotic process systems theories can provide useful tools for research in the medical and the ecological humanities.

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Wendy Wheeler received First Class Honours in English Literature from North London Polytechnic in 1986 and an M.A. in Critical Theory from the University of Sussex in 1987. Her PhD from the University of Sussex was awarded in 1994 for a thesis on postmodernism as cultural mourning and melancholia in the contemporary English novel. In 2009, she was awarded a DLitt from London Metropolitan University. Her first monograph, A New Modernity: Change in Science, Literature and Politics (1999), looked at changes taking place across a number of disciplines which seemed to indicate contemporary endeavours to begin to think through a post-Cartesian, more holistic approach to human selves and the world. The book’s final chapter dealt with the emergence of complex evolutionary systems approaches. Her second monograph, The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics and the Evolution of Culture (2006), used biosemiotic systems understandings in order to address the question of the role of biology in a non-reductionist (i.e. non-sociobiological) understanding of culture. The 2001 open-access e-book Biosemiotics is a biosemiotics Reader which introduced Peircean semiotics and process philosophy to an Anglophone audience more familiar with the semiology of F. de Saussure. Wheeler is currently completing her new monograph, The Flame and Its Shadow: Reflections on Nature and Culture from a Biosemiotic Perspective (2015). Wheeler has been a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh (2010) and a Visiting Professor on the Environmental Studies programme at the University of Oregon (2012-13). She is currently Visiting Professor in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmith, University of London, and in the School of Art, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

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"The Modern Synthesis…gave expression a mechanistic and reductionist model of evolution…later supported by Francis Crick’s articulation of the unidirectionality of the Central Dogma’s evolutionary thesis…Together these two materialist and deterministic precepts attained the status of nearly unassailable truth. As the philosopher Thomas Nagel has noted, ‘Physico-chemical reductionism in biology is the orthodox view, and any resistance to it is regarded as not only scientifically but politically incorrect.’ From the point of view of scientific discovery as an open and ongoing process, the dogmatism to which Nagel refers represents a rather parlous state of affairs."

(Tongues I’ll Hang on Every Tree”: Biosemiotics and the Book of Nature’, in L. Westling, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Environment. p.121)

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