Support of Scientific Research

Tracking the Human

Technologies of collecting, ordering and comparing

Problem of relevant knowledge

Humans have been examined in many research projects. Scientists from a range of disciplines seek insights into the human body. Cancer registers, data collection, drug development and design, neuroimaging and various other scientific methods and tools, applied in biology, medicine, pharmacology, as well as the social sciences contribute to the production of scientifically relevant knowledge. In addition, it has been emphasized for several years that those developments are at the same time socially relevant and economically serviceable.

Social context

Interestingly enough, scientific research is inevitably coined by certain pre-determined ideas and assumptions about how humans function. These institutionalized, but never challenged ideas sometimes allow for further scientific advancement, but they may also hamper it. The current project deals with this problem. The study is based on the assumption that different scientific techniques may yield insight into the human being and the characteristics that determine its nature.

This interdisciplinary project approaches four scientific fields from a comparative perspective. It intends to integrate the results into a comprehensive picture serving as a background for understanding scientific procedures and the social consequences of research tracking the human.

Project Closure 2011

In June 2011, the Collegium Helveticum (Prof. Dr. Gerd Folkers and MSc Martin Boyer, Dr. Rainer Egloff, Dr. Priska Gisler, Dr. Beatrix Rubin) completed their scientific research project “Tracking the Human“ that had been funded by the Hirschmann Foundation during three years. The project was concerned with the question of how mankind produces socially relevant knowledge. The final publication appeared in the Edition Collegium Helveticum as one volume on June 7, 2011: Modell Mensch. Konturierung des Menschlichen in den Wissenschaften. Ed. Rainer Egloff, Priska Gisler and Beatrix Rubin. Edition Collegium Helveticum 7. Zurich Chronos 2011, ISBN 978-3-0340-1075-7.

For Case Studies

The research team focused on the production of scientific knowledge about human bodies, beings, lives in the following four case studies:

- The project about unmet medical needs approaches a human being that has been molecularly categorized and constructed by the life sciences (Gerd Folkers und Martin Boyer).

- The study about the neurosciences investigates the interplay between a scientific and a cultural understanding of the human brain (Beatrix Rubin).

- The research about the shifting scientific practices in the banking of biological materials focuses on the collected human and its scientific, cultural, and political body parts (Priska Gisler).

- The investigation of the culture and personality studies is interested in human lives that have been and are culturally conditioned (Rainer Egloff).

Interdisciplinary Research

The research team at the Collegium Helveticum believes that for interdisciplinary projects to be successful, a range of scientific thought styles, concepts and methodo-logical practices contribute to knowledge about the human. Their research asks how different technologies of collecting, ordering and comparing have contributed to the idea of mankind, and where they come to their limits respectively. The interdisciplinary undertaking approaches four scientific fields from a comparative perspective.

It intends to integrate the results into a comprehensive picture serving as a background for understanding scientific traditions and their social implications, chances and limits of research, tracking the human.


The project is conducted by scientists who belong to the Collegium Helveticum, an institute at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich. The Collegium is a laboratory for transdisciplinarity that is involved in the exchange between natural sciences, engineering, humanities, art and medicine.

The foundation committed itself with a yearly donation of CHF 300,000 for three years (2008 - 2010).