ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P47)

Risk, value, ethics: the political logics of transnational finance and medicine

Location Appleton Tower, Seminar Room 2.04
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 14:00

Convenor

Philip Grant (University of Edinburgh) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

Ethnographic work identifies forms of and debates over value, risk and subjectivity common to finance and biomedicine. Despite transnational flows of expert rationalities, the entanglement of health and wealth in various locations is shaped by radically divergent ethico-political stakes.

Long Abstract

Finance and medicine are today distinct domains of expert practice and knowledge production, even more so than in the time of Adam Smith. Yet wealth and health are as empirically and conceptually entangles as a quarter of a millennium ago. Drawing variously on medical and economic anthropology, and the social studies of science and technology and of finance, we explore the mutual constitution of health and wealth comparatively, juxtaposing articulations of concepts and practices at multiple sites. Both finance theory, a branch of economics, and biomedicine, are conventionally presented as essentially rational and transcultural, whatever their local manifestations. An ethnographic approach emphasises the shared transational character of these two assemblages of practice, while urging attentiveness to the inevitably local character of the practice of finance, biomedicine, and bioethics. Our interlocutors are diverse experts: New York finance lawyers, Edinburgh and London pension fund managers, Tehran psychiatrists and nephrologists, as well as kidney donors, Shiite clerics, and heterodox economists. There are strong similarities across sites when it comes to the centrality of value and risk, debates about rationalities, or modes of subject-formation. At the same time interventions in the form of Shiite jurisprudence, Persian translations of psychoanalytic texts, or claims about ethical capitalism versus speculation allow radically different ethical and political emphases to emerge. Juxtaposing these diverse sites allows us to reframe the problematic of health and wealth as ethico-political, therefore, rather than simply a question of improving technological interventions, probabilistic analyses of evidence, or schematic post hoc ethical justifications.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

What is left of Adam Smith? Enlightenment, wealth and well-being: a reading of contemporary financial markets

Author: Philip Grant (University of Edinburgh)  email

Summary

Exploration of the relevance and limits of Adam Smith's work for anthropological study of contemporary financial markets emphasises the unavoidably social and ethical character of investment and speculation, meaning that finance ought to be a central concern of moral philosophy.

Long Abstract

It is a commonplace for contemporary, post-financial crisis advocates of a continuing, but reformed 'capitalism' to refer back to the work of Adam Smith; it is almost a commonplace to point out that many of these advocates have probably read almost none of The Wealth of Nations except a handful of pages, and none at all of Theory of Moral Sentiments. From the perspective of anthropologists and historians, many of the central claims of Smith's work, for instance with respect to barter and money, are empirically baseless, while the mainstream of the modern discipline of economics long ago rejected his labour theory of value, as well as those of his immediate successors, and Marx's critical account thereof. This paper asks, therefore, what it is modern commentators find so valuable in Smith, and then goes on to explore the limits of what both these modern distillations of Smith and Smith's ideas more deeply considered can tell us about the logic of contemporary financial markets, restoring to these markets a social and ethical character that would have seemed important to Smith the moral philosopher, even if his conclusions were somewhat different.

Prozàk diaries of Tehran: psychiatric subjectivities, medicalization from below, and possibilities for theory

Author: Orkideh Behrouzan (King's College London)  email

Summary

An investigation into emerging psychiatric mindsets vis-a-vis sociopolitical change in post-war Iran.

Long Abstract

In this article I examine the emergence of public psychiatric discourses in 1990s Iran, and the epistemic and generational shift towards public discussions of psychiatric pathologies. I examine the linguistic and cultural shifts that underlie the normalisation of the term dépréshen in post-war Iran. I argue that psychiatrization of psychological distress in Iran was not simply the outcome of an authoritative biomedical discourse; but that the contemporary Iranian discourse of āsib-e roohi (distress of the soul) and āsib-e ejtémā'i (social distress) evolved from within Iranian clinical and non-clinical practices, and out of the "phantastic persuasion" of biomedical discourses. The term psychiatric subjectivity describes conditions where individuals performatively incorporate and articulate their desires, hopes, and anxieties as embodied in individual and collective brains and internalize psychiatry as a mode of thinking. Adding a trajectory to existing formulations of somatic individualities (Rose 2003), I suggest possibilities for theory from the heart of socio-historical ruptures, including the Iran-Iraq War and the 1980s Cultural Revolution. I underscore patients' historicization and medicalization at once, arguing that psychiatrically medicalized individuals are performative actors in the discursive formation of both biomedical and social truth. Generational memories of ruptures cannot be mapped onto biomedical diagnoses, nor orthodox debates on medicalization. Dépréshen, in the larger sense of the word, has become one way to navigate ruptured pasts, slippery presents and uncertain futures.

Costa Rica as experimental battlefield: pesticides, economics, and public health

Author: Kees Jansen (Wageningen University)  email

Summary

This paper examines pesticide regulation in Costa Rica, where the business conflict between generic pesticide producers and research-based companies has caused dramatic swings in risk regulation, intensified social struggle and undermined state performance. The paper analyses actor strategies and contrasting views on nature, risks, and regulation.

Long Abstract

The recent dynamic history of pesticide regulation in Costa Rica is used as a case to discuss how competing market forces can cause dramatic swings in risk analysis and environmental governance, intensify social struggle and undermine state performance.  Producers/traders of pesticides whose main business is based on patented pesticides come into conflict with the environmental groups and political forces behind pesticide regulation.  We analyse the contrasting views and strategies of different actors with regards to nature, risks, risk management, trust in specific business groups, and the scope of environmental, agricultural and health policy.  Not only regionally but also globally, Costa Rica is seen as the experimental battlefield for the larger confrontation between Generics and Brands as well as for the question to what extent economic interests should be given room to shape environmental/agricultural/health policies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.