Programme

(T177)
Economies of Life in Biomedicine
Location 134
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Javier Lezaun (Oxford University ) email
  • Natalie Porter (University of Notre Dame) email

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Discussant Kaushik Sunder Rajan (University of Chicago)

Short Abstract

This session explores how new configurations of value emerge around the research objects and apparatuses of the life sciences, and the fluid nature of economic categories in the material worlds of biomedicine.

Long Abstract

This session explores how new configurations of value emerge around the research objects and apparatuses of the life sciences, and the fluid nature of economic categories in the material worlds of biomedicine.

The session combines studies of biomedical research in the contemporary, post-genomic life sciences, with historical reconstructions of once promising research techniques that have since been forgotten.

A particular theme that runs across many of the presentations is how the relationship between human and non-human (animal) entities, a defining feature of many biomedical research contexts, is modulated to produce new categories of value. The exchange of species characteristics and the circulation of novel biological traits thus become key to the emergence of new forms of economic activity.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Bringing Metabolism to the Cloud: Changing Configurations of Value and Ownership in Biomedical Data Economies

Author: Nadine Levin (UCLA)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the emergence of cloud-computing “economies” in the field of metabolomics, and how shifts in the way that data is stored and disseminated entails shifts in the configurations of value and ownership in data-intensive, biomedical economies.

Long Abstract

Given the increasing "bigness" of post-genomic data—both in the size and complexity of datasets—biomedical researchers have developed technical innovations to cope with the challenges of interpreting and making sense of data. Cloud-based computing, typified in services offered by data giants Amazon and Google, has emerged as a potential solution for coping with the "data deluge" of post-genomic science. And yet, cloud computing is also changing how researchers organize, store, analyze, and communicate their data

This paper considers the emergence of cloud-computing "economies" in the field of metabolomics, the post-genomic study of the molecules and processes of metabolism, and one of the fastest growing omics. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork with the UK and US metabolomics community, this paper examines the practices and rhetoric surrounding cloud-based developments at research institutions (Imperial College London, European Bioinformatics Institute, Scripps Research Institute) and instrument manufacturers.

This paper critically examines debates about the design of cloud-based science infrastructures, as a window onto the changing notions of data ownership and value in biomedical communities. As researchers claim that cloud-based computing confers undeniable benefits—reducing local hardware costs, enabling data analysis to scale with data size—I argue that cloud computing raises key questions about the economies of data: about who owns data in the long term, and who controls capacity and infrastructure? Ultimately, this paper contributes to STS scholarship on how the emergence of digital, neoliberal infrastructures and economies is changing the practices and politics of knowledge in the biomedical sciences.

Chimeric Life and the Humanization of Biology

Author: Amy Hinterberger (University of Warwick)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I examine the material constitution of the category human within chimeric life forms. Chimeras, I argue, are foundational figures in biology, helping to establish ideas about what constitutes an organism and an individual.

Long Abstract

Chimeras are increasingly becoming an emblematic figure of post-genomic biology. This is because they represent genomic multitudes, defying conventional wisdom that there is only one genome in one organism (or body). In this paper, I examine the material constitution of the category human within chimeric life forms. To do this, the paper takes in a wide swath of chimeric life: from hydras pulled out of lakes near former Petrograd, to experimental mice in Wales, to the yet to be realized chimeras of translational medicine. My investigations are motivated by the observation that theoretical moves away from the human, and towards materiality, have been chronically uninterested in the material constitution of the human itself.

I seek to loosen the somewhat compelling grip that chimeric life has as liminal, monstrous and on the margins of life. Chimeras, I argue, are foundational figures in biology, helping to establish ideas about what constitutes an organism and an individual. To the story of the chimera, this paper replies with another story, that of the human research subject, which intends to undo the former. The material constitution of the category human at the cellular and molecular level, I suggest, should provoke a renewed interest in this supposedly settled domain. To turn away from this, may result in complicity, which can magnify, as opposed to undo the figure of the human as the central organizing figure of knowledge and morality in the twenty-first century.

Immunity and new economic circuits in malaria research

Author: Javier Lezaun (Oxford University )  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses the ongoing effort to create mice capable of being infected with human malaria parasites, and explores immunomodulation, the process of deliberately altering an organism’s immune responses, as a practice for the reconfiguration of economic value in biomedicine.

Long Abstract

This paper explores immunomodulation, the process of deliberately altering an organism's immune responses, as a practice for the reconfiguration of economic value in biomedicine. By creating new forms of compatibility between organisms, immunomodulation enables novel kinds of biological exchange across species barriers, thus creating new circuits of biological and economic circulation. The paper examines these questions in relation to the ongoing project to create mice capable of being infected with human malaria parasites. This involves strains of immunosuppressed transgenic mice, engrafted with human red blood or liver cells capable of hosting the parasites that cause malaria in humans. The paper describes this effort to turn the mouse into a willing receptor of foreign tissues and bodies, and how economic and immunitary dimensions overlay in the new patterns of circulation that this new, less-discriminating animal allows.

Seeing cellular debris: the past and the afterlife of a forgotten technique

Author: Ann Kelly (King's College London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper takes as its focus a method of mosquito dissection pioneered by Soviet entomologists in the 1940s, and explores how an abandoned and largely unpracticed evidentiary practice can still articulate the pasts and afterlives of tropical medicine and global health research.

Long Abstract

What is the epistemic status of the abandoned technique? What light can effective, yet neglected, diagnostic methods and devices shed on the historicity of testing and the material cultures of knowledge production? This paper takes as its focus a method of mosquito dissection pioneered in the 1940s by a team of vector biologists based at the Moscow Martsinovsky Institute. The Detinova Technique offered a way to determine the exact physiological age of the female mosquito, providing critical insight into the ecological dynamics of disease transmission. Heralded as a game-changer for global malaria eradication efforts, the technique prompted new collaborations and rivalries between East and West played out in large part, across the African content. Its applied potential, however, was never realized, and while it remains the most accurate means of ascertaining the age—and, by extension the infectivity—of a vector population, the Detinova technique is today practiced by only a handful of entomologists. Drawing together empirical and archival materials from Africa, Russia and the UK this paper explores the historiographic significance of this method for our current understandings of malaria control and more broadly, the ways in which, an abandoned and largely unpracticed evidentiary practice articulates the pasts and afterlives of tropical medicine and global health research.

Trans-Asian Animal Collectives and the New Regions of Biosecurity

Author: Natalie Porter (University of Notre Dame)  email

Short Abstract

This paper charts how zoonotic and vector-borne disease control programs link sociotechnial infrastructures, financial institutions, and bureaucratic systems to contain animal bodies, animal pathogens, and animal capital in new, trans-Asian regions of biosecurity.

Long Abstract

Over the last decade, zoonoses and vector-borne diseases have brought a range of institutions and actors together in a concerted effort to address threats to public health. These responses are articulated on the one hand within a One World, One Health agenda that seeks to integrate human, animal, and environmental health; and on the other hand within a biosecurity order that seeks to manage health security on a global scale. While proponents of these processes celebrate the worldwide reach of newly connected experts and institutions, critics point to damaging extraterritorial interventions in at-risk locales. Yet, the topologies of transboundary disease control are more nuanced than global and local imaginings suggest. In this paper, I posit regions as the primary scales and spaces for identifying and addressing transboundary diseases. In Asia, One World, One Health biosecurity regimes integrate sociotechnical devices and shoe leather epidemiology to map the circulations of animal collectives: animal bodies, animal pathogens, and animal capital. These animal collectives traverse and divide space in ways that resist local, national, and even global approaches to health governance. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research in East and Southeast Asia, I chart how disease control programs link commodity chains, sociotechnical infrastructures, financial institutions, and bureaucratic systems in order to capture and contain animal collectives in new, trans-Asian regions of biosecurity. These biosecure regions, moreover, are articulated within and against more sedimented spaces of security forged by historical efforts to contain other threatening collectives in Asia: colonial subjects and Communist agitators.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.