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1 March 2013 Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets
Brett Edwards
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The edited volume Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets is the primary output of a process that began in 2004 with a workshop of the same name, held at the University of California, Irvine. Amassing an interdisciplinary group of scholars (i.e., African studies, anthropology, comparative literature, history of consciousness, public policy, rhetoric, science and technology studies, and sociology), the workshop examined how new legal, social, cultural, and institutional mechanisms were emerging to regulate nascent biotechnologies. It is these broad areas of inquiry that constitute the relationship between conceptions of biotechnology and the market, and it is this relationship that is the focus of the book.

Lively Capital begins with a brief summary of the historical and sociological processes by which the life sciences— and biotechnology, in particular—have become increasingly commercialized, most notably in university settings. Universities in the United States have set a historic precedent for commercializing the process of biotechnology research, which has made the actual scientific discovery process more responsive to the pull and influence of market forces. However, differences in approach among these institutions reveal a certain level of plasticity in how emerging biotechnologies are integrated into systems that generate social value, such as intellectual property regimes.

The book raises questions about the nature of these processes and about the effects that scientific and market systems have on each other. On one level, Lively Capital focuses on the developing global response to the emergence of biotechnologies—a discussion involving rational questions about monetary value and risk, as well as more emotionally charged questions about science and technology, which “impinge on experiences of embodiment, kinship, identity, disability, citizenship, accumulation, or dispossession” (p. 16). On another level, the book reflects on the philosophical questions of how to make sense of this science—market relationship. In this respect, the work focuses on discovering trends and on how scholars have attempted to study the ways in which this relationship is negotiated and experienced.

Editor Kaushik Sunder Rajan argues that the “theoretical question at the heart of this volume is not to come up with the theory of life or capital or governance or globalization or markets or neoliberalism, but it is rather to come up with forms of inquiry that are adequate to studying a contemporary conjuncture of the life sciences and capital” (p. 23). He also expresses a desire to facilitate continued exchanges among these forms of inquiry—a collaboration that is often thwarted by disciplinary divides. To Rajan's credit, a convincing argument is made that the issues surrounding the science-market relationship can be satisfactorily addressed by interdisciplinary research, which reaches beyond the standard epistemological and methodological boundaries of established forms of inquiry.

To this end, the book showcases diverse approaches from the social sciences and humanities and includes topics such as environmental politics, the ethics of biomedical technologies, intellectual property law, and experimental epistemology of life science research. The methodological approach adopted by each contributor is qualitative in nature and relies heavily on detailed descriptions of case studies as diverse as the historical commodification of dogs and the promise of new biomedical interventions for autism. The terminology, tone, and style of each essay is quite distinct. As a result, the book does not lend itself well to a cover-to-cover reading. However, each piece of research provides a stimulating account of intellectual inquiry.


Viewed as a whole, the volume has been thoughtfully edited to balance the need for conceptual structure with a sensitivity to the diverse approaches of the contributing authors. Rajan's contributions give the reader a solid conceptual grounding—no mean feat, considering the compounding effects of epistemological and methodological pluralism. The editor's commentary enables the contributors, many of whom are world renowned in their fields, to engage in analysis in a way that is not overly formulaic or confined to surface-level examination.

The editorial presentation of Lively Capital will not appeal to those who seek clear-cut solutions to the philosophical and political problems raised by the commercialization of the life sciences. Equally obtuse are the conclusions about the nature and trajectories of the relationship between the practice of life science research and market-driven values. Despite this, Rajan nevertheless manages to provide a concise analysis of the book's contributions in its closing section. He breaks them down into three interrelated forms of inquiry: (1) Empirical: In what ways are these new conjunctures of science and capital forcing us to recalibrate our “vocabulary of social theory that we have inherited”? (2) Methodological: How do we make sense of what we see and convey our understanding to others? And (3) political: What larger ramifications will “these empirical and conceptual interventions” have? (pp. 437–38). This work, then, is as much about the study of the commodification of biotechnology as it is about the actual commodification of biotechnology.

In many ways, Lively Capital reflects both the challenges and the benefits of adopting an interdisciplinary approach to researching an issue. As a result, the book provides a thought-provoking read for those with an interest in the processes of commodification and in the politics of emerging bioeconomies.

Brett Edwards "Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets," BioScience 63(3), 230-231, (1 March 2013).
Published: 1 March 2013

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