Biofinance: Speculation, Risk, Debt, and Value from Bios

I’m pleased to announce that I will be presenting on this panel at the American Anthropological Association’s 115th conference in Minneapolis on Friday, November 18th, 2016! My paper considers how financial industry logic shapes the aims and products of biomedical research. Click through for more info.

AAA 2016 Panel: Biofinance: Speculation, Risk, Debt, and Value from Bios

Friday, November 18, 8-9:45AM

Hilton, Room Conrad C


Organizer(s): Kirk Fiereck, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Chair(s): David Pedersen, University of California, San Diego

Discussant(s): Kristin Peterson, University of California, Irvine

The world’s leading anthropology scholars agree that the emergence of novel value forms, commonly understood as biocapital, impact local, transnational, and global populations. However, most analyses limit their understanding of this impact by focusing on the cultural logics of capitalist production, or industrial biocapital. Such analysis reduces our understanding of the complexity of the cultures of global health science as well as the dynamics that shape bioeconomies globally to an idiom of capitalist production and have thus far ignored the impact of financial circulation and the financialization of health. While these studies offer much needed theorizations of the imbrication of biomedicine with industrial capital, they also occlude new forms of risk (systemic and otherwise), debt (the links between risk and health surfeits), value (e.g., human capital) and property (the replacement of the “healthy patient” endowed with “rights to health” by the “health entrepreneur” investing in a “self-as-risk-portfolio”) produced by the circulatory cultural logics of a form of biocapital some have called “surplus health.” This panel explores the emergence of biofinancial practices and discourses, such as treating abstract biomedical risks instead of diseases, as productive of a new species of speculative capital that can be understood as biofinancal in character. The materiality of biofinance is underpinned by the emergence of the global clinical trial to test therapeutic molecules among disparate, yet similar, populations. These trials also seek to produce abstract risk calculations that circulate globally. Unlike traditional clinical trials, which are social forms tied to raced, national regimes of biofinancial wealth, global clinical trials create the conditions for the transnational circulation of biofinancial capital while simultaneously producing and effacing new forms of debt and risks faced by trial participants as well as future patients in local contexts. Similar to anthropological analyses of financial capital, the biofinancializaton of global health works to encompass other cultures through the circulation of Euro-American social categories, such as race, gender, sexuality and personhood. This panel seeks to inquire about these and other aspects of biofinance: 1) What are the uneven contours of the biofinancialization of global health, and how do people experience these processes in their daily lives across various forms of social difference (i.e., race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, etc)? 2) What new forms of risk are produced through biofinancial accumulation (abstract, concrete, systemic, and surplus) and how do individuals and groups understand and experience these risks; 3) How might biofinance create new and/or unacknowledged forms of debt? And 4) What forms of evidence, accident and discovery does biofinance entail as well as efface?

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