restricted access Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets ed. by Kaushik Sunder Rajan (review)
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Reviewed by
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, ed. Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2012. ix + 512 pp. Ill. $29.95 (978-0-8223-4831-3).

The production of new or repurposed biotechnologies requires—and is enabled by—a vast assemblage of objects, ideas, and markets. It is easy to attribute to this production a single-minded purposefulness. Where the causal observer might understand bioscience as marching steadily toward a horizon of progress (or one of its linked concepts: comfort, longevity, connectedness, convenience, expedience), others see manifold occult sciences that have launched the corporatization of the life sciences, or the alchemic restyling of objects through a process of market-oriented naturalization over the past four decades. In order to examine the ethics and forms of governance that either coalesce or diverge around the advent of so-call emergent biotechnologies, Lively Capital takes as its object “capital” in the Marxist sense (though not always strictly) to appraise technologies that mediate living.

Lively Capital is a challenging, fiercely analytical, and ambitious collection of thirteen essays, tied together by an excellent introduction and epilogue by the editor, Kaushik Sunder Rajan. Rajan does readers a tremendous service by not only introducing the essays, but also making clear the threads that connect each essay and, in the end, drawing those threads more tightly together as a thesis. The contributors tackle the difficult dimensions of the emergence of global bio-technology through the historical, political, commercial, institutional, legal, and social forces implicated in its shaping. The essays are careful to distinguish the plural character of these objects, actors, and imaginaries—some seen and some less visible. The chapters move between laboratories and cities, between universities and courtrooms, between the tangible and the imperceptible, through various scales from the molecular to the global, in the United States, China, Japan, France, and elsewhere. It is rare to find an edited volume that covers so many diverse and seemingly disparate topics and yet demonstrates such symmetry between its individual contributions.

There are ideas in the volume that stand out. What I find interesting is the conceptualization of emergence itself. Throughout the book there are references to the emergence of technoscience, the emergence of a social, historical emergence, the body and bodies emerging, emergent indeterminacy, and the emergence of powerful and not so powerful systems. Here, it is the chronology of emergence in particular that makes its conceptualization so striking, as emergence is always “in time” and simultaneously out of step with time, always coming into its time. The essays offer specific cases that form a productive ungleichzeitigkeit; a kind of non-synchronistic telling of often unlinked events and milestones over the past several decades that, together, put the modifier “new” (as in new technoscience or the new life sciences, or even new wealth or new markets) under scrutiny. The notion of emergence gives the essays in the volume an historical and epistemological tenor that unbinds “biotechnology” from this adhesive quality of “newness.” Emergence is not simply a theoretical gesture, but a reordering of the conditions of possibility [End Page 706] in time, as these possibilities are continually contested and reformed over time. There are of course important moments along way, while not always instances of rupture épistémologique, remain hugely important to this story—one example is the Bayh-Dole Act that passed the U.S. Congress in 1980, which aimed to facilitate the transfer of technology between academe and industry in the United States, leading basic research at universities down a decidedly more entrepreneurial path. But as he notes in his introduction, Rajan seeks to avoid the obvious narrative in which “the private encroaches on the public” (p. 5), opting instead for a trickier rendering of biotechnologies and their markets as inflected with the concerns of life as it is lived in the everyday, with institutions directed by actors who debate value, and with so-called epistemic objects whose fixity would be an analytic luxury.

It is worth noting a few individual contributions to give readers a sense of how robust and “lively” the chapters of Lively Capital truly are. Through a reimagining of Marx’s idea of “surplus...