The Constitution of Postgenomic Life


Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: Published: April 2006

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Science and Technology Studies

Biocapital is a major theoretical contribution to science studies and political economy. Grounding his analysis in a multi-sited ethnography of genomic research and drug development marketplaces in the United States and India, Kaushik Sunder Rajan argues that contemporary biotechnologies such as genomics can only be understood in relation to the economic markets within which they emerge. Sunder Rajan conducted fieldwork in biotechnology labs and in small start-up companies in the United States (mostly in the San Francisco Bay area) and India (mainly in New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bombay) over a five-year period spanning 1999 to 2004. He draws on his research with scientists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and policymakers to compare drug development in the two countries, examining the practices and goals of research, the financing mechanisms, the relevant government regulations, and the hype and marketing surrounding promising new technologies. In the process, he illuminates the global flow of ideas, information, capital, and people connected to biotech initiatives.

Sunder Rajan’s ethnography informs his theoretically sophisticated inquiry into how the contemporary world is shaped by the marriage of biotechnology and market forces, by what he calls technoscientific capitalism. Bringing Marxian theories of value into conversation with Foucaultian notions of biopolitics, he traces how the life sciences came to be significant producers of both economic and epistemic value in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first.


Biocapital has more than enough interesting verifiable claims to make it essential reading for anyone studying biotechnology and other contemporary hype-driven fields like nanotechnology and alternative energy.” — Joseph November, ISIS

Biocapital is a deft, complex, and carefully argued work.” — Cori Hayden, American Anthropologist

Biocapital presents an intriguing analysis of the bioscience industry, especially the capitalist imperatives behind technological developments. . . . Thus for the bioethics audience it presents an engaging study of the biosciences both in relation to the presentation and valuation of ethics and the interdependence of science and markets.” — Kean Birch, American Journal of Bioethics

“An interesting book where terms are carefully defined and the approaches and theoretical perspectives are laid bare. It would be a great book for an advanced course in medical anthropology or technology studies. . . .” — Cameron Adams, Journal of Biosocial Science

“…as much as it is now a narrative of the development of biocapital from the late twentieth century, this volume may even be read as a prediction of the current constitution of biocapital close to a decade after it was first published.” — Kai Khiun Liew, East Asian Science, Technology and Society

Biocapital is an ambitious book; its conceptual scope has the potential to remake conversation in the human sciences. There is really nothing like the argument and synthesis Kaushik Sunder Rajan provides, which is surprising given how important his topic is.” — Lawrence Cohen, author of No Aging in India: Alzheimer’s, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things

Biocapital is excellent. It offers new insight into both late capitalism and the life sciences and also provides material and arguments for rethinking foundational concepts such as ‘valuation’ and ‘exchange.’” — Kim Fortun, author of Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders

“Reading Kaushik Sunder Rajan’s Biocapital fills me with the same intellectual and personal excitement I felt reading Marx’s Capital and Foucault’s History of Sexuality for the first time. Biocapital gives a passionate, thoroughly argued road map to dense and consequential worlds that I already inhabit, but have not known how to describe with the vividness and acumen required. Sunder Rajan integrates and explores in depth what many others only promise; i.e., the coproductions of meanings, values, and bodies in emerging regimes of biocapital. In the course of shaping ethnographic and theoretical inquiry into what he calls ‘lively capital,’ Sunder Rajan gives his readers lively value in every sense.” — Donna Haraway, author of Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kaushik Sunder Rajan is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.

Kaushik Sunder Rajan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of BIOCAPITAL: THE CONSTITUTION OF POSTGENOMIC LIFE (2006).

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Capitalisms and Biotechnologies 1

Part I. Circulations

1. Exchange and Value: Contradictions in Market Logic in American and Indian Genome Enterprises 39

2. Life and Debt: Global and Local Political Ecologies of Biocapital 77

Part II. Articulations

3. Vision and Hype: The Conjuration of Promissory Biocapitalist Futures 107

4. Promise and Fetish: Genomic Facts and Personalized Medicine, or Life Is a Business Plan 138

5. Salvation and Nation: Underlying Belief Structures of Biocapital 182

6. Entrepeneurs and Start-Ups: The Story of an E-learning Company 234

Coda: Surplus and Symptom 277

Notes 289

References 315

Index 327
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3720-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3708-9
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