Fungible Life

Experiment in the Asian City of Life

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: October 2016

Author: Aihwa Ong

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies, Science and Technology Studies > Philosophy of Science

In Fungible Life Aihwa Ong explores the dynamic world of cutting-edge bioscience research, offering critical insights into the complex ways Asian bioscientific worlds and cosmopolitan sciences are entangled in a tropical environment brimming with the threat of emergent diseases. At biomedical centers in Singapore and China scientists map genetic variants, disease risks, and biomarkers, mobilizing ethnicized "Asian" bodies and health data for genomic research. Their differentiation between Chinese, Indian, and Malay DNA makes fungible Singapore's ethnic-stratified databases that come to "represent" majority populations in Asia. By deploying genomic science as a public good, researchers reconfigure the relationships between objects, peoples, and spaces, thus rendering "Asia" itself as a shifting entity. In Ong's analysis, Asia emerges as a richly layered mode of entanglements, where the population's genetic pasts, anxieties and hopes, shared genetic weaknesses, and embattled genetic futures intersect. Furthermore, her illustration of the contrasting methods and goals of the Biopolis biomedical center in Singapore and BGI Genomics in China raises questions about the future direction of cosmopolitan science in Asia and beyond.


"Anyone interested in cosmopolitan flows of knowledge and risk will find this book of value, as the phenomena that it describes and the methodologies that Ong uses seem to me to be readily transferable. .  . .  I particularly enjoy the way Ong fits the situated nature of her own authorship, including her Asian background, her family history of cancer and so on, seamlessly into her account. . . . [A] beautiful and engaging piece of writing and an important contribution to a wide spectrum of knowledge."
  — Flora Samuel, Times Higher Education

"Embracing a new frontier, Ong’s latest work tackles our fear of the unknown in genomic research, concerns about multiple levels of research ethics, and our curiosity about genomic research’s implications for Chinese and Asian identity, which in turn has implications for human identity as a whole. This book on biomedical research is suitable for graduate students and scholars interested in the production of knowledge, science and technology studies, medical anthropology and sociology, ethnic studies, public health, and broadly Asian Studies."
  — Fang Xu, New Books Asia

"This book is an essential contribution to a comparative anthropology of biosentinels through a refined and accessible ethnography of two biotech centers in Singapore and Shenzhen, showing how a future is taking shape in which Asia will play a prominent role." — Frederic Keck, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Ong's book is a deep dive in the complex role of the state, universities, firms, research stars, and knowledge about genetics in shaping the development of Singapore, in particular, as a key space in the development of scientific knowledge. After reading it you can better understand why universities like Duke and Imperial College seek (and need) to have a formal institutional presence in Singapore, and in association with key national partner universities like NUS and NTU. The Ong book, thus, provides insights on the geographical-, historical-, and sectoral -specific developments that these universities are currently navigating." — Kris Olds, Inside Higher Ed

Fungible Life is an important addition to the growing literature in area-speci?c science studies, and an important intervention in the anthropology of science scholarship on racialised science. . . . Well worth the investment for anyone interested in how race, ethnicity and science are made in Asia today.” — Katherine A. Mason, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

“Ong skillfully provides an accessible and lucid account of the intersection of ethnicity, biopolitics and uncertainties in Asia’s bioscientific world. Fungible Life is a valuable addition to fields such as the anthropology of Asia, medical anthropology, and science and technology studies. It is also highly accessible for readers of various levels.” — Yifeng Cai, Social Anthropology

"The productive uncertainties and ethnic heuristics that Aihwa Ong examines in her study of Singapore’s Biopolis enrich our understanding of ethnicity in postgenomic Asia. These are the major contributions of Fungible Life." — Wen-Ching Sung, American Ethnologist

"Fungible Life combines an understanding of bioscience research with the economic geography of research locations, the political economy of ecosystem formation, and the anthropological understanding of its significance." — K.C. Ho, Pacific Affairs

"Ong’s project touches on many important topics at the intersections of genes and diseases, ethnicities and identities, and bioeconomies and nation building. However, the analysis at times can seem repetitive. . . . This book provides an important groundwork for scholars whose interests intersect between social studies of biomedicine, postcolonial science, and Asian studies." — Tien Dung Ha, New Genetics and Society

"Taking up the question of how scientific knowledge is governed at a global scale, Aihwa Ong addresses the neglected yet critically important ways cutting-edge life sciences are 'translated' to non-European and non-U.S. sites. With an expansive theoretical horizon and broad conceptual goals, Fungible Life is of interest to scholars in medical anthropology, the anthropology of science and technology, science and technology studies, and those who study comparative modernities in contemporary Asia." — Andrew Lakoff, author of Pharmaceutical Reason: Knowledge and Value in Global Psychiatry

"A tour de force, Fungible Life grapples with emerging 'cosmopolitan science.' Aihwa Ong deftly reveals how researchers in Biopolis, a towering research center in Singapore, de-center the Euro-American view of the global in order to incorporate particularities of 'Asian' difference. Paradoxically, to become universal, cosmopolitan science must embrace the local. Ong’s trailblazing ethnography exposes local objectives 'coded' into Asian postgenomics that assist Biopolis in foreseeing the future, reducing population health risks, and customizing therapeutics." — Margaret Lock, author of The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Aihwa Ong is Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, the author of Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty and Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality, and the coeditor of Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate, all also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Prologue: Enigmatic Variations  ix

Acknowledgments  xxiii

Introduction: Inventing a City of Life  1

Part I. Risks

1. Where the Wild Genes Are  29

2. An Atlas of Asian Diseases  51

3. Smoldering Fire  73

Part II. Uncertainties

4. The Productive Uncertainty of Bioethics  93

5. Virtue and Expatriate Scientists  113

6. Perturbing Life  136

Part III. Known Unknowns

7. A Single Wave  157

8. "Viruses Don't Carry Passports"  174

9. The "Athlete Gene" in China's Future  197

Epilogue: A DNA Bridge and an Octopus's Garden  223

Notes  239

Bibliography  257

Index  271
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6264-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6249-4
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