[-empyre-] Cellular Risk and Political Risk

Bishnupriya Ghosh bg366 at cornell.edu
Thu Nov 15 06:38:51 EST 2012

Hi there--

I find Hannah Landecker's chapter on Hela very informative: cell cultures that are fostered and grow outside of their "originary" human subjects are simply called "immortal cell lines" (not my coinage). The thing with Hela is now we know the whole story and are troubled with the ethics. I'm sure there are many many stories that we do not know, too. For example, more recently historians have written about the "benefits" we all accrue from syphilis research-- the infamous Tuskegee experiment on black men in the U.S. and Guatemala (see, http://www.wellesley.edu/WomenSt/Synopsis%20Reverby%20'Normal%20Exposure'.pdf). If other people pay for what we earn, that seems to me the classic accumulation of surplus value.

I guess my point is we are all complicit in the regimes of biocapital we critique. What disturbs us--and what we seem to be getting out heads around--is that the "goods" in question are organs, tissues, cells...things that were once, legally speaking, the inalienable property of human beings. But after the 2001 U.S. Patent and trademark law that has changed...

We assume the law rests on a system of norms we all agree to. Well, here it seems reversed: we struggle with new norms as the market (and a legal system complicit with the market) runs ahead of us!



From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Johannes Birringer [Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk]
Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 7:09 AM
To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Cellular Risk and Political Risk

dear all

thank you for the provocative postings last week, am still trying to make a slow transition from the cellular level – Bishnupriya Ghosh's and Bhaskar Sarkar's discussions –  to
something now refered to as election algorithms. (and yes, there was an election in the US)

This is a transition or connection i have trouble making, and thus wondered how others here felt about the theoretical or sociologicaL frameworks,
it interested me to read Bhaskar's theory that risk calculation or risk management was being privatized and individualized; and that some (individuals?) choose deliberately to live with risk?

>>We see such effort across risk domains—in finance, real estate, biotech industries, patent regimes, or militarized security protocols—where aggressive speculative ventures block, exclude, and foreclose multiple possible futures so as to orient us toward a single telos. .....That telos too often metastasizes the status quo, even as it inserts the present into an anticipatory logic; paradoxically, the status quo, immunized and protected against change, becomes the way to actualize the future. These ventures materialize specific instruments (mortgages, gene therapy), techniques (medical imaging, data mining), and policies (airport security, nuclear safety). Central to these materializations is the imperative to enclose, to privatize, and to individualize—ironically, in the name of the collective, the public good, now increasingly mobilized as the metaphysics of the “market.” >>

After reading about your case (HeLa), I wanted to do some more investigation on the case and came across Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"  (Macmillan Press, 2010), am am trying to understand this
notion of the "immortal", which is far from clear to me as obviously Henrietta Lacks' life was not, and to call "biomaterial" immortal I find abstruse.  I think the question was then posed whether the case proffered
many potential medical advances and thus could be condoned ethically, politically, but I'm not sure an answer was offered last week, though Bishnupriya Ghosh  suggested that:

>>[Maybe] Dr.Gey asked Henrietta Lacks, she agreed, and he goes on to do the very same thing that he did: take 2 samples from her cervix, one of healthy and the other cancerous cells. But he didn't--choosing instead to ACCUMULATE Hela (if we see Hela as not just cells, but the knowledge gained from them) to consolidate his name. In this sense all potentiation practices remain open to capture: to calculated accumulation that capitalizes and turns a profit. I think that other drive, the drive to control and turn potential into calculable capacities, is always present: in this instance, the U.S. Patent and Trademark decision of 2001 enabled labs to patenting, and thereby, price cell lines). But it never quite erases the fecundity of some modes of potentiation, does it? Hela continues to give.>>

thank you for raising this issue of cell "knowledge" gained.
I'd be interested in hearing more about this concept of knowledge obtained from biotechnological performance and performance risks, perhaps within a framework that William Leiss
sketched more broadly with a reference to risk management regarding

 "Natural Hazards",
"Social and Political Hazards (USA)"
"Social and Political Hazards (Europe)"

(and esepcially the sweeping remarks made in reference to the EU monetary crisis and Greece....).

I tried to gather my memory from the 1990s literature on changing societies (the Wall had come down, the Soviet Union dissolved, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown had happened) , recalling ULrich Beck's "Riskogesellschaft" --
"Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity" (1992), and wondered whether Beck had revised or changed his outlook, but only found a lecture he gave in 2007 on World Risk Society and Second Modernity.

How would i draw cellular and political together. Not sure.
Beck insists on considering the concept of risks "a very useful analytical tool that [he] use to examine different phenomena. Risks are not simply technological or environmental in nature, they are social. They impact the social structure as a whole. For instance, economic globalization has already generated global financial crises that certainly constitute global risks. In other words, risks have become an integral part of our lives...."
The US (foreign policy) is surely a political hazard, and so may all domestic politics be too, but what does this mean. "Contemporary risks" involve what Beck calls a "boomerang effect": those who produce risks or try to avoid them always end up being affected as well because those risks have a global impact.

Is this what Bhaskar meant initially when positing that all manufactured, cultured,  and all managed risk are affecting us individually on global level?

Johannes Birringer
empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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