Eggs, Milk and Honey: Law, Social Justice and Biomarkets
Coordinators: Cressida Limon (Western Sydney University)
Description of the meeting
This workshop follows on from the inaugural ‘Eggs, Milk and Honey: Law and Global Biocommodities’ workshop held at Western Sydney University, Australia in September 2018. The aim of the workshop was to bring together researchers with an interest in critical approaches to the analysis of Law and laws with regard to the circulation of body parts and substances (fluids, tissues, eggs, etc). For shorthand we call these materials ‘bio-commodities’, acknowledging that this is a contested and problematic terminology, and that what is seen as a ‘natural product’, of what is ‘discovered’ or ‘invented,’ ‘grown’ or ‘made’; what belongs to an animal or human life or what gets detached from life, is not clear-cut. Our agenda was to think beyond the doctrinal forms of contract and private property; public and private international law, and to highlight the gendered, racialised and ‘humanised’ dimensions of the trade in bio-commodities.
The second workshop will be held in July 2020, hosted by the Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law (IISL) in Spain, with the aim of engaging additional researchers who can bring new perspectives to this work. We are hoping to extend the conversation to include further philosophical and technology studies analyses of bio-commodities and their regulation, enabling reflections on what this means for our understanding of law and regulation. The discussion will necessarily be interdisciplinary, but we are happy to include papers that are not. Our aim is to arrive at some shared ideas about how law shapes the ideological and material political economies in which materials become produced as bio-commodities.
As a brief background, particularly for new participants, the first workshop included the following themes:
- Classical political economy: Bio-commodities are not simply a creature of late 20th century bio-techno-science but have a much longer history - agriculture being the archetype - and in that sense also related to particular concepts of ‘history’, ‘progress’ and to specific forms of law. Here, we were interested in analyses that addressed the formations of the early capitalist and industrial revolution, and the relevance to contemporary understandings of law and the biosciences.
- Taxonomies, responsibilities and justice: We examined how law has organized, regulated, responded to, and created the conditions for the global markets in biocommodities, and how this has shaped our understanding and expectation of the world in which we live.
- Bioavailability, surplus life, and bio/necropolitics: Lawrence Cohen, who first adopted the term ‘bioavailability’ in 2005, observed that human kidney sales in India actually became easier after the Indian government passed legislation that made it unlawful to sell solid human organs thanks to the creation of legal ‘exceptions’ to the ban. In like manner, payment for human oocytes is commonly prohibited domestically and yet the market is flourishing globally. We discussed what the globalisation of bio-commodities reveals (or conceals) about law and biopolitics.
- Consumption, law and desire: Marketing and hyper-consumption has led to symbolic misery, as well as to a global economic war (Stiegler). We are living in an epoch of hyper-industrialism where proletarianisation is generalized. With the mechanical industrial revolution the producer (worker) lost his (as was assumed at the time) savoir faire and now the consumer has lost her savoir vivre. We looked at how law and ethics/justice might contribute to a new critique of political economy detoxifying consumer capitalism.
- State formations, kin relations and markets: Finally, we considered the legal regulation of the global economy through the histories of specific biocommodities and their imbrication in state-formation processes and kin relations. Specifically, we were interested in the trans-global networking generally entailed in the consolidation of key bio-commodity markets. We examined the relationships between colonialism, the nation state and the corporation in the creation and maintenance of markets, and discussed how lived realities of work and family (labour and kin) respond to these forces.
In our second workshop we will look at the complexities of the trade in body parts within increasingly industrialised and digitised markets. Below are some broad themes - please note that the topics mentioned are only indications of what could be covered in proposed papers:
- Law, sociotechnical imaginaries and political economy: Law and science and technology studies (STS) have a complex interaction. We are interested in analyses that address these complexities in practice and their relevance to contemporary understandings of law and the biosciences. This includes theories of co-production (Jasanoff), expertise, ANT, etc.
- The laws and technologies of surplus, excess and/or waste: The language of banking and insurance, saving for the future, etc, is another example of the economies of hope and hype. We are interested, for example, in analyses relating to the cryopreservation of eggs and other methods of selection and storage of biological materials and beings.
- Philosophies of materials, parts and exchange: Recognising the overlaps among and between our key themes, we are also interested in research that addresses materialism, psychosocial imaginations of the body, and anthropological theories of exchange in relation to different legal traditions, histories and theories.