Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation
The Body Commodified as Nature: Capitalism and the Biotechnological Turn Public Deposited
Recent decades have seen rapid technological innovation and development in the life science industries, which have facilitated the increasing exploitation of human biological materials, information, and in-vivo processes as sources of commodifiable value. These developments have, in turn, spurred a new body of social science research in which the commercial, legal-ethical, and property rights implications of bodily commodification are intensely analyzed and debated. Within this literature, “bioeconomy” scholars argue that experimental subjects, and others from whom biological value is extracted, should be understood to engage in a novel form of “embodied,” “regenerative,” or “clinical” labor, with those who perform this labor constituting “an extensive yet unacknowledged labor force.”
This dissertation departs from the above line of thought by investigating how new biopharmaceutical and biotechnological advances are radically transforming the long-understood role of human bodies in economic production. More specifically, this study problematizes the concept of embodied, regenerative, and clinical labor, drawing attention to the various ways in which human bodies are now actively incorporated as key sites and resources in the production of human-derived biocommodities. In this context, it establishes that the bodies of human test subjects, and others from whom in-vivo biological value is extracted, cannot be understood to engage in any meaningful form of self- or object-directed labor, but rather constitute the very objects upon which others’ exploited labor is enacted – a fact that transforms the human body from a source of value creation via its status as labor to a source of value creation via its status as nature.
Upon establishing the importance of this historically unprecedented shift, this study advances a theoretical reconceptualization of the human body as natural capital. To demonstrate the validity and significance of this reconceptualization, it presents an extended case study analysis of the U.S. biopharmaceutical industry, its mass medicalization of U.S. society, and the increasingly normalized practice of clinical trial outsourcing to less developed nations. The findings of this research suggest that within the biopharmaceutical industry, humans are increasingly being used as natural capital and that this form of bodily utilization is highly disproportionate to structurally disadvantaged populations around the world.
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