Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Response to Kaushik Sunder Rajan's talk on "Pharmocracy" by Kirk Fiereck

It is an intimidating task to blog about Kaushik Sunder Rajan’s meditations on an emergent form of what he calls pharmocracy. These forms of pharmocratic sociality are taking shape in the context of the global emergence of biocapital as it elaborates itself in contemporary India. I worry that the brevity of this textual form cannot adequately or responsibly relate to the expanse of time—decades and counting—that the female Bhopal disaster victims are made to endure in Rajan’s narrative in order to have their claims of harm (not yet, ever?) recognized by the Indian judicial system. If time is ultimately the locus of value production and the source of the contradictions of capital, as Moishe Postone has argued, then the time these women have collectively spent navigating the bureaucratic expanse of Indian courts corresponds to a surfeit of untranslatable meaning, and thus designates more value (in its various forms) than the jottings contained in any blog post. It seems to me that the time these women spent cannot be represented adequately by—or translated through—such anemic textual devices like the conference lecture, the question and answer session, etcetera. In other words, the disjointed ruminations that follow are exercises in the inevitable failures and violence of representation as they generate more questions than provide insight. One aspect of the talk that struck me was that the women in this account had not only been harmed by toxic exposure to gas from the Union Carbide pesticide plant, they are now entangled with new harms produced within the context of the offshoring of clinical trials. In a cynical and ironic turn, Rajan informs us that these trials are run in the exact same hospitals that were built to ameliorate the injuries suffered as a result of the Bhopal disaster. This historical layering of injury forms seems to map onto the lateralized, entwined cultural logics of industrial and financial capital. Whereas industrial capitalism produced the conditions for the Bhopal disaster, in turn, the disaster is a condition of possibility for the exploitation of financial and monopoly biocapital to produce new forms of injury sustained in the context of “pharmocratic judicialization.” And what of Rajan’s term pharmocracy? Simply, it is a concatenation of pharmaceutical and democracy. Embedded in this perhaps innocuous elision is a curious and intriguing idea: the pharmaceuticalization of democracy. Such an idea effaces that which is taken as foundational not only for much work in the humanities and social sciences but of democracy itself: the notion of “the people”, or the demos in Greek, which is the etymological root of democracy. Through this effacement a paradox is produced: might pharmocratic societies signal a displacement of democracy by pharmocracy and is this a symptom or a cause of the effacement of the demos? How does this displacement relate to what many are calling the posthuman condition as it evolves in the Anthropocene? Whatever pharmocracy might turn out to be, it seems to be produced by the predations of capital in its distinctly neoliberal forms of bio- and human capital. It is precisely the latter form of capital that Wendy Brown argues is the undoing of the demos, and perhaps Rajan’s neologism is an indication that bio- and human capital have always been, are, and will be inextricably intertwined. We are also given an account of how (post)human subjects inhabit this pharmocracy. The female Bhopal victims express their pharmocratic undoing as one in which “Our bodies have died - we are just living on our courage.” Upon hearing this, it struck me as indicative of a new method for understanding the relation between sensibility and structure. What does an utterance like this mean? If these women feel that their bodies have died and they locate their remaining life, or bios, in something they call courage (will?), how might this problematize the relation between sensibilities and social structures? What structural changes are occurring when human action becomes conceived as affectively dematerialized. In this woman’s theorization of bios as life no longer located in a body (which has already died), she locates her bios in a will (which one?), which is the basis on which she lives. What new forms of sociality are these women experiencing and teaching us about if they do, in fact, inhabit emergent pharmocracies as we have been asked to consider? The pharmaceuticalization of democracy also signals an ongoing displacement of the notion of the people by a form of techné perhaps best indexed by Andrew Lakoff’s notion of pharmaceutical reason. This strain (species?) of reason seems ambivalent to, abstracted from, and perhaps best described as lateral to forms of human reason. Rajan epitomizes the ambivalent relation between human and pharmaceutical reason when describing the seemingly infinite deferral of justice experienced by the Bhopal victims in the face of relentless (and literal) back-and-forth “judgments” handed down by Indian courts. Of the many “-tions” that circulate in contemporary academic and political discourse (e.g., decolonization, judicialization, capitalization, democratization), perhaps the closest kin of the “-tion” elided in the neologism pharmocracy is the pharmaceuticalization of public health described by Jõao Biehl. Come to think of it, much work by medical anthropologists—Vinh-Kim Nguyen (The Republic of Therapy) and DelVecchio Good (The Biotechnical Embrace) to name two—bespeaks the displacement of individual and collective subjectivities (e.g., the self, corporations, the people, the nation, counter/publics, the market, etc.) by biotechnologized subjects. The self-valorizing movement and circulations of biocapital seem to produce such techné-human hybrids. For instance, in the titles of all three of these ethnographic examples human subjective figures such as the public, national populations, and individual are displaced by, or come into relation with, an anthropomorphizing biocapital-as-Subject. Importantly, we learn that these locally embedded individual and collective biocapitalist subjects navigate lateralized symbolic and material economies. We can begin to discern the complexity of these intercalated capitalisms when we hear how subjects are both constrained and enabled by international patent regimes, such as TRIPS (monopoly capitalism); national legal infrastructures (state-based free-market capitalism); and customary gender relations and norms (local symbolic economies). This local form of law and custom is signaled when the spoiled honor of the female victims is referenced in order to draw attention to the injustices and harms that are related to the extraction of value in the context of clinical trials. The trials themselves are managed by corporate research organizations and the Indian state vis-à-vis local bioethical paradigms and symbolic economies that are a critical switchpoint for the mediation of cultural conflict and the conversion of symbolic to material value. These capitalisms and economies are all intricately related in a dynamic, mutual unfolding. Questions regarding how these processes are interrelated remains, and their exploration will be critical to understanding the nature of our emergent pharmocracies as they are actively reshaping sociality and political subjectivities. Kirk Fiereck University of Pennsylvania