Scandal of the Trial: HPV Vaccines, Public Health and Knowledge/Value

Associate Professor Kaushik Sunder Rajan, University of Chicago

In early April 2010, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) halted a project that involved the experimental administration of Gardasil, a vaccine developed by Merck used to prevent human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, in Bhadrachalam, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The study was shut down because of apparent reports of violations of ethical guidelines. An immediate focal point of controversy was that Bhadrachalam is a predominantly tribal area, and questions were asked about conducting a study on tribal girls. This controversy developed into a full-blown controversy in its own right, but has also become the focal point of emergent civil society advocacy in India against unethical clinical trials.

Kaushik Sunder Rajan describes this controversy as an entry point into a broader consideration of the politics around pharmaceuticals and health in India today. How do these politics emerge in relation to global logics of biocapital? In what ways does public health get conscripted into, and changed in the process of, articulations with these global logics? What kinds of experimental subjectivity get produced as a consequence? He will argue that what is at stake here is the re-theorisation of knowledge, of value, and of the nature of their articulation.

Kaushik Sunder Rajan is Associate Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. He initially trained as a biologist, obtained his PhD in the History and Social Studies of Science and Technology, and works on the anthropology of science, technology and medicine. His work has focused on a number of interrelated events and emergences: firstly, the increased corporatisation of life science research; secondly, the emergence of new technologies and epistemologies within the life sciences, such as, significantly, genomics; and thirdly, the fact that these technoscientific and market emergences were not simply occurring in the United States, but rather globally. His book, Biocapital: The Constitution of Post-Genomic Life, tries to capture a flavour of these emergences.

Co-presented with the Biopolitics of Science Network , the Race and Ethnicity in the Global South Laureate program, and the Gender and Modernity Research Network at the University of Sydney, and Sydney Ideas.