The Refectory Room
The Quadrangle Building
The University of Sydney

14 March, 2012: Dr Richard Tutton, Lancaster University, UK

After the Exuberance: Contested Futures of Personalized Medicine

In the past decade, personalization has become a major feature of contemporary biomedicine. From the production of new pharmaceuticals, research on the regenerative properties of stem cells, tissue engineering, tumour profiling and targeted chemotherapy, to genetic susceptibility testing, the prospect of customising or tailoring knowledge and intervention to the individual has become a significant expectation of actors from the academy, industry, and government. Personalizing the prevention, prediction, diagnosis and treatment of disease has promised to bring about a ‘revolution’ in the practice of medicine, public health, and in our experiences of health, illness and ageing. Yet, after what has been called the ‘irrational exuberance’ of the late 1990s, disappointment with the ‘pedestrian’ pace (in the words of a recent Nature Biotechnology editorial) in the production of new personalized pharmaceuticals has become pronounced. Some are becoming increasingly sceptical about the value of personalization as a vision of changing the way that drugs are developed and brought to market yet new investment is being made to facilitate the commercial development in this area. In this paper, drawing on work being undertaken for a larger monograph project, I trace the emergence of the vision of ‘personalized medicines’ in the 1990s and how this was bound up with claims about how understanding human genetic variation was the basis of a new way of developing drugs that would depart from a paradigm of ‘therapeutic universalism’ and ‘tailor’ drugs to individuals. I discuss the different ‘promissory stories’ told about what personalized medicines would be like and how more recent commentaries have sought to hold these stories to account through analysis of the low number of ‘personalized’ drugs on the market. I also consider the different stories told about why personalized medicines did not live up to expectations.

19 April, 2012: Dr David Bray, University of Sydney

Building the Animal-Free Village: the biopolitics of rural re-development in contemporary China

In 2006 China’s central government launched a massive nation-wide program known as “Building a New Socialist Countryside”. Broadly aimed at improving incomes and standards of living so as to narrow the rural/urban divide, a key objective of this program is to modernize and urbanize the rural built environment. To help guide this process, in 2007, the old “Urban Planning Law” was rewritten as a new “Urban and Rural Planning Law”. Among other things, the new law requires that every village in China commission a spatial master plan to guide its redevelopment over the next 20 years. As a result, thousands of ‘pilot’ villages are currently undergoing reconstruction on the basis of professionally drafted master plans. Over the last few years I have followed the remaking of one such village in Jiangsu Province, as the old village has been demolished and the population relocated into a brand new residential compound. Focusing on the spatio-technical, hygienic, economic and ethical discourses that underpin a new biopolitics of rural modernization, I demonstrate how the new ‘village’ has been encoded as ‘urban’ and discuss some of the social implications, especially in relation to the transformation of ‘peasants’ into ‘citizens’ and the exclusion of animals from village life.

Methodologically, I attempt to locate this paper somewhere between governmentality studies and actor network theory. My objectives are twofold: first, to show that governmental intervention in rural development is driven by a range of concerns that cannot simply be reduced to expose╠üs of corrupt land grabs; and secondly, to argue that transformed rural social relations are deeply inscribed within multiple socio- technical networks which largely escape the analytical frame of conventional ‘corporatist’, ‘clientalist’ or ‘social movement’ approaches.

17 May, 2012: Deborah Lupton, Visiting Fellow Biopolitics of Science Research Network

Configuring maternal, foetal and child embodiment in the context of biopolitics

An increasing literature on the biopolitics of contemporary maternity has demonstrated the increasing emphasis that has been placed upon pregnant women and mothers to take responsibility for the health and welfare of their children. The ideal female ‘reproductive citizen’ is expected to place her children’s health and wellbeing above her own needs and desires. Here the subject positions of the ‘good mother’ and the ‘responsible citizen’ as they are produced through the discourses and practices of neoliberalism intertwine.

This paper looks at the convergence of various influential discourses, images, practices and technologies in configuring maternal, infant and preborn bodies in certain ways in the context of neoliberalism. These include such factors as the growing importance of the concept of risk in relation to preborn and infant wellbeing, the extension of infant identity back into preborn bodies, the emergence of the concepts of the foetal and embryonic (and even the preconceived embryonic) citizen, the precious child and intensive parenting and the symbolic concepts of permeability, purity and danger and Self and Other as they relate to maternal, infant and preborn embodiment.

07 June, 2012: Dr. Peta Cook, University of Tasmania

Knowledge Production in Xenotransplantation and Xenotourism

Xenotransplantation (XTP), or animal-to-human transplantation, involves creating living bioproducts from the bodies of animals, notably pigs, which are implanted into humans. This transplantation of living animal cells, tissues and organs is targeted towards humans with health conditions such as Huntington’s disease, Type-1 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. In the desire for ‘cures’, however, XTP researchers face competition from other medical developments such as stem cells and organogenesis. In turn, XTP presents several ethical dilemmas surrounding the creation of animals (through genetic engineering and cloning), their welfare, and use. There is also the serious, though perhaps small, potential of cross-species viral transfer that infects the xenotransplant recipient and spreads to the wider community. These problems tend to be effaced in the narrations and presentations of XTP. Potential benefits are emphasised while possible risks are disparaged. In this process, XTP researchers also create divisions within, by differentiating between ‘us’ (researchers that adhere to dominant standards and procedures) and ‘them’ (researchers that are viewed as ‘mavericks’ in alternative approaches). This includes the denigration of those who offer XTP as a medical tourism option, known as xenotourism. The results of such circulations of knowledge are that particular realities of XTP are created that favour the continuation of the science by downplaying risks and knowledge deficits, and marginalising those XTP researchers that differ from the ‘core’.