Ethnographic work identifies forms of and debates over value, risk and subjectivity common to finance and biomedicine. Despite transnational flows of expert rationalities, the entanglement of health and wealth in various locations is shaped by radically divergent ethico-political stakes.
Finance and medicine are today distinct domains of expert practice and knowledge production, even more so than in the time of Adam Smith. Yet wealth and health are as empirically and conceptually entangles as a quarter of a millennium ago. Drawing variously on medical and economic anthropology, and the social studies of science and technology and of finance, we explore the mutual constitution of health and wealth comparatively, juxtaposing articulations of concepts and practices at multiple sites. Both finance theory, a branch of economics, and biomedicine, are conventionally presented as essentially rational and transcultural, whatever their local manifestations. An ethnographic approach emphasises the shared transational character of these two assemblages of practice, while urging attentiveness to the inevitably local character of the practice of finance, biomedicine, and bioethics. Our interlocutors are diverse experts: New York finance lawyers, Edinburgh and London pension fund managers, Tehran psychiatrists and nephrologists, as well as kidney donors, Shiite clerics, and heterodox economists. There are strong similarities across sites when it comes to the centrality of value and risk, debates about rationalities, or modes of subject-formation. At the same time interventions in the form of Shiite jurisprudence, Persian translations of psychoanalytic texts, or claims about ethical capitalism versus speculation allow radically different ethical and political emphases to emerge. Juxtaposing these diverse sites allows us to reframe the problematic of health and wealth as ethico-political, therefore, rather than simply a question of improving technological interventions, probabilistic analyses of evidence, or schematic post hoc ethical justifications.