Accepted Paper:

Informal networks: state strategies and the makings of the biomedical industry in Việt Nam  

Author:

Marina Marouda (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

The paper is concerned with informal collaborative exchanges between state and non-state actors engaged in biomedical research and the crucial role such informal networks play in the commodification of biomedical technologies and the creation of new bio-industries.

Paper long abstract:

The paper is concerned with informal collaborative engagements between state and non-state actors involved in biomedical research and the crucial role such informal networks play in the commodification of biomedical technologies. Drawing on ethnography on stem cell practices in Việt Nam, the paper examines the ways in which state strategies on scientific and medical research create the conditions for informal inter-organisational exchanges between public and private bodies with the view to developing biomedical innovation and commercially viable biotechnologies. In recent years, the Vietnamese state has seized upon stem cell science as a promising area of economic growth, and has sought to stimulate entrepreneurial engagements in this field by means of governing biomedical practices through light regulation, 'soft law' and no instruments to implement policy. Within this context, informal collaborative exchanges between state-funded science and medical institutions, regulatory agencies and industry have flourished. These informal networks play a key role in the scientific, clinical and commercial development of stem cell research, allowing access not only to various resources needed for research but crucially to formal approval mechanisms that allow turning clinical experiments into vetted therapies that can subsequently become commercially available.

The paper seeks to contribute to debates on the relations between formality and informality by presenting an ethnographic case whereby informal practices do not fall outside the realm of social and political institutions. Rather, fostering informal bionetworking activities constitute a means through which the postsocialist state seeks to unleash the economic potential of biomedical technologies.

Panel P148
Ethnographic explorations of formal–informal linkages in contemporary global economy and politics