Accepted Paper:

A Synthetic Chemistry Site for Feminist Postcolonial Theorizing  

Author:

Anne Pollock (Georgia Tech)

Paper short abstract:

This paper combines empirical ethnographic attention to a specific site of postcolonial science -- a synthetic-chemistry based drug discovery company in South Africa -- and theoretically-driven feminist analysis attentive to technoscience materialities.

Paper long abstract:

This paper combines empirical ethnographic attention to a specific site of postcolonial science and theoretically-driven feminist analysis attentive to technoscience materialities. It draws on ethnographic research at iThemba Pharmaceuticals, a small South African company founded in 2009 with the mission of finding new drugs for TB, HIV, and malaria. The synthetic chemistry methods employed at this site are similar to what might be done at a well-equipped lab anywhere in the world, yet I argue place matters - not only for the scientists involved, and for those interested in global health and postcolonial science, but also for feminist engagement with matter. In this paper, I focus on the place-specificity not of the company's drug discovery ends, but of its synthetic chemistry means. Intellectual property can exist in abstract forms, but to become pharmaceuticals, it must be materialized in particular infrastructures that are unevenly distributed in space. These spaces are always already part of a network, in part because synthetic chemistry makes ample use of commercially-procured "intermediates," rather than starting from first principles. Unlike drug discovery efforts based on bioprospecting or traditional knowledges, the potential for an ingredient to be locally-made is a practical concern for a synthetic-chemistry based firm, rather than a marker of African authenticity. There are additional resonances here: since the term "synthetic" is often used as an antonym for "natural," synthetic chemistry is a fitting object for a cyborg feminism. More abstractly still: etymologically, "synthesis" derives from the Greek for "place together." Place signifies less autochthony than co-presence.

Panel T051
Feminist Postcolonial STS