Economies of hope and the commodification of life itself: transgenic mosquitoes as technoscientific matters of care
Josef Barla (Goethe University Frankfurt)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on the transgenic mosquito OX513A, this paper explores questions of care in the context of the transformation of living organisms into a commodity that embodies the hopes of containing the spread of infectious diseases, and the hypes of a technology that promises high economic rewards.
Paper long abstract:
Genetically modified organisms are both a site of high public concern and commodities promising substantial economic returns for the biotechnology industry. Turning to the transgenic mosquito OX513A employed as a technology for combating the Zika and Dengue virus in Florida, this paper explores how living organisms, which are equipped with a technoscientifically enforced "expiration date" that has been implemented in their genome, are transformed into a public health tool that embodies both the hopes of containing the spread of infectious diseases transmitted through mosquitos, and the hypes of a technology that promises high economic rewards. Understanding OX513A as a "bio-object"—i.e, a socio-technical phenomenon where the traditional boundaries between living being and technology, life and death, organism and patented commodity have become blurred—and precisely therefore as a "matter of care" in technoscience, this paper will scrutinize how the use of the transgenic mosquitoes contributes to an economy of hope—i.e., a particular discourse which revolves around presenting a particular new technology or technoscientific object as a highly praised public health tool. As matters of care in technoscience are stabilized through an array of human and nonhuman actors, the question how care is enacted by the different actors in the field moves to the forefront. What does it mean to care, and what does care entail for experts, scientists, members of non-profit-organizations and relevant social groups? How can 'not caring', or the absence of care be identified? And how is failure and success defined by the different actors involved?
Recombining life: sociotechnical intersections in the making of genome editing