Inspired by the rise of biotech in Asia and by the burgeoning scholarship on science and medicine in the region, this year-long project put science studies into conversation with area studies. We sample some of the rich analysis of how global biomedicine plays out across local, national, and regional scales that comprise Asia in colonial and post-colonial times. The project pushes further, because attending to the specificities of place, practice, and power that converge in scientific/biomedical practice in Asia in turn raises pivotal questions about the effects of locality on science. That is, by comparing cases across the region, we ask, how does understanding Asia matter for understanding science? To what extent does an area-based analysis decenter European narratives about scientific modernity and biomedicine? Our conversations cross Asian areas — East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian Studies — and integrates science and technology studies (STS) and medical humanities.
Based at Duke University, the Science Studies as Area Studies includes lectures, seminars, and a day-long workshop (see the Events page for details) and is linked to graduate and undergraduate courses. The project is generously funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation Partnership in a Global Age program and is based in the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute (APSI). It is directed by Ara Wilson and Harris Solomon and coordinated by Ali Mian. (Email Ali Mian for rsvps, pdfs, or questions.)
Clinical research, translational research, and technology launches converge in sites such as Singapore’s Biopolis, in announcements by China to create new inroads in genomics, in stem cell research in Japan, in India’s generic pharmaceutical industry, and in medical tourism to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and India. Contemporary scholars have described this phenomenon in the volume, Asian Biotech (Ong & Chen 2010), in conferences, and in special journal collections, often with attention to the rich histories of colonial medicine in Asia (Arnold 1993). Anthropologist Aihwa Ong has termed the 21st century regional development “Asian biotech,” which she defines an assemblage of science, politics, and collective concerns such that sciences and ethics shape political identities in tandem (Ong 2010: 21). In this context, the “co-production” of scientific, social, and ethical knowledge and practice has turned into a coherent and ever-growing force across the region, even as it plays out in highly local sites and circumstances. Our lectures series and workshop will explore case studies of particular Asian contexts of Asian biotech. More importantly, however, it will highlight what specifically constitutes a regional, heterogeneous shift towards the biomedicalization of opportunity, knowledge production, markets, and material circuits of persons and capital.
The second development inspiring this project is the convergence of the interdisciplinary fields of STS and medical humanities. The emerging conversation on colonial science and a contemporary biotech boom in key Asian sites have been analyzed productively through the insights of STS theory, while the Asian area scholarship in turn is offering important theoretical contributions to science studies, which itself remains focused on Euro-US contexts. The regional grounds for our project — Asia — offers several key advantages as a launching point for extending these discussions. Even as the biotech revolution represents a “Sputnik opportunity” for Asian states seeking to “catch up with and potentially surpass the West,” it is imperative to reckon with the historical imprint of bioscience in Asia, where for over two centuries, Western science and technologies were instrumental in facilitating European control (Ong 2010: 5, 10). But this approach does not suggest that scientific modernity is always dependent on a Western origin. Area-based scholars have remapped scientific modernity, for example, proposing different models of how state, finance, and science interact in relation to populations and exploring the ways that qualities attributed to culture may be part of articulating with bio-medicine’s international standards. The research on Asian bioscience, through its engagements with colonial histories, varying intellectual traditions, and diverse contexts, is making empirical, methodological, and analytical contributions to STS fields.
The project is generously funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation Partnership in a Global Age program and is based in the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute (APSI). It also collaborates with the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory and has co-sponsors at Duke and UNC.