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authoritarian liberalism Arrow vol 12 no 1 contents
About borderlands VOLUME 12 NUMBER 1, 2013


The Political Economy of Hope and Authoritarian Liberalism in Genetic Research

Mark Munsterhjelm
University of Windsor


In his influential and oft-cited book The Politics of Life Itself, the British sociologist Nikolas Rose sets out a ‘cartography of the present’ focusing on what he terms advanced liberal democracies, in which the defining feature of contemporary biopower is governance through freedom within a political economy of hope. The semiotic square provides a way to map Michel Foucault concepts of sovereignty (make-die), biopolitics (make-live), necropolitics (not-make-live) and law (not-make-die). This mapping shows that Rose’s political economy of hope is focused strongly on biopolitical optimization and legal equality, but neglects the authoritarian liberal potential of sovereignty and necropolitics. In this paper, I will counterpoint Rose’s work by considering several instances of authoritarian liberalism in scientists’ conduct of genetic research involving Aboriginal peoples that differentially allocated rights, risks, duties and obligations, including racist stereotyping and mass violations of informed consent and dignity. These cases from the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Taiwan demonstrate how political economic pressures to commercialize research, patent law, and researchers’ effective legal impunity contribute to such violations. Rose overemphasizes the optimizing aspects of biopolitics and governance through freedom while neglecting aspects of necropolitics and sovereignty within the assemblages of genetic research.

The full article is available as a PDF document: click here.

© borderlands ejournal 2013



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ISSN 1447-0810