Deadly Life-making: US Biocultures and the Ethics of Living On

Work in Progress

Collaborative book project with Nadine Ehlers (The University of Sydney)

Deadly Life-making: Biocultures and the Ethics of Living On examines contemporary “biocultures” focused on the pursuit of life—which occupies the biomedical imaginary in late Western liberalism. By examining the ways that biomedicine extends beyond the formal institutions of the clinic, hospital, and lab to broader everyday cultural practices, our central argument is that life-making operates as a form of “intimate governance” that validates and secures life/lives seen as economically viable, self-sustaining, productive, and oriented towards the future and optimism. In other words, we’re interested in the ways that life-making efforts tend to solidify inequitable distributions of life based on race, class, gender, dis/ability, etc. The book explores some of the negative repercussions related to the pursuit of more life through five key affirmations that circulate broadly in public discourse: live, hope, target, thrive, and green. Each chapter focuses on one of these imperatives through a concrete case study and prominent biocultural arena, including anti-aging technologies and retirement, cancer campaigning and activism, race-specific pharmaceuticals and spatial profiling, anti-obesity discourse and “fat banking,” and, lastly, new corpse disposal technologies and the “greening” of death. Our analysis in each case seeks to foreground the ways that life is disproportionately arranged; such life-making practices often foster health and life in relation to market logics, intensify speculation in ways that gamble with life and death stakes of biological existence, fail to support those who do not adopt dominant understandings of “good life,” and/or denigrate those who fail to live (properly). The book ultimately calls for an ethics that is attentive to death, and a social platform that affirms and activates alternative biocultures/biofutures, from abolitionist biomedicine to performances of irreverent vulnerability.

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