Geographies of Health and the Global Condition: Medical Practices in between Commodification and Regulation
Tom Schwarzenberg (SFB 1199 & IfL) & Frank Meyer (SFB 1199 & IfL)
|Publication Date||March 2018|
|Publisher||SFB 1199: "Processes of Spatialization under der Global Condition" (Leipzig U, Germany)|
The workshop “Bioeconomy, Governmental Practices and the Production of Space” took place on the 18th and 19th of January 2018. Organized by the subproject B5 “Cross-border assemblages of medical practices”, the workshop focused on two central issues: First, it brought together German scholars of the BIOS-network and others devoted to geographies of health in order to continue past and initiate future debates on emerging issues of biopolitics, health, and spatiality. Second, the workshop sought to bring researchers into contact with findings on the spatial aspects of medical practices – as focused upon by subproject B5 within the overall scope of the SFB 1199. Thus, it served as a great opportunity to, on the one hand, further broaden the scope of empirical research within the Collaborative Research Centre and, on the other, reintegrate research inspired by the spatial turn in contemporary social sciences. The workshop combined a set of formats consisting of classic scientific presentations from ongoing and planed research projects, and dialogue-centred discussions on recent issues of bioeconomy, biopolitics, and governmentality.
The scientific presentations focused on recent research in the wide field of geographies of health: Tom Schwarzenberg of subproject B5, and member of the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, opened the first round of inputs by presenting his findings on the emerging transnational regulation of cross-border patient mobility in view of contemporary European integration. Beatrix Hauser from the University of Bremen then introduced the audience to political dimensions of implementing Yoga regimes as a tool of Indian Health Policy. She specifically pointed out interests involved in tackling diabetes. In the following part, Uli Beisel from the University of Bayreuth spoke about emerging efforts of private philanthropy in the fields of malaria research. This first input session on “Global biopolitics and bioeconomy” was concluded by Klaus Geiselhart, University of Erlangen, and his presentation on funding policies of health regions in Bavaria. A second set of presentations revolving around “Subjects and regulatory practices in geographies of health” included, for instance, further insights into how potential organ recipients and terminally ill patients are impacted by legislator and moral appeals to not travel for transplantation, as presented by Frank Meyer of the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography. Iris Dzudzek, from the University of Frankfurt, in contrast, elaborated on recent fieldwork in Thailand and on the question how traditional medicine and globalized biomedicine interact and undergo translation. In a final presentation, Tilman Treier presented his study on Youtube reaction videos to results of private DNA sequencing services (23andMe), specifically concentrating on the resulting techniques of the self and the collective perception of health against the background of genetically argued causalities and probabilities.
Having set the scene with these various empirical insights and inspirations, both workshop days put an emphasis on extensive discussions regarding biopolitics and biomedicine as well as their connection with the global condition and the circulation of knowledge and technology. In specific, it was questioned whether (a) “biocapitalism” and “biovalue” – terms that have recently gained a lot of scientific attention – offer a new and insightful approach to growing border-transcending economic activities in the field of health and medicine, and (b) whether this emerging field of capitalist production actually evokes new sociospatial configurations or may just reproduce historically persistent economic inequalities. Given an increased importance of biomedical questions in globalized medical businesses as well as national and transnational regulatory regimes (e.g. in terms of access to care, the reduction of harm, patient mobility, cross-border pathogens, extended marketability), research needs to tackle the question of how to interrogate these developments and illuminate their specific social, political, and economic impacts.
The discussions revolving around the newness of globalized medical practices therefore mirrors that “the bios” provides a unique and at the same time challenging perspective on issues of spatialization. On the one hand, spatialization transcends political and social borders by posing common problems and opportunities for humans, for social groups, and for future questions concerning increased global interactions and the relation between humans and non-humans. Yet, on the other hand, the organization and utilization of spatialization is continuously subject to regulation and the limitation of its transcending character. As vividly illustrated by the presentations throughout the workshop, different actors in different fields frequently seek to transform life into an economic resource and thereby further open it up for discussions of belonging and regulation.
Even in a world oscillating between universal circulation of people, goods, capital, and knowledge, health systems remain to a large extend nationally bound, and therefore have to somehow incorporate emerging transnational issues like pandemics, multiresistent bacteria, and migration into existing material and ideal categories and heuristics. Whereas this complex translation of global biopolitics and bioecomomy into governmental structures is still an ongoing process of invention, this provides us with the opportunity to observe and reflect on the contemporary renegotiation of medical practices and their spatiality under the global condition.
Image source: Personal (19 January 2018)