The Lives of Property

Amy Hinterberger, Research Fellow, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS), School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford
Convened by the BioProperty Research Programme, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, 20 & 21 September 2012

Objects of property have many lives. This international conference explored the paths that scientific and technological objects travel as they acquire or lose their status as property. Researchers from Europe, North American and Australia gathered at the Ship Street Centre in Oxford to discuss the many lives or property, from art and artefacts to the material travels of waste. The eclectic group of papers were grouped around four central themes: ‘Value, waste and material transitions’, ‘Advocacy and collective ownership’, ‘Artefacts in action’, and ‘Traveling property and the politics of place’. Together the panels addressed what is involved in turning a tool or product of science into an alienable or inalienable possession. The papers also illuminated how competing understandings of ‘property’ affect the circulation of scientific knowledge and artefacts, as well as expounding on how legal categories of appropriability shape research and regulatory practices. You can see the full program and abstracts here:
The event featured two keynote addresses. On Thursday Hannah Landecker (UCLA) spoke to the title ‘Extracts of evolution applied to injuries of knowledge economies: from food as fuel to nutrition as regulation‘ where she discussed transformations to the metabolic sciences wrought by the rise of epigenetics, microbiomics, cell signaling and hormone biology. Given the long-standing role of metabolism as a font for philosophy and political theory, Landecker argued that these changes in the metabolic sciences have broad implications for the understanding both the life of value, and the value of life. On Friday, Mario Biagoli (UC Davis), closed the conference with his keynote address: ‘Parenthood, slavery and kidnapping: the strange genealogy of plagiarism’. In this talk, Biagoli looked at the ‘lives of property’ from what he called the other end, that is, not the lives of objects as they become or cease to be property, but at some of the ways in which figures of the production and reduction of life (human reproduction, abduction, and enslavement) framed and continue to frame the notion of the plagiarist, the author, and intangible property.
The conference was organised by the BioProperty Research Project, an ERC funded project that explores evolving property rights in life sciences research.
Check out more events and our current research on BioProperty here

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