Tara Suri

Award Information

2019 IDRF Program

HistoryPrinceton University

Between the Body and the Population: Law, Biomedical Macaques, and the Borders of the Human in South Asia (1918 – 1984)

This project zooms in on the socio-legal life of a particular biomedical commodity exported from South Asia over the twentieth century: the rhesus macaque. I ask after the routine labors whereby this form of life, overdetermined as sacred, was produced as a commodity for the differential vitalization and delimitation of human reproduction across geopolitical contexts. Tracking its global export for purposes ranging from research in reproductive physiology to vaccine production, I follow the macaque out of trapping sites and into late-colonial contractual disputes between animal dealers, pharmaceutical companies, and state agencies; chart shifting arrangements of trade and urban management shaping transport regulations in early independent India; explore how ethico-religious debates over the status of non-human life were transmuted into multiply-scaled Cold War conflicts over sovereignty, aid, and population control; and examine the evidentiary mobilization of the rhesus in 1970s transnational feminist court battles over injectable contraceptives. By tracing these entanglements through state archives, the papers of dealers and scientists, oral histories, activists’ accounts, and pharmaceutical company records, I broadly seek to conceptualize postcolonial transformations in the governance of medical markets and bodily difference. Equally, I seek to conceptualize epistemic shifts in the borders between human and non-human over decolonization. In so doing, I hope to contribute to recent interventions at the intersections of colonial and postcolonial history, histories of sexuality and disability, animal studies, feminist science and technology studies, and legal history.