Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, George Mason University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Colorado / Boulder
Pharmaceutical Bioprospecting for Genetic Resources in Postapartheid South Africa

Current contestation over the pharmaceutical bioprospecting for genetic resources for drug development and sales in South Africa foregrounds the growing tensions between medicine, capitalism, and regulatory governance in the global South. This project takes the legal case against Schwabe Pharmaceuticals of Germany, a company that was granted patents entitling it exclusive use of the South African Pelargonium for the development of drugs treating respiratory ailments, AIDS and AIDS-related diseases, as an ethnographic window into the North-South politics of intellectual property disputes and the shifting relations between actors—from indigenous communities to states and Northern development agencies, from law-oriented nongovernmental organizations to public-private biotechnology partnerships—vying for say as to who should own, and subsequently benefit from, the knowledge of profitable raw materials for medicine. I hypothesize that the emergence of Eurocentric intellectual property laws impacting the ownership of South African genetic resources has been accompanied by (1) a transformation in the relations between and strategies among these actors in South Africa vying for regulatory influence over bioprospecting and (2) an emergence of novel underlying arguments and strategies legitimizing indigenous communities’ claims to ownership of traditional knowledge of genetic resources. Drawing upon anthropology, economic geography, and critical legal studies, and employing interviews, participant observation and historical genealogy, my research will examine how various stakeholders wield specific practices and forms of knowledge in order to favorably transform current circumstances to fit or recraft intellectual property laws in the context of unregulated bioprospecting in South Africa.