Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Dead Liveness/living Deadness: Thresholds of Non-Human Life and Death in Biocapitalism

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Dead Liveness/living Deadness: Thresholds of Non-Human Life and Death in Biocapitalism

Article excerpt


The opening of a post-genomic age and the possibility of patenting life itself have changed the relationship between biopolitics and capitalism and contributed to the emergence of a new phase of capitalist accumulation, currently known as biocapitalism, the full integration of life and capital into complex architectures of control and ownership. In this paper, we combine Giorgio Agamben's concepts of the threshold and bios/zoe with Nicole Shukin's idea of rendering to address the connection between life and death in biocapitalism, through a specific focus on the commercialisation of the semen of the Piedmontese bulls. We show how death, rather than merely life, is productive in biocapitalism. Further, in proposing an analysis of some of the ways in which, social and biological, animal life gets incorporated (i.e. owned and sold), we contribute to recent debates in geography on more-than-human understanding of capital accumulation.


Biocapitalism, bioeconomy, biopolitics, death, more-than-human-geography, animal geography


In this paper, we offer an analysis of the commercialisation of the Piedmontese bull semen to propose an understanding of death as a spatial and relational process, as opposed to an event ending life, in order to unravel some of the ways in which death, rather than life, is "put to work" under a biocapitalist mode of production (Morini and Fumagalli, 2010). In geography, there are diverse bodies of work that uncover the relationships between life and the economy. Scholars have explored the geographies of labour (McDowell, 2015) and commodification of the human body, its parts and tissues (Parry, 2008); of reproductive and healthcare tourism (Parry et al., 2015; Schurr, forthcoming); and of biosciences, health and biomedical technologies (Greenhough and Roe, 2006; Guthman and DuPuis, 2006; Parr, 2002). More-than-human geographers have investigated the commodification and bioinformatisation of nonhuman bodies and lives (Holloway and Morris, 2008; see also Robbins, 1998). More recently, geographers inspired by Haraway's (2008) work and exploring how animal labour and life are turned into 'lively commodities' (Barua, 2016; Collard, 2014) are developing a conceptual vocabulary to theorise more-than-human understandings of capitalism.

Beyond geography, there is a burgeoning literature that may be summoned under the rubric of 'studies of biocapitalism'. By introducing new--contested--"bio-concepts" (Birch and Tyfield, 2013) such as biocapital, biovalue, bioeconomy and biocapitalism, these studies tackle how contemporary capitalism exploits life (e.g. Rajan, 2006; Rose, 2006; for recent reviews of most these analyses, see Helmreich, 2008). However, most of these works seem to imply that what is novel about today's capitalism is the exploitation and manipulation of the biological aspect of life. Yet, as Twine (2010: 185) notes, "the biological within capitalist economies" is not a new characteristic of capital accumulation (see also Birch and Tyfield, 2013). In this paper, we suggest that biocapitalism is an emerging mode of production not only manipulates and exploits biological life. Drawing on Agamben's conceptual triad of zoe/ /mv/threshold, we highlight that biocapitalism can profit from both biological (zoe) and social life (bios) and, in proposing a spatial understanding of death as a process that entails life, we suggest that biocapitalism stretches its reach to colonise a new malleable 'territory'; namely, the space in-between life and death.

Whether, and how exactly, biocapitalism is a novel mode of production is still matter of theoretical debate and empirical investigation. However, an increasing number of authors primarily, but not exclusively, in the Italian Marxist autonomist tradition--do conceptualise biocapitalism as a new regime of capital accumulation (e.g. Birch and Tyfield, 2013; Morini and Fumagalli, 2010; Negri, 2013). …

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