Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City of Life
Aihwa Ong is Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, the author of Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty and Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality, and the coeditor of Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate, all also published by Duke University Press.
Where the Wild Genes Are
This chapter discusses the creation of multiethnic DNA databases in Singapore and why scientists there consider their genomic data to be more important than that captured by DeCODE in Iceland. Citing variability in DNA and populations in the Asian region, Singaporean biostatisticians claim that genetic traits among populations in Asia that are relatively new to medical genomics—and being gathered "in the wild"—gain value from being calculated and databased. The author argues that the ethnic heuristic is deployed as an “immutable mobile” that digitally includes majority populations in Asia. The construction of “an Asian genetic architecture”—differentiated by Chinese, Indian, and Malay biomedical categories—makes Singapore a center of prognosis for genomic science in Asia. The infrastructure deploys the ethnic heuristic in different registers. First, the network of ethnicity becomes a supple membrane coextensive with the network of genetic data points. Second, ethnicity is rendered an immutable mobile that circulates databases beyond tiny Singapore, making the infrastructure at once situated, flexible, and expansive. Third, the ethnic signifier carries affective value that enhances a sense of what is at stake in the building, mobilization and implications of such Asian databases. In short the origami-like folding together of multiple, flowable and perfomative data points shapes a unilateral topological space of biomedical "Asia."