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.
A Single Wave
This chapter discusses how Asian scientists interpret population genetic data to tell a story about the conceptual unity of diverse peoples on the continent. Against the backdrop of historical and continuing political tensions, scientists at Biopolis have led the effort to form a first-ever, trans-Asian genetic network. The assembled genetic data have permitted researchers to claim that a single human wave out of Africa populated the Asian continent, thus challenging an earlier anthropological model of a two-prong entry. By stirring affects of genetic pride, storytelling participates in a scientific renewal of “pan-Asianism” by getting disparate colleagues together as a single biomedical commons. Despite a new imaginary of a unified Asian past-present and potentially collective present-future in science, it remains unpredictable whether deep trans-Asian factionalism can be overcome to confront future epidemiological threats in the region. The chapter argues that the claim of a single migratory swoop of modern humans into the continent challenges a conventional anthropological picture of diverse routes. Marginalized and native populations were drawn into the making of novel knowledge which showed their hereditary links to larger populations. By integrating indigenous groups in the constitution of majority populations, the SNP project fills in vital gaps in the regional and global picture of human biological and cultural diversity.