On June 13, 2013, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that isolated, unmodified DNA cannot be patented, in the case of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.—a case that has been called the Brown v. Board of Education of genetic science. In line with Cheryl Harris’s critique of the reproduction of racial property in Brown, this article illustrates how Myriad’s “desegregation” of the genome reinstantiated and mutated a legal grammar of racialized dispossession in property. By dismantling one type of biological property in the form of gene patents, the Court enabled a different mode of property to emerge: the genomic commons. Far from being the alternative to enclosure, the commons itself has become an accumulation strategy in a postgenomic climate in which the aggregation of large quantities of genomic data and the accumulation of racial diversity in biobanks have become key to the generation of biovalue.
The Commons as Accumulation Strategy: Postgenomic Mutations in Biological Property
Coleman Nye is assistant professor of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University. Her publications include the graphic ethnography Lissa: A Story of Friendship, Medical Promise, and Revolution (2017) and articles in such journals as TDR, Women and Performance, and Performance Matters.
Coleman Nye; The Commons as Accumulation Strategy: Postgenomic Mutations in Biological Property. Social Text 1 June 2019; 37 (2): 1–28. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-7370967
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