Intellectual property, the body and the environment: an affect-based approach?

In which I bring you more half-baked thoughts that are probably far too amateurish for my academic papers and therefore not fully developed just yet. If blogging isn’t the perfect medium for it, what is? My notebook? So I can stay in that echo chamber of self?

Anyway, here goes.

This summer I undertook two gigantic reading courses. I hope to soon give you the reading list, but as I was undertaking these while I was travelling, there soon started to appear a disconnect between what I was reading with an academic intent, and what I was experiencing, embodying even, was a very different reality than what some very jargon-heavy texts were pointing at.

This wouldn’t be a problem if my area of research wasn’t so concerned with people’s experiences of the environment. I understood that there was a global intellectual property framework in place, enabled by the World Trade Organization and its policies on benefit sharing when it came to biological resources. All of that was clear, and yet there seemed to be a disconnect on the affective level. How does this commodification of traditional ecological knowledge and policies regarding new kinds of biological resources have an effect on the experience of the environment itself? I realized that I was beginning to ask a question that most scientists are not directly concerned with, that is, I was seeking answers to how the organization of the world around us, whether by abstract or concrete means, influences our feelings of it. It was a question of affect, and therefore highly subjective, and I had rephrased the question time and time again in my mind until I really found a “mainstream” understanding of what I was getting at.

I then realized that the concept of intellectual property itself, manages to alienate humans from that which is nonhuman. This, obviously happens through various forms, but intellectual property concepts are especially insidious in that they naturalize a certain hierarchy within the natural world: that humans are the owners of that which they “discover”. Western norms of intellectual property further endanger traditional paradigms of relationships between humans and nonhumans, as they are increasingly replaced by a fictitious commodity-centric view in which humans are the ultimate arbiter of the “usefulness” of any type of biological matter, and the dangerous idea, that humans can, indeed, know without reasonable doubt everything that is needed to govern it. Humans do this to their own bodies too, but even agency over our own bodies is limited and subject to natural forces.

I’m not fond of attempts at biocentric governance as I think it imposes anthropomorphic ideals onto other beings. There is no multispecies form of the UN, and all environmental advocates are ultimately, human advocates. At this juncture, before seeking to govern what was never produced for economic consumption, perhaps it’s time to reflect on our assumptions about how we govern the other beings in the world, as well as ourselves. My thesis (which I discussed the other day) seeks to find some answers, but I have a feeling that I’m only going to get more confused.

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