Latent Capital: Genebanking as Investment in Climate Change Futures

Authors: Can Dalyan*, Denison University
Topics: Anthropocene, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Genebanking, Climate change, Anthropocene, Lively capital
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The last decades witnessed two major transformations in plant conservation. First was the shift in the ownership regime of nonhuman genetic material introduced by the Convention on Biological Diversity, which granted sovereign rights to nation states over nonhuman life and intellectual property rights to private parties over modified varieties. Second was the global proliferation of genebanks: from large-scale international banks to myriad national institutions, genebanks came to define conservation’s response to biodiversity loss and climate change. In this new regime, by demarcating the sphere of national sovereignty from that of private property, genebanks nationalized Nature on the one hand, and naturalized the nation on the other. One outcome of these transformations was the reconfiguration of flows between national genebanks in the biodiversity-rich Global South that house collections that can be used in the development of climate-ready crop varieties, and scientific institutions in the Global North that can carry out the necessary research to develop them. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper examines how the future-oriented, capitalist promise of genebanking is theorized at the Turkish Seed Gene Bank (TSGB). Guided by postcolonial fears of bioprospecting, the TSGB resists international demands for access to its collections, putting into question the universalist underpinnings of conservation that erase historical difference. In this paper, I ask if by banking on its future ability to profit from its latent, nonhuman capital, the TSGB also puts into question the capitalist, technology-driven hope of surviving climate change as a united humanity through effective, technocratic governance.

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