Biologics of Resistance: The Open Insulin Project and the Promise of Antibiocapital
This dissertation attempts to understand the emergence and development of the Open Insulin Project, a community laboratory-based project to create an open-source protocol for affordable bioengineered insulin. It seeks to situate this effort within broader trends in the capitalization of the biosciences and biomedicine and to explore its potential and struggles as a resistance effort working against these prevailing trends. It draws on roughly three years of ethnographic study, including participant-observation within the Project and interviews with key members and associates. It argues that the Open Insulin Project is the product of a contradiction within biocapital and that it represents a new phenomenon: antibiocapital. It further explores the ways in which appropriating bioengineering constrains a would-be antibiocapitalist Project and compels such an effort to conform to the sociopolitical order of biocapital. Situating the Project within a broader trend of amateur bio, it argues that the emergence of amateur bio social movements creates the potential for reimagining rights and governance in the contemporary biosciences, though this potential may be limited by the presence and influence of powerful interests. Finally, it argues that this Project and efforts like it provide unique opportunities for collaboration between the social, natural, and engineering sciences that could overcome some of the limitations of past efforts, including those under the banner of Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications/Aspects (ELSI/A) research and “post-ELSI” efforts in synthetic biology. Such collaborations challenge the approaches of both social scientists and projects like Open Insulin.