New same things: Generic pharmaceutical politics
Even as “innovation” holds fast as the explicit horizon for the production of pharmaceutical knowledge and pharmaceutical objects, making same things seems to be, increasingly, where the action is. A number of developments point in this direction, whether it’s the affinity of the innovative pharmaceutical sector for producing yet another “me-too” drug, or the often spectacular emergence of generic drugs as surprisingly vibrant sources of value and distinction, in the Americas and beyond. Oriented around the recent ascendance of generic medicines in Mexico, my current project, New Same Things, investigates how some peculiarly pharmaceutical modes of producing and proliferating sameness might reconfigure science studies’ engagements with the matter(s) of politics and value.
What’s interesting about sameness? We already know that the histories of mass production, globalized markets, and their accompanying regimes of knowledge production are histories of standardization; they are nothing if not histories of making same (Alder, Bowker and Star, Slayton, Cochoy). But the processes emerging today in the name of generics are noteworthy for a slightly peculiar reason. In the pharmaceutical terrain I am studying, something intriguing seems to be happening to similarity, equivalence, and even ‘generic-ness’ itself. They are coming to serve as sites and sources of distinction; that is, as proper nouns and valued Kinds in their own right. In Mexico (my anchor point for all of this but by no means an exception), the ‘Similar’ has proven tremendously effective as a commercial-pharmaceutical mark of distinction, just as ‘interchangeability’ now differentiates one among many kinds of legally equivalent generics. More acutely still, “the same, but [different],’” – a phrase that I have borrowed, with a small liberty, from the slogan of a wildly popular Mexican generics chain –has emerged as a strikingly generative formula, one that works simultaneously as a political, pharmaceutical, and commercial syntax. That formula does a great deal of work in and beyond the bounds of Mexican pharmaceutical politics, both generating and troubling familiar idioms of value, identity, and power. The book’s challenge is both to weave together and untie that particularly dense knot.
The processes unfolding in the name of generic drugs in fact confound conventional understandings of same vs different, original vs. copy, innovation vs. imitation, and even substance vs. surface. They do so in nonfoundational but nonetheless very material ways. Animating this project is thus the conviction that there is something to be gained by investing these philosophical terms –sameness, similarity, equivalence –with a pharmaceutical specificity. We might find therein some critical resources for thinking about the work that sameness and similarity do in the world, and might do, as analytic idioms adequate to the complex north-south/south-south dynamics of interest to us in this seminar.
SUGGESTED SEMINAR READINGS
“New Same Things”(incomplete draft, not for circulation)
“Population: A Chemical Device”, forthcoming in Inventive Methods, ed N Wakeford and C Lury.
Ivan da Costa Marques, “Cloning Computers”
Philip, Kavita (2005) What is a technological author? The pirate function and intellectual property. Postcolonial Studies 8: 199-218.