Accueil Discipline (Sociologie et société) Revue Numéro Article

Revue d'anthropologie des connaissances

2011/2 (Vol. 5, n° 2)

  • Pages : 320
  • DOI : 10.3917/rac.013.0190
  • Éditeur : S.A.C.

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Manipulating and collecting living organisms is not in itself a recent, innovative activity. It would be possible to find occurrences of these various practices over several centuries (Schnapper, 1988; Tassy, 1991; Chauvet, Oliver, 1993; Bowker, 2000). Nevertheless the development of biotechnologies has introduced a major change concerning the ability we have to conserve and intervene on living matter. From a functional point of view, living organisms are now apprehended has being composed of a number of entities that are modifiable (e.g. recombining genotypes), can be reproduced (e.g. genic amplification techniques like PCRs - Polymerase Chain Reaction), and can be stored (e.g. Cryoconservation). These entities can also be the support of varied practices, be it in the medical field, research field, industrial field or political field (Morange, 1994; Gaudillière, 2002; Atkinson et al., 2009). Whether they are of plant, animal, or human origin, these entities have become potentially exploitable biological resources (as was encouraged by the U. N. Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992) [1]  The Convention (CBD) defines biological resources as... [1] . The growing number of contracts concerning ‘the living’ illustrates this point, as does the notion of ‘biological resource’ commonly used in international research consortiums, in treaties between states, in hospitals, and even concerning cultivated land and environmental issues.


It has to be said that the development of molecular biology, of bio-computering and the genome sequencing of more and more living organisms, as well as the growing awareness of the loss of biodiversity on our planet, all take part in this movement. Furthermore a crucial aspect in the uses of the notion of ‘living organism’ is that it is not centred on a particular category, plant, animal or human life but points to their common denominator: life. One of the goals of this issue dealing with biological resources is to document the growing power (of humans) over the living, this bio-power that Foucault evoked to study « the manner in which power and knowledge take into account the processes of life and undertake to control and modify them” (Foucault, 1976, p. 187).


As a matter of fact, beyond the different categories of living entities, practices consisting in placing the living on a scale of value and usefulness have multiplied of the last few decades. The development of protected natural areas, bioethical laws, the collection of biological samples managed by biobanks, or animal selection based on genotypic criteria, are all examples of this trend. As the issues around biological resources are rising to the forefront in international political agendas, they are concomitantly occupying a place of importance in research agendas in the field of social sciences. However, studies on the living are mostly concerned with one of the three categories. This categorisation may be meaningful with regard to the specific issues and distinct practices in each field but it remains interesting to adopt a transversal position and track down the issues that concern all three life forms. This is the view point that has guided the content of this report on biological resources and directed this introductory text.


To put into light its heuristic, I will first look at the transversal issues relating to knowledge around biological resources. In the following section I will trace the history of the notion of biological resources. Then I will examine the specific practices in use in the different fields, linking in the data given by the other articles in this issue. To conclude I will give an overview of the issues concerning regulation that concern all the uses of biological resources.



Before looking at the specific practices concerning the different categories of the living, let’s take a look at the transversal issues relating to knowledge around biological resources. For both plant, animal or more specifically human entities rely on metrological chains and infrastructures, their use is regulated by a strict legal and ethical framework and around them converge various epistemic communities. I will now examine these in turn.

Economicising nature and the living


From the 70’s, in order to convince decision-makers of the urgency of protecting our planet, naturalists put forward the argument that biological diversity on Earth is economically beneficial. Since then, from press articles to political speeches, from scientific research to activists groups, an “economicalized” concept of nature has acquired legitimacy and is becoming mainstream [2]  See Lévêque and Mounolou (2001) for this kind of naturalized... [2] . Various “typologies of goods and services generated by ecosystems” have appeared. Water induction, erosion control, ground formation are some examples of these services. Once these services and goods are identified, their value is transferred, from what it would cost for humans to deliver the same service. In a classical article published by Nature Journal, a team of ecologists, economists and geographists proposed this kind of monetary evaluation of the services rendered by ecosytems (e.g. Water and air filtering, earth retainment, food cycles, pollination, population regulation through trophic chains). According to the authors, if these services had been merchandised they would have cost between 16 000 and 54 000 billion dollars per year (Costanza et al., 1997).


The question of the loss of biodiversity, first addressed as an environmental problem and later addressed within the frame of the management of natural resources (with genetic resources up front), has provoked the implementing of measures, indicators, form investments and other calculating devices required to make the monetary equivalence possible [3]  On these activities concerning objectivation and qualification... [3] .


The same goes where humans are concerned. As an example, in French law, the human body is not considered as patrimony, and organs or elements cannot be sold [4]  See the book by Belliver and Noiville (2006) and the... [4] . Nevertheless hospital tumorbanks will sell a cross section of tumoral tissue from 90 to 110 € or a sample of tumoral DNA between 100 and 200 € [5]  In this tumorbanks follow indications given by a work... [5] , the price being a contribution to the cost of the accessibility of biological resources. In fact, charging goods and services regarding biological resources in the biomedical field is on its way to becoming common practice (In this example it’s tumorbanks, but it is also true of biological resource centres (BRC) and in Biobanks in general). Right now, the market for human biological resources is booming, (Kaushik, 2006; Waldby, Mitchell, 2006; Pontille et al., 2007; Mitchell, Waldby, 2010) and the extension of this merchandizing logic (e.g. patents) to living organisms is far from being marginal (Dasgupta, David, 1994; Cassier, 2002; Revue d’Économie Industrielle, 2002; Bellivier, Noiville, 2006; Aubertin et al., 2007; Bonneuil, Thomas, 2009).


This stance is also tangible with regards to animals, where the commercialisation of farmed animals (necessarily linked to profits) makes selection all-important (e.g. cattle) and encourages the use of tools to evaluate the genetic value of animals. Performance control, offspring testing, and, more recently, the study of links, prediction equations and the genetic value index are all examples of the calculating devices used in the husbandry and commercialisation of animals.


These economicalizing practices involve the processes of “metrologisation, rationalization and framing” of nature and life forms by “classifying, assessing costs and calculating” (Bidet et al., 2009, p. 277) [6]  I am refering here to the theoretical framework created... [6] , be it services rendered by an ecosystem, biological or genetic resources or indicators of climate change. This is a first issue related to knowledge. What makes possible the commercial valuing of nature and living entities (and linked resources)? How is this part of it’s economicisation? What are the legal frameworks? What are the international political issues at stake ? In which sense can the term “market” be used (the biodiversity market, or biological resource market)? How do the metrological chains fit in and more generally the infrastructures which uphold them? What conventions are involved? What differences exist (between parties, northern and southern countries)?

Fixing rules for uses


A second issue, consubstantial to the first, is just as important: fixing rules for the use, and controlling the distribution of these resources (whether of plant, animal or human origin). The possibility of extracting elements from the human body, from animals or from nature, conserving them in a stabilized form, and using them, has effectively been accompanied by a more and more precise legal and ethical framework [7]  Cf. the 1992 convention on biological diversity, French... [7] . This has brought up numerous issues in the legal and ethical fields (e.g. Commin, 2010 for Humans), in the (bio)political field and in the economical field. Controversies such as those around GMOs and climate change have also emerged. What is in the spotlight is the new practices, their acceptability, their legitimacy and their justifications.


The on-going evolutions are transversal to the issues on hand, around knowledge, in the sense that it is required to socialise biological entities in a shared world, and make the actions that occur acceptable. The essentialist approach proceeds from a naturalised conception of biological resources, and is frequently found in specialised papers (e.g. Inserm, 2005; Vlastos et al., 2009) and in institutional and political discourse (where natural, genetic or living resources are often mentioned) [8]  This is one of the reasons for criticism of the term... [8] ; if you take a step back from this approach, the work involved in conditioning and bringing into existence these resources comes to light. This call for studies to document the activities and analysis to understand how the conditioning is linked to the uses the resources will be put to, which they shape as much as they make possible [9]  The definition suggested by the CBD (see the 1st footnote)... [9] . The regulating of biological resources is also concerned. What tensions exist between goods considered as public or belonging to the community and their private uses? How does the living become private property (contracts, intellectual property rights, patents)? What difficulties become apparent concerning the mutualised access of numerous parties to equipment, areas, databases, knowing that there are underlying professional implications? What type of negotiations and cooperation are involved?


Other transversal issues around knowledge can also be found, such as learning to manage our relationship to the environment differently, thus reviewing recurring and old-fashioned ontological dualities (e.g. “Man versus Nature”). These are being replaced progressively by an ontological solidarity, that authors such as B. Latour (1991, 1993), P. Descola (2005, 2011) or R. Larrere (2005) have contributed to putting into perspective. It would be interesting to take closer look at just how the dynamics of the living are taken into account by territorial management, and how the practice of “integrated” “natural resource” management and ecosystems are approached. Still more importantly, the reconfiguration of “productive chains of dynamic interdependence between human activity and biological environment” (Kalaora, 2010, p. 12) is an experience it would be worth analysing in depth.

Redefining epistemic practices


A French mission called Terre-Ocean was brutally interrupted in Venezuela in June 2010 through lack of financing. It seemed the end of scientific expeditions on board “La Boudeuse” (the namesake of the frigate under the orders of Bougainville, who, shouldered by a team of scientists, explored the seas and oceans of the globe at the bidding of Louis XV). The magnificent three mast ship, flying French pavilion and devoted to scientific exploration, relied on fragile financial support that was a hair’s breadth from being withdrawn, the boat in danger of being sold (cf. Le Monde, Jan. 7th 2011) [10]  After many months of doubt, a endowment fund called... [10] . During it’s last mission, there may have been many scientists from different disciplines on board but the expedition’s project had not been devised and implemented by a panel of scientists but by the directing committee of the “Société des Explorateurs Français” in association with the partner of the mission, the French Ministry of Research.


This anecdote illustrates the diversity of systems and parties involved in the production of data related to life forms and climate (Zimmerman, 2008). It shows the position occupied by researchers side by side with other types of producers of knowledge (Callon et al., 2001; Leach et al., 2005; Bonneuil, Demeulenaere, 2007; Charvolin et al., 2007). The question of management of, and access to, the data or database is also relevant (Hilgartner, Brandt-Rauf, 1994; Baker, Bowker, 2005; Hine, 2006; Milanovic et al., 2007). Knowledge producing institutions being more or less open [11]  The notion of openess designates “operations that consist... [11] , and scientists being more or less involved, generates yet more issues around knowledge. How involved in these activities are the researchers (in terms of shaping, calculations, collecting data, appropriation and propagation)? What kind of dynamic is generated between the scientists and other parties involved in these activities ? How does this participate in the development of activities that are inherent to knowledge producers. How does one qualify the epistemic changes that are occurring and what can one link them to?


These questions concern the evolving practical conditions of work for scientists. Several options are open to them. They can participate in governing systems confronting uncertainty management (Chalas et al., 2009). Or they can contribute to new forms of articulation between the results of scientific research and the social groups concerned by this research [12]  In the environmental field see Fortier and Alphandéry... [12] (Callon, Rabeharisoa, 2008).


Beyond the positioning of biological resources, with regard to issues concentrated on their belonging to a particular category, the heuristic in a transcategorial approach is clear. They (the biological resources) belong within the metrological chains that contribute to social and environmental relationships. They are the object of practices destined to regulate uses, circulation and the appropriation of the living. They modify the activities in which they are used.


Biological resources bring about considerations, opening on fundamental issues, relating to the environment, health, science, agro-industries. But what is happening on the level of practical experience where they are used? And on a planetary scale, in relation to biodiversity? As well as on the human scale (with regard to health)? And what about animals (with regard to the use of genomics in farming)?


The articles in this issue will examine these aspects by each looking at a single category of the living. But before presenting the issues they study, the following section will retrace the genesis of the notion of biological resources.



The first expressions of political concern about the environment can be found at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Without going into the details of this history [13]  See the work of the French association for the history... [13] , it is interesting to note the semantic evolutions from “nature” to “biodiversity” (passing through “sustainable development”, “natural”, and then “living resources”). 1923 is an important date: that year, the first International Congress for the Protection of Nature was held in Paris at the Natural History Museum. On the 1st of June, L Mangin, the director of the museum presiding at the congress, pronounced a speech that was remarkable in more than one way. Here we will retain only one aspect: it was a stirring call for the protection of nature, for aesthetic and practical purposes [14]  “We also wish to denounce and put a stop to the desastrous... [14] . However it is only later that a utilitarian vision of nature will truly emerge.


In effect, it is 25 years later, in 1948 that the International Union for the Protection of nature (IUPN) was created. The founding text of this organisation states in it’s introduction that “the statement ‘protection of nature’ can be considered as englobing the safegarding of the living world, man’s natural habitat. This entity includes the natural renewable resources of the earth, a primary factor for every civilisation” [15]  For excerpts of this speach and an analysis, see the... [15] . Even if the term “nature” is used, the term “resource” is upheld and will become more and more central, overtaking the first. There are political reasons to this: the General Secretary of the IUPN, as of 1949, realised that the mobilisation around the protection of nature was insufficient. He therefore decided to redirect his arguments towards “anthropocentric utilitarianism” (Harroy, 1949) [16]  Development that is visible in the name of the organisation... [16] , dropping moral and aesthetic considerations. It is from here that the concept of sustainable development grows with the objective of conciliating economic development and the protection of the natural world. In this movement, the use of the term “nature” is progressively replaced by that of “living resources”, leading to “biological diversity” or “biodiversity” in the 1980’s, with founding works such as those written by Wilson and Peter (1988) and Wilson (1992).


This semantic shift suggests that the term “biodiversity” has replaced “nature” because of its greater attractiveness, mobilising capacity and flexibility [17]  In this sense biodiversity could be apprehended as... [17] . The notion of “resource” allows nature to be apprehended, no longer as a monolithic bloc, a global and globalising entity, but as quite the opposite. Composed of a multitude of elements (resources), nature can be taken into account according to managerial criteria. The issue is to manage nature or the natural capital within an economic system where nature is instrumentalised in the form of resources. Biological diversity can therefore be apprehended through it’s functional, ecological or genetic aspects. In this way the 20th century moves from the “protection of nature to the piloting of biodiversity” to use the title of P. Blandin’s book (2009) that highlights the terms and stakes of this transition.


The point of this quick overview is to offer the opportunity of recalling Wittgentstein’s teaching: to be fully conveyed, language must be replaced within the practice where it occurs. Retracing the genealogy of the term “biodiversity”, even in rapid strokes, highlights it’s anthropocentric roots (nature has meaning only in regard to a humans point of view) and utilitarian background (the only interesting elements are what is potentially useful). This rhetoric, and the practices linked to it must be placed in the successive historical configurations. Through these, a static concept of “nature in equilibrium” (wild and unsullied by man) has been replaced by the concept of “co-changing” (between living and non-living but also between different species), more dynamic (Blondel, 1995).


And now we shall turn to the historical point of view of, Christophe Bonneuil et Marianna Fenzi, dedicated to the study of genetic resources within the economy of practices, where they are conditioned and used. Their article offers a “historicization” of plant life biological resources and of their uses through the governing frames and the framings of the problems. The authors concludes upon the contemporary period, which they consider to be marked by a “shifting in the governing of living entities”: from “genetic resources” to “cultivated biodiversity”.


Empirical exploration of what is done today with biological resources is the theme of the four other articles that make up this issue. Each in its way tackles the question of access to the spaces where such resources dwell, and the practices of socialisation and regulation by which the resources are associated with the world we have in common.



Collecting biological resources or producing information about them, supposes, of course, that one has access to them. However the spaces where the resources dwell are not homogeneous and contribute to the differentiation of the conditions of access. It is the case of the Amazonian rainforest and the rich Mexican environment. The two situations are under comparative analysis in the article by Gérard Filoche and Jean Foyer. The spaces in question are unique (and circumscribed within the borders of a state). The terms and conditions of access and appropriation are the object of state-to-state negotiations within the framework defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The authors judiciously point out that the Convention reduces biological resources twice, firstly by qualifying them as genetic resources(“we are therefore confronted with a reduction of the diversity of life to it’s fundamental unit, the gene”), secondly by reducing the diversity to it’s material ontology and, in fine, to it’s instrumental potential (resources), particularly in a economical perspective.


The authors go on to analyse the progressive implementation of the legal framework of the Convention. It is born of a compromise between supplier and user countries: the states that have genetic resources exchange them against financial and technological advantages supplied by the countries that can exploit and promote the resources. In return this should finance conservation. But the bioprospecting contracts -the implementing of which is considered by Filoche and Foyer to be the chance for genetic resources to be politically put to the test- are shifting from their original goal (as a instrument promoting biodiversity) towards more “economical uses” (like the promotion of the environmental services in Brazil) or political ones (debates on GMO and biosecurity in Brazil).


It becomes apparent that, according to the authors, the category of genetic resources that is supposed to regulate bioprospection activities “is very little operative”. However one has to keep in mind that this has sparked further economicisation of nature. Attributing ownership rights on genetic resources to suppliers countries, leads to a change in the exchange systems whereabouts free access in reference to the notion of a common world patrimony is no longer possible. Access is now controlled within the framework of a goods and services market, in relation with the term “biodiversity” (from the CBD held in 1992 up to Nagoya in 2010). To summarize the situation, at present, the erosion of biodiversity has been slightly held back by the Convention and its successors (this being one of the fundamental issues at stake), and the “developing countries’“ assertion of sovereignty over their natural resources has not induced new well-balanced relationships between the north and south (Thomas, 2006; Revue Tiers-Monde, 2010). More fundamentally, the critical political issue of instituting biological diversity as public property (Callon, 1994) without excluding private uses, remains outstanding, despite the frame the Convention has given both to the development of biotechnologies and to the exploitation of genetic resources (see Maljean-Dubois, 2005, for a legal analysis).


Access to biological resources is presented from a different angle in the text by Neil Stephens, Paul Atkinson and Peter Glasner, since it is a multitude of restricted spaces that are in question (or confined spaces as opposed to the outdoor spaces in the previous article), containing human cells : stem cell banks. The article is about the internationalisation of the economy concerning tissues and derived lines of embryo stem cells. “Characterizing cultural specificity of the practise of banking” with regard to the international standardization practices, is its object. If the main issue at stake is to connect stem cell banks by establishing an international network, it is to improve the therapeutic practices the banks and calls rely on. The authors analyse the devices implemented to harmonise the technical and ethical aspects of stem cell banking activities at an international level, and more precisely in the UK, in Spain and in India. The structuring of this exchange area raises not only issues about the stocking but also around trusting practice that is considered as a prerequisite to the organisation of cooperation in different forms. The real issue highlighted here is the “guarantee of the legitimacy of stem cells in social and scientific terms”, insofar as putting them on the market requires socialising and regulating these biological resources of human origin [18]  On the organization of hematopoiëtic stem sell donations... [18] .


Here also is the political aspect of socialising and regulating these biological resources of human origin. The concern with trust, that the authors have studied, refers to the double (symmetrical) engagement of cells and tissues on one side and humans on the other. The technical dimensions (e.g. quality insurance, biosecurity) as well as bioethical dimensions (the cells must be legal and their availability “justified” on the ethical but also political level) are concerned. This, in practical terms, means that controversy is avoided, trust is built up, and the institutional practices become acceptable. Just so many aspects that can be applied to a far wider scope than embryo cells, concerning biobanks in general as spaces of intervention on the living (human) (Gottweiss, Petersen, 2008).


The use of stem cells to clinical ends not only contributes to the evolution of biomedical practices by multiplying the possibilities of intervention on the living. Given their strong connectivity and the growing space they take up in contemporary care and research they are also the main support of innovative medical practice. They give access to personalised medicine (like pharmaco-genomics and biotherapies), to predictive medicine (with the development of genetic tests and the storing of stem cells for later use), to regenerative medicine (cell and tissue regeneration). In this manner they participate in the reconfiguration of relationships between biomedical sciences, the medical body and the market (Dodier, 2003): this is already effective on the expanding market for stem cells (Waldby, Mitchell, 2006) and more generally that of biological resources too. ”The public health system” (Giacomini et al., 2007) and its capacity of regulation on the European level (Faulkner, 2009) is also already being put to the test.


The topic of the article by Céline Granjou and Isabelle Mauz is situated on an intermediate scale, more restricted than that of natural open spaces, and wider than that of a laboratory. It is a well delimited zone in the French Alps identified as a “workshop zone”. This kind of workshop is responsible, on a national level, for the collection of data on the modification of ecosystems linked to the evolutions of practice concerning the earth and climate, and as such, is instructive as to the terms of production of the environmental data and how they are accessed by various heterogeneous parties bearing differentiated expectations that must nevertheless be reconciled by forms of agreements. The text is about the essential task of data production (ecological, agronomic or climatic data) within contemporary ecology, and more precisely about the organisation of a research and management group, interacting on the scale of a “workshop zone”. The article shows how the scientists equip their work (of data production) by regulating the collaborations they entertain with other parties. Here the workshop zone itself is the common instrument of regulation: access to biological resources is given through the mediation of national public policy, giving workshops the status of big equipment( thereby being the instrument of public action). This forces scientists to compose with other parties involved in the systems/devices where (professional) recognition is at stake, founded on the circulation of data.


The new terms of collaboration and connection between parties, the assembling of subsequent data into databases and their growing use, all these elements contribute to redefining the layout of activities that constitute scientific work and it’s organisation (Hine, 2006). For using data relative to the environment, without having directly taken part in its development, has made unprecedented difficulties emerge, notwithstanding the relational aspects of trust. Problems that are due, in particular, to the variations of scale, that frequently appear in environmental sciences (Zimmerman, 2008). Further upstream, the constructing terms of public problems (e.g. local, environmental) also have their importance and as such should be taken into account since they participate in the setting of devices in which state and public parties interact around tangible objects of action, producing performative situated knowledge.


Lastly, the article by Julie Labatut, Franck Aggeri, Bernard Bibé and Nicole Girard is devoted to evolving terms of production of knowledge as applied to the management and selection of animal genetic resources used in agriculture. Along a time line, the authors study the transition from a local market organised around reproduces (animals) to a national, or international, market structured around semen and genetic services. By localizing more specifically on the case of ovine milk breeds from the eastern Pyrenees they illustrate how resorting to genetics (genomics, DNA chips, a “genetic index”) has mustered new forms of cooperation between farming professionals, public research and the state. The authors highlight the appearance, structuring and destabilisation of intensive selectivity with regard to the management of animal genetic resources in French farming. They do this by showing the succession of different schemes of selection that all aim to improve animal genetic resources. Through the different developments, a logic of (genetic) service has replaced a cooperative logic (largely due to genetic resources and their ever expanding role on the market) thereby destabilizing the intensive scheme in place and allowing competition between distinct schemes.


Instruments and resources linked to genetic genomics are central to this dynamic. They take part in the making of the sociotechnical artefacts that the ovine milk breeds are, and equip the goods and genetic services markets where different selection schemes cohabitate (with competitive or cooperative links).


But the issues at stake in these practices are much larger than the concerns to improve animal genetic resources in farming. The example of aquaculture is a show case: borders between farmed populations and wild populations are porous in that the environments they live in are not sealed off from each other. Some farmed animals are likely to find themselves in a wild environment and become the vectors introducing farms genes into wild populations. What will the ecological consequences of resulting hybrids be? What threat to biological diversity is this potential influx of genes from farmed animals to their wild cousins (when they still exist)? If this problem is posed differently according to the species of animal, it is not reduced to them since it also concerns species of plants (e.g. Wild black poplar trees threatened by the genetic pollution of farmed poplars. Their genes are likely to cross over by flux and give rise to hybrid poplar trees).


The articles that make up this issue give a good idea of the extent to which socialising genes, and more generally biological resources, is a complex regulatory undertaking. Complex because these resources have an all-increasing connectivity and they are the bearers of heterogeneous and sometimes divergent interests (e.g. industrial, scientific, ecological, medical and political logics are at work in the use of biological resources and don’t converge naturally). All the more complex because, to be involved in actions, these resources must comply to criteria that give them the legitimacy without which they would be contested.


Therefore being capable of implementing testing devices devised to apprehend the quality of biological resources would appear to be a political stake of the utmost importance. One can wager that these tests will not be limited to a market based dimension. In the case of biological resources, questioning the place of economical evaluation within their use and questioning the relevance of their economic anchoring (as well as market regulations) is one, and not the least, of the issues at stake as a way of taking into account the dynamics of the living in human activities.



Even if this introductory text bears my name only, it is not an exclusively individual undertaking. I would like to thank the editing committee of the revue for their trust, particularly D. Vinck, R. Arventis, F. Charvolin and especially D. Pontille who suggested the idea to me and supported the project throughout its conception. I would like equally to thank Soisik Faulkner and “Les poissons de Babel” for their help assistance.


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The Convention (CBD) defines biological resources as “genetic resources, organisms or elements of them, populations or any other biotic element within ecosystems that has a use or value at the present day or may have in the future”.


See Lévêque and Mounolou (2001) for this kind of naturalized utilitarian approach, and Vivien (2005) for his work on the economical issues.


On these activities concerning objectivation and qualification of entities, classification, measures and the invisible infrastructures in which they take place, see the works of Bawker and Star (1999) Callon and Munesia (2003), Vatin (2009).


See the book by Belliver and Noiville (2006) and the legal framing done by Dupont, for the Parisian state hospital system (Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris).


In this tumorbanks follow indications given by a work group on biological resources, composed of experts and led by the French «Institut National du Cancer»: see “Étude des coûts de fonctionnement et recommandations pour la mise à disposition de ressources biologiques à des fins de recherché”, Inca, Boulogne-Billancourt, 2010. See also for many documents in free access. For an detailed empirical (fieldwork) analysis on these services by cancerous tumor banks see my report “On the socialisation of cancerous tumours” research financed by the French “Institut National du Cancer Inserm U558, 2008.


I am refering here to the theoretical framework created by A. Binet, F. Vatin and their colleagues (Vatin, 2009) to take into account the “economicisation of the world” (cf the manifesto entitled “The sense of the measure” and published as an appendix to the afore said book.


Cf. the 1992 convention on biological diversity, French laws on bioethics and their modifications since 1994, aswell as the 1966 laws on husbandry (modified in 2009) and the 2006 laws on farming directives.


This is one of the reasons for criticism of the term resource, taxed as “resourcism”, that emerges (tacitly in environmental issues) from the logic of “protecting to exploit at a later date” (Ramousse, Salin, 2007). Insisting on the ontology of these resources is efficient in blocking the implicit presumptions it encloses.


The definition suggested by the CBD (see the 1st footnote) also rests on this sort of approach by considering that the potential usefulness of “biotic elements” is one of their constitutive characteristics.


After many months of doubt, a endowment fund called “Mission Terre Océan” was created and announced to the public during a press conference held on March the 17th 2011 at the Oceanographic Institut in Paris “La Boudeuse sets sail once more !”


The notion of openess designates “operations that consist in linking the legitimacy of an institution to it’s capacity of opening up to the outside world”. On the other hand, operations of enclosure “consist in building the legitimacy of institutions on their capacity to withstand outside pressure”. Dodier, 2003, p. 30.


In the environmental field see Fortier and Alphandéry (2005) on the implentation of Natura 2000 in France, and Delmeulenaere on plant genetic resources.


See the work of the French association for the history of the protection of nature and environment (website:, especially with regard to state action.


“We also wish to denounce and put a stop to the desastrous destruction (...) of inumerable resources that careful exploitation could render perpetual.”


For excerpts of this speach and an analysis, see the work of P. Blandin (2009, p. 16).


Development that is visible in the name of the organisation itself: It becomes the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in 1956.


In this sense biodiversity could be apprehended as a “border-object” (Star and Griesemer 1989) This is what E. Demeulenaere does (2009). On this subject see the paper that the RAC devotes to this notion coordinated by P. Trompette and D. Vinck (2009). They point out that some properties of such objects have been largely studied in numerous research (like interpretive flexibility). Others have been a lot less studied, like the notion of “invisible infrastructure whereby the border-object carries with it a number of conventions, standards and normes indexed on a community of practices(...)” (Trompette, Vinck, 2009, p.5). Research in the field of biodiversity would gain from studies from this angle. On the plasticity of conected terms like “market” and “bioprospection” see the book published by Aubertin et al. (2007), particularly chapter 7 and the conclusion.


On the organization of hematopoiëtic stem sell donations in France , see the research I have done elsewhere that has been published in part (Milanovic, 2009).

Plan de l'article

    1. Economicising nature and the living
    2. Fixing rules for uses
    3. Redefining epistemic practices

Pour citer cet article

Milanovic Fabien, « Biological resources », Revue d'anthropologie des connaissances 2/ 2011 (Vol. 5, n° 2), p. a-q
DOI : 10.3917/rac.013.0190

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