Photo of Kaushik Sunder Rajan
Kaushik Sunder Rajan PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002 Office: Haskell 314 Phone: (773) 702-6151 Email Interests:

Biotechnology; capitalism; comparative ethnography; genomics; globalization; nation-state; political economy; post-colonialism; science and technology studies; subjectivity; India.

Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College; Co-Director, Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

My work lies at the intersection of Medical Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies (STS), with commitments to social theories of capitalism and postcolonial studies. Throughout my career, I have had a three-fold set of intellectual commitments: (a) to explore the nature of scientific knowledge, practice, and institutionalization; (b) to elucidate political economic structures that operate across multiple scales using ethnography; and (c) to theorize contemporary capitalism.

My first two books focused on the global political economy of the life sciences and biomedicine, with an empirical focus on the United States and India. My first book, Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life (Duke, 2006), is a multi-sited ethnography of genomics and post-genomic drug development marketplaces in the United States and India. My second book, Pharmocracy: Knowledge, Value and Politics in Global Biomedicine (Duke, 2017) elucidates the political economy of global pharmaceuticals as seen from contemporary India. Empirically, Pharmocracy traces the decade-long trajectory of pharmaceutical politics after India’s harmonization of clinical trials and intellectual property regimes with globally mandated norms in the mid-2000s. It thereby considers two domains of biomedical politics together, one concerning clinical trials and the other concerning intellectual property and access to medicines. Theoretically, Pharmocracy provokes questions about how value, politics and knowledge come to be related to one another in contemporary global pharmaceutical economies in ways that put both health and democracy at stake.

Alongside, I have an abiding commitment to conceptualizing and developing stakes and modalities for multi-sited ethnographic research and teaching. My most recent book, Multisituated: Ethnography as Diasporic Praxis, was published Duke University Press in 2021. It considers the promises and potentials of multi-sited ethnography in the light of current debates around the decolonization of Anthropology and of the university. The book considers the continuing resonance of critiques of representation in the human sciences articulated in the 1980s for contemporary developments in the doing, teaching, and disciplining of ethnography. It resituates these critiques considering the variously diasporic intellectual and biographical trajectories of many of ethnography’s current practitioners. Thus, the book explores ethnography as a diasporic praxis, and calls for its reconceptualization as a situated practice of knowledge production, ethical interlocution and political intervention.

My current research project, provisionally titled Just Health?: Constitutionalism and Postcolonial Dis-ease, concerns the ways in which a politics of health in South Africa plays out through the law, consequent to the guarantee of a fundamental right to health in the South African Constitution. I am also involved in a performance-based collaborative endeavor with writer Stacy Hardy (Makhanda, South Africa), and composer Neo Muyanga (Cape Town, South Africa), Pulmonographies. Funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago, the collaboration explores what we call a “politics of breath”. The project attends at once to modes of the oppression and exploitation of breath and to practices of collectivization of suppressed and severed breath. These forms of conspiratorial collectivity can be found everywhere from South African student protests to art, poetry and music, to class action that draws upon the rights enshrined in the South African Constitution. Together, we have been developing a series of performance lectures, targeted towards different kinds of audiences in a multiplicity of venues.


Recent Research / Recent Publications

Selected Publications

Pharmocracy: Trials of Global Biomedicine. Duke University Press.

Biocapital: The Constitution of Post-Genomic Life. Duke University Press.

(Ed.) Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics and Governance in Global Markets. Duke University Press.

Trans-formations of Biology and of Theory. In D. Boyer, J. Faubioin and G. Marcus, eds., Theory is more than it used to be. Cornell University Press.

(w/ Judith Farquhar) "Introduction" to Special Issue on Knowledge/Value: Information, Archives, Databases. East Asian Science, Technology and Society. 8(4): 383-89.

(w/ Sabina Leonelli) Introduction: Biomedical Trans-actions, Postgenomics, and Knowledge/Value. Public Culture. 25(3): 463-476.

Pharmaceutical Crises and Questions of Value: Terrains and Logics of Global Therapeutic Politics. South Atlantic Quarterly. 111(2):321-346.

Experimental Values: Indian Clinical Trials and Surplus Health. New Left Review, 45: 67-88.

Subjects of Speculation: Emergent Life Sciences and Market Logics in the US and India. American Anthropologist 107(1): 19-30.