, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 224–244 | Cite as

US biobanking strategies and biomedical immaterial labor

  • Robert Mitchell
Original Article


Many commentators seem in agreement that the ‘promise’ of the genomics revolution is to be realized through the creation of large-scale biobanks: that is, collections of human tissue and associated data from populations ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of subjects. Yet obtaining access to such large volumes of biospecimens and data is often difficult, and especially so in the United States. Drawing on published material and interviews with biobank managers conducted between 2006 and 2011, this article provides a tripartite typology of strategies currently employed by US biobanking advocates, distinguishing between de novo, networking and repurposing biobanking strategies. This typology emphasizes the economic aspects of biobanking, and emphasizes as well a conflict between two different understandings of biological citizenship: on the one hand, a mode of biological citizenship that links donation to a form of clinical labor in order to enable access to tissues and health biographies of individuals; on the other, an approach to biovalue that seeks to avoid both clinical labor and biological citizenship in favor of protocols designed to extract biovalue unobtrusively from already existing patterns of health-care and life by means of what I call ‘biomedical immaterial labor’.


biobanking clinical labor immaterial labor de novo networking repurposing 


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Copyright information

© The London School of Economics and Political Science 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Mitchell
    • 1
  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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