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What’s in a name? On affect, value and the bio-economy

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Abstract

This paper examines the argument that the contemporary convergence of economy and species existence signals the emergence of a novel and distinctive formation, the ‘bio-economy’. It does by focusing on the role that the preservation of three breeds of sheep, the Xisqueta, the Sambucana and the Herdwick, plays in the renewal of agricultural communities in the Catalan Pyrenees, the Maritime Alps and the Lake District. In so doing, this paper not only draws attention the importance of affect to the emergence of bio-economic relationships, but also brings the value attached to the encounter of human and non-human animals into dialogue with an understanding of the same assemblage as an intensive field. As such, the paper contributes to ongoing discussions about forms of economic valuation and their production.

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Notes

  1. Practices of valuation comes in diverse guises. As Dussauge et al. (2015) observe, such diversity currently is the object of critical inquiry, particularly in relation to the many disruptive effects of the contemporary convergence of economic exchange and species existence.

  2. Sheep have long been iconic, and so have their breeds. On the history of sheep, see Ryder (2007) and Armstrong (2016). For an equally historical perspective on the iconic functions of breeds, including ovine breeds, see instead Woods (2017).

  3. For a discussion of the conceptual foundations of the approach taken, see (Berry & Palladino 2018), where arguments over the nature of another breed of sheep are the site of reflection on relationships between different modes of conceiving relations between time and value.

  4. One of this paper’s reviewers has asked whether the understanding of the world built around the Xisqueta might not be extended to the Herdwick and whether this might not invalidate the argument that the paper seeks to advance. Consistent with a Weberian understanding of ideal types, the aim here is not to identify the essential characteristics of three different bio-economic formations, but to mobilise differences between the three enterprises at issue to better understand the dynamics and composition of forces shaping a more general relationship, here between affect and the production of value within bio-economic formations.

  5. Helmreich employs the anthropological distinction between “formalist” and “substantivist” accounts of economic life (p. 471). The distinction between discursive and materialist approaches is consistent with Helmreich’s argument and does not discount the possibility that these approaches might be equally historicist. In other words, the approach proposed here seeks to be more symmetric with respect to two different modes of thought about the relationship between organic materials and economic exchange.

  6. While Shukin adopts Derridean and Deleuzian modes of inquiry, Shukin also argues that the ontologies sustaining these modes are complicit with the destructive power of capitalist forms of exchange. Shukin’s implicit naturalism about organisms is examined in a more detailed investigation of the enterprise around the Sambucana.

  7. For all the antagonism, Haraway’s (2008) objections to Deleuzian perspectives on the encounter between human and non-human animals are best characterised as equivocal; see pp. 27–30. Similarly, in a comprehensive review of configurations of non-human animals within continental philosophy, Oliver (2008) notes the distinctiveness of Deleuzian constructions of relations between human and non-human animals but is so ambivalent about their merits as to exclude them from any sustained analysis (pp. 307–308, n. 9).

  8. The enterprise around the Sambucana is the object of an ongoing, more detailed investigation. There is little evidence that the contemporary investment in the phylogenetic identity of the Sambucana is part of a longer local history comparable to that of breed societies in the United Kingdom and the British Empire (Ritvo 1995) and Woods (2017); cf. Sanna (2011).

  9. Agamben argues that Deleuze’s (2001) mobilisation of the ellipsis to characterise the singularity of a lived life offers a wholly different way of understanding human existence. Focusing on Deleuze’s formative reading of Spinoza, as well as their shared interest in those situations where existence is suspended between life and death, Agamben proposes that the hesitation conveyed by ellipsis bears witness Spinoza’s understanding of life as immanent cause. Cooper (2009) disputes Agamben’s reading of Deleuze and Spinoza. On the related notion of linguistic vitalism, see Chiesa and Ruda (2011).

  10. As one of the paper’s reviewers has observed, Tuan (2004) argues that naming and affection are never far removed from dominance. The point here, however, is not to dispute the importance of power, but to draw attention to fissures within its fabric.

  11. The notion of a form of existence that is prior to the separation of subjects and objects, as well as that between human and non-human animals, is discussed at greater length in a paper co-authored with Annalisa Colombino, particularly in relation Nancy (2000) understanding of being as singular–plural.

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Acknowledgements

The author is also grateful to colleagues at the University of Groningen and the University of Edinburgh, as well reviewers at Biosocieties and elsewhere, for their incisive, but always generous, criticism of the argument advanced here.

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Palladino, P. What’s in a name? On affect, value and the bio-economy. BioSocieties 15, 70–89 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-018-0140-1

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