Sarah Hodges

Biotrash in Chennai: On the Neoliberal Governmentality of Risk and Value

This talk is fresh off the boat. Having just finished a year’s worth of fieldwork in Chennai, tracing the economic afterlives of biotrash, or, items routinely discarded in medical encounters, this talk takes a first stab, ahem, at theorizing (or at least outlining) two sets of relationships that animate, and are animated by, Chennai’s biotrash. That is, I seek to understand 1) how medical waste is transformed into a resource, and, at the same time, 2) how this resource is constituted by the transformation of risk into value. This paper contends that whilst the economic afterlives of medical garbage tell many stories, one of the most compelling is that of the at times alarming conditions generated by the growth of Chennai’s healthcare sector over the past three decades of India’s concomitant economic liberalization.

Sarah Hodges is an Associate Professor in the Department of History, and core member of the Centre for the History of Medicine, at the University of Warwick, UK. She is the author of Contraception, Colonialism, and Commerce: Birth Control in South India, 1920-1940 (2008) and editor of Reproductive Health in India: History, Politics, Controversy (2006). Her current research traces the economic afterlives of Chennai’s contemporary biotrash, or, items regularly discarded in routine medical encounters.