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Senior Research Seminar: Dr Alice Street (University of Edinburgh)

When Jan 24, 2020
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Room, Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge
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Dr Alice Street (University of Edinburgh)

Humanitarian entrepreneurs: Hype and hope in Boston’s biotech hub

What happens when speculative capitalism collides with humanitarian concern? Boston’s biotech hub, long established as a premium location for commercialising life-science research, is also home to a growing number of academic start-up companies looking to develop medical devices for a global health market. This paper tells the stories of a small group of start-ups focused on the development of tiny, rapid, and portable diagnostic tests that are designed to work in places without laboratory infrastructure. The humanitarian-entrepreneurs who people these start-ups operate in a space defined simultaneously by the failure of states and markets to serve the needs of the poor and hope in the capacities of technological innovation to overcome these failures. Through a series of detailed case-studies the paper describes the complex work of aligning economic, scientific and humanitarian values entailed in the development of global health diagnostics, and the norms for success that govern life for a global elite of humanitarian entrepreneurs. While start-ups frequently fail, and their devices are eventually discarded, I show that the making and circulation of their people enables a cultural model of innovation to continue to burgeon in global health.

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