My Body, My Capital?

In biomedicine, a series of legal cases have generated powerful momentum toward the transfer of rights over the body and its component parts from the individual “owner” to corporations and research institutions. The body has entered the market, becoming capital, just as land once did, though, then as now, not everyone benefits.

LONDON -- In the 1960’s, feminists coined the slogan, “Our bodies, our selves.” But that liberating sentiment has recently undergone an ironic twist. As an anonymous American woman, justifying her decision to undergo cosmetic surgery, put it, “All we have in life is ourselves, and what we can put out there every day for the world to see… Me is all I got.”

The French commentator Hervé Juvin extolled this new attitude towards the body in his 2005 surprise bestseller, L’avènement du corps (The Coming of the Body) . Plastic surgery, the implantation of biochips, piercings – all emblazon the belief that our bodies are our unique property. At the same time, Juvin asserts, because everyone has a body, property has suddenly become democratized.

We appear to live in a time that has witnessed the absolute failure of the grand Enlightenment dreams of linear progress, universal peace, and equality between rich and poor. Together with widespread hostility to organized religion, manifested in such hugely popular books as Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion , disappointment with social ideals means that we turn inward. In the absence of a belief in eternal life, everything becomes invested in this life, this body.

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