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Techniques of genetic engineering are changing the role of living things in the production process. From rabbits that produce human pharmaceuticals in their milk to plants that produce plastics and other building materials in their leaves, life itself is increasingly harnessed as a force of industry – a living factory.
What do these cutting edge developments in biotechnology tell us about our relation to nature? Going beyond the usual focus on the ethics and risks surrounding genetically modified organisms, Kenneth Fish takes the emergence of living factories as an opportunity to revisit fundamental questions concerning the relation between human beings, technology, and the natural world. He examines the coincidence of the living factory metaphor in contemporary accounts of biotechnology and in the work of Karl Marx, who described the machine as "a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demonic powers ... burst forth in the fast and feverish whirl of its countless working organs." Weaving together accounts of biotechnology in the molecular- and cyber-sciences, corporate literature, and environmental sociology, Living Factories casts our contemporary relation to nature in a new light.
Fish shows that living factories reveal the unique role of capitalism in infusing the forces of nature with conscious purpose subordinated to processes of commodification and accumulation, and that they give a new meaning, and urgency, to the liberation of the forces of production from the fetters of capital.
Kenneth Fish is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Winnipeg.