Vital World: Life on the Line…

Rosemary Coombe
Dept. of Communication and Culture
York University

My title is the breathless slogan featured on the bag given to all attendees at the Convention of Biological Diversity Access and Benefit Sharing meetings at the Hague in 2002. Along with the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Diversity, and the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, this Convention is typical of new neoliberal legal instruments that attempt to govern “the variety of all life”. Proponents or these regimes share a rhetoric animated by convictions of pending ‘loss’ to marshall international, state and community investments in preservation, conservation, and safeguarding of threatened distinctions. Such distinctions must be defined, inventorized, and otherwise rendered sufficiently static to be measured and evaluated in terms either of their capacity to represent the (threatened) capacity for human difference or the immediacy of their potential for extinction. Simultaneously, the fear that such activities may artificially ‘freeze’ these genetic resources, traditional knowledges, or cultural practices (be these in seed banks, data bases or museums) incites a continuing set of new disciplinary practices. These in turn give birth to new hybrids for maintaining vitality, which I will explore.