Introduction: The Biotech Century, Human Capital, and Genre

  • Justin Omar Johnston
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


This introduction begins by exploring the scientific, political, and legal narratives that have framed the twenty-first century as the biotech century. While these narratives have responded to major developments in bioscience, the story of a biotech future has increasingly relocated “the human” as standing behind or emerging after biotechnological interventions. This is due, in part, to the key role human capital theory has played in developing neoliberal definitions of the human as never-human-enough. I argue that the directive to “be more [than] human” sits comfortably at the intersection of neoliberal and transhumanist models of human belonging. I then preview how contemporary novels engage the biotech future. While these works recognize biotechnological and economic accounts of human belonging in the twenty-first century, they also expose and interrupt the linkages between apocalyptic fear and dystopian depression, genres that shape and limit our collective capacity to imagine an alternative, posthuman, or utopian future.


  1. Apple Inc. 2016. The Human Family – Shot on iPhone. Accessed 12 Feb 2017.
  2. Atwood, Margaret. 2004. Oryx and Crake. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  3. Bauer, Martin W., Martin W. Bauer, G. Gaskell, and John Durant, eds. 2002. Biotechnology—the Making of a Global Controversy. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Becker, Gary S. 1993. A Treatise on the Family: Enlarged Edition. Enlarged edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bliss, Catherine. 2012. Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bostrom, Nick. 2003. The Transhumanist FAQ: V 2.1. World Transhumanist Association. Accessed 12 May 2014.
  7. Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Boston: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bush, George W. 2001. Presidential Remarks on Stem Cell Research. American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank. Accessed 3 Oct 2014.
  10. Chevron. 2009. Chevron Human Energy Ad, DrivingSalesBeyond. Accessed 16 June 2016.
  11. Cisco. 2005. Cisco Anthem – Welcome to the Human Network Ad, UnifiedC. Accessed 16 June 2016.
  12. Clinton, William. 1997. Remarks Announcing Proposed Human Cloning Prohibition Legislation. Government Publishing Office, June 9. Accessed 7 June 2017.
  13. Clinton, William, and Tony Blair. 2000. Remarks on Completion of the First Survey of the Human Genome Project. Government Publishing Office, June 26. Accessed 7 June 2017.
  14. Collen, Alanna. 2015. 10% Human: How Your Body’s Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness. New York: Harper. Kindle.Google Scholar
  15. Cooper, Melinda. 2008. Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  16. Deleuze, Gilles. 1997. Postscript on Control Societies. Negotiations 1972–1990. New York: Columbia University of Press.Google Scholar
  17. Dow Chemical Ad. 2006. The Human Element. Rgraup. Accessed 3 Nov 2014.
  18. Economist Intelligence Unit. 2007. Biology’s Big Bang. The Economist. June 14.Google Scholar
  19. Feher, Michel. 2009. Self-Appreciation; Or, The Aspirations of Human Capital. Public Culture 21 (1): 21–41. Scholar
  20. Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? New York: Zero Books.Google Scholar
  21. Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics. Trans. Graham Burchell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  22. Franklin, Sarah. 2007. Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy. Durham and London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fukuyama, Francis. 2002. Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. New York: Picador.Google Scholar
  24. Funk, McKenzie. 2014. Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming. New York: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  25. Grant, Hugh. 2011. A Call to Agricultural Action. Forbes, November 10. Accessed 14 Oct 2017.
  26. Haraway, Donna. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2005. Never Let Me Go. New York: Vintage International.Google Scholar
  29. Jackson, Alicia. 2015. Programing the Living World. DARPAtv. Accessed 14 Oct 2017.
  30. Kurzweil, Ray. 2005. The Singularity Is Near. New York: Penguin Books. Kindle.Google Scholar
  31. Lowe, Lisa. 2015. The Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham and London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Marshall, John F., and Graham Ritchie. 2013. Welcome to the Human Era. Hill Holliday and Lippincott. Accessed 6 Mar 2017.
  33. McClanahan, Annie. 2017. Becoming Non-Economic: Human Capital Theory and Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos. Theory & Event 20 (2): 510–519.Google Scholar
  34. Mincer, Jacob. 1981. Human Capital and Economic Growth. The National Bureau of Economic Research. Accessed 3 Sep 2017.
  35. Mirowski, Philip. 2002. Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. More, Max. 2013. The Philosophy of Transhumanism. In The Transhumanist Reader, ed. Max More and Natasha Vita-More, 3–17. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. Scholar
  37. Nike Ad. 2010. Human Chain. Adage. Accessed 13 July 2015.
  38. Obama, Barack. 2009. Obama’s Remarks on Stem Cell Research. The New York Times, March 9.
  39. Osnos, Evan. 2017. Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich. The New Yorker, January 22.Google Scholar
  40. Preciado, Paul B. 2008. Pharmaco-Pornographic Politics: Towards a New Gender Ecology. Parallax 14 (1): 105–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Puar, Jasbir K. 2009. Prognosis Time: Towards a Geopolitics of Affect, Debility and Capacity. Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory 19: 161–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reagan, Ronald. 1989. President Reagan’s Farewell Address to the Nation, ReaganFoundation Accessed 16 Apr 2017.
  43. Reebok TV Commercial. 2015. Freak Show: Be More Human. Accessed 14 Oct 2017.
  44. Richardson, Sarah S., and Hallam Stevens. 2015. Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rifkin, Jeremy. 1999. The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World. New York: Penguin Putnam.Google Scholar
  46. Samsung mobile Ad. 2012. Designed for Humans, Inspired by Nature. SamsungmobileUA. 9 Nov 2015.
  47. Schultz, Theodore. 1961. Investment in Human Capital. The American Economic Review 51 (1): 1–17.Google Scholar
  48. Sinha, Indra. 2007. Animal’s People. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.Google Scholar
  49. Thiel, Peter. 2009. The Education of a Libertarian. Cato Unbound. Accessed 18 Dec 2016.
  50. Time Magazine cover, The Future of Medicine. 1999. 153.1.,9263,7601990111,00.html. Accessed 14 Oct 2012.
  51. Wade, Nicholas. 2010. A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures. The New York Times, June 12.Google Scholar
  52. Williams, Raymond. 1977. Marxism and Literature, 1977. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Wilson, E.O. 2008. E.O. Wilson on the Century of Biology. Big Think. Accessed 4 Jan 2014.
  54. ———. 2015. The Meaning of Human Existence. New York: Liveright Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  55. Winterson, Jeanette. 2007. The Stone Gods. London: Hamish Hamilton Press and Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  56. Wolfe, Cary. 2010. What Is Posthumanism? Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Justin Omar Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.Stony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

Personalised recommendations