Nadine Ehlers and Shiloh Krupar, Deadly Biocultures: The Ethics of Life-Making -UMP, December 2019

imageNadine Ehlers and Shiloh Krupar, Deadly Biocultures: The Ethics of Life-Making -University of Minnesota Press, 2020

I’ve noted this book before, in a post of ‘books received’, but seems especially relevant to the present moment.

In their seemingly relentless pursuit of life, do contemporary U.S. “biocultures”—where biomedicine extends beyond the formal institutions of the clinic, hospital, and lab to everyday cultural practices—also engage in a deadly endeavor? Challenging us to question their implications, Deadly Biocultures shows that efforts to “make live” are accompanied by the twin operation of “let die”: they validate and enhance lives seen as economically viable, self-sustaining, productive, and oriented toward the future and optimism while reinforcing inequitable distributions of life based on race, class, gender, and dis/ability. Affirming life can obscure death, create deadly conditions, and even kill.

Deadly Biocultures examines the affirmation to hope, target, thrive, secure, and green in the respective biocultures of cancer, race-based health, fatness, aging, and the afterlife. Its chapters focus on specific practices, technologies, or techniques that ostensibly affirm life and suggest life’s inextricable links to capital but that also engender a politics of death and erasure. The authors ultimately ask: what alternative social forms and individual practices might be mapped onto or intersect with biomedicine for more equitable biofutures?


Nadine Ehlers and Shiloh Krupar have written a brilliant book about the Janus-faced nature of neoliberal biopolitics. Focusing on a diverse range of topics, from race-based medicine to the ‘war on cancer,’ they superbly show how practices and technologies aimed at fostering life in liberal democratic regimes perversely produce vulnerability, death-in-life, and even death itself.

Jonathan Xavier Inda, author of Racial Prescriptions: Pharmaceuticals, Difference, and the Politics of Life



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