Aihwa Ong

Professor, Department of Anthropology
Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology
Ph.D. Columbia University


Research Interests: Aihwa Ong is Professor of Socio-Cultural Anthropology and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests focus on global technologies, modes of governing, technoscientific assemblages, and citizenship in particular Asian contexts of emergence. She is the author of the now classic Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (1987); Flexible Citizenship: the Cultural Logics of Transnationality (1999); Buddha is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America (2003); and Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (2006). She also co-edited Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (2005); and Privatizing China, Socialism from Afar (2008). Her latest collection is Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate. Ong’s writings have been translated into German, Italian, Portuguese, French, and Chinese. Currently, Ong is the president-elect of the Society for East Asian Anthropology.

Fungible Life:
In Fungible Life Aihwa Ong explores the dynamic world of cutting-edge bioscience research, offering critical insights into the complex ways Asian bioscientific worlds and cosmopolitan sciences are entangled in a tropical environment brimming with the threat of emergent diseases. At biomedical centers in Singapore and China scientists map genetic variants, disease risks, and biomarkers, mobilizing ethnicized "Asian" bodies and health data for genomic research. Their differentiation between Chinese, Indian, and Malay DNA makes fungible Singapore's ethnic-stratified databases that come to "represent" majority populations in Asia. By deploying genomic science as a public good, researchers reconfigure the relationships between objects, peoples, and spaces, thus rendering "Asia" itself as a shifting entity. In Ong's analysis, Asia emerges as a richly layered mode of entanglements, where the population's genetic pasts, anxieties and hopes, shared genetic weaknesses, and embattled genetic futures intersect. Furthermore, her illustration of the contrasting methods and goals of the Biopolis biomedical center in Singapore and BGI Genomics in China raises questions about the future direction of cosmopolitan science in Asia and beyond.

About the Author
Aihwa Ong is Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, the author of Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty and Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality, and the coeditor of Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate, all also published by Duke University Press.

"Taking up the question of how scientific knowledge is governed at a global scale, Aihwa Ong addresses the neglected yet critically important ways cutting-edge life sciences are 'translated' to non-European and non-U.S. sites. With an expansive theoretical horizon and broad conceptual goals, Fungible Life is of interest to scholars in medical anthropology, the anthropology of science and technology, science and technology studies, and those who study comparative modernities in contemporary Asia."
      — Andrew Lakoff, author of Pharmaceutical Reason:
          Knowledge and Value in Global Psychiatry

"A tour de force, Fungible Life grapples with emerging 'cosmopolitan science.' Aihwa Ong deftly reveals how researchers in Biopolis, a towering research center in Singapore, de-center the Euro-American view of the global in order to incorporate particularities of 'Asian' difference. Paradoxically, to become universal, cosmopolitan science must embrace the local. Ong’s trailblazing ethnography exposes local objectives 'coded' into Asian postgenomics that assist Biopolis in foreseeing the future, reducing population health risks, and customizing therapeutics."
      — Margaret Lock, author of The Alzheimer Conundrum:
          Entanglements of Dementia and Aging

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Aihwa Ong's book cover