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The Value of Free Time? Justice, Politics and the Market for Healthy Human Subjects of Experiment

Sun, August 21, 10:30am to 12:10pm, TBA


This paper clarifies the connections between economic inequality and scientific knowledge production through a historical case study. It documents the development of the market for healthy human subjects for medical experiments that a labor union (The United Mine Workers of America) and the federal government (The US National Institutes of Health) established in a 1960 legal contract. The paper analyzes historical records from public archives and from the presenter’s original collection of interviews with former human subjects. The analysis shows how the economic vice of jobless was twinned with the civic virtue of volunteerism to the benefit of both NIH and United Mine Workers. The paper argues that the organizations aligned their actions through their discussions of citizens at the margins of late capitalist political economy by sustaining this rhetorical contradiction between virtue and vice, joblessness and volunteerism. In doing so, this paper responds to the recent call in the New Political Sociology of Science (e.g., Frickel and Moore 2006) to consider how organizations beyond conventional scientific domains also shape and are shaped by scientific knowledge production. The ultimate aim of this paper is to fuse recent concerns with justice in science (e.g. Mamo and Fishman) with insights from the new political sociology of science. The paper finds that the legacy of the cultural codes from the 1960s welfare debates and the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty persist, with consequences for understanding of how civic debate over labor markets, especially scientific markets for “clinical labor,” unfold in the present day.


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