Home > history of science, mcgill, philosophy of science > Mario Biagioli – Environmentalism and the Rethinking of Intellectual Property

Mario Biagioli – Environmentalism and the Rethinking of Intellectual Property

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

(The D. Lorne Gales Lecture in the History of Science)

Mario Biagioli

(Harvard University)

Environmentalism and the Rethinking of Intellectual Property

Friday 4 December, 6pm

Otto Maass Auditorium

Maass Chemistry Building, room 112, 

McGill University, 801 Sherbrooke St W


The image of the "commons" (knowledge commons, science commons, creative commons, etc.) has been extraordinarily important in the development of "cultural environmentalism" – perhaps the most important progressive discourse about intellectual property today. Cultural environmentalists champion collaborative modes of knowledge production and the defense of the public domain against the increasingly intensive and extensive privatization of knowledge. Although a strong supporter of the political goals of that movement, I am concerned by the use of environmental imagery to reconceptualize intellectual property. Starting from critiques of the nature/society dichotomy put forward by science studies practitioners, I argue that the proponents of the "knowledge commons" start with a well-intentioned critique of intellectual property, but end up reinforcing its logic. Because the image of the "commons" and other environmental metaphors do not question the nature/society divide at the roots of intellectual property law, they actually end up reinforcing that which they are meant to question. I begin to sketch out that approach by showing how one of the foundational texts of copyright law – Edward Young’s 1759 Conjectures on Original Composition – cannot maintain the very dichotomy it sets out to establish between nature and society, and ends up casting the author, literally, as a vegetable.

Mario Biagioli, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, is the author of Galileo, Courtier (1993) and Galileo’s Instruments of Credit (2006); and has co-edited Scientific Authorship (with Peter Galison, 2002), The Science Studies Reader (1999), and the forthcoming Making and Unmaking Intellectual Property (with Peter Jaszi and Martha Woodmansee), and Worldly Science (with Jessica Riskin). His current projects include a book on the history of authorship, intellectual property, and credit in science (Scientists’ Names and Scientific Claims), and a volume on the role of environmental imagery in recent intellectual property discourse (The Author as Vegetable). He has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. Formerly a photographer and historian of photography, Prof. Biagioli maintains strong interests in museum studies and imaging techniques, recently curating an exhibit of patent models ("Patent Republic", with Jean-François Gauvin) and organizing conferences on new media and digital art ("Recoded: Landscapes and Politics of New Media", with Kriss Ravetto).

For more information, see

http://www.mcgill.ca/hpsc/lectures/ and 


Or contact 514 398 4681

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