Turning Things into Assets

in Technoscientific Capitalism


Kean Birch

Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at York University, Toronto.

Fabian Muniesa

Senior Researcher at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (CSI), a research center of Mines ParisTech.

How the asset—anything that can be controlled, traded, and capitalized as a revenue stream—has become the primary basis of technoscientific capitalism.

The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

In this book, scholars from a range of disciplines argue that the asset—meaning anything that can be controlled, traded, and capitalized as a revenue stream—has become the primary basis of technoscientific capitalism. An asset can be an object or an experience, a sum of money or a life form, a patent or a bodily function. A process of assetization prevails, imposing investment and return as the key rationale, and overtaking commodification and its speculative logic. Although assets can be bought and sold, the point is to get a durable economic rent from them rather than make a killing on the market. Assetization examines how assets are constructed and how a variety of things can be turned into assets, analyzing the interests, activities, skills, organizations, and relations entangled in this process.

The contributors consider the assetization of knowledge, including patents, personal data, and biomedical innovation; of infrastructure, including railways and energy; of nature, including mineral deposits, agricultural seeds, and “natural capital”; and of publics, including such public goods as higher education and “monetizable social ills.” Taken together, the chapters show the usefulness of assetization as an analytical tool and as an element in the critique of capitalism.

MIT Press, 2020



1 Introduction: Assetization and Technoscientific Capitalism 

Kean Birch and Fabian Muniesa

I Turning Knowledge into Assets     

2 Patents as Assets: Intellectual Property Rights as Market Subjects and Objects

Hyo Yoon Kang

3 Datassets: Assetizing and Marketizing Personal Data

Thomas Beauvisage and Kevin Mellet

4 A Crisis for Cures? Tracing Assetization and Value in Biomedical Innovation

Victor Roy

II Turning Infrastructure into Assets

5 High-Speed Contradictions: Spanish Railways between Economic Criticism and Political Defense

Natalia Buier

6 Turning Sunlit Rooftops and Windy Sites into Energy Assets

Alain Nadaï and Béatrice Cointe

III Turning Nature into Assets

7 Expropriating the Future: Turning Ore Deposits and Legitimate Expectations into Assets

Paul Robert Gilbert

8 From Commodity to Asset and Back Again: Property in the Capitalism of Varieties

Veit Braun,

9 Turning Nature into an Asset: Corporate Strategies for Rent-Seeking

Les Levidow

IV Turning Publics into Assets

10 English Higher Education: From a Public Good to a Public Asset

Sveta Milyaeva and Daniel Neyland

11 Recidivists, Rough Sleepers, and the Unemployed as Financial Assets: Social Impact Bonds and the Creation of New Markets in Social Services

James W. Williams

12 Conclusion: The Future of Assetization Studies

Kean Birch and Fabian Muniesa Contributors


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