With the 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity humanity's ongoing search for biological resources became subject to global regulation. The collection of biological materials for use in agriculture and medicine by one nation from another became conditional on criteria of informed consent, benefit-sharing, and the preservation of environments. This practice has become known as bioprospecting. Collections of biological materials and/or of 'traditional' knowledge of how to utilize them which did not meet the Convention's requirements henceforth became known as biopiracy. The thesis takes its structure from the Convention, which is treated as marking a shift from historical biopiracy to contemporary bioprospecting.. The thesis is that critics of the Convention who oppose it and the forms of bioprospecting which it mandates in terms of neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism have misunderstood the character of contemporary economic and political power. The thesis argues that although contemporary bioprospecting is not practiced, as the Convention requires it to be, in ways that are 'fair and equitable', it cannot be understood as a neo-imperialist practice. Instead, the thesis concludes that the Convention should be understood in the context of new forms of governance and sovereignty. The Convention facilitates planet management and supports the exercise of biopower. Several cases studies of imperialist biopiracy are presented and their social impacts are discussed in contrast to contemporary bioprospecting. A broad range of historical and sociological literature is brought together for the first time. The history of the transition from biopiracy to bioprospecting is described and discussed in terms of several social, epistemological/technological, scientific, political and economic changes, respectively: the transition from imperialism to globalization, a shift away from exploitation of 'nature' toward management of 'biodiversity', the transition from natural history to ecological science, the appearance of environmentalist concerns in national and global politics, the completion of the globalization of capitalist property relations and the demise of the notion of biological resources as the 'common heritage of humankind'
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