Michelle Murphy



Murphy coverThe Economization of Life  (Duke UP 2017) 

What is a life worth? In the wake of eugenics, new quantitative racist practices that valued life for the sake of economic futures flourished. The Economization of Life describes the twentieth-century rise of infrastructures of calculation and experiment aimed at governing population for the sake of national economy, pinpointing the spread of a potent biopolitical logic: some must not be born so that others might live more prosperously. Resituating the history of postcolonial neoliberal technique in expert circuits between the United States and Bangladesh, the book traces the methods and imaginaries through which family planning calculated lives not worth living, lives not worth saving, and lives not worth being born. The resulting archive of thick data transmuted into financialized “Invest in a Girl” campaigns that reframed survival as a question of human capital. The book challenges readers to reject the economy as our collective container and to refuse population as a term of reproductive justice. Research for this book was funded by SSHRC. Read the Introduction.

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Seizing the Means of Reproduction: Entanglements of Feminism, Health and Technoscience (Duke UP 2012)

What would it mean to historicize contemporary feminisms as biopolitical?  This book follows low-tech, DIY, reproductive health practices as they moved in and out of feminist projects and traveled in transnational circuits as a way to  trace the multiplicity of biopolitical projects that converged on reproduction in the  late twentieth century.  In so doing, it explores how feminist practices became uneasily entangled with American empire, new racial formations, and emergent neoliberal governmentalities.  The book provokes a rethinking of what counts as feminist reproductive politics.




Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers (Duke UP, 2006)

Before 1980, sick building syndrome did not exist. By the 1990s, it was among the most commonly investigated occupational health problems in the United States. Afflicted by headaches, rashes, and immune system disorders, office workers—mostly women—protested that their workplaces were filled with toxic hazards; yet federal investigators could detect no chemical cause. This detailed history tells the story of how sick building syndrome came into being: how indoor exposures to chemicals wafting from synthetic carpet, ink, adhesive, solvents, and so on became something that relatively privileged Americans worried over, felt, and ultimately sought to do something about. As the book shows, sick building syndrome provides a window into how environmental politics moved indoors.  Sick building syndrome embodied a politics of uncertainty that continues to characterize contemporary American environmental debates. The book explores the production of uncertainty by juxtaposing multiple histories, each of which explains how an expert or lay tradition made chemical exposures perceptible or imperceptible, existent or nonexistent. It shows how uncertainty emerged from a complex confluence of feminist activism, office worker protests, ventilation engineering, toxicology, popular epidemiology, corporate science, and ecology. In an illuminating case study, the book reflects on EPA scientists’ efforts to have their headquarters recognized as a sick building. It brings all of these histories together in what is not only a thorough account of an environmental health problem but also a much deeper exploration of the relationship between history, materiality, and uncertainty.  Winner of the Ludwik Fleck Prize (2008) from the Society for Social Studies of Science. Find a Blog interview with Jody Roberts about the book on World’s Fair

Edited Volume


Landscapes of Exposure: Knowledge and Exposure in Modern Environments

Osiris v. 19 (University of Chicago Press, 2004) edited with Gregg Mitman and Christopher Sellers. Read the Introduction: “A Cloud over History”





Recent Articles

Recorded Lectures

Abduction, Reproduction, and Postcolonial Infrastructures of Data” Video and transcript in TRAVERSING TECHNOLOGIES, Scholar &Feminist Online 13.3 – 14.1 (2016)