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Amy Kapczynski

Amy Kapczynski is Professor of Law at Yale Law School, a co-founder of the LPEblog, and a faculty co-director of the LPE Project and the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership.

My work focuses on law and political economy, and broadly aims to theorize the failures of legal logic and structure that condition contemporary inequality, precarity, and hollowed out democracy.  A good place to start for my recent thinking on this broad theme is the framework “law and political economy” article that Jed Purdy, David Grewal, Sabeel Rahman and I recently published, a piece I wrote on the law and political economy of informational capitalism, and an article on the political economy of the First Amendment and FDA.  My research in progress is focused on the political economy of trade secrecy law and data, and on “how to read a case” through a law and political economy lens.  I’ve also been writing about the political economy of COVID-19 and our response to it in several pieces in the Boston Review with Gregg Gonsalves: “Alone Against the Virus,” “Markets vs. Lives,” and “The New Politics of Care.”

I have a longstanding interest in questions of political economy as they are expressed in the domains of health and technology.  I’ve also worked both theoretically and practically to develop and promote interventions – ideally, “non-reformist reforms” – that help structurally advance a more just and genuine politics of care.  My path to this work has been long, even circuitous – I spent formative years studying political theory and various forms of critical thought (Frankfurt School, queer theory, post-colonial theory, psychoanalytic theory, and Marxist feminist thought), and then spent several years working in institutions and movements.  I’ve been engaged for decades now in the HIV/AIDS and global treatment access movement, working with groups like ACTUP and the Treatment Action Campaign. These groups have formulated critical insights into the political economy of health that shape my work today – in particular, the insights that health is fundamentally politically conditioned, a key location of the creation of deep intersectional inequities, and central to the possibility of genuine freedom and equality.  From that mobilization I have also learned, and built upon, a sophisticated political economy analysis that both critiques neoliberal laws and policies (like privatized health insurance and the WTO’s trade treaty on intellectual property), and that sees political change as requiring power-building and voice and power for those most marginalized (see e.g. the Denver Principles).

My work on the political economy of health engages four broad themes.

  • One strand maps how international law has been used to “encase” corporate power against democratic demands for universal access to essential medicines.  
  • Another strand theorizes how advocates mobilize to democratize power over technology and knowledge.  I’ve argued for a political economy approach to human rights work, using the work advocates have done to challenge IP laws in domestic courts in India, Brazil, and Colombia, via the right to health.   In earlier work, I wrote about campaigns to take back control over the medicines developed at universities, global mobilizations around access to knowledge and access to medicines, and reforms of patent and related laws in countries like India.  
  • I spent several years working to articulate alternatives to market provisioning of science, reflected in this article about “open science” as an effective counter-model to the private provisioning of science and technologies like vaccines.  It also serves as a case study of a critical global health institution, the World Health Organization’s Influenza Virus Sharing network (which is a backbone for global science around COVID-19).
  • Finally, I’ve also written more pragmatic pieces identifying strategies that can advance democratic control over the development and distribution of medicines.  I’ve written about legal avenues to undermine monopoly power in pharmaceuticals in the US (in shorter and longer form).  I’ve also written several pieces recently about the need for open access to clinical trial data, and to defend strong regulatory frameworks at the FDA, and about the terrible threat that the First Amendment poses to the FDA and regulatory state, in the Boston Review and also medical journals.

I’ve also mapped the influence of neoliberal ideas on the intellectual property law in pieces on the “cost of price” and the inadequacy of the Demsetzian ideas that property rights “rationalize” innovation investment.  I’ve argued that neoliberal ideas of the state have infected the rhetoric of both proponents of IP and the “open access” movement here, and more recently mapped the law and political economy of information capitalism in a review of Shoshana Zuboff and Julie Cohen’s recent books.

Finally, I co-run a health justice clinic at Yale Law, as part of the broader Global Health Justice Partnership that I lead with Alice Miller and Gregg Gonsalves.  I’ve led projects there working on access to medicines with global and local partners, some of which have had some major successes (particularly around access to Hepatitis C medicines and PrEP).  We have also had a focus on documenting and litigating the unjustified US Ebola quarantines.  I also co-ran the Collaboration for Research Integrity and Transparency, with colleagues Joe Ross, Harlan Krumholz, and Dave Schulz, which has done advocacy and litigation to help make clinical trial data public.