Reinventing Hoodia

Peoples, Plants, and Patents in South Africa

Laura A. Foster

  • Published: September 2017
  • Subject Listing: Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Science and Technology Studies; Native American and Indigenous Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 232 pp., 5 bandw illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: N/A in South Africa
  • Series: Feminist Technosciences
  • Contents

Native to the Kalahari Desert, Hoodia gordonii is a succulent plant known by generations of Indigenous San peoples to have a variety of uses: to reduce hunger, increase energy, and ease breastfeeding. In the global North, it is known as a natural appetite suppressant, a former star of the booming diet industry. In Reinventing Hoodia, Laura Foster explores how the plant was reinvented through patent ownership, pharmaceutical research, the self-determination efforts of Indigenous San peoples, contractual benefit sharing, commercial development as an herbal supplement, and bioprospecting legislation.

Using a feminist decolonial technoscience approach, Foster argues that although patent law is inherently racialized, gendered, and Western, it offered opportunities for Indigenous San peoples, South African scientists, and Hoodia growers to make unequal claims for belonging within the shifting politics of South Africa. This radical interdisciplinary and intersectional account of the multiple materialities of Hoodia illuminates the co-constituted connections between law, science, and the marketplace, while demonstrating how these domains value certain forms of knowledge and matter differently.
Laura A. Foster is an assistant professor of gender studies at Indiana University-Bloomington with affiliations in African studies and the Maurer School of Law. She is also a senior researcher with the Intellectual Property Unit at the University of Cape Town Faculty of Law.

"Reinventing Hoodia provides a well-researched, critically engaged account of a fascinating contested object of indigenous knowledge and intellectual property. Its illuminating account of hoodia across a range of scales makes significant conceptual and empirical contributions to feminist legal studies and to the history and philosophy of science."
-Anne Pollock, author of Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference

"Foster's interdisciplinary work on Hoodia is both novel and timely. She offers a valuable analysis of science and its relationship to indigeneity outside the context of the Americas."
-Jennifer A. Hamilton, author of Indigeneity in the Courtroom: Law, Culture, and the Production of Difference in North American Courts

"Foster's fascinating account of complex negotiations between the indigenous San peoples, South African scientists, lawyers, and Big Pharma makes a valuable text for classes in law, the history, philosophy, and social studies of science, women's studies, and anti-colonial studies. It also expands the horizon of fruitful research projects in these fields."
-Sandra Harding, author of Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research

List of Abbreviations

Introduction Peoples, Plants, and Patents in South Africa
1. Colonial Science and Hoodia as a Scientific Object
2. San Demands for Benefits by Knowing !Khoba as a Plant
from Nature
3. South African Scientists and the Patenting of Hoodia
as a Molecule
4. Botanical Drug Discovery of Hoodia, from Solid Drug
to Liquid Food
5. Hoodia Growers and the Making of Hoodia as a Cultivated
Epilogue Implications of a Feminist Decolonial Technoscience
Appendix 1: Community Protocols and Research Guidelines
for Working with Indigenous Peoples
Appendix 2: Strategies for Patent Litigation