Naked Genes

Naked Genes: Reinventing the Human in the Molecular Age

HELGA NOWOTNY
GIUSEPPE TESTA
TRANSLATED BY MITCH COHEN
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 152
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhjt9
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  • Book Info
    Naked Genes
    Book Description:

    The molecular life sciences are making visible what was once invisible. Yet the more we learn about our own biology, the less we are able to fit this knowledge into an integrated whole. Life is divided into new sub-units and reassembled into new forms: from genes to clones, from embryonic stages to the building-blocks of synthetic biology. Extracted from their scientific and social contexts, these new entities become not only visible but indeed "naked": ready to assume an essential status of their own and take on multiple values and meanings as they pass from labs to courts, from patent offices to parliaments and back. In Naked Genes, leading science scholar Helga Nowotny and molecular biologist Giuseppe Testa examine the interaction between these dramatic advances in the life sciences and equally dramatic political reconfigurations of our societies. They bring wit and freshness of perspective to ongoing debates over topics ranging from assisted reproduction and personalized medicine to genetic sports doping, revealing both surprising continuities and radical discontinuities between the latest advances in the life sciences and long-standing human traditions. The task of institutions in the molecular age, they argue, is to make a pluralistic society possible by carving a legitimate free space that allows experimentation with new forms of biological life as well as with new forms of social life.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29580-2
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. VII-X)
    Helga Nowotny and Giuseppe Testa
  4. 1 THE VISIBILITY OF THE GENETIC FUTURE
    (pp. 1-16)

    Theme 1 To a much greater degree than generally realized, the often sensational achievements in the life sciences stand in continuity and commonality with old practices tested in social living. What is playing out today in the focus of public controversies has been previously thought through, dreamed of in myths, or prefigured in the joint history of the domestication of plants and animals. But discontinuities in the life sciences put pressure on longstanding social arrangements. A defining feature of the molecular life sciences—equally as important as (if not more important than) their well-recognized ability to reshape organisms and bodies—...

  5. 2 THE GENETICIZATION OF ACHIEVEMENT
    (pp. 17-32)

    Theme 2 The striving for happiness and for the improvement of human abilities is ancient. Yet in the overarching continuity of this striving, the possibility of soon taking genetic paths toward human enhancement is bringing forth new discontinuities, which become particularly salient in the field of competitive sports. More and more, in ways that are increasingly hard to disentangle, the natural (perceived as what lies within the body) is intermingling with the artificial (traditionally perceived as coming from the outside). And this entwinement of the natural and the artificial is emerging as a hallmark of the striving to enhance that...

  6. 3 DISPUTED AFFILIATIONS: WHO BELONGS TO WHOM?
    (pp. 33-48)

    Theme 3 What and who belong to whom? These questions of identity, property, and affiliation run through all encounters with biotechnology. They underscore the fault lines along which the public debate imagines, articulates, and decides on diverse and disputed designs for the future. The processes on the molecular level in which genes, cells, embryos, clones, and other entities are made visible and mobile lead on the societal level to appropriations that are as controversial as they are in need of clarification. Interdependencies on the molecular level are translated, on the social level, into interdependencies between individuals and the community. In...

  7. 4 CONTESTED FUTURES: EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE AND THE VALUES DISCOURSE
    (pp. 49-66)

    Theme 4 The question arising for society is how the forms of life created with the molecular approaches we describe in this book are to be integrated into the existing social order. From the wealth of scientific-technological potential, what can and should be realized? Three discourses provide partial and contradictory answers to this question—innovation discourse, risk discourse, and value discourse. The latter, in particular, is molded by a flood of uncontrollable images that create associations of the new forms of life, shaping people’s imagination and everyday experience. Many of these images are changing a centuries-old perception of nature as...

  8. 5 SHAPING THE FUTURE: HUMAN TECHNOLOGIES OF STANDARDIZATION
    (pp. 67-84)

    Theme 5 In this chapter, we examine the complementary and mutually supporting human technologies whose task is to stabilize the social order, which the offerings of the life sciences threaten to put out of joint. At issue is how to integrate the newly created life forms and other biological entities into society in a way that permits an acceptable coexistence between humans and the artifacts they create. Human technologies have suitable mechanisms and procedures for this task, but they have to be adjusted for context. In the framework of living together in society, human technologies function like material technologies. After...

  9. 6 SYNTHESIZING THE FUTURE
    (pp. 85-98)

    Theme 6 The efficient arrangement of standards that enable the measurement and unification of molecular life finds its correlate in standards of socially, politically, and ethically responsible behavior. This convergence opens a view of a future in which the standardization of life is advanced explicitly in this double sense. One of the most current areas of research, synthetic biology, has set itself the goal of rearranging life by designing its components. But to this end, these components must first be made capable of standardization. In this chapter, we show how synthetic biology is developing beyond the ad hoc use of...

  10. 7 THE FUTURE AS SYNTHESIS
    (pp. 99-122)

    Theme 7 The conviction that we stand before an epochal breakthrough with revolutionary possibilities is nothing new. It accompanies every technological vision. Despite novelty’s inherent fascination and its supposed discontinuity, we must not lose sight of the power to persist and (as David Edgerton calls it) the “shock of the old.” The continuity of societal developments should not be underestimated. In this last chapter, we attempt to synthesize the relationships among three reference points—a kind of triangulation among science, individuals, and institutions—to open the view onto a possible shaping of the future. First, there is an increasingly globally...

  11. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 123-130)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 131-138)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 139-144)