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Designs on Nature

Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States

Sheila Jasanoff
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Designs on Nature
    Book Description:

    Biology and politics have converged today across much of the industrialized world. Debates about genetically modified organisms, cloning, stem cells, animal patenting, and new reproductive technologies crowd media headlines and policy agendas. Less noticed, but no less important, are the rifts that have appeared among leading Western nations about the right way to govern innovation in genetics and biotechnology. These significant differences in law and policy, and in ethical analysis, may in a globalizing world act as obstacles to free trade, scientific inquiry, and shared understandings of human dignity.

    In this magisterial look at some twenty-five years of scientific and social development, Sheila Jasanoff compares the politics and policy of the life sciences in Britain, Germany, the United States, and in the European Union as a whole. She shows how public and private actors in each setting evaluated new manifestations of biotechnology and tried to reassure themselves about their safety.

    Three main themes emerge. First, core concepts of democratic theory, such as citizenship, deliberation, and accountability, cannot be understood satisfactorily without taking on board the politics of science and technology. Second, in all three countries, policies for the life sciences have been incorporated into "nation-building" projects that seek to reimagine what the nation stands for. Third, political culture influences democratic politics, and it works through the institutionalized ways in which citizens understand and evaluate public knowledge. These three aspects of contemporary politics, Jasanoff argues, help account not only for policy divergences but also for the perceived legitimacy of state actions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3731-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Prologue
    (pp. 1-12)

    On a somber fall weekend in mid-November 2001, Europe was forming in the oddest of places. The scene was Genshagen, a nondescript small town with an ancient pedigree¹ just south of Berlin in the former East German state of Brandenburg. Site of the largest Daimler-Benz aircraft engine plant in wartime Germany,² Genshagen is now home to the Berlin-Brandenburg Institute (BBI) for German-French Cooperation, a privately supported organization dedicated to furthering cross-national exchanges in the fields of economics, politics, science, and culture. Schloss Genshagen, the institute’s headquarters, provides an elegant if modest venue for consolidating the new Europe. Built in 1878...

  7. 1 Why Compare?
    (pp. 13-41)

    Biotechnology politics and policy are situated at the intersection of two profoundly destabilizing changes in the way we view the world: one cognitive, the other political. This unique position makes the project of using the life sciences to improve the human condition anything but straightforward. It also makes biotechnology a particularly apposite lens through which to compare the triumphs and tribulations of late capitalistic technological democracies.

    On the cognitive front, the shift is from a realist to a constructivist view of knowledge. Years of work on the social construction of science and technology, and the contingency of similarity and difference...

  8. 2 Controlling Narratives
    (pp. 42-67)

    Biotechnology made its political debut in the 1970s with its copybook still unsmudged. Founded on the sciences of life, biotechnology promised release from the ambiguities and calamities that had marked the twentieth-century histories of physics and chemistry. By the end of World War II, physics was indelibly identified with the atomic weapons used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; to this the cold war’s unbridled arms race added the globally perceived threat of nuclear annihilation. Hopes that physics would solve the world’s energy problems were repeatedly dashed. The 1957 fire at Britain’s Windscale nuclear reactor, hastily built at the war’s end to...

  9. 3 A Question of Europe
    (pp. 68-93)

    While nation-states were busy incorporating the life sciences into their policy agendas, a political world beyond nations was also in the making. Globalization was the watchword of the late twentieth century, subsuming a host of flows and movements that weakened the nation-state and gave rise to new supranational organs of power, protest, and politics.¹ Of these, by far the most important for our purposes is the European Union.² Beginning with the six nations of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, the EU grew to fifteen member states by 1995, and as of 1998 it began contemplating a...

  10. 4 Unsettled Settlements
    (pp. 94-118)

    Between 1975 and 1995, biotechnology moved from a research enterprise that left even its most committed practitioners unsure of themselves to a global industry promising revolutionary benefits in return for allegedly well-understood and manageable risks. This shift occurred almost simultaneously and with remarkable speed throughout Europe and North America (see appendix). To facilitate commercialization, the United States, Britain, and Germany—and the European Community (later the EU)—all adapted their laws and regulations to control both laboratory research with genetically modified organisms and their planned, or in official language “deliberate,” releases into the environment. Within barely a decade, environmental consequences...

  11. 5 Food for Thought
    (pp. 119-145)

    On February 18, 1999, a pickup truck operated by Greenpeace UK dumped four tons of genetically modified soy beans outside the gates to No. 10 Downing Street, the London residence of Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and the famed nerve center of British politics. A wide yellow banner on the side of the truck carried the message, “Tony, don’t swallow Bill’s seed.” It was a naughty, punning, and very British reference to President Bill Clinton’s recently concluded impeachment hearing in the United States, on charges of high crimes and misdemeanors resulting from his fling with White House intern Monica Lewinsky....

  12. 6 Natural Mothers and Other Kinds
    (pp. 146-170)

    The industrialization of agricultural biotechnology, as we saw in the last chapter, ran ahead of its political uptake in many ways, causing severe crises of public confidence. The same cannot be said of biotechnologies aimed at human beings. In this case, political debate (though not necessarily politicalaction) kept more nearly in step with invention. As scientific research opened up new frontiers for intervening in human biology—from the birth of Louise Brown, the first “test-tube baby,” in England in 1978 through debates on human cloning and stem cell research in the 1990s and beyond—discussion of how far to...

  13. 7 Ethical Sense and Sensibility
    (pp. 171-202)

    Although the debates around embryo research raised both moral and metaphysical questions, we saw in previous chapters that the intertwining of these domains occasioned relatively little explicit reflection in most cases. Even moral issues were raised at first only incidentally to more immediate policy concerns. Habituated to the formal discourses of economics, science, and law, political actors initially couched their analyses and proposals only in these familiar frameworks, with arguments phrased in terms of risks, rights, costs, benefits, property, human dignity, and the like. Advocates of biotechnology did not seem to realize at first how profoundly the new scientific and...

  14. 8 Making Something of Life
    (pp. 203-224)

    Things—hard, inanimate, material objects—are not normally seen to be in the mainstream of political life. By contrast, products of social interaction often are at the center of politics: laws, rules, standards, enforcement mechanisms, the design and shape of institutions. Biotechnology in some ways reverses this normal order. The things that biotechnology makes and deals in— genes, cells, plants, embryos, drugs, bacteria, DNA sequences, genetic tests, transgenic creatures—have often been the focus of controversy at one time or another in the past twenty years, and some still remain so. Yet, many social technologies that were vital to the...

  15. 9 The New Social Contract
    (pp. 225-246)

    Science and technology emerged from the twentieth century’s two world wars with their ties to the state immensely strengthened. The new relationship, which some called a “social contract,”¹ was perhaps most explicit in the United States, where no one doubted the utility of publicly sponsored scientific research after World War II’s spectacular military and medical successes. Against a backdrop of universally acknowledged needs and unambiguously rendered services, Vannevar Bush, the distinguished MIT engineer and adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, unveiled a plan for the federal government to continue its support for basic scientific research even in peacetime. His 1945...

  16. 10 Civic Epistemology
    (pp. 247-271)

    The politics of biotechnology since the mid-1970s illustrates the increasingly intimate collaboration between the life sciences and the state, prominently including Britain, Germany, the United States, and the European Union. But how have citizens participated in these relations; and how, in turn, has the rise of science as a space of visible politics affected the role and meaning of citizenship itself? American writing on science policy has largely sidestepped these questions. The social contract discussed in the preceding chapter is generally conceived as a compact between two parties only—science (comprising both academia and industry) and the state. This dyadic...

  17. 11 Republics of Science
    (pp. 272-292)

    The reception of biotechnology into the political and policy systems of Germany, Britain, and the United States displays the everyday workings of three democratic nations in a time of large historical transitions. Posing linked and simultaneous challenges for science, power, and legitimacy, the politics of biotechnology offers a textbook example of the perplexities of governance in twenty-first-century knowledge societies. In previous chapters we observed one after another national struggle to work out in detail how to assess risks, clarify values, engage citizens, create property rights, foster technological innovation, and put out the wildfires of public distrust or antipathy around issues...

  18. Appendix: Chronology
    (pp. 293-294)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 295-338)
  20. References
    (pp. 339-360)
  21. Index
    (pp. 361-374)