Since the discovery of the structure of DNA and the birth of the genetic age, a powerful vocabulary has emerged to express science’s growing command over the matter of life. Armed with knowledge of the code that governs all living things, biology and biotechnology are poised to edit, even rewrite, the texts of life to correct nature’s mistakes.
Yet, how far should the capacity to manipulate what life is at the molecular level authorize science to define what life is for? This book looks at flash points in law, politics, ethics, and culture to argue that science’s promises of perfectibility have gone too far. Science may have editorial control over the material elements of life, but it does not supersede the languages of sense-making that have helped define human values across millennia: the meanings of autonomy, integrity, and privacy; the bonds of kinship, family, and society; and the place of humans in nature.
We live in a world increasingly governed by technology—but to what end?
Technology rules us as much as laws do. It shapes the legal, social, and ethical environments in which we act. Every time we cross a street, drive a car, or go to the doctor, we submit to the silent power of technology. Yet, much of the time, the influence of technology on our lives goes unchallenged by citizens and our elected representatives. In The Ethics of Invention, renowned scholar Sheila Jasanoff dissects the ways in which we delegate power to technological systems and asks how we might regain control.
Our embrace of novel technological pathways, Jasanoff shows, leads to a complex interplay among technology, ethics, and human rights. Inventions like pesticides or GMOs can reduce hunger but can also cause unexpected harm to people and the environment. Often, as in the case of CFCs creating a hole in the ozone layer, it takes decades before we even realize that any damage has been done. Advances in biotechnology, from GMOs to gene editing, have given us tools to tinker with life itself, leading some to worry that human dignity and even human nature are under threat. But despite many reasons for caution, we continue to march heedlessly into ethically troubled waters.
As Jasanoff ranges across these and other themes, she challenges the common assumption that technology is an apolitical and amoral force. Technology, she masterfully demonstrates, can warp the meaning of democracy and citizenship unless we carefully consider how to direct its power rather than let ourselves be shaped by it. The Ethics of Invention makes a bold argument for a future in which societies work together—in open, democratic dialogue—to debate not only the perils but even more the promises of technology.
Human societies fashion themselves through rites of memory, gilding and illuminating some pages of the past while consigning others to forgetfulness. Official memories reinforce dominant cultural narratives, asserting continuities where skeptics might see breaks or ruptures, contradictions or untruths; indeed, revolutions, scientific or otherwise, can be thought of as violent breaks with comfortable connections between past and present. To see the power of such story-telling, consider for example the myth of the durability of the US Constitution, a myth that proclaims the unchanging identity of that founding document through a secession, a civil war, and numerous democratizing amendments that totally transformed the look of the nation’s voting polity. To this day, that myth legitimates styles of constitutional analysis that challenge, under the rubric of strict constructionism, attempts to treat the Constitution as a source of living and evolving principles. Or, at the opposite pole of the Earth, take Australia’s ritualistic annual observance of Anzac Day. That remarkable celebration connects the forging of the nation’s identity to Gallipoli: to a dawn landing on faraway shores almost a century ago, in a war of others’ making, to a failed military enterprise that ended in an inglorious evacuation, following a bloody, months-long stalemate.
Scholars in science and technology studies (STS) have recently been called upon to advise governments on the design of procedures for public engagement. Any such instrumental function should be carried out consistently with STS’s interpretive and normative obligations as a social science discipline. This article illustrates how such threefold integration can be achieved by reviewing current US participatory politics against a seventy-year backdrop of tacit constitutional developments in governing science and technology. Two broad cycles of constitutional adjustment are discerned: the first enlarging the scope of state action as well as public participation, with liberalized rules of access and sympathetic judicial review; the second cutting back on the role of the state, fostering the rise of an academic-industrial complex for technology transfer, and privatizing value debates through increasing delegation to professional ethicists. New rules for public engagement in the United Sates should take account of these historical developments and seek to counteract some of the anti-democratic tendencies observable in recent decades.
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.
Globalization today is as much a problem for international harmony as it is a necessary condition of living together on our planet. Increasing interconnectedness in ecology, economy, technology, and politics has brought nations and societies into ever closer contact, creating acute demands for cooperation. Earthly Politics argues that in the coming decades global governance will have to accommodate differences, even as it obliterates distance, and will have to respect many aspects of the local while developing institutions that transcend localism.
This book analyzes a variety of approaches to environmental governance approaches that balance the local and the global in order to encourage new, more flexible frameworks of global governance. On the theoretical level, it draws on insights from the field of science and technology studies to enrich our understanding of environmental and development politics. On the pragmatic level, it discusses the design of institutions and processes to address problems of environmental governance that increasingly refuse to remain within national boundaries.
The cases in the book display the crucial relationship between knowledge and power—the links between the ways we understand environmental problems and the ways we manage them—and illustrate the different paths by which knowledge-power formations are arrived at, contested, defended, or set aside. By examining how local and global actors ranging from the World Bank to the Makah tribe in the Pacific Northwest respond to the contradictions of globalization, the authors identify some of the conditions for creating more effective engagement between the global and the local in environmental governance.
In the past twenty years, the field of science and technology studies (S&TS) has made considerable progress toward illuminating the relationship between scientific knowledge and political power. These insights have not yet been synthesized or presented in a form that systematically highlights the connections between S&TS and other social sciences. This timely collection of essays by some of the leading scholars in the field attempts to fill that gap. The book develops the theme of "co-production", showing how scientific knowledge both embeds and is embedded in social identities, institutions, representations and discourses. Accordingly, the authors argue, ways of knowing the world are inseparably linked to the ways in which people seek to organize and control it. Through studies of emerging knowledges, research practices and political institutions, the authors demonstrate that the idiom of co-production importantly extends the vocabulary of the traditional social sciences, offering fresh analytic perspectives on the nexus of science, power and culture.