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Michael S. Carolan

This article maps key epistemological and ontological terrains associated with biotechnology. Beginning with the epistemological, a comparison is made between the scientific representations of today, particularly as found in the genomic sciences, and the scientific representations of the past. In doing this, we find these representations have changed over the centuries, which has been of significant consequence in terms of giving shape to today's global political economy. In the following section, the sociopolitical effects of biotechnology are discussed, particularly in terms of how the aforementioned representations give shape to global path dependencies. By examining the epistemological and ontological assumptions that give shape to the global distribution of informational and biological resources, this article seeks to add to our understanding of today's bioeconomy and the geographies of control it helps to create.

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Conflicting Notions of Continuity and Belonging

Assisted Reproduction, Law, and Practices in Norway

Marit Melhuus

This article explores the interface between law, technology, and practices. More specifically, it addresses how biotechnologies—in particular, reproductive technologies—move people in different ways. Taking as its point of departure certain restrictions in the Norwegian biotechnology law, it explores changes in procreative practices and their implications for understandings of notions of belonging. This is tied to a gradual shift in meaning of the concepts of paternity and maternity, which in turn has ramifications for kinship and hence fundamental ideas of relatedness. Two premises underpin the arguments: first, that law is a cultural artifact productive of meaning, and, second, that as a social phenomenon, biotechnologies bring to the fore fundamental moral dilemmas.

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From Biotech to Nanotech

Public Debates about Technological Modifi cation of Food

Jennifer B. Rogers-Brown, Christine Shearer, and Barbara Herr Harthorn

Technological modifications of food are being marketed as novel products that will enhance consumer choice and nutritional value. A recent manifestation is nanotechnology, entering the global food chain through food production, pesticides, vitamins, and food packaging. This article presents a detailed literature review on risk and benefit perceptions of technological developments for food and agriculture, including our own research from US deliberative workshops on nanotechnologies. The article suggests that many of the public concerns discussed in the literature on biotechnology in food are being raised in qualitative and quantitative studies on nanotechnologies for food: although nanotechnologies are generally perceived to be beneficial, many people express particular uneasiness about nanotechnological modifications of food. The article argues that these concerns represent material examples of unresolved social issues involving technologies and the food industry, including questions about the benefits of nanotechnology for food, and the heightened values attached to food as a cultural domain.

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Infringing and trespassing plants

Patented seeds at dispute in Canada's courts

Birgit Müller

Patents on objects that have agency such as seeds pose new challenges for governance, raising fundamental questions of control and responsibility. In May 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada found the farmer Percy Schmeiser guilty of infringing the Monsanto patent on genetically modified canola, because he reseeded part of his canola harvest although he knew or ought to have known that it contained seeds of GM canola plants that had blown into his field. In May 2005, a group of organic farmers tried a legal procedure to get certification as a class against two biotechnology corporations Bayer CropScience and Monsanto for polluting their fields with GM canola. At stake are questions on the type of ownership that can be claimed over plants—and whether ownership can be claimed over a plant at the same time that liability for its reproduction is denied. The two court cases I discuss allow us to more closely see how genetically modified canola plants have become objects of contention among Western Canadian farmers, how they transformed the farmers’ daily work and relations between neighbors, and how they increased farmers’ dependency on agro-biotech corporations.

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Kosher Biotech

Between Religion, Regulation, and Globalization

Johan Fischer

when I participated in inspections at Novozymes, but I also draw on knowledge generated during my interaction with other biotechnology companies. The Coordinator has been with Novozymes for many years and has worked in research and development

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Another (Food) World Is Possible

Post-industrial French Paysans Fight for a Solidaire Global Food Policy

Chaia Heller

If the post-war industrial model entails a mix of technological and chemical interventions that increase farm productivity, then post-industrial agriculture (emerging in the 1970s) constitutes agricultural surpluses, as well as an array of trade, aid and biotechnology practices that introduce novel foodstuffs (processed and genetically modified) on an unprecedented scale. While industrial agriculture reduces the farming population, the latter gives rise to new sets of actors who question the nature and validity of the industrial model. This essay explores the rise of one set of such actors. Paysans (peasants) from France's second largest union, the Confederation Paysanne, challenge the industrial model's instrumental rationality of agriculture. Reframing food questions in terms of food sovereignty, paysans propose a solidarity-based production rationality which gives hope to those who believe that another post-industrial food system is possible.

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Cristina Grasseni

In this article, skilled vision is presented as a capacity acquired in a community of practice that enables specific ways of knowing and acting in the world. The analysis of skilled vision is obtained through the ethnographic study of the artefacts and the routines that structure certain ecologies of practice. The example chosen is that of the skilled gaze of animal breeders, in particular of the children of dairy cow breeders who, by playing with relevant toys and emulating the adult world of cattle fairs and exhibitions, learn how to value certain criteria of animal beauty and to "discipline" their vision accordingly.

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Veronica Davidov

This literature review of biomimicry and related models of treating nature as a meta-resource on a mega-scale integrates concepts of resources and abundance. Biomimicry, which lies at the intersection of biosciences and industrial design, is a praxis for drawing on designs and processes found in nature and using them as inspirational sources for technologies. Environmental anthropology often focuses on processes such as extraction and commodification that position nature as governed by an economy of scarcity with its existential state characterized by attenuation. The paradigm of biomimicry, on the other hand, construes nature as an infinitely renewable and generative mega-resource and meta-resource, one that is governable by an economy of abundance rather than scarcity. This literature review analyzes intellectual and epistemological trends and frameworks that have served as precursors to and have emerged around biomimicry across disciplines that treat the paradigm of biomimicry as a highly variable epistemological object.

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Reports

Films and Conferences

Soheila Shahshahani and Mikaela Rogozen-Soltar

FILMS

Sheikholeslam Mahvash, Koul Farah

CONFERENCES

‘Islam and the Biotechnologies of Human Life’, 18–20 September 2009, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States

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Gabriele Mueller

This article examines two German films which, in different ways, engage with ethical questions raised by scientific advances in biotechnology and the specter of eugenics: Blueprint (Rolf Schübel, 2003), an adaptation of Charlotte Kerner's Blaupause, and The Elementary Particles (Elementarteilchen, Oskar Roehler, 2006), a cinematic interpretation of Michel Houellebecq's novel with the same title. Assuming different positions, the films contribute to the divisive public debate surrounding human cloning. Their visions vacillate between dystopian warnings of a commodification of human existence and euphoric promises of the potential to genetically erase human flaws forever. The films' main concern, however, is a critique of ideological positions associated with the generation of 1968, and the directors use the debate on genetics to infuse this discussion with an element of radicalism. This article explores the ways in which the films engage with the memory discourse in Germany through the lens of discourses on ethics and biotechnology.