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<nettime> RE: On Biotechnology (comments on Jeremy Rifkin & Eugene Thack
Eugene Thacker on Fri, 31 Jan 2003 04:03:06 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> RE: On Biotechnology (comments on Jeremy Rifkin & Eugene Thacker)


Ana Viseu wrote: "I agree with Thacker when he says that Rifkin's position
on biotechnology leaves hardly any space for critical engament with it, it
is an 'all or nothing' position. I also agree that Rifkin's basis for
discussion, that interfering with Nature (human or not) is inherently
'bad' is the wrong way to approach the issue. Still, I would have like to
see Thacker present more 'palpabale' alternatives, even if only in terms
of biotech discourse."

This is definitely a difficult challenge, especially given the increased
tensions concerning bioterrorism, & as a result the ongoing economic links
be ing forged between the biotech industry & military research (Nanogen,
Motorola/Clinical Microsensors, & other labs are developing & bringing to
market handheld microarrays for detecting biologicals).

I'd say that first & foremost it's crucial to facilitate critical dialogue
concerning these issues in whatever context - online, offline,
publication, performance - But in a way that avoids the traps of either
demonization or technophilia. On all levels - scientific, political, but
also on the cultural level too.

Awareness-building, critical pedagogy, modes of intervention in the
discourse (from bio-activism to curriculum development for bioethics in
med school s) - these all seem to be viable ways of proceeding...

A few examples

- Non-profits: organizations like I-SIS (Institute for Science in Society;  
http://www.i-sis.org), run by Mae-Wan Ho, functions to build awareness of
issues concerning patenting, GM foods, cloning, genomics. They have worked
w ith the TWN/Third World Network in an advisory capacity and have
produced a number of reports for policy discussions concerning
sustainability, patent ing, biodiversity, as well as publishing,
organizing workshops, etc. Other orgs like the Indigenous People's Council
on Biocolonialism (http://www.ipcb.org) serve more to educate & advise
indigenous communities on issues conc erning biopiracy, patenting, ag-bio
(they're particularly active in the US with a number of Native American
communities). Also Vandana Shiva's org Research Foundation for Science,
Technology, & Ecology (http://www.vshiva.net).

- Bio-activism/Bio-art: there are more traditionally-identifiable activist
groups, such as the RAFI or CropWatch. The bio-art question is varied.
But, like I said, the key to assessing to effectiveness of such projects
is the ir critical engagement with the technologies & the issues. Critical
Art Ensemble (http://www.critical-art.net) has been doing this for a
number of yea rs, focusing particularly on the bioeconomic factors, and,
in my reading, the ways in which genomics IS globalisation. SubRosa
(http://www.cyberfemini sm.net/subrosa) has also been working with
biotech, particularly in relation to biocolonialism, gender, & NRTs. Both
CAE & SubRosa combine performance, lab biology, & activism as a means of
raising difficult issues. We might even include Heath Bunting's SuperWeed
project, RTmark's biological property fund, & other project-specific
works. Also, as Dan Wang mentions, it is w orth looking at a range of
practices that are not necessarily hi-tech, and that bring attention to
the context of the gallery space & contested meanin gs of "art" in
relation to (biotech) industry.

- Pedagogy: There's a number of innovative programs at the college level which work towards integrating bioethics & approaches from the social science 
s into the medical school or bioengineering curriculum (for instance, here 
at GaTech all engineering students have ethics requirements, in addition to 
 their humanities/ss electives). There's several programs underway which
aim to strategically work within institutions to create more critical contexts in bioscience/medical education, including seminars combining bioengineer 
ing with humanities (students & professors), problem-based learning courses 
 combining ethics, social issues, & bioengineering, medical humanities
programs, and the development of humanities-based study/degrees in
biomedicine & culture. This is not unique - I've spoken to people in a
range of contexts (med schools, humanities depts., ethicists,
administrators at the CDC) & am noticing a number of instances in which
people are working at the institutional & curricular levels to at least
try to see how education can be neg otiated for the better on these

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