Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics


Biotechnology and Culture
Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics
Edited by Paul Brodwin

Untangles the broad cultural effects of biotechnologies

"A timely and perceptive look from many acute angles, at some of the most anxiety producing issues of the day." --Paul Rabinow, University of California, Berkeley

"This impressive collection offers a number of rich examples of why the development of anthropological studies of science, technology, and their disruptive social effects is a leading edge of critical enquiry." --Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University

As birth, illness, and death increasingly come under technological control, struggles arise over who should control the body and define its limits and capacities. Biotechnologies turn the traditional "facts of life" into matters of expert judgment and partisan debate. They blur the boundary separating people from machines, male from female, and nature from culture. In these diverse ways, they destroy the "gold standard" of the body, formerly taken for granted. Biotechnologies become a convenient, tangible focus for political contests over the nuclear family, legal and professional authority, and relations between the sexes. Medical interventions also transform intimate personal experience: giving birth, building new families, and surviving serious illness now immerse us in a web of machines, expert authority, and electronic images. We use and imagine the body in radically different ways, and from these emerge new collective discourses of morality and personal identity.

Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics brings together historians, anthropologists, cultural critics, and feminists to examine the broad cultural effects of technologies such as surrogacy, tissue-culture research, and medical imaging. The moral anxieties raised by biotechnologies and their circulation across class and national boundaries provide other interdisciplinary themes for discourse in these essays. The authors favor complex social dramas of the refusal, celebration, or ambivalent acceptance of new medical procedures. Eschewing polemics or pure theory, contributors show how biotechnology collides with everyday life and reshapes the political and personal meanings of the body.

Contributors include Paul Brodwin, Lisa Cartwright, Thomas Csordas, Gillian Goslinga-Roy, Deborah Grayson, Donald Joralemon, Hannah Landecker, Thomas Laqueur, Robert Nelson, Susan Squier, Janelle Taylor, and Alice Wexler.

Paul Brodwin, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Adjunct Professor of Bioethics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, is the author of Medicine and Morality in Haiti: The Contest for Healing Power and a coeditor of Pain as Human Experience: Anthropological Perspectives.

Theories of Contemporary Culture--Kathleen Woodward, general editor


Paul E. Brodwin

Since 1970, a host of new medical technologies has transformed the experience of birth, illness, and death in Euroamerican society. the technologies have created new images of the body—perhaps even undercut “the body” as a cultural category—and they have changed the ways we think about human identity, connectedness, and the limits of the life span. This book takes up the ramifying cultural effects of recent biotechnologies. It explores the personal and political stakes of several clinical procedures: surrogacy, organ transplantation, genetic screening, artificial respiration, ultrasound and digitized images of the body, as well as the precursor field of tissue-culture research. These technologies have emerged from years of specialized laboratory and clinical research. They come with the aura of objective science and the prestige of a highly trained and credentialed class of experts. the meanings of these technologies, however, quickly escape professional control and infiltrate the diverse domains of everyday life. This process begins again with every new media frenzy over genetic testing or human cloning, and it limns the passage from science to popular culture and from professional medicine to the intimate realms of bodily experience. This is the background for Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics.

The book examines how people debate, criticize, and re-imagine these contemporary interventions into the human body. It clarifies the fears and longings that surround biotechnologies: for instance, the fantasies of immortality connected with organ transplantation, or the desire to know the likely cause of one’s death through genetic diagnosis. of course, these cultural implications are not only a matter of personal reflection. Biotechnologies also acquire compelling political meanings, and the book explores how these both subvert and reinforce the dominant, legitimizing categories of contemporary life. the objects and procedures studied here are recasting the central debates in our society about the authority of scientific medi-

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