Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Constructing rBST in Canada: Biotechnology, Instability and the Management of Nature

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Constructing rBST in Canada: Biotechnology, Instability and the Management of Nature

Article excerpt

Abstract: One of the recurring focuses of much philosophical and sociological research concerns the relationship between science, technology and nature. This locus remains vital to any attempt to understand and critique the rapid scientific and technological change which characterizes today's society. Through this paper I pick up this challenge through a sociological narration of the controversy surrounding the regulation of rBST in Canada. Building on a social constructivist perspective of science, technology and nature, I trace Monsanto's failed attempt to produce a stable and progressive image of rBST through the forum of a Canadian Senate Committee inquiry. Instead, it is suggested that these failures surrendered a definition of rBST to the uncertainty and potential dangers associated with biotechnology and failed attempts to genetically manage nature. I conclude the paper with a discussion of the risk society and challenge the assumed relationship between social constructivism and stability, and to raise questions about how governments and regulators can cope with the routine uncertainties associated with biotechnology.

Resume: Les relations entre la science, la technologie et la nature continuent a etre au coeur d'une bonne partie de la recherche philosophique et sociologique. L'analyse de ces relations demeure essentielle pour toute tentative pour comprendre et critiquer le developpement rapide de la science et de la technologie qui caracterise les societes contemporaines. Dans cet essai, j'analyserai plus en detail la relation entre la technoscience, la nature et la societe par une mise en narration sociologique de la controverse sur la regulation du STbr au Canada. Adoptant une perspective <>, je retrace les efforts rates entreprirent par Monsanto pour produire une image stable et progressiste de STbr dans le forum de recherche que le comite du Senat canadien lui a consacre. Je montre qu'en fin de compte cette tentative de definition de STbr a echoue a cause des dangers potentiels qui sont associes a la biotechnologie et l'ingenierie genetique de la nature.

Afin de contester la relation presumee entre le constructivisme social et la stabilite et ouvrir la question sur la facon dont les gouvernements et les instances de regulation peuvent prendre en compte les insecurites routinieres associees a la biotechnologie, je termine l'essai avec une discussion de la societe du risque.


With the innovation of biotechnology now entrenched within the fabric of Canadian society, questions once again need to be raised concerning the relationship between science & technology, society and nature. Whether we consider Dolly the genetically cloned sheep, bio-engineered super crops, or the use of synthetic growth hormones to increase agricultural productivity it is clear that the artificial boundaries erected between society and nature during the Enlightenment have collapsed. It is no longer possible to imagine science simply as the means with which society is able to grasp true expressions of nature, or to envision technologies as socially or naturally autonomous, determined, or inherently progressive (Latour, 1993). Theory aside, the discovery of the ozone hole, the Chernobyl meltdown, the Exxon oil spill, and the advent of "mad-cow" disease all bear witness to the failures and consequences of the modern ethos and humanity's attempt to dominate an external nature. Instead, these catastrophes point to another reality, one characterized by impure sciences, impure technologies, and the routine production of risk and uncertainty.

Therefore, the challenge left for the governments, social theorists and consuming populations which face the proliferation and rapid commodification of biotechnology is twofold. If it can be established that science and technology are impure, then it is first necessary to explore the cultural processes and social relations involved in the production of biotechnology. …

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