Biotechnology and Communication: The Meta-Technologies of Information

By Sandra Braman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
9

Popular Representation and Postnormal
Science: The Struggle Over
Genetically Modified Foods
Graham Murdock
University of Loughborough

In the past year the United Kingdom has become the arena for a debate that will determine the kind of civilisation we fashion for ourselves in the twenty-first century—the debate over biotechnology and its commercial application … The United Kingdom has ignited a philosophical firestorm whose repercussions will be felt well into the next century.

—Rifkin, (1999, p. 1)

What we are witnessing is one of the greatest revolts against a new technology in history … it proposes a new relationship between politicians, corporations and consumers.

—Vidal (1999a, p. 20)

These statements, by a prominent campaigner in the United States and one of Britain's best-known environmental journalists, present the struggle over genetically modified foods in Britain during 1999 as a pivotal moment in the emerging politics around biotechnologies. This chapter sets out to map the course of events and tease out what they tell us about the shifting relations among commerce, science, communications, and popular mobilization.

Science solicits popular support on the basis that its discoveries will be applied in ways that make life steadily safer and more fulfilling for everyone. In recent years, however, this promise of cumulative progress has been eroded by a series of developments. These have disrupted the established assumptions and social relations of modern science and ushered in what has cometobecalled postnormal science (see Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993). This is not an entirely satisfactory description. The prefix post overemphasizes the

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