Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

By Paul E. Brodwin | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

PAUL E. BRODWIN

Since 1970, a host of new medical technologies has transformed the experience of birth, illness, and death in Euroamerican society.1 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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