1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · Research

Media, Culture and Genomics

Jenny Kitzinger, Maureen McNeil

Start date

1999-12-01

Affiliated staff

Joan Haran, Kate O'Riordan

Background

Cultural representations of the human genome have become ubiquitous since the launch of the Human Genome Project. This project mapped the circulation of such representations, the stakes in producing them, and the associated public understandings of genomics and its implications. This project took advantage of the dual-site interdisciplinary character of Cesagen by developing a multi-method, cross-genre approach to the circulation of genomic discourses. The Cardiff site had special responsibility for investigating UK press and broadcast news media whilst at Lancaster, the special focus was on Hollywood film and fine art. The research team had a collective interest in science fiction as a distinctive discourse and the Internet as a site where the boundaries between factual and fictional discourses are blurred, as well as in the cross-genre travel of visual and textual tropes. In addition to this central Anglo-American core set of discourses, the project researchers have forged links that will enable them to undertake cross-cultural comparisons of genomic discourses in Korea, Germany, Canada and Scandinavia. This research contributed to debates about cultural production, the sociology of scientific knowledge, science-media communication and 'scientific understandings of publics / public understanding of science'.

Aims

This project developed a framework which outlined the argument that genomic science is the publicly mediated science 'par excellence' (McNeil, 2005) by:
  1. identifying the multiple sites through which this mediation occurs
  2. providing an empirically grounded conceptual framework for examining the circuits of discourse through which genomics is constituted
  3. providing a contextualisation of the different media forms under examination and the generic specificities of different media sites
  4. identifying cross cutting themes.

Themes developed through the project outputs were:

  • Mediation
  • Governance
  • The figure of the scientist, scientific knowledge and institutions
  • Representations of women’s bodies
  • The constitution of publics
  • Genre and truth claims
  • Origins and futures

Methods

This project drew on a content analysis of a comprehensive six month press archive from 2004 which was also compared with content analysis from a similar sample in 2000 to provide the substantive context for the conceptual claims developed and the individual case studies sampled. It also drew on a film catalogue developed by the team, which allowed for the analysis and comparison of film production around human genomics. The project also developed catalogues of artists and exhibitions and drew on art as a critical practice as well as a form of public engagement and exploration of the intersections of the biological and the social. A selection of internet texts were also reviewed and analysed and the intersection of different media forms and genres was a central research focus. Interviews with key producers and sources of the media texts – including scientists and pressure groups – were conducted to gain critical insight into their perceptions of the key issues in the representation of genomics. Interviews and focus groups with a range of publics explored the influence media representations of genomics may have and assessed whether such representations figure in their understanding of risk and their hopes for the future.

Findings

  • Genomics in general, and human cloning and stem cell science in particular, are sciences made, contested, and remade in the media.
  • Cloning science, in combination with or rigidly demarcated from embryonic stem cell science continues to arouse media controversy in the news, to provide a spectacular focus in Hollywood film and to exercise scientists and media producers over the most effective ways to communicate what is at stake
  • The intersecting (overlapping and competing) interests of media producers, scientists and national legislators operates flexibly and strategically in national and global circuits of genomic discourses
  • Cloning and embryonic stem cell scientists have become proactive and influential in setting media agendas in national and international arenas
  • Genomics and cloning are profoundly gendered in their mediation, privileging the male scientist and obscuring or fragmenting the female provider of ‘raw materials’.
  • Audiences and publics perform sophisticated boundary management in the demarcation of science fact and fiction in their consumption and understanding of mediated genomics and cloning discourses.


Publications

Haran, J., Kitzinger, J., McNeil, M., O’Riordan, K. (2007) Human Cloning in the Media: From Science Fiction to Science Practice. London: Routledge.O’Riordan, K. and Doyle, J. (2004) Virtual Ideals: Art Science and Gendered Cyberbodies? in Kuni V† Reiche C† (eds) Cyberfeminism: Next Protocols. New York: Atonomedia.

Further information

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