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

Egenis · Research

Semantic Drift in the Dissemination of Genomics (2002-2007)

Christine Hauskeller

Start date

2002-10-01

Contact

Homepage: Email: c.hauskeller@ex.ac.uk

Background

Semantic studies are useful to analyze relationships between social spheres, because words as names, metaphors, analogies or concepts mediate between them. Central terms and their utilization by those engaged in the dialogues between science and the public, present valuable material for sociological and ethical analysis. Language and textual documentations conserve previous communication processes and in this sense language carries the history and presence of science-society interactions.

However, to describe the present evolution of biomedicine as the result of a negotiation between science and society presupposes that science can be separated from society. Although this may be conceptually possible on the basis of epistemology and the prominence of values such as truth and objectivity, science is a social activity and biomedical research even more so than sciences that are not about humans.

Aims

  • To capture in case studies the ways in which rhetoric displays both the particular perspectives of the many actors involved in the realization of modern bioscience and their moral intuitions and life-worldly interests.
  • To give an account of key terms and concepts relevant for current genomics and stem cell science in order to reconstruct and understand better the discursive landscapes in which science policy and science-public interactions more widely engage with each other.

Findings

  • Many disputed words in biomedical research such as cloning, embryo, gene, or life have no precise meaning. Their meanings change over time and depend on the social context in which they are used. Although this does not usually lead to communication problems within established discourse communities, it affects the wider social debate about biomedical research, where understandings and evaluations between communities often clash.
  • Scientists often express a tension between their personal value orientations and their professional role and scientific curiosity. This conscious tension contrasts with the open attempt to rename biomedical practices that have become issues of public debate. Some scientists engage explicitly in the renaming of objects and technologies that feature as problematic in public discourse, and this strategy often fails (pre-embryo/embryo; cell nuclear replacement/cloning; chimera/cybrid). This failure may be due to the fact that biomedical science is insolubly intertwined with practices of human self-understanding. The charged words and the social debate are adequate expressions of the value-load of biomedical enquiry and its applications in medicine and everyday life.

Project update

Derived lines of inquiry are
  • The ways in which genetic and genomic tests are used in society are all related to understandings of the identity of both the human species and any human individual. The investigation of the border regimes in which genomics is involved is still ongoing. For more information see: .
  • A second line of research emerged with respect to testing out the ways in which science is shaped by regulation and social practice. The Egenis project follows this line of inquiry, which aims to enlighten the role of science policy and the societal place of science.

Publications

Hauskeller, C., 'Stammzellforschung und Menschenwürde', in Matthias Kettner (ed), Politik und Menschenwürde, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2004.

Hauskeller, C.,'Science in Touch. Functions of biomedical terminology', Biology and Philosophy, 20, 4, 2005, 815-835.

Hauskeller, C.,'The language of stem cell science' (Link:, in Bender/Hauskeller/Manzei (ed), Crossing Borders. Grenzüberschreitungen, Münster: Agenda Verlag, 2005, pp. 39-60.