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Genomics Forum · Events

Making GM Canola - Making Controversy

Seminar   01.11.2007






Dr Rosemary Robins (University of Melbourne)


Boardroom ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, 3rd Floor, St John's Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh

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Dr Rosemary Robins is Programme Coordinator in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne.

Her research and teaching is in Science and Technology Studies; the sociology of risk, science policy and regulatory science, and the public understanding of science, particularly as they relate to biotechnology, environmental issues, genetics and medicine. She is a member of the Gene Technology Ethics Committee (GTEC) and the Gene Technology Community Consultative Committee (GTCCC) established under the Gene Technology Act 2000 (Cth.)


In Australia, GM canola is said to be controversial because on the one hand it has been approved as safe for human health and for the environment by the Federal Government's Gene Technology Regulator and on the other, banned by state and territory government moratoria for market reasons. But where is this controversy located? In one location, that of The Regulator, GM canola is not controversial whereas in another, in states and territories, it is. What to make of such an apparent contradiction?

In this paper I consider what it means to say that GM canola is controversial in Australia. I examine how GM canola is performed in three locations: that of the canola breeder, the Gene Technology Regulator and the market place. I examine how the practices that take place in each of these locations hold together or apart similarities and differences between conventional canola and GM canola that, if they hold, are generative of stable ontological distinctions some of which make GM canola fit as an extension to what has gone before and others that make it disruptive of past relations and controversial. I use the word performance deliberately because I want to offer an explanation for what makes GM canola controversial that is guided by a particular metaphysics, a particular orientation to objects and to controversies as outcomes and not starting points for explanations. In this approach I follow recent work in Science and Technology Studies that extends the empirical metaphysics of actor-network theory and its commitment to the contingency of reality.

I argue that conventional canola, GM canola and controversy are products of specific yet multiply located ontological politics. I suggest that this approach to understanding what makes GMOs controversial is potentially more open to differences and uncertainties and more accommodating of public concerns than traditional explanations.

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