‘Probability But Not As We Know It’: Ignorance Construction in Genetic Biotechnology Discourse

By Beth Kewell.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This article examines social scientists’ attempts to qualify and define the risks, dangers, and opportunities heralded by the commercialisation of genetic biotechnology, at a time when discussion of its revolutionary nature is engendering exalted and tremulous expectations of what may be rendered permissible in the near and far future (Brown and Kraft 2006, Brown 2003, see within the professional press: Williams 2005, Krizner 2007, Mason 2005, Perpich 2004). Mason (2006, citing Moore 1991), has used the metaphor of ‘chasm crossing’ to describe this period of scientific innovation, within which uncertainty has become a kind of ‘zeitgeist’ or prevalent thematic. Elements of Smithson’s philosophical deconstruction of ignorance are used within the article to examine the discoursal means by which social scientists are attempting to traverse this chasm. A large-scale study of social science abstracts held by CSA Illumina, (n=594), furnishes a discussion of Smithson’s thesis on ignorance. The findings of the research suggest that the taxonomy of ignorance exemplified by Smithson currently resides as an obscured epistemic or ‘cloaked metaphysic’ within a genetic biotechnology discourse that is ostensibly concerned with uncertainty and risk efficacy.

Keywords: Philosophy of Ignorance, Risk, Uncertainty, Genomics, Biotechnology, Discourse Analysis

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.1-18. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.225MB).

Dr. Beth Kewell

Lecturer in Public Sector Management, The York Management School, The University of York, York, North Yorkshire, UK

Dr. Beth Kewell is a Lecturer in Public Sector Management at The York Management School. She joined the School in 2005, and is affiliated to the Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU), Department of Sociology, University of York.

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