The sacred and the profane: biotechnology, rationality, and public debate
Environment and Planning A
This paper explores the forms of argumentation employed by participants in a recent public engagement process in the United Kingdom around new technologies for organ transplantation, with specific reference to xenotransplantation and stem-cell research. Two forms of reasoning recur throughout participants’ deliberations which challenge specialist framing of this issue. First, an often scatological humour and sense of the profane are evident in the ways in which participants discuss the bodily transformations that such technologies demand. Second, a sense of the sacred, in which new biotechnologies are viewed as against nature or in which commercial companies are ‘playing god’, is a repetitive and well-recognised concern. Such forms of reasoning are frequently dismissed by policymakers as ‘uninformed gut reactions’. Yet they also form a significant part of the repertoire of scientists themselves as they proclaim the hope of new medical breakthroughs, or seek to reconstruct ideas of the body to facilitate new biotechnological transformations. Through questioning of assumptions in Habermas’s notion of discourse ethics, and exploring the importance of hybridity and corporeality as concepts in ethical thinking, the author suggests that, far from being ill-formed opinions, such reasonings perform an important function for thinking through the ontological significance of the corporealisation of these proposed new forms of human and animal bodies.
Davies G, 2006. The definitive, peer-reviewed and edited version of this article is published in Environment and Planning A, 38(3), pp. 423 – 443 DOI: 10.1068/a37387
Environment and Planning A, 2006, Vol. 38, Issue 3, pp. 423 - 443