Introduction: Biotechnology,Uncertainty and Contestation

  • Patrick O’Mahony


Biotechnology, the capacity to modify or invent plant and animal life genetically, exhibits two characteristics of late twentieth-century information and communication technologies, one it shares with these technologies in general and in the other it belongs to a more restricted club. In the first case, biotechnology, like other new technologies, involves such far-reaching implications for the organisation of social life that there is little precedent by which to judge its potential impact. What Weingart (1978) has called the orientation complex of technologies — the social, cultural, political and economic forces that shape the trajectory of their development — is, in the case of biotechnology, even more than the new technologies in general, uncertain and contradictory. This lack of clarity derives from the massive implications of the full-scale institutionalisation of biotechnologies, which could foreseeably result in the unbinding of many of the values and rules that currently constitute nature, life and social organisation. It also derives from the fact that these are, to a greater or lesser degree, contested technologies. Given the scale of the potential implications, the future horizons of biotechnologies are shrouded in obscurity, where optimism and anxiety mingle.


Legal System Citizen Participation Assisted Conception Embryo Research Oppositional Movement 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Patrick O’Mahony

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