Cover image for Governing molecules : the discursive politics of genetic engineering in Europe and the United States
Governing molecules : the discursive politics of genetic engineering in Europe and the United States
Gottweis, Herbert, 1958-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
viii, 397 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library TP248.6 .G68 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Scientists, investors, policymakers, the media, and the general public have all displayed a continuing interest in the commercial promise and potential dangers of genetic engineering. In this book, Herbert Gottweis explains how genetic engineering became so controversial--a technology that some seek to promote by any means and others want to block entirely. Beginning with a clear exposition of poststructuralist theory and its implications for research methodology, Gottweis offers a novel approach to political analysis, emphasizing the essential role of narratives in the development of policy under contemporary conditions.Drawing on more than eighty in-depth interviews and extensive archival work, Gottweis traces today's controversy back to the sociopolitical and scientific origins of molecular biology, paying particular attention to its relationship to eugenics. He argues that over the decades a number of mutually reinforcing political and scientific strategies have attempted to turn genes into objects of technological intervention--to make them "governable." Looking at critical events such as the 1975 Asilomar conference in the United States, the escalating conflict in Germany, and regulatory disputes in Britain and France during the 1980s, Gottweis argues that it was the struggle over boundaries and representations of genetic engineering, politics, and society that defined the political dynamics of the drafting of risk regulations in these countries. In a key chapter on biotechnology research, industry, and supporting technology policies, Gottweis demonstrates that the interpretation of genetic engineering as the core of a new "high technology" industry was part of a policy myth and an expression of identity politics. He suggests that under postmodern conditions a major strategy for avoiding policy failure is to create conditions that ensure tolerance and respect for the multiplicity of socially available policy narratives and reality interpretations.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Governing Molecules is not simply another history of molecular biology. Rather, Gottweis addresses the political issues and controversies that arose during the early decades of its evolution. This issue is presented from the perspective of the European community during the period just after WW II until the 1990s. Much of the discussion centers in France and Great Britain. In particular, the roles played by the Nobel laureate trio of Lwoff, Jacob, and Monod are given prominence in the 1950s and 1960s in France, as well as the role of physics at the center of molecular biology in Great Britain during this period. Not surprisingly, the increasing role played by the governments in the lives of citizens in both these countries also entered into the direction of scientific research. With the discovery and application of restriction enzymes for research, the creation of altered life forms, at least at the prokaryotic level, became possible by the 1970s. The result was the Asilomar Conference of February 1975, originally planned to review molecular research and outline its hazards. Instead, the program developed into a forum on potential genetic hazards possible from the new molecular technology. The author delves into the problems and discourse, often heated, which grew out of such programs. Upper-division undergraduates and up. R. Adler; University of Michigan--Dearborn

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