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Sessions in: Life Sciences, Biotechnology

G.1 Hope, Hype and Lowering Expectations in the Life Science Industry

Organizer: Isabel Briz Hernandez, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China

Much has been said about hope and science. Since the emergence of biotechnology and its promises of a not-distant-future in which the advances at the bench will quickly travel to the care at the bedside, scholars in science studies have warned about the hype around biotech and the deceiving illusion that it creates in patients at their most vulnerable moment, at the edge of life (Good 2007; Rose and Novas 2005). It has been widely portrayed how hope is capitalized by biotech companies and nation-states, turning the expectations of patients and their families into an economic profit (Novas 2006; Sunder Rajan 2005, 2006, 2010; Waldby 2000). Others have urged us to look at how the idea of potentiality has impregnated life science and biomedicine in the last decades (Taussig, Hoeyer, and Helmreich 2013). Yet, an emerging scholarship is also pointing to how this hype is “recalibrated” on the ground (Gardner, Samuel, Williams 2015) and how high and low expectations are intertwined (Pickersgill 2011, Fitzgerald 2014, Swallow et al. 2020, Day et al. 2021)

This panel draws on the “Sociology of Low Expectations” (Gardner, Samuel, Williams 2015) and invites papers that reflect on how doubt and uncertainty are present in promissory technologies in the life science industry such as gene and cell therapy, stem cell, immunotherapy or personalized medicine in general. In addition to the performance of the “promissory rhetorics” (Borup et al., 2006; Brown, 2015), this panel seeks to analyze ethnographic moments in which hype is contested, and yet those practices are constitutive of technoscience.

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G.2 New dynamics in the debate on how to govern agricultural biotechnology?

Organizers: Armin Spök, Christian Dayé, Science, Technology and Society Unit, TU Graz, Austria

Around the globe, the advent and increasing use of gene editing (GE) technology for introducing small genetic changes in plants have triggered policy reviews and legislative changes. A new rationale for legal regulation of these techniques is emerging: genetic changes by GE that could also arise from conventional breeding or natural mutations are considered equivalent in terms of safety and are consequently exempted from the comprehensive pre-market assessment and authorisation procedure required for all other genetically modified (GM) plants. Almost all major agricultural export countries in North and South America, India and China have established such regimes. Consequently, pressure has been growing on other jurisdictions, which still require a full assessment and authorisation procedure. With these type of small genetic changes in GE plants the political split of the world in adopters and non-adopters of genetic technologies in agriculture can no longer be maintained. For, routine control in non-adopters of imports cannot unambiguously determine genetic changes as to be caused by GE. These non-adopters, hence, cannot guarantee to protect their markets from products which are not legally authorised.

The hitherto non-adopting jurisdictions, among them the European Union, Norway, UK, Switzerland, New Zealand, or Japan, is responding to this pressure in different ways. Japan, for instance, has already opted for a policy change. In other countries, support is growing in stakeholder groups and governments for a policy change. GE advocates highlight the multiple challenges for agriculture due to climate change, phasing-out of pesticides, and disruptions to international supply chains by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. On the other hand, environmental groups are still campaigning against GE in the same way they did for GM plants. Organic farmers are put on alert and argue that such GE plants would pose a threat to their business model, as their own guidelines does not allow GE plants.

Against these backdrop of competing definitions and means to sustainable and resilient agriculture, the panel seeks to explore und understand these developments, in particular stakeholder and public perceptions, strategies of actors, competing framings and narratives and their dynamics, as well as possible future scenarios. Proposals for papers are particularly welcome that

  • address recent developments in various countries around the globe;
  • discuss (in comparative manner) the discourses, narratives, imaginaries, and policy decisions around the advent of GE in plant breeding;
  • analyse the positions of various stakeholders in the field, ranging from conventional to organic farmers, from trade associations to retailers, from plant breeders to regulators;

reflect on eventual changes in public perception of environmental threats, opportunities, and risks.

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