Naked GenesReinventing the Human in the Molecular Age

Naked GenesReinventing the Human in the Molecular Age

Helga Nowotny and Giuseppe Testa

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780262014939

Publisher: The MIT Press


This book charts the mutual reconfiguration between scientific and social innovations in and around the molecular life sciences. Today’s biology is making visible what was once invisible. It parses life into new units of sense-making and reassembles them into new forms: from genes to clones, from embryonic stages to the building-blocks of synthetic biology. Yet, extracted from their scientific and social context and turned into mobile resources, technical and discursive alike, these new forms of life become not only visible but indeed “naked”: ready to assume an – illusory - essential status and thereby take on multiple values and meanings as they pass from labs to courts, from patent offices to parliaments – and back. Our goal is to cast a new gaze on these dramatic advances in the life sciences by probing their mutual interaction with equally dramatic re-configurations in the political texture of our societies. To this end, we focus on paradigmatic encounters between scientific and social ingenuity, from assisted reproduction through personalized medicine to genetic sports doping. We bring into relief surprising continuities as well as radical discontinuities between innovation and tradition. On this basis we then trace how, when social arrangements appear disrupted, advances in the life sciences combine with “human technologies”–the law, governance, and ethics– to stabilize or innovate social order. This brings us to conclude that the task of institutions in the molecular age is to enable pluralism by carving a legitimate space for experimentation with new forms of biological life as well as with new forms of social life.