Saturday, 9 August 2008

Gregor Wolbring

In an earlier post I wondered aloud whether there were any telling differences between the ethical approaches to synthetic biology used by Gregor Wolbring and Paul Rabinow:

I'm happy to report that I now have a response from Gregor, on the understanding that it may be posted on this blog for the benefit of others. If I have at all misconstrued Gregor's tacit approval of posting here, I will remove it upon his request. My question was general as I wanted a starting point to get to grips with the concept of "ableism" Wolbring is associated with:

Ok here my take. This is a cleaned up version. It is NOT a general critique of Rabinow. That also would be beside the point. I do not disagree with many of the sentiments. I just feel for them to be useful they have to be embedded into a totally different social structure and discours.

THe main sentence from how you quote Rabinow is "The question of what constitutes a good life today, and the contribution of the bio-sciences to that form of life must be posed and re-posed."

I agree with the sentiment of that quote and I wrote on that for example in my bookchapter Wolbring, (2003), "Confined to Your Legs," in A. Lightman, D. Sarewitz,and C. Desser (eds.), Living with the Genie: Essays on Technology and the Quest for Human Mastery (Washington, DC: Island Press). ISBN: 1-55963-419-7

However that is not the whole story.
Depending whom one talks to will lead to totally different answers as to what constitutes a good life and depending on how one answers that question one gets totally different answers to the question what the contribution of the biosciences to that form of life is and could be.

I cover in my recent writings a lot the concept of ability governance. (see for example here Wolbring (2008) "Is there an end to out-able? Is there an end to the rat race for abilities?" for Journal: Media and Culture, Volume 11, Issue 3, July. 2008 or here Wolbring (2008) Why NBIC? Why human performance enhancement? European Journal of Social Science Research, Vol 21,No.1,pp.25-40

What forms of ableism and favoritism of abilities one exhibits has a direct impact on how one defines and perceives what constitutes a good life, what the problems are that prevent the reaching of that good life and what solutions are thought out to deal with the 'problems'. The discourses around science and technology governance leave out many facets and subgroups of earth population and with that exhibits fairly homogenous take on acceptable forms of ableism and favoritism of abilities. The less diverse the reference group is, the easier it is to define a certain vision of the good life, the existing problems preventing one to reach it and the solutions for that problem.

Most of the science an technology governance discourse is about environmental and medical health issues. Social risk, social health issues are rarely raised by the proponent or opponents of a givens contested science and technology. And certain groups of earth populations are routinely excluded
Wolbring (2007) "Nano-Engagement: Some critical issues Journal of Health and Development (India)Vol. 3 No 1-2, pp. 9-29

In general how we govern science and technology and what science and technology we seek what is accepted and what is not is a direct result of what ableism's a given society is exhibiting and accepting and what abilities a given culture is seeking.

And of course as certain science and technolgy enable new abilities and ableisms the very appearance of certain science and technology will support certain new ableisms and favoritisms for certain abilities.

One other quote from how you quote Rabinow is “And ethics and science can play a mutually formative role”.
Again on the surface there is nothing wrong with such statement. However depending which ethics one uses changes quite a bit the nature of the formative role and what output the given ethics discourse generates.

1 comment:

adolfo said...

Join us for a conversation with Dr. Gregor Wolbring, research scientist at the University of Calgary. Dr. Wolbring, a founding member and distinguished fellow of the Center for Nanotechnology and Society, discusses the role of disabled and non disabled people in the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, infotech, cognitive science and synthetic biology.