The Postgenomic Condition: Property, Public, Private After the Genome

Seminar Room, 64 Banbury RoadWednesday Mar 6, 2013 at 16:00

A Talk by Jenny Reardon (UCSC)

Based in ethnographic field work at central sites where practitioners today seek to render ‘the human genome’ meaningful, this talk describes efforts to forge concepts of public, private and property that can negotiate tensions between liberal democratic commitments to openness and access, and those of autonomy, privacy and property.  It situates these efforts in broader debates over the nature of justice and knowledge in worlds shaped by global bio-informatic infrastructures.  When is information personal, and thus justly subject to control by a person and their right to privacy?  What happens to liberalism’s commitment to the right to control—to own—one’s body when even bodily substrates enter open-source idioms?  What happens to knowledge when the individual knower who is responsible for cultivating data into knowledge is replaced by large-scale open informatics systems?

Genomics provides an important site for addressing these questions, and understanding the multiple competing values, knowledges and lives at stake in the contemporary tension between privacy and property on the one hand and the publicness and openness on the other.  Arendtian readings of the importance of both the private and public realm provide a historic and theoretical lens that remind that we must not be tempted to cast one value out in favor of another, but to articulate what particular notions of public and private can respond to the postgenomic condition.

Jenny Reardon is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Faculty Affiliate in the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at UC Santa Cruz. She founded and co-directs the Science and Justice Research Center at UCSC. She is the author of Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics (Princeton University Press, 2005) and is currently working on a second book manuscript entitled The Postgenomic Condition: Ethics, Justice, Knowledge After the Genome.