'Probability But Not As We Know It’: Ignorance Construction in Biotechnology and Genomic Discourse

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Publication details

JournalThe International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society
DatePublished - 2009
Issue number6
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)1-18
Original languageEnglish


This article examines social scientists’ attempts to qualify and define the risks, dangers, and opportunities heralded by the commercialisation of genetic biotechnology, at a time when discussion of its revolutionary nature is engendering exalted and tremulous expectations of what may be rendered permissible in the near and far future (Brown and Kraft 2006, Brown 2003, see within the professional press: Williams 2005, Krizner 2007, Mason 2005, Perpich 2004). Mason (2006, citing Moore 1991), has used the metaphor of ‘chasm crossing’ to describe this period of scientific innovation, within which uncertainty has become a kind of ‘zeitgeist’ or prevalent thematic. Elements of Smithson’s philosophical deconstruction of ignorance are used within the article to examine the discoursal means by which social scientists are attempting to traverse this chasm. A large-scale study of social science abstracts held by CSA Illumina, (n=594), furnishes a discussion of Smithson’s thesis on ignorance. The findings of the research suggest that the taxonomy of ignorance exemplified by Smithson currently resides as an obscured epistemic or ‘cloaked metaphysic’ within a genetic biotechnology discourse that is ostensibly concerned with uncertainty and risk efficacy.

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