A New Politics of Care in Biotechnology Governance



Dear Friends and Colleagues

A New Politics of Care in Biotechnology Governance

Agricultural biotechnology has been a source of social and environmental conflict for decades. Existing governance institutions relying on traditional processes of scientific risk assessment have failed to address the sources of such persistent and polarized conflicts. These conflicts will neither shift nor disappear unless approaches to its governance change to more adequately account for the issues of concern.

A recently published policy brief in the journal Food Ethics puts forward a framework of care-based ethics and politics, which can be used to guide the assessment of socio-economic and ethical considerations within formal biotechnology regulatory systems. It cites six key defining features:

(1) Relational worldview: This emphasises the interconnected nature of the world and prioritises the relationships between entities within social and ecological communities, as well as the relevance of analysing any shift or rupture in relationships brought about by new technologies.

(2) Context: Sensitivity to context requires that technologies are not only assessed on an individual basis; the way a technology represents and advances a certain trajectory over space and time must also be evaluated.

(3) Dependence: A focus on the (changing) nature of relations of dependence through the development and use of new technologies allows questions to be asked about whether these relationships are caring, nurturing and empowering or extractive, destructive and limiting.

(4) Power and Vulnerability: It is important to ask how the distribution of power (e.g. through money, status or more invisible means) can support, burden or disadvantage particular actors, especially the most vulnerable.

(5) Affect: The key role of affect and emotion must be recognised, acknowledged and granted legitimacy during decision-making processes.

(6) Narrative: Narrative is recognised as valuable for the way in which it can draw attention to particularity and context, as well as encourage the consideration and assessment of alternatives. It also helps to grant individuals the power to tell and control their own stories.

For a politics of care to truly permeate biotechnology governance, it will first be necessary for scientific risk assessment to reimagine its place within a more multifaceted form of assessment so that the considerations of care can carry the same weight in regulatory decision-making. An extended scope and reorientation of interest is required at the level of both policy-making and regulatory assessment. This includes: a) moving beyond assessing a technology’s risks to human health and the environment to also ask other types of relevant questions; b) expanding beyond case-by-case assessments to also consider the overarching trajectories being pursued, the potential cumulative impacts involved, and the available alternatives; and c) opening up the terms and modes of governance to be more inclusive, deliberative and reflexive.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
Email: twn@twnetwork.org
Websites: http://www.twn.my/and https://biosafety-info.net/
To subscribe to other TWN information services: www.twnnews.net



Wickson, F., Preston, C., Binimelis, R. et al.
Food Ethics
Aug 2017, Vol.1, Issue 2, pp 193-199


There is a growing demand to incorporate social, economic and ethical considerations into biotechnology governance. However, there is currently little guidance available for understanding what this means or how it should be done. A framework of care-based ethics and politics can capture many of the concerns maintaining a persistent socio-political conflict over biotechnologies and provide a novel way to incorporate such considerations into regulatory assessments. A care-based approach to ethics and politics has six key defining features. These include: 1) a relational worldview, 2) an emphasis on the importance of context, 3) a recognition of the significance of dependence, 4) an analysis of power, including a particular concern for those most vulnerable, 5) a granting of weight to the significance of affect, and 6) an acknowledgment of an important role for narrative. This policy brief provides an overview of these defining features, illustrates how they can appear in a real world example and provides a list of guiding questions for assessing these features and advancing a politics of care in the governance of biotechnology.

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