- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (November 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226701514
- ISBN-13: 978-0226701516
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,253,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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French DNA: Trouble in Purgatory 2nd Edition
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In 1994, the French government squashed a deal between its world-renowned CEPH genetics laboratory and an American biotech company, citing the loss of French DNA. If, like most scientifically minded people, you see this as an egregious example of bureaucratic buffoonery at best, or thinly disguised nationalistic racism at worst, anthropologist Paul Rabinow has another point of view well worth considering. Looking broadly at the political, social, and scientific forces combining to shape policy decisions, he shows a complex web of interconnected elements, each with its own inertia, making the government's final decision nearly inevitable.
Rabinow had the unique good fortune to be in France studying CEPH at the time of the decision, so his report contains personal details and insights that never made it into news reports. His own keen observations, grounded in postmodern social theory, are still accessible to those of us who never read Foucault. Incorporating the history of the American and French HIV scandals, France's new, more nationalistic attitudes toward research, and the remnants of colonial attitudes, French DNA explores the neutral territory between science and governance, showing the careful reader that even the strangest results can spring from perfectly sensible decisions, given enough complexity. Rabinow has done a great service to all of us seeking to understand the course of modern science. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
Rabinow has written an interesting book about the failed negotiations between a French genetics lab, the Centre d'?tude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH) and Millennium, an American biotech company that wanted its family DNA data on diabetes and obesity. This book is not about the science of molecular biologyAit's a look at how the different ethics of France and America affect the way people and politicians feel about the sanctity of DNA (and blood and organ transfusions). Historical ethical and philosophical discussions, which help explain the French position, are interspersed with a journal of the events Rabinow observed while he was in France in 1994 at the invitation of Daniel Cohen of the CEPH. Rabinow (anthropology, Univ. of California, Berkeley) is the author of French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment and Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology. Recommended for ethics and biotechnology collections.AMargaret Henderson, Cold Spring Harbor Academics, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Even within anthropology, it is difficult to pin Rabinow into one category. He made major contributions to post-colonial studies by analyzing - in French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment - how urban planning and spatial control of populations in Morocco were turned into laboratories of modernity. Since the 1990s, his research concentrates on the social study of science and technology, but he also contributes to methodological debates about the future of anthropology. Contrary to the claim made about Clifford Geertz, he doesn't rest on his accumulated intellectual capital. He even took a class in molecular biology to keep abreast of the developments in the discipline he was observing. No one can predict what his next intellectual challenge will be.
French DNA, which was published in 1999, mixes several strands of literature. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork in a French genomics research centre, the CEPH, whose director agreed to have his in-house anthropologist, or rather, as he put it, his "philosophical observer". Part of the research is archival work, tracking how this French lab won the race to map the human genome using innovative collaborative methods and flexible organization. Rabinow also documented the "contaminated blood affair" that put the French system of blood transfusion to a test and ended in a much-publicized judicial trial. During his research stay at CEPH, the anthropologist was also able to observe firsthand a corporate crisis, when the proposed alliance with an American start-up deeply divided the executive team and caused the French government to intervene in order to protect "French DNA".
The book goes beyond the social study of science and moves into the terrain of cultural critique. French DNA is as much about France as it is about DNA. The book's gallery of characters include a Nobel prize winner who generously gives his proceeds to establish a first-rate research center; a public utilities employee whose son is suffering from a rare degenerative disease and who organizes a public campaign to finance genomics research; a dynamic and visionary research director who hires an American public relations firm to advertize the success of his research center in decoding the human genome; various researchers who do much infighting and political wrestling; a young bureaucrat hailing from the Ecole Nationale d'Administration who suspects the anthropologist to be on the CIA's payroll; etc.
In a society marked by its school elitism and social stratification, Rabinow notes that the majority of CEPH's scientists and technicians have not been recruited from France's elite institutions, which gives the research center an entrepreneurial spirit. Another characteristic noted by the author is that many of his characters are Jewish "pieds noirs", originating from French North Africa. Indeed, Rabinow's own Jewish origins is mentioned as a factor that contributed to his admission into the closed circle of genomics research. Although the CEPH is a private foundation, political bickering and administrative fiat play a big role in the unfolding story: "it is not much of an exaggeration to say that everything passes through the state in France."
Consequently, as the main characters soon find out, "getting involved with the privatization of research, especially in alliance with the Americans, is treacherous terrain." The American biotech start-up that is approached by CEPH's director has as its goal the identification and patenting, for its exclusive profit, of the genes for diabetes and other diseases using the collected data from French patients. The CEPH's blood database is based on a close partnership with patient associations, and blood comes from free donation by the public: therefore, the DNA that will be used in research should be considered as "French", and protected accordingly.
More specifically, as noted by the author, in France "blood" is a thing that is juridically "hors du commerce", something that can neither be freely sold nor exchanged. The United States and France have quite different systems for collecting and distributing blood, that most symbolic and sacred of substances. In France, the collection of blood falls into the domain of the gift, of benevolent gesture, of solidarity. But blood products are part of a huge international trade in medical supplies, and they are fully commercialized. The distinction can be quite confusing. Is albumin, for instance, a thing to be bought and sold? The answer is `yes' when it is extracted from the placenta and `no' when its source is blood.
Albumin changes legal status depending on whether it is taken from a person (through her blood) or from a thing (the leftover placenta). The distinction between persons and things is in line with Roman law, for which those things that could be physically separated from the body fell neatly into two categories, both exempt from civil law: "nuisances or burials". The codes of hygiene (and public health) and mortuary practices of religion (or the Republic) took care of these polluted and sacred things. Today, the situation is not so simple: "separable, exchangeable and reincorporable body parts (or parts of parts) confuse and confound the previous legal framework." Artifacts like blood or DNA exist in a kind of legal limbo - a situation that evokes the "purgatory" mentioned in the book's title. Indeed, Rabinow is startled to recognize in the arguments put forward by scientists at CEPH "aspects of the imaginary, vocabulary, and - in an altered manner - even the conceptual concerns first articulated seven hundred years ago with the emergence of the zone of purgatory in Western Christianity."
In the US, the author's research was funded by a portion of the genome research budget that was specifically allocated to social, ethical, and legal issues, making it "the largest ethics project in history." In France, the National Ethics Committee, formed by a decree of President François Mitterrand in 1983, enjoys the same authority that the Catholic Church had at the time it proposed the notion of purgatory to bolster its monopoly on salvation goods. Another characteristics of the French ethics committee is the predominance of psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic discourse in its workings. As noted by Rabinow, since the committee speaks in universals, it tends to elide the status of its own particularity: "French bioethics discourse and institutions, although cast as universals, are only one mode among others of problematizing the issues addressed."
Paul Rabinow's book not only breaks new grounds at the interface between science and society; it is also quite experimental in style. It mixes theoretical developments and detailed descriptions with field notes and journal entries, giving to the whole the quality of a collage. Rabinow entered the field with little preconceived ideas about the topics he would cover; his approach to fieldwork was open-ended and opportunistic. As he notes, "an experimental mode of enquiry is one where one confronts a problem whose answer is not known in advance rather than already having answers and then seeking a problem." As a result, "French DNA contains no totalities, formal systems, encompassing fields, epochs, worldviews, universal subjects. Nor does it even contain Theory in the traditional sense of the term that would make the empirical material into a case study, an example, a testing ground."
But of course, even if Theory is not what the author is after, he nonetheless displays his long-standing interest for French intellectual productions and familiarity with academic references. He engages in a dialogue with French historians Jacques Le Goff and Michel Vovelle on the history of purgatory. He borrows from Michel de Certeau the notion of a "practiced site" (un lieu pratiqué), and expands on the concepts of "form" and "assemblage" that he introduced in his previous books ("from time to time, and always in time, new forms emerge that catalyze previously existing actors, things, temporalities, or specialities into a new mode of existence, a new assemblage"). He pays tribute to Michel Foucault, while noting that his concepts of biopower and biopolitics were conceived to describe the genealogy of disciplinary power in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and that they cannot be projected onto the twenty-first century without adaptation. He uses Giorgio Agamben with caution, drawing on his distinction between "bios" and "zoe" while refusing to see in the Holocaust the apocalyptic truth of biopower. While constantly renewing himself, Rabinow is forever complementing fieldwork with conceptual labor, as he expands the frontiers of the discipline.