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In the democracies of DNA: ontological uncertainty and political order in three states

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This paper compares the regulation of biotechnology in Britain, Germany and the United States and shows that systematic differences have developed around four issues: abortion, assisted reproduction, stem cells, and genetically modified crops and foods. Policy choices with respect to these issues reflect the capacity of each nation's regulatory institutions to deal with the scientific, social and ethical uncertainties around biotechnology. National regulatory frameworks constitute an apparatus of collective sense-making through which governments and publics interpret biotechnology's risks and promises. Specifically, regulatory choices position the novel ontologies created by biotechnology either on the side of the familiar and manageable or on the side of the unknown and insupportably risky. The comparison shows that public responses to biotechnology are embedded within robust and coherent political cultures and are not ad hoc expressions of concern that vary unpredictably from issue to issue.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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