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Natural and unnatural: activists' representations of animal biotechnology

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Social representations of animal biotechnology were examined with a total of 22 animal welfare and rights activists in five focus groups. Content analysis of interview data showed that the social representation of animal biotechnology was organized according to intersecting utilitarian and moral reasoning. On one hand, activists were supportive of the medical applications of animal biotechnology and of their potential to help cure diseases. On the other hand, activists' concerns included a fundamental moral objection to the human use of animals in general, and a more specific objection to their genetic modification. The genetic manipulation of animals was negatively described as 'disgusting' and an emotional response, called the 'yuck factor' characterized the process of collective symbolic coping with the new technology. The activists were wary of 'going against nature' and were uneasy about humans interfering with the natural order. The results were discussed in the light of the many questions the human/animal relationship poses in modern society. An attempt is made to integrate the social representations theory and the public understanding of science in the study of the local public's views of new biotechnologies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Deptartment of Social Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland

Publication date: August 1, 2007

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