Social Science Fiction of the Gene: Towards an Ethics of Non-autonomous Life

17 May 2011, 12:30 - 14:00

Room 606, Centre for Family Research, Free School Lane

Professor  Stuart Murray (Associate Professor of Rhetoric in the Department of English at Ryerson University and Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto)

 

 

 

Abstract
This paper begins with two stories about the popular (mis)perceptions of the gene. This first is the case of Margaret Somerville, who looms large in Canadian bioethics and who is a researcher at McGill University. The second is Bryan Sykes, the Oxford University geneticist whose international best-seller, The Seven Daughters of Eve (2001), also widely informs the popular reception of genetic discourse. At issue for me is the ways such popular research constitutes the widespread cultural understanding of “genetic subjectivity.” If it is true that genes enjoy a kind of “agency,” then we are faced with serious ethical challenges because traditional forms of bioethics no longer hold. That is, claims to autonomy, rationality, agency, and even personhood are undergoing a seismic shift, and can no longer serve as the foundation of bioethics in the tradition of liberal humanism. What is called for is a radically different understanding of ethical responsibility, what I am calling an ethics of non-autonomous life. The paper situates this challenge in the context of burgeoning biopolitical and neoliberal imperatives that hold sway in cultural and academic spheres.

 

Stuart J. Murray is Associate Professor of Rhetoric in the Department of English at Ryerson University and Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioural Health Science in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Canada. He received a Ph.D. (2004) in Rhetoric from the University of California at Berkeley, after which he completed a 2-year SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship in Philosophy at the University of Toronto. His work is concerned with the constitution of human subjectivity and the links between the rhetoric and ethics of “life,” in the multiple ways in which this term is deployed. Current SSHRC- and CIHR-funded research involves a study of ethics in forensic psychiatry settings (prisons) as well as a phenomenological study on the ethics of seclusion in mental health. He has published numerous essays and book chapters, as well as a collected volume edited with Dave Holmes, titled, Critical Interventions in the Ethics of Healthcare (Ashgate Publishing, 2009). He is working on a book-length project on the rhetorical dimensions of biopolitics and bioethics after Foucault, tentatively titled, Thanatopolitics: The Living From The Dead.  URL: http://stuartjmurray.com/

 

 

NB: Venue, Centre Family Research at 12.30

 

Open to all.  No registration required.

Part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum seminar series.
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