24 Oct 2005 All day CRASSH



15.00-16.30, Monday 24 October 2005

Meeting Room, CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1RX

A talk by Stefan Sperling (Princeton University)

Bioethics, understood as the discourse of how life ought to be lived, has been in a sense the founding public discourse of both postwar Germanys. In this talk I explore how bioethical ideas were engaged with in the course of German reunification. When the divided country came together in 1990, socialist East Germany was quickly framed as an experiment that had failed. In rapid and sweeping processes the nation's scientific apparatus, its education system, and its public sphere, including a national forum for bioethics, were re-evaluated and reordered, if not entirely erased. At stake in these transformations was not only the political structure of reunified Germany, but also its moral order. Would it be that of West Germany, or would the merger define a new entity altogether, with new principles for governing life? I look at the role of the East German secret police (Stasi) files to show how Western norms prevailed, in part by recharacterizing East Germany as a lawless state (an Unrechtsstaat). In this process, transparency-which I argue is a key ingredient in German notions of bioethics-was reconfigured to suit Western ideas of accountability. Eastern concepts of solidarity were set aside, to resurface in nostalgic memories of private life in the good old days.

Stefan Sperling is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University and a fellow in Harvard's STS Program. Stefan has completed his ethnographic work, funded by the Social Science Research Council, with a bioethics commission advising the German parliament. His dissertation analyzes the practices and processes through which human embryonic stem cells were defined and legislated in Germany, and through which ethical knowledges and moral practices were constituted.

This is the first in a series of Rethinking Science and Society seminars and will be chaired by Professor Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard University).

All are welcome.


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk