Donna Haraway and Genetically Modified Foods (Postmodern Encounters)

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9781840461787: Donna Haraway and Genetically Modified Foods (Postmodern Encounters)
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Genetically modified food has become in the past few years a portent symbol of the dangers inherent in technology and science and their commitment to "progress". The issues that have been raised foreshadow a greater ethical problem and fundamental philosophical impasse that is likely to arise, as science fact becomes more and more to resemble science fiction. Donna Haraway has taken in her work the implications involved for humanity, and for feminism in particular, this ever nearing synthesis of the human and the artificial. George Myerson examines the media hype in the light of Haraway's unrepentantly post-modern, but critical work, becoming ever more essential as we watch technology engulf our lives.

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About the Author:

George Myerson writes on contemporary culture and modern thought. He is Reader in English at King’s College London.

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Donna Haraway is a leading figure in contemporary feminist thought, and a major theorist of science and culture. She is a declared activist, and ally of those who seek to resist exploitation, including the exploitation of the environment by big money and power. What would you expect her to think about genetically modified food? How would you want her to react? Surely she is an outspoken opponent of the new Soya and corn, the alien fruits and vegetables? For these are beings, we hear, from Dr Frankenstein s Garden. Are the new engineered foodstuffs not another risk imposed on ordinary people by powerful companies? Is it not, then, the duty of all progressive thinkers to denounce the outrage committed on nature by greed?

Haraway herself sees that this expectation is natural. We like to know where our thinkers are coming from, just as much as we want to know where our food is coming from. She recognises that on the political left my area of the political spectrum , the mood is unwelcoming to molecular genetics, biotechnology and other such developments. Are these not just new means of profit and exploitation ? Haraway is hardly a fan of Monsanto and the other gene genies, and she can feel the pull of her natural constituency, the radical activists and critics of established institutions. But she has a confession to make, and it is this confession which sets up a Postmodern Encounter :

I find myself especially drawn by such engaging new beings as the tomato with a gene from a cold-sea-bottom-living flounder

How could she? And that s not the end of it! Haraway also has a weakness for the potato with a gene from a giant silk moth . Our encounter, then, will be between this influential feminist thinker and the monsters who have filled so many headlines in the past few years.

The scene for the encounter is the book which Haraway published in 1997, with the weird title: Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse. It is in this book that she makes her confession, and her more general purpose is to respond to the new worlds which face us at the turn of the millennium. In addition to genetic foods, Haraway gazes upon all kinds of other new beings, virtual as well as biological, medical as well as theoretical. Her book is about the idea of a new era, at whose heart will be technoscience , the new hybrid of old sciences and technologies. What, she wants to know, should feminism make of the new dawn? How should any progressive critic of society respond to the changes, both actual and imminent, in the texture of everyday life and in the landscape of all our horizons?

As you can tell, it s a strange animal, this Modest_Witness. But there are three clear parts: in Part I, Haraway gives an account of technoscience; in Part II, she presents her meetings , between activist and fruit, between OncoMouse and FemaleMan, and between all kinds of other strange beings; and Part III offers a vista taking in gene and fetus , race and facts , in an overview of the prospects. Her encounter with the new fruits of the garden occurs in Part II, but its implications reverberate to and fro. Modest_Witness is not a book you can just read from beginning through to ending. It is full of echoes and linkages, repetitions and returns. There are academic footnotes and plenty of references to fellow scholars and experts. But the voice is fluid. One moment, we are reading a critique of an argument; then we move to a story, or a joke, or a personal recollection. In some ways, Modest_Witness is like a novel, and Haraway does draw as much upon fiction as upon academic sources. For example, she creates characters, or treats ideas as if they were characters. She herself becomes just one more character in her own world, along with other strangely-named presences, laboratory mice and FemaleMen. You can t extract a message from this kind of book, apart from the experience of reading it. So I have tried to re-create something of that experience, on the way to understanding The Strange Case of the Activist and the Monsters . Why does Donna Haraway feel drawn to the moth-gened potato, or the flounder-spliced tomato?

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