Access, voice and participation: Reconsidering biotechnological divides
Wednesday 27 July 2011, 10:30am - 11:50am


Overview: An overarching priority of the Tarrytown Meetings is to complicate the assumption that biotechnological solutions can solve socially complex problems.  Biotech often functions within a neoliberal paradigm, which gives precedence to the genetic and biological over the social, environmental and political, thus undermining a social justice framework.  This line of thinking overlooks how genetic biotechnologies often have stratifying and marginalizing effects.

How might different communities find common purpose in offering alternatives to the widely held idea that technological progress equals social progress?  This session unpacked broad concerns along the lines of access, voice and participation:

Access: Conversations around equitable or socially-just biotechnology often revolve around rectifying unequal access.  This, however, presumes that that the technologies at stake are always desirable, or serving a diverse public’s interest.  Questions of access are further complicated as public reverence for scientific (especially genetic) knowledge often translates into widespread demand. 

Participation: Increased access is by no means a de facto solution for promoting socially just biotechnology. It is therefore a worthy goal to flesh out how one would define socially just biotechnology: What modes of democratic participation need to be established or strengthened in order to offset the biotech market’s bottom line?

Voice: Who has a voice in shaping emerging biotechnologies, and by what means do certain voices and perspectives tend to get left out, despite the image/rhetoric of participatory democracy that so often surfaces in biotechnological markets and messaging?

Session format: This session addressed some complex and controversial topics, setting the stage for an active group discussion that expanded and built upon panelist presentations.  Rayna Rapp, the session moderator, introduced the importance of the panel and the questions it brings to Tarrytown.  Next, the session focused on case studies presented by the panelists: Sara Shostak, Laura Mamo, Michele Goodwin, and Lisa Ikemoto.  The session then transitioned into a group discussion, responding to these case studies, attempting to connect the dots between panelists’ work, and finally, exploring other participants’ experiences navigating access, voice, and participation in their own work.

Given that the panel was scheduled during the final session block of the meeting, it usefully reflected on the analytical and strategy discussions of the past few days, and offered guidance in looking toward the 2012 meeting and beyond.  Discussion reflected upon how successfully these issues of access, voice, and participation were incorporated throughout the convenings.  A possible output, then, might be thought of as an extension of any specifically-focused “program evaluation,” offering recommendations for how to continue and strengthen our efforts to incorporate a broad social lens throughout the Tarrytown meetings.