Tarrytown 2012 - Program Sessions


1. Opening Plenary Session

During this opening plenary we shared our thoughts on "Telling the Biopolitical Story": What brought us together here at Tarrytown? What have we accomplished to date, and what is planned? What challenges do we face? How do we communicate to others about our passions and our programs?

2. Academia Meets Activism; Advocacy Meets Scholarship

This roundtable discussion considered the opportunities and challenges that arise when intellectually engaged advocates and publically engaged scholars meet and work together. How might our work at the Tarrytown Meetings learn from successful academic-activist collaborations that already exist, and what structures could be set up to enable dialogue between these groups after Tarrytown 2012?

3. Communications for a New Biopolitics

This plenary session began with a presentation by strategic communications consultant Jane Elder about the power of frames, values, and themes in communicating about complex issues like those we confront. This was followed by table-based exercises, floor discussion, and responses and reflections by a panel of Tarrytown Meeting participants who have extensive media and communications experience.

4. The Tarrytown Meetings and The New Biopolitics: Reflections and Next Steps

We heard three Tarrytown Meeting leaders share their reflections on what we've learned at this third Tarrytown Meeting, what we have planned for the next year or so, and what we need to do to ensure increased support for the work that all of us are doing.

5. Biopolitical Cultural Festival: Encore!

Our after-dinner Biopolitical Cultural Festival featured contemporary artist Paul Vanouse; a spoken-word performance by science journalist Adam Smith; a scene from a musical drama about reproductive technology by Canada-based playwright, physician, and educator Jeff Nisker; and a remembrance of activist-scholar Charlie Weiner.

6. Closing Plenary Session

The closing session started with highlights from each of the four tracks about the ground that has been covered over the past three days and plans for moving forward. We then returned to our opening questions about the “Tarrytown story.” The three Tarrytown Meetings have been a means to an end and not an end in and of themselves; what are the optimal next steps and structures to ensure the ongoing growth of our network and our work? Our work has only just begun, so where does the Tarrytown story take us from here?


1. Markets and Assisted Reproduction

  • Sex and trait selection
  • Reproductive tourism and commercial surrogacy
  • Women’s eggs for fertility and research
  • Third-party gametes: anonymity and other concerns of "donor offspring"

2. Genetic Information: Rights and Responsibilities

  • Gene patents
  • Biobanking
  • DNA forensics
  • DTC genetic testing
  • Personalized medicine
  • Genetic privacy/discrimination

3. Genetic Technologies and Racial Justice

  • DNA forensics
  • DNA ancestry tests
  • Race-based medicine
  • Race-based databases

4. Synthetic Biology and the Human Future

  • Synthetic biology
  • Cloning and inheritable genetic modification
  • Human "enhancement"
  • Bioweapons and biosecurity
  • Other emerging/converging technologies



1. When Biotech Travels

Biotech is increasingly characterized by transnational flows of capital, technologies, and people. How might we understand biotechnology issues and related issues in light of its transnational dynamics? How do we promote safeguards and effective governance when national laws often push the problem elsewhere? What sorts of international governance should we call for?

2. Values for a New Biopolitics

Several Tarrytown Meetings colleagues have drafted an essay on "Values for a New Biopolitics," calling for social justice, human rights, the common good, a percutionary approach, and democratic governance. A draft of the essay has been included in participants' packets, and participants are encouraged to read the draft and share their feedback during this discussion.

3. Bioethics and Political Ideology 

This session addressed tensions among the various political ideologies that drive biopolitical debate and the possibilities for bridging these divides. Some argue that professional bioethics is dominated by a liberal ideology that uncritically embraces analytic rationality and scientific progress. Others argue that bioethics is unduly influenced by religious and social conservatism. Many transhumanists espouse a libertarian bioethics.  Many others call for "democratizing" the politics of biotechnology. How does political ideology relate to bioethics and activism? Does ideological bioethics stimulate political engagement or does it undermine reasonable discussion? Which political ideologies do you draw upon in your own approach to bioethics and biopolitics?

4. Addressing the Legacy of Eugenics in America 

Racial justice and disability rights advocates in North Carolina have helped bring significant public and policy attention to that state's program of eugenic sterilization. In California, efforts are getting underway to address the Golden State's history as a hotbed of eugenics advocacy. This session discussed these efforts to confront the legacies of eugenics, and the possibility of extending them to other jurisdictions.

5. Biopolitics and the Corporate University

When genetic technologies increasingly prevade the university setting, the sturctures for critical scholarship and teaching which call the power of the biotech industry into question are in jepardy. This working session will considered the challenges that the neoliberal educational climate poses to raising a social justice perspective around biopolitical issues in the educational realm. 

6. Teaching Biopolitics

This session was structured around presentations on several newly developed educational resources; feedback from participants to take advantage of their subject and pedagogical expertise; and discussion of opportunities and challenges in “teaching biopolitics.” The presentations described a case study module titled “Oocytes: Gifts and Commodities,” which is being developed for an undergraduate curriculum on stem cell research; and two course designs for the high school level, one an interdisciplinary medical ethics class, and the other for a class framed around contemporary social issues.

7. Teaching Through Henrietta Lacks: Race, Class and Gender in Biomedical Research

This session presented a case study teaching module titled "HeLa: Immortality and Cancer." The module centers on the topic of human subjects research and moves students from the establishment of the first human cell line, to cancer research using the incarcerated, to the creation and testing of the Salk polio vaccine using children. It asks students to adopt the roles of various stakeholders and brings the challenges associated with human cell and DNA research to the present day by reviewing three instances of biobanking; the recent decision (Flynn vs. Holder) to pay donors for bone marrow stem cells; large private database projects such as the Parkinson's Genetic Disease Initiative established by Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google; and the lack of health insurance coverage for those who have tested positive for HPV DNA.

8. The Dangerous Connections Between Biodefense and Synthetic Biology

The past two Tarrytown Meetings have attempted to forge and deepen connections between a variety of issues sorrounding the new human genetic and reproductive technologies. In this special session, Susan Wright and Bob Gould attempted to deepen these connections further by exploring the topic of bioweapons and biodefense.

9. Roundtable: Sex, Genes, Race and the New Biopolitics

This session brought together authors in the Sex, Genes, and Race: The New Biopolitics book project as well interested Tarrytown Meeting attendees to engage in a dialogue about biotechnology beyond the traditional terrains of abstract science to the provocative debates of renting wombs from poor women in India, gene patents, race-based and targeted pharmaceuticals, and synthetic biology to offer a more nuanced contemporary account of the cultural, political, and legal issues associated with new technologies. Importantly, this book takes a serious look at the ways in which the "new biopolitics" shift the discourses on race, genes, and sex.

10. Luddism and Biopolitics

2012 is the 200th anniversary of the Luddite uprisings in England. Since the 1950s, when technocrats decided to use the word to mean someone opposed to technology and progress, it has been used to silence those who would raise concerns about technology. However, the Luddites never opposed machinery as such; instead they vowed to put down all machinery ‘hurtful to Commonality’, ie to the common good. Luddism is not a form of primitivism but rather a sceptical, critical approach that steers a middle path between primitivism and technocratic optimism. Understanding what Luddism is really about can bring a new and deeper perspective to the challenges raised by reproductive and genetic technologies, which David King explored in this brief talk.