Presentation - Emily Beitiks

Presentation - Emily Beitiks

My name is Emily Beitiks, and I’ve been asked to speak specifically to the accomplishments of the Tarrytown Meetings thus far and what’s underway.

When it comes to speaking of the Tarrytown Meetings’ accomplishments, obviously as an organizer behind the meetings, I’m not the most impartial reflector. But, it’s because of the role I have played that I have had the opportunity to speak with so many of you leading up to the Meetings, and stemming from this, I’d suggest that the biggest accomplishment that we have achieved to date is the group of people that we have brought together - a group of people who value what collaboration in a network can provide, even if it isn’t always easy, and who want to work together to make a difference in the world. In my home scholarly field of disability studies, we celebrate interdependence over independence, in feminist theory, we value community over the individual, here we are putting theory into action as we recognize the benefits of the collaboration that the Tarrytown Meetings encourage.

We’re beginning to see what can come out of this network. Two books in the work have drawn heavily on discussions held at the Tarrytown Meetings. An edited volume, Sex, Genes, and Race: The New Biopolitics edited by Michele Goodwin to be published by Cambridge University Press, and Beyond Bioethics: The New Biopolitics, a reader co-edited by Marcy Darnovsky and Osagie Obasogie to be published by UC press. One of the many benefits of these important forthcoming works will be that more people will learn of our network and will find ways to enter the conversation.

We’re also seeing new opportunities for collaboration that will happen outside of the Tarrytown Meetings.

  • Tarrytown participants have applied for funding to support an invitational assisted reproductive technology working group.
  • The racial justice track has just begun diving into a proposal to build a working group that would help create a space for meaningful dialogue between scientists and those who are concerned with the way new genetic technologies are reviving biological assumptions about race.
  • A group of Tarrytown participants have drafted an essay, “values for a new biopolitics” that stemmed in part from last year’s discussions and will now benefit as well from the feedback we received at a working session today.
  • A talk over breakfast at a past Tarrytown Meeting helped lead to the Bay Area organizing surrounding synthetic biology at the new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
  • And a few more examples from the Center for Genetics and Society:
  • We plan to begin a fellows program where CGS would invite Tarrytown scholars to work with our organization for a fixed term on specific research projects, blogging, and reports, helping both our organization to grow and allowing us to provide support for scholarship that might not be rewarded in the traditional academic settings.
  • This spring, we began an initiative to call for reparations and perhaps historical justice regarding California’s history of eugenic sterilizations, and in large part due to the network already in place with Tarrytown participants working on these issues, we were able to quickly bring together a group of people from the reproductive, disability, and racial justice communities to dive into these efforts. 

These are just a few examples, and perhaps over these three days even more will be in the works. But what makes these examples important, stemming from our evening plenary discussion last night, is that they all represent new structures for collaboration. While we will not have a Tarrytown 4 here next July, these structures are important for our ongoing efforts.

We will continue to meet, just in new forms and places. The Tarrytown Meetings Steering Committee has agreed that we are not ready to let go of the Tarrytown Meetings, and has plans in the works to hold two (perhaps three) regional Tarrytown meetings in the Fall and winter of 2013. But these meetings (we’ve been calling them Tarrytown 3.5s but we may want to think about a name that gets more at our core concerns of biopolitics) would necessarily be different. They will be shorter than a three day conference. We might consider opening up the meetings more, use them to not only speak to our colleagues but also to introduce new colleagues to our shared concerns.  But certain elements will remain the same: the commitment to not only including but also featuring the work of younger participants; prioritizing a heterogeneous mix of people from diverse backgrounds and institutional affiliations who connect and blur scholarship and advocacy; and connecting the dots across the issues affecting genetic and reproductive technologies, challenging as this may be.

Though we will not be meeting in Tarrytown, New York next year, it’s important that we think of this as an opportunity for growth and change. It’s important for us to remember that the meetings are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. To just meet, and meet every year at the same place and time, could distract from the goals of this initiative. Our goal was never to establish a new academic discipline (though that would of course be exciting too and may be part of our efforts at some point) – if it was, then an annual conference would be enough. But instead, our goal was to bring together a group of people and start the conversation about how we might better  play an active role in shaping our biopolitical future.

In our present context, an unnuanced enthusiasm for all that biotechnology offers is extremely common, and the neoliberal climate further helps bring these technologies to market at an incredible pace. The stakes are very high, and more than anything, this network needs to continue (and grow!) because the issues haven’t gone away.

Publications, working groups, and Tarrytown 3.5 meetings are just the tangibles of what can develop from this incredible network of people. On many of our issues we are “pre-organizing” still, but by creating new structures for pre-organizing, we are building a movement, and it’s going to be exciting to see what things down the road are not necessarily the direct products of Tarrytown, but will have the Tarrytown meetings as part of the story.