Changing the Subject: Science, Subjectivity, and the Structuring of Ethical Implications

  • Shostak S
  • Rehel E
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Abstract

As environmental health scientists increasingly take up genetic/genomic modes of knowledge production and translate their work for applications in biomedicine, risk assessment, and regulation, they "bring the human in" to environmental health issues in novel ways. This paper describes the efforts of environmental health scientists to use molecular technologies to focus their research inside the human body, ascertain human genetic variations in susceptibility to adverse outcomes following environmental exposures, and identify individuals who have sustained DNA damage as a consequence of exposure to chemicals in the environment. In addition to transforming laboratory research, they see in these such practices the opportunity to advance public health, through innovations in biomedical practice and refinement of environmental health risk assessment and regulation. As environmental health scientists produce and translate these new forms of knowledge, they simultaneously assume and instantiate specific notions of the human subject and its agency, possibilities, and responsibilities vis-à-vis health and illness. Because dimensions of human subjectivity remain under-theorized in bioethics, sociological approaches to understanding and situating the human subject offer an important means of elucidating the consequences of genetics/genomics in the environmental health sciences and highlighting the social structures and processes through which they are produced.We are responsible for the world in which we live not because it is an arbitrary construction of our choosing, but because it is sedimented out of particular practices that we have a role in shaping. -Barad, 1998. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Authors

  • Sara Shostak

  • Erin Rehel

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