Over the past three decades, massive innovation in biotechnology and the life sciences in general turned many intimate medical matters into moral concerns, generating new forms of relatedness between sciences and their publics. In a variety of ways, this has been commented upon and explored in anthropology and science studies, from the emergence of new biosocial identities to the novel configurations of scientific research. Genetics—along and in connection with information technologies—has undermined many of the epistemological foundations of these two fields, namely, the concept of kinship in anthropology and the paradigmatic status of physics in many STS models that used to describe the relation between science and society.
Some social scientists celebrate these changes as a genomic revolution, while others refer to it as part of a new eugenics of race. And while there has been an elevated interest in the weighty political and societal issues that accompany the “new genetics” in different countries, most of these technosocial changes are examined as if they were local variations of a global transformation, including transnational science, the pharmaceutical industry, and supposedly universal moral dilemmas, such as race or health. Such a comparative framework is even more present in sociological and historical inquiries whose geographic focus is East Asia. As Wenmay Rei and Terence Hua Tai wrote in their introduction to the special issue “Biotechnology in East Asian Societies: Controversies and Governance”:
Through different focuses in the context of different societies, [we] aim to shed light on the nature and dynamic of scientific governance for biotechnology in East Asian societies” (East Asian Science, Technology and Society, 2010, 4(1):5; emphasis added).
What is suggested, in effect, is that scientific and social facts come to stand for each other in their political manifestations. So, describing different biotechnologies through social controversies and regulatory activities locates the comparative potentials of genomics by keeping differences and similarities (of genes, ethnicities, markets, etc.) oscillating among political, methodological, and ethical frames of reference.
To bring out this potential, however, we should explore such differences further within scientific practices to see how multiplicity is integral to and articulated by the methods and practices of biomedical research. Importantly, from the point of view of our work at ETG, these detailed descriptions of ethical controversies over genetic diagnosis or the impact of patient movements on medical science are supposed to carry the potential to compare various alternatives of decision-making and regulatory strategies in general.