Imagenation. Popular Images of Genetics.

Author:Ranck, Jody
Position:Book review

Imagenation. Popular Images of Genetics. By Jose Van Dijck. (New York: New York University Press, 1998. Pp. vii + 235, bibliography, index.)

In Imagenation. Popular Images of Genetics, Jose Van Dijck makes an important contribution to the emerging literature on the media and to cultural analyses of molecular biology and society. Those who witnessed the remarkable press conference at the White House in the summer of 2000, where President William Clinton brought together Francis Collins from the government-funded Human Genome Project with Craig Venter, CEO of Celera Genomics, the key private sector rival to the publicly funded venture, will appreciate Van Dijck's work as she attempts to unpack the mythology and metaphors deployed since the 1950s in the "gene race" to unlock "the book of life" (21). Van Dijk sets out to challenge the schools of thought subscribed to by many in the scientific and journalistic communities who espouse theories of technology diffusion which are essentially teleological narratives: scientific progress gradually wipes away layers of ignorance to reveal a broader understanding and acceptance of scientific claims and technologies. She correctly points out that these narratives do not come to terms with the "polyvalent struggles for the meaning of genetics" (5) which move in fits and starts as diverse actors contest competing truth claims and control over science and its representation.

Van Dijck views these struggles over meaning through the lens of theater, or in her words, "the theater of representation" (16) which plays out as a drama complete with metaphors, stages, scripts, and actors assuming various roles. Central to the theatrical presentation of truth and meaning would be the images deployed by actors and how they shape perceptions of what counts, who can speak, and the place of gender in the construction of representations. Thoughout the book she examines the leading scientists, journalists, artists, writers, and political activists engaged in the drama. She does not attempt to describe these groups as unified categories. Among the ranks of feminists, for example, there are important differences in the underlying assumptions of the constructions of nature and culture and how these terms are deployed in the rhetoric of criticism. Many feminists share the fundamental assumption that nature and culture comprise a dyad or accept a strict separation between science and society, while others have sought to...

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