Genomic Cosmopolitanism and the Re-Constitution of the Nation-State: The Case of Generation Scotland

Speaker: Prof Jenny Reardon # University of California Santa Cruz

29th Sep 2014

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower

Abstract

During the late 1990s, many nations began to look to the genomes of their people as a potential new national resource that might bolster economic and political sovereignty.  In Scotland, some government leaders hoped that creating a biobank of the genomes of the people of Scotland—what became known as Generation Scotland (GS)—would spur investment in Scottish biomedical enterprises just at the moment when the government sought new revenue streams to support its devolution efforts.   While they believed that genomics would shore up, not challenge, the principle of public sovereignty at the core of modern democratic theory, the talk reveals how these efforts to biobank national genomes raised questions about what constitutes a sovereign people and their rights to self-government.  As would be come clear in the case of GS, the value of genomes collected by a nation depended on the ability of scientists across the globe to access them.  This need for the DNA of citizens to travel across borders prompted questions about what makes up the Scottish nation, its people, and their rights and obligations.  The chapter chronicles these dilemmas, describing how GS leaders sought to reconcile the global flows of contemporary bioinformatics (whose machines and information are dispersed across borders) with the discrete boundaries of nations and their people.  Scotland’s efforts to constitute its new nation along with genomics opens up for view and discussion fundamental questions about the grounds of just democratic governance in an age when technoscience plays constitutional roles in making up a nation’s people and its resources.