Open Access

Troubles with biocitizenship?

  • Alexandra Plows and
  • Paula Boddington
Genomics, Society and Policy20062:115

DOI: 10.1186/1746-5354-2-3-115

Published: 15 December 2006

Abstract

Genetic and other biotechnologies are starting to impact significantly upon society and individuals within it. Rose and Novas draw on an analysis of many patient groups to sketch out the broad notion of biocitizenship as a device for describing how the empowered and informed individual, group or network can engage with bioscience. In this paper, we examine critically the notion of biocitizenship, drawing on both sociological fieldwork that grounds the debate in the views of a large and varied group of concerned actors. Using work within green politics, we identify shortcomings in the concept of biocitizenship as it has so far been explicated. The value assumptions lying behind an account of biocitizenship, and its tendency to see issues through a reductive lens, are examined. Alternative views of values and goals, which may undermine any alleged rights and duties, are explored using interviews and other ethnographic data that illustrates the complexity of the terrain. The reductive lens of biocitizenship is explored through contrast with the wider scope of concerns emanating from various sources, including many within green politics. If such complexities are not recognised, there is a danger that a concept of biocitizenship may serve to create and amplify inequalities. Problems with identity issues are key: the construction of identity is complex and many groups are explicitly rejecting the 'biological' label. We discuss the multiple relations of citizens with the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Arguably, existing inequalities in power relationships, exploitation, commodification and ownership patterns are being perpetuated in novel ways through the new biosciences. We pose the question of whether it is possible to construct a concept of biocitizenship that overcomes these problems.