Lynne Alexandrova’s CV Updates


Coauthor: Prof. T. Karadimova. The Karadimovs. Sofia-Toronto: AnimaPrint & Linguadesign. [Bulgarian Edition 2007, English edition in project]. Sample.

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Refereed Monograph Series and Journal

Manage/Editor. Mind & Time Publications, Journal Publishing Services, University of Toronto. Utilizes innovative Open Review Forum (see Report on 2010-2011 session “The Knowledge Society — A Glocal Challenge”) quality control side by side with conventional Peer Review.

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Book Review Essay

Questions Concerning Biotechnology/ies [review essay on Becoming Biosubjects: Bodies, Systems, Technologies by Neil Gerlach, Sheryl N. Hamilton, Rebecca Sullivan, & Priscilla L. Walton.Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2011] In Canadian Journal of Communication 37(3) (2012) , pp. 513-522.

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Experiential Research — Public-Academia Multimedia Sessions

“Mutual Cultures” project lead: MC Blog

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Recent Refereed Presentations

“What Can Be Conceived Can Be Achieved” — Implications of Geographically and Historically Recursive Reciprocity. Presentation at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Communication Association, Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Brock University, St Catharines, May 27-30, 2014.

The Case for an Edifying Universal of Mutual Subjectivity Work-in-progress presentation at PES 2014. Albuquerque, New Mexico, March 13-17, 2014.

On the Hermeneutics of Multi-, Inter- and Trans-Culturality. Presentation at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies/Association Canadien des Études Culturelles, Waterloo, Ontario, January 16-19, 2014.

The Will to Thrive: Hetero-sensorial Mobility & Musical Dis-impairment. Presented at Differential Mobilities: Movement and Mediation in Networked Societies, Concordia University, Montreal, May 8-11, 2013.

Does “Ecological Thinking” Need Autonomy? Evidence from Graduate Programs. Work-in-progress presentation, PES, Portland, Oregon, March 14-18, 2013.

May We Walk in Beauty! Ecological Imaginaries across Time and Space. Presentation at the annual meeting of the Canadian Communication Association, Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Wilfrid Laurier University-University of Waterloo, Kingston and Waterloo, May 30 – June 1, 2012.

Radical Yet Sustainable—An Open Review Dilemma for Academic e-Publishing? Presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for the Digital Humanities, Congress 2012.

Epistemic Trust in the Graduate Student. Presentation at the Dean’s GS Conference, OISE, March 2012.

Ecosonance: Making Ecology Sing. Presentation at McLuhan’s Philosophy of Media – Centennial Conference. October 26 – 28, 2011, Free University of Brussels, Brussels, Belgium.

The Evelyn Glennie (Re-)Experience: Profound “Deafness”~ Relatedness ~ Communication. Presentation at IASPM, 16 – 19 June 2011, McGill University, Montreal, QC. Abstract | PPT

An Eco-Pragmatist Roadmap for the Professor-Graduate Student Relation(ship). Presentation at the Canadian Philosophy of Education Society annual meeting, Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Brunswick and St Thomas University, NB, 28 May–14 June, 2011.

Society’s Concept Leadership Programs in Self-defeating Mode? Presentation at CCA, Congress 2011.

Online Publishing, Academic Listening, and Epistemological Sustainability. Presentation at CSSHE, Congress 2011. Related poster: Enacting Online Interaction: The Open Review Format.

Turning the Tables on Epistemological Disconnect and Axiological Paradox: A Mindmap for Graduate Education Programs”. Poster at the Annual CSSE Conference, Congress’10, Montreal, Quebec, May 29-31, 2010.

CBC Radio’s “Mash-downs” of Glocal Spaces at Copenhagen’09 UN Summit. Talk presented at the 5th Annual CGC Conference “Global Mash-ups: Re-envisioning Space in Communication Studies”, March 4 & 5, 2010, Ottawa, Ontario.

Shared Epistemologies – Evolving Identities. Talk presented at MPCT Fellows Colloquium, UofT, May 2009. Part of this talk [“LINCing Linguistic Selves”] accepted for presentation at New Directions: People, Passion and Pedagogy Conference, York University, 2009.

Graduate2B, Shall We Online-Ride Beyond the Grade? A Case for Educational Publishing. Talk presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Communication Association, part of Congress 2009, Ottawa, May 30, 2009. Related talk [“Online “Yeast” for Graduate Students”] accepted for presentation at the Annual Media Ecology Association Conference – 2009.

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Public Talks and Invited/Seminar Presentations

Trans-sensoriality and Synesthesia: The Anteros Museum for the Blind and Evelyn Glennie and Technology in the Eye of Philosophy: From Techne to Automodernity. Invited talks for Mind, Media and Society graduate seminar, University of Toronto, Winter 2009.

On multi-/inter-/trans-disciplinarity: university projects and programs”, MPCT End-of-Term Fellows’ Colloquium, December 4, 2007.

Language on and of the Internet, MPCT Round-table, October 22, 2007, Univ. of Toronto.

A Family’s Genealogy ~ a Nation’s History”, public talk, University of Toronto, May 2007; a short version presented at the MPCT Summer’97 Colloquium, August 2007.

Ontology in Philosophy ~ Ontologies in Information and Computer Science”. March 1, 2007, FIS, UofT.

On the Information Architectonics of Communication on the World Wide Web”, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, UofT, Dec. 2006 / repeat in February, 2007, Toronto/Bayreuth Video Conference.

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Non-Refereed e-Publications

Publications by, with and about Marshall McLuhan: books, articles, multimedia” and “Glossary of McLuhan Terms and Concepts” (Last updated Summer, 2007)

“Annotation for What is Information by D. Israel & J. Perry (1990)” and QuantInfo Resource (Linked Bibliography sub-site about current advances in research in the area of quantum information). Philosophy of Info Sakai site (Winter 2007).

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  • Manager/Editor: Mind & Time Publications, University of Toronto, OJS-JSP publications
  • Student Member at large, Board of The Canadian Association of Foundations of Education

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Academic Awards and Grants since 2008

  • Research Assistantship, UToronto, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014
  • Research and Development Assistantship, UToronto, 2008-2009
  • SGS conference travel grant (Winter 2014)
  • GSA conference travel grants (1 Winter, 1 Summer 2013; 1 Summer 2012; 1 Summer 2011; Summer, 2009)
  • OISE Dean’s conference travel grants (1 Winter 2013, 1 Summer 2013; 1 Summer 2012; 1 Summer 2011; Summer, 2009)

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Current Memberships


Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 37 (2012) 513-522

©2012 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation

Lynne Alexandrova is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, with interests in ecology,

epistemology, technoscience, and communication, as related to learning and cognition. Email: .

Review Essay

Questions Concerning Biotechnology/ies

Lynne Alexandrova

University of Toronto

Becoming Biosubjects: Bodies, Systems, Technologies. By Neil

Gerlach, Sheryl N. Hamilton, Rebecca Sullivan, & Priscilla L. Walton.

Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 216 pp. ISBN

9780802096838 (pbk).

Co-authored by four versatile scholars, Becoming Biosubjects: Bodies,

Systems, Technologies, winner of the 2012 Gertrude J. Robinson

Book Award of the Canadian Communication Association,

makes a delightfully fluid read, which is as gratifying as it is analytically demanding. Although

the four authors formally represent different fields—sociology/anthropology

(Gerlach), law/communication (Hamilton), communication/culture (Sullivan), and

literature (Walton)—their demonstrated competencies go beyond disciplinary boundaries

and run through all six chapters of the book in a finely coordinated tandem.

The study tracks unobvious, multilayered dependencies along with reinterpreted

familiar ones. It articulately transmits a well-supported message: “biosubjectivity” is

here to stay, with all its contradictions, challenges, and promises, and humanity has

choices to make. Generated at the polysemantic interface of the social, legal, political,

technological, and the vital, the analysis of biosubjectivity foregrounds specifically the

Canadian context, thus mapping a largely untheorized technoscientific territory. At

the same time, it also situates some of the processes under investigation internationally,

which enables a perspective on global developments.

The discursive mode adopted here is expressly relational and analogic. In reviewing

key aspects of the book’s analytic terrain, this essay opens up venues for its participatory

reading. Suggestions are made to contextualize the analysis theoretically within the

McLuhanian tradition, for future explorations of the ways in which media theory’s classics

could capture ongoing phenomena. On another level, an analogy is projected between

the challenges of biotechnology’s ambivalent effects and the similarly

consequential and controversial tangle of climate change issues. The biotechnology/climate

parallel encompasses the existential continuum from the molecular to the planetary

strata. The essay thus brings up bidirectional extensions of Heidegger’s (1954/1977)

foundational philosophical question concerning technology, which decades ago alerted

the public to the dangers of technoscience in its invasive, “enframing” capacity (e.g.,

the hydroelectric power plant subjectifying/subjugating the waters of the Rhine River,

and unlike the traditional windmill, turning nature into a “standing-reserve”).

The suitably coined neologism “biosubject,” introduced in the book, comprises

various categories, spanning the entire range of biomorphological complexity. There

is the human subject, whether a DNA-tracked criminal or a provisionally DNA-trackable

regular citizen, the (potential) mother/father, the surrogate mother, and human

hosts of pathogens (chapters 2, 3, 5). Further, there is the human embryo/fetus, in various

media and modes of gestation (chapter 3). To these are added the genetically

modified animal/plant life forms, e.g., Harvard’s Oncomouse and Monsanto’s Roundup

Ready Canola (RRC®) (chapters 4, 6). The simplest life forms are Chakrabarty’s oil-eating

bacterium, which first breached the “life patenting” boundary in 1980, and the

pathogen, e.g., SARS, smallpox, anthrax, avian flu, BSE viruses (chapters 4, 6). Thus,

importantly, the authors make a strong case for a kind of technologically mediated

subjectivity that subsumes humans along with (much) simpler organisms, targeting

the gene itself.

Although the primary interest of Gerlach et al.’s study is in biotechnological subjects

as juridical, civic, political actors, the literal term “biosubject” can extend to those

that are not necessarily biotechnological, in the sense of genetically engineered, yet

are biological and “objectified” as subjects in a Foucauldian sense (Foucault, 1982).

This serves the book well, given that the cases discussed may be ambiguous between

natural and genetically engineered (SARS), sometimes the former and sometimes the

latter (smallpox, anthrax), straightforwardly natural (women; embryos when traditionally

conceived and gestated), or at least not genetically manipulated, even if

biotechnologically assisted (“above-board” in vitro cases and abortion).

What the book achieves by analyzing (bio)subjects that precede gene technologies

side by side with those that coincide with them is to reveal 1) that types of subjectivity

are historically continuous, and some earlier types coexist with/are

organically integrated into genetic biosubjectivity, and 2) that (bio)subjectivity coevolves

with (bio)technology as well as with (bio)governance. Regarding the first

point, since for the authors it is the technological capability to “make life” that marks

the crucial transition to present-day biosubjectivity (p. 188), it would be worth exploring

the bounds of genetic subjectivity in its interaction with other types of

(non)biotechnological and (non)technological subjectivity. As to the second point,

governance is a stated priority interest of the book, and the authors convincingly

show how the earlier bodily discipline (cf., e.g., Foucault’s 2003 biopower) is superseded

by biogovernance that comes with DNA coding and tracking (chapters 2 and

5). In legal discourse—the analysis of which can be seen as a distinctive contribution

of the study—the above transition maps onto a switch from the traditional, constitutionally

protected “integrity of the body” to the more abstract “privacy.” This in effect

legitimizes a much freer rein on obtaining DNA and other biometric information by

the authorities, in exchange for a guarantee of (presumably) legitimate use of said

514 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (3)

Alexandrova Questions Concerning Biotechnologies 515

information and citizen privacy. Thus, what the case studies underscore is the urgency

of the familiar question, this time in a comprehensively represented Canadian context,

as to how far developments like the above can go, and how well they can negotiate

democratic principles in the process.

In all cases, biotechnologies are analyzed taking into account the complex epistemic/

power dynamics at the intersection of the legislative and judicial systems, politics

and government, and, minimally, science itself. All along, the book discusses how

the media (mostly the press) represent(s) and may variously tip the scales of the sociopolitical

processes underway, by speech or silence. Thus, biotechnologies are shown

to condition and be conditioned by economic, political, psychological, social and other

processes, with biosubjectification as a hybrid of most if not all of the above types. In

view of proposals by Marshall McLuhan, developed later by Eric McLuhan (McLuhan

& McLuhan, 2011), which descend from Aristotle’s four causes (material, efficient, final,

formal), the book can be analyzed as a study of biosubjectivity as an instantiation of

“formal causality”—that is, in the McLuhans’ view, what would commonly be seen as

the “(side) effects” of biotechnologies. The apparent conceptual paradox dissolves

under etymological scrutiny, since the Greek word αΐτια, traditionally translated as

“cause,” is not committed to temporal cause-effect sequencing. As Thomas Aquinas

interprets it, formal cause “completes the intelligible expression of a thing’s quiddity

[Lat. quidditas “essence,” lit. what-ness]” (E.McLuhan, 2005/2011, p. 105 [gloss mine]).

To fulfill its designation as capturing the specificity of communication technologies,

McLuhanian “formal cause” not only may need to “contain all the [others]” as Eric

McLuhan hypothesizes (p. 83), but would have to subsume emergent along with intended

effects to account for what may otherwise call for Heideggerian “Enframing.”1

An obvious area for further research is the application of the McLuhans’ four “laws

of media,” a.k.a. the tetrad, conceived as exhaustive of technological “effects” and thus

as mechanisms of reconceptualized formal causality (McLuhan & McLuhan, 1988).

Phrased as questions concerning every new medium/technology (for the environments

discussed here, biotechnology), the laws certainly find answers in the book regarding

1) which earlier medium/technology biotechnology obsolesces (a baby in the

futuristic movie Gattaca is “normal” only when genetically customized), 2) which

much older ones it retrieves, likely in an upgraded form (DNA tracking compared to

tracking by foot/paw prints, smell, taste), 3) which human capabilities (and nonhuman

too!) it extends/enhances (Monsanto’s canola seeds become impervious to the

pesticide Roundup), and what it may reverse/flip into “if pushed too far” (GMO foods

turning into non-sustenance).

As socio-psychological measures of biosubjectivity, the book uses variations on

the Castoriadian heuristic of the imaginary, e.g. Gerlach and Hamilton’s (2003) “social

science-fiction” (henceforth hyphenated for disambiguation), and “biotechnological

imaginary.” The former invokes the tension between what is already actual (e.g., DNA

identification and dragnets, genetic engineering of plants and animals) and what may

come, arguably, in the future (e.g., DNA cataloguing of each and every citizen, [routine]

genetic engineering of humans). Seen as a narrative that is circulating/being circulated,

it can play out as genuine/hopeful fantasy or as purposeful manipulation. The biotechnological

imaginary, for its part, is grafted onto a prior (and coexisting) scientific imaginary

of unquestioned faith in science, and can be counteracted by a Lyotardian postmodernist

“reflexivity” about (techno)science’s and (techno)scientists’ authority and

reliability (Lyotard, 1984). The authors are clear that critical judgment is a necessity in

the biotechnological context, where promising/risky possibilities can serve research,

business, or warfare, with weighty physical and symbolic implications for bodies,

minds, and souls. The permeability of the imagined/actual divide corresponds to the

“leakiness” of national borders in a post-9/11 world, threatened by biological warfare

(chapter 5), whereby fluctuations of fiction/imaginary may balance out to invite a

“biogovernmental surveillance” regime as a public insurance policy, globally (pp. 169-

172), but also domestically, as part of a “full genetic justice system” (pp. 60-61).

A singularly pervasive aspect of present-day biosubjectivity, conditioned by genetic-

digital technology hybridization, is somatic virtualization. Virtualization of the

human body was noted already with the advent of electric technologies such as radio,

telephone, and TV (see Marshall McLuhan’s “angelized” or “discarnate” [status of

man] metaphors, e.g., in McLuhan & McLuhan, 2011, p. 50) and has been theorized

extensively in the context of new media technologies (Haraway, 1991; Hayles, 1999).

As the book problematizes it, the “contingency” of the body that goes with virtualization

gains strikingly wide-ranging and far-reaching structural-systemic distribution.

Whether a child is separated from the mother’s body through in vitro gestation, artificial

insemination, or surrogate motherhood (chapter 3), or whether DNA digitization

enables the separation of identity from the body (chapters 2 and 5) or genetics

to (re)create bodies (chapter 3), potentially serious implications exist for citizens’ integrity

of the body, privacy, personhood, and the structure of family and society alike.

Negative and positive effects of biotechnological “extensions” are not that far apart.

For example, the restored chance of having children and the provision of individual

and public safety when a state fulfills its responsibilities, as well as due recognition

of advances in technoscience, are (on the surface) desirable technological impacts.

However, not discounting the grades and shades between the beneficial/detrimental

extremes, there is also the downside to take into account. Prenatal babies are being

productized, even (arguably potentially) genetically customized, wombs are becoming

available for rent, sperm and eggs for sale; presumably consensual biogovernance may

flip into a form of hegemony, enslaving the public’s agency. The bottom line is that

the objectification of human subjects inexorably expands with the possibility of “discovering”

genes and of customizing their expression, and with the reduction of identity

to DNA sequencing and convenient biometric digitization.

With the controversy around Harvard’s Oncomouse patenting, chapter 4 introduces

a discursive thread that steers away from the human biosubject. Before turning

to the analysis of biopatenting as a defining contribution of the book, let us address

the technoscientifically mediated ontological issue. Still in chapter 4, mice (and the

previously discussed humans) are joined by lower life forms, such as bacteria; in chapter

5 by viruses and in the concluding chapter 6, by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola

(RRC®). Being biological and in a sense agentive, as well as biotechnologically affected

and subject to surveillance, the nonhuman biosubjects above align with the human.

516 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (3)

This alignment is evidence of biotechnological obliteration of the traditionally assumed

contrasts such as human/nonhuman, animal/plant/micro-organism, and nature/artefact.

The totalizing contingency of biological structures is certainly part of what causes

silences of legislative bodies, impasses in politics, partial/contingent decisions of the

courts, discrepant coverage in the media—and in response, not surprisingly, cries of

progress-murder from the biotechnology industry.

Opening a rhetorical aside on the problem of biological customization and

breached boundaries could it be that biosubjectivity is merely extending available scientific

knowledge, namely that at a sufficiently deep level, everything in the “known”

universe is structured identically? If yes, one critical question would be: if consonant

with versions of today’s ecological view and its cross-cultural predecessors (Shiva,

1989), the “crown of creation” has to give up exclusive/exclusionary status so that all

that “is” gains status of value, who and what should and could determine the inclusivity

parameters of such all-welcoming equity?

The distinction between ontological equity “value” and “price” becomes easy to

read between the legal lines, as it is spelled out in the authors’ excellent analysis of

biopatenting, and more specifically of the “design” of cancerous mice for experimentation.

The legal problem boils down to legitimation of ownership of life, not excluding

human. It is understandably entangled in moral-political dilemmas, generating an avalanche

of questions. Is a whole Oncomouse patentable if the gene implanted in the

embryo out of which it grew is? Are, then, all the mice born subsequently that carry

the same gene also patentable? If a microorganism can go under “invention” as “matter”

(the 1980 precedent of Chakrabarty’s oil-eating bacterium), can or should a higher

life form follow? If a mouse can be “invented,” can or should a human?

Again, the book highlights the specifics of the Canadian juridical terrain. Unlike

the United States and Europe, where both Harvard’s Oncomouse and the Oncogene

were eventually ruled patentable, we appear to be a partial holdout. Only the Federal

Court of Appeal ruled yes on both counts in 2000, whereas the Supreme Court eventually

confirmed in 2002 the 1995 decision of the commissioner for patents, who had

made a distinction to render the procedure of gene splicing patentable but not the

mouse itself, let alone its progeny.

Just by extrapolating from the book’s account of the Oncomouse case, one can

well imagine the enormity of problems around human genetic patenting, and for

starters around genetic engineering, which the authors methodically triangulate within

a Canadian legal-political vacuum (for some [meta-]scientific problems around human

gene manipulation/ownership, see, e.g., Norrgard, 2008; Resnik & Vorhaus, 2006). If

I may, it is already highly problematic that human gene patenting has escalated exponentially,

even creating a genre of industrial-legal ethics ( searches 2011-

2012), while the scientific-ontological questions have receded to the background, and

scientists have largely withdrawn from the public stage.

On the subject of ownership (and designing!) of human tissues and whole humans,

the book references a novel (Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) and a movie

(Michael Bay’s The Island) about human cloning, e.g. for organ donation, which project

the implications of biojuridical subjectivity “more effectively … than any of the Cana-

Alexandrova Questions Concerning Biotechnologies 517

dian institutional authorities have done” (p. 132). I’d propose that fiction/pop culture

text here fulfills the function of art as a McLuhanian “early warning system.”2 In other

words, the artist, as a visionary and creator of “anti-environments” with respect to

dominant imaginaries and discourses, prognosticates—e.g., on the analogy of geneticengineering

computer models, or climate models, for that matter—possible future

consequences, especially those that may be dangerous.

Are juridical and executive bodies prepared to listen and act? If courts are left to

fend for governance as a whole, in the absence of much-needed updates in the law

due to governments’ evasive tactics, such “depoliticization” regarding biotechnologies,

systematically diagnosed in the book, may be the “politicization of,” that is, giving the

final say in matters of governance to the merger of technoscience and entrepreneurship

in an increasingly globalized world. Thus, the hitherto supreme authority of morality/

legality as enforced by the nation-state would be superseded by transnational

corporate interests. The study, then, corroborates the socio-technological tendencies

diagnosed by Haraway (1991) some decades earlier, in her case symbolized as much

as engendered by the Internet and computer gaming.

Over and above the issue of which powers hold sway, the question stands as to

how to avoid committing humanity, and with it the planet, to aggravated social and

environmental issues and probable destruction. This situation is not unlike the predicament

of global climate change, whose risky unleashing of planetary forces matches

that of biological molecular forces, with a commensurate magnitude of social-political

repercussions facing a less than adequate response.

Geo-engineering, for example, can be seen as a planetary-level counterpart of molecular-

level bioengineering, yielding a “geo-subjectivity” similar to that of the Rhine

River (Heidegger, 1954/1977, cited above). Paradoxically, geo-engineering is being considered,

in its more and less invasive formats, and has already been used, as a mitigation

technique for climate change effects, although it is probably aggravating the issue, as per

assessments by climate scientists Andrew Weaver (2008, pp. 264-265), James Hansen

(2009, pp. 230-231), and Stephen Schneider (2009, pp. 271-272). Assuming that there is

“geo-subjectivity,” as the nonorganic planetary complement to the biosubjectivity in the

biosphere, and given the molecular vulnerability of the biotic/abiotic dichotomy brought

up by the book, subjectivity predicated on the Earth’s ecosystem emerges as a continuum

parallel to that of the planetary—molecular stretch of the existential continuum posited

at the very beginning of the essay (see p. 515). The conceptualization of a healthy relationship

between human-made technologies and this all-encompassing “eco-subjectivity”

would thus appear to be, in large part, within the purview of scientific knowledge.

In McLuhanian terms, scientists may be seen as DEW-liners on par with artists (see note

2), hence as called upon/able to diagnose present and imminent technological problems

thereby aiding their solution (which, incidentally, is what Prof. Marshall McLuhan himself

was doing). The study discussed here points in the same direction when it underscores

the importance of scientific knowledge for policymaking.

Therefore, a highly pertinent question, as an extension of the book’s message, is

the educative role of science itself. Scientists such as molecular biologist Margaret Mellon

and plant pathologist Jane Rissler, director and deputy director, respectively, of the

518 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (3)

Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, have stepped

into the public discourse with a series of books since the 1990s (e.g., Rissler & Mellon,

1996). Similarly, prominent climate scientists have published books specifically for a

general audience: Andrew Weaver (2008) in Canada, and James Hansen (2009) and

Stephen Schneider (2009) in the United States. They did so in a somewhat more momentous

context of actual global warming disasters and the international push for

IPCC3-guided action, which has been at least on the part of some European Union

countries at the level of national governance. By contrast, the human gene patenting

rush, the industrialization of genetic technologies, and the confidentiality screen

around some of those technologies may have contributed significantly to suppressing

public discourse on related topics.

Beyond scientific knowledge being made available and accessible, however, one

would expect that epistemic responsibility would be best shouldered by both the public

and governance, since (in a democratic system) voters have to meet politicians

halfway to effect pertinent policymaking and action. As it is, Gerlach et al. bring up

time and again the passivity of the public regarding biotechnological developments,

and of the media, which no doubt have a role to play in how well informed citizens

are. The one conspicuous exception is Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser’s prolonged

court battle against Monsanto, which rallied domestic and international support.

It brings to the concluding chapter 6 an optimistic note regarding public agency.

Continuing with the climate/biotechnological challenges to governance, whatever

dangerous biotechnological effects there may be (think: mutations), it is not clear how,

and if, they could be “outsourced” from human agency and/or reduced to analogs of

“How much warmer?” and “How long before X?” This prevents the formulation of relatively

operationalizable, even if highly contingent, research questions—optimally independent

of moral-legal interrogation—that an intergovernmental panel like the one

on climate change (IPCC) can work on, however imperfectly. A further complication

is that legislation and jurisdiction, while considering regulations, would want to avoid

tying the hands of scientists with stringent restrictions, which the book acknowledges,

e.g., in the discussion of alternative fertility strategies and biopatenting.

On an altogether different scale, there are cases where the problem may not even

be in the realm (proper) of public jurisprudence and jurisdiction. In chapter 5, for example,

other types of agency aside, the authors point out that the activities of rogue

scientists and near amateurs may well be under the radar, whether because such

human actors are recruited to serve special interests or have no strings attached. Yet

they may have the capacity to engineer a pandemic virus, even without any substantial

investment in equipment and materials or sophisticated skills. Apart from tactical challenges,

a highly pertinent concern regarding strategy for both climate change and bioengineering

effects is that attention tends to snap to, and is hard to pry away from,

immediate losses/gains. As a result, questions around far-reaching, potentially irreversible

consequences remain pending, yet they too are clearly worth addressing appropriately

and as expeditiously as current emergencies.

To conclude, I second Jennifer Daryl Slack’s evaluation that Becoming Biosubjects

is an important book (back cover) and recommend it as thought-provoking scholar-

Alexandrova Questions Concerning Biotechnologies 519

ship, worthy of the attention of both academic readers and a wider audience. The

strength of this book is as much in its detailed and sensitively modulated account of

biosubjectivity as in its abstention from making hasty judgments or from serving on

a platter a neatly sliced-up Gordian knot. It thus offers the benefit of drawing in the

reader to partake of, or at least better appreciate, the responsibility that humanity bears

for choices which, essentially, hang in the balance between technoscience’s agency

and its impact on (non)human agents’ ontology.

Through a participatory reading of the book, this essay has brought up the possibility

of examining biosubjectivity, using a McLuhanian analytic lens, inviting in

this way explorations of gene technologies in the classic media theory mode. Biotechnological

phenomena are additionally read through the parallel with issues around

climate change. The two sets of problems map analogously in many respects: they

are similarly scaled technoscientifically, socio-economically, and politically. Projections

of long-term climate change and biotechnological effects suggest the timeliness

of an inquiry by an ecological-evolutionary ethics that would generate principles to

build awareness and guide human action as it relates to (non)technologically engendered

subjectivity across the entire planetary ecosystem. From this comprehensive

perspective, it would be logical to step up from conceptualizing subjectivity/ies to

bringing in a notion such as Being, variously and richly theorized in philosophy (by

Heidegger, among others).

Scientific knowledge to date has “empowered” us to rehash and (re)create surrounding

(a)biotics, and even our own bodies, long before we are able to anticipate, let alone

handle, the consequences. Average citizens and governments alike are learning that

progress has been compounding interest, just as it has been providing and promising

advantages and value. Quite appropriately, the chapter on the sexual politics of biotechnology

has two literary quotes as epigraphs. The one about the implications of human

cloning ends with a rhetorical query: “Our species is doomed by hope then?” (Oryx and

Crake, Atwood, 2003, p. 146). Leveraging off that query to encompass the double-edged

advances of technoscience in general, here is a response question—simultaneously philosophical

and pragmatic—for our species to tackle in all of its dimensions and dialectics:

“Should humanity’s hopes play out as eco-evolutionary doom?”


  1. See Marshall McLuhan’s analysis of “formal cause” operating in G.K. Chesterton’s writings

(M.McLuhan, 2011b), also in advertising, or any medium/technology of communication, as it affects

(and/or is intended to affect) the public/culture (elsewhere in McLuhan & McLuhan, 2011). Identifying

formal cause with the influence authors intend to exert on an audience with their writing, which he

short-hands as “(an effect on) the audience,” practically recruits all of Aristotelian causality (and more):

1) an author (efficient aitia) using language (possibly, material aitia in the abstract), in a certain

way/style (formal aitia, or eidos) to affect an audience (final aitia, or telos). Incidentally, Aristotle sees

all aitias as operating in unison and gives priority to the final, not formal, variety. Note also that his

system applies to things natural and artefactual alike, but it does not address emergent phenomena

in the case of the latter, nor does it easily allow to distinguish Heidegger’s modern hydroelectric plant

on the Rhine River (or atomic energy, the extreme case at the time) from the traditional windmill (or

the even less invasive handcrafts). This distinction, crucial for technoscience, necessitated the conceptualization

of (the not necessarily exclusively negative, or “challenging forth”) “Enframing” as the

“essence” of modern technology, counterbalanced by “poiesis” as, in a sense, the generic/ultimate cre-

520 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (3)

ative power (associated with art, techné, thus, in the final analysis, not necessarily strictly divorced

from technology/its creative capacity).

That being said, a productive theoretical venue for consideration could be, for example, to maintain

a differential inventory of aitias (likely, Aristotle’s system with pertinent modifications) and, by varying

their relative roles in each case, to account for the specificities of the natural (as non-artefactual) and

various modes of the (bio)technological.

  1. McLuhan’s metaphor references the Distance Early Warning (DEW) Line running across Alaska, the

Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroese Islands. During the Cold War, it was set up by

the United States and Canada for radar protection from military threat. Note that, although Marshall

McLuhan is mostly known for viewing artists as visionaries and DEW-liners, and art as the anti-environment

they create (M. McLuhan, 1965), in principle, he treats scientists/science on a par (for the

art/science parallel see, e.g., M. McLuhan 2011a).

  1. IPCC = Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment

Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Visit .


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