Knowledge Rites and the Right Not to Know

Knowledge Rites and the Right Not to Know

SA 5711

October 11, 2006 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM

Informed consent, as it is typically understood, presupposes an interaction between two individuals: an informing medical practitioner/scientist and a consenting patient/research subject. However, as medical and scientific practices have become increasingly accessible to public scrutiny, and subject to public evaluation, new kinds of collective consent have come to be regarded as necessary. Examples include referenda, citizen juries, consensus conferences, and public consultations to obtain agreement on such technological developments as genetically modified crops, prenatal genetic testing, and stem cell research. As cultural performances [in opinion (or knowledge) making], these processes call out for ethnographic investigation.

In this talk I show, on the basis of ethnographic research at a citizen conference in Dresden, how the category of the "informed citizen" is constructed in the process of seeking informed consent to advances in biomedical technology. In Germany, the state and other authorities train citizens in how to think about science and expertise at the same time as asking for their consent. Informing, conceived by the state as a dialogue, thus emerges as a pedagogical exercise aimed at producing particular kinds of knowing and reasoning citizens, while maintaining cognitive divides between relevant and irrelevant knowledge. I also show how such efforts can backfire, so that attempts to instill reason are met with the assertion of a right not to know.

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