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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Amor Mundi: Politics, Democracy, and TechoScience

  • Author(s): Undurraga, Beltran
  • Advisor(s): McClure, Kirstie M
  • et al.

This dissertation interrogates the political significance of science and technology in the contemporary world as well as their challenge to our understanding of democracy. It provides a critical examination and integration of contributions from the fields of political theory—represented here by Hannah Arendt, Jacques Ranci?re, and theorists of deliberative democracy—and ‘science and technology studies’—particularly the works of Brian Wynne, Bruno Latour, and Michel Callon. At the center of the investigation is the question of amor mundi, understood as the sense of care for the world as a place fit for the mutually enforcing appearance of new subjects and objects in the public scene. Acknowledging how the doings of technoscientists increasingly shape and structure our conditions of existence below the radar of conventional politics, and the challenge this poses to democratic ideals of self-determination, it is further argued that science and technology are a complex form of agency that unsettles inherited conceptual categories and blurs traditional demarcations between nature and the human artifice. From the splitting of the atom afforded by the development of quantum mechanics to the creation of new life forms in the field of synthetic biology, the activities of technoscientists are forms of acting into nature and making socio-technical hybrids whose proliferation has not been sufficiently addressed and recognized. Furthermore, the agency of technoscience qua expertise tends to frame the scope of public debate along narrow scientistic parameters of control, prediction, and standardization, signaled by the dominance of ‘risk’ discourses in the public sphere. The recent profusion of deliberative forums for engaging lay publics with science is shown to be inadequate for confronting this challenge. In the light of contemporary instances of democratic practice around technoscience—exemplarily represented by the case of AIDS-treatment activism—an alternative form of democratic politics is proposed around the two related concepts of ’interference’ and ‘composition.’

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