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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Commercializing Iceland: Biotechnology, Culture, and Global-Local Linkages in the Information Society


The development of the Iceland Genetic Database provides an entry point into considerations of some of the most essential social questions arising from new economic and technological changes in the global environment. On one level, there are very serious issues of privacy, competition, commercialization and individual rights that challenge or extend existing legal codes and social norms in very fundamental ways. On a higher level, the developments in Iceland provide a way to outline how global economic, social and technological trends shape and connect with local resources, needs and policies. This second aspect, that will be the considered here, is crucial exactly because it frames and establishes the lower level concerns as central social issues of the coming decades.

Information technologies, both as a process and product, contain embedded social knowledge, and thus represent the construction of new social norms and institutions. However, the construction of such new social structures on the local level is intimately tied broader global trends. As such cases like Iceland demonstrate how information technologies like biotechnology are a mechanism for linking the local and global. This is not to downplay the concerns of rights and access that characterize the majority of local debates around biotechnology and genetics in general. However, focusing on the broader issues helps elaborate on how these more specific issues are defined by and a part of a more basic restructuring of social relationships within an information-driven environment.

Simply, Iceland matters not only because of concerns over privacy or commercialization of genetic information, but because the debate itself only exists when broader global trends impact in very real and powerful ways on specific regions and populations. A fuller understanding of an information society, and by extension develop a detailed understanding of developments in Iceland, requires that we develop an analysis of both the local and global, social and personal, and economic and cultural.

The aim is to move beyond narrow considerations of privacy or ethics to understand that the experience of Iceland represents general trends in the global environment that are simultaneously extremely personal and local events.

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