Virtuous or vicious?: Agency and representation in biotechnology's virtuous cycle
This article provides a fresh examination of claims that biotechnology and other high profile areas of scientific research and development create a “virtuous cycle” that delivers benefits to society and ecology through an array of consumer products. Specifically, the article investigates who and what has agency in this virtuous cycle and who and what does not. I argue that official discourses on and definitions of biotechnology create strict demarcations not only on who can act in relation to biotechnology research development options, but also on where and at which stages of the virtuous cycle these agents can act. For example, scientists are presented as passive rather than active agents whose influence is limited to the laboratory context despite rhetorical use of their identity and credibility across all contexts of product development and consumption explored. Agency is highly significant in biotechnology and other areas of scientific advance because it determines who or what has moral decision making power regarding the place of new technologies in society. The article concludes with a discussion of the social and ethical impacts of these demarcations of agency in biotechnology’s virtuous cycle.