The biocolonial narrative : medical genetics and the diversity of the human genome in a political and post-colonial world.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
As interesting as current research into medical genetics is for many people in the Western world, not all groups share the same excitement in regards to such research and innovation. Many of those, whose history reflects embedded ambivalence towards Western medical interaction, especially if this interaction was an important facet of previous colonial influence, tend to view research on diversity in particular with a great deal more apprehension. This thesis tries to detail aspects of this historical memory and show how narratives of colonial exploitation, past, present and future, influence the political debate surrounding these issues. Using a secondary narrative analysis, this overarching narrative of colonial exploitation in medicine is further broken down into four interrelated components, which are argued to shape the political terrain where debate over genetic diversity in the modern era takes place. Tracking this narrative from the time of early colonial intervention, through pre-World War II bacteriology research, to post-World War II infectious disease research and finally to contemporary population genetics research, it is seen through a perceived consistency of exploitation in medical research, why many groups still suffering from various forms of disadvantage are not assuaged of their concerns by promises of modern genetic beneficence. The politics of biotechnological resistance, best exemplified in the case study of the Human Genome Diversity Project, utilizes these narratives to question the moral, scientific, political and economic integrity of the research, and thus the motivations of scientists themselves. However, it important to understand this resistance as more than just cynical politics but as the embedded emotive means of legitimate resistance in an era of large scale scientific innovation where the concerns of these groups are underrepresented. Furthermore of interest is the development of a new style of politics which takes advantage of the opportunities presented by globalization, particularly telecommunications, in which to build coalitions that augment local politics. Ultimately it is argued that unless genetic researchers engage with the populations they wish to study in a more comprehensive way, the will fail to lift themselves out of the narrative trap they currently find themselves in , and thus will not attain the trust required to conduct research in emboldened but lamentably not empowered, post-colonial contexts.