January 2009: Invited Lecture by Shobita Parthasarathy

28.01.2009 18:00

"What Do They Know Anyway? Rethinking Activist Engagement in the Policy Process"

Scholars have demonstrated that in addition to striving towards immediate goals, activists are often trying to change social norms by reframing policy problems. In this paper, I argue that attention should also be paid to how outsider advocates try to shift what I call the "epistemic structures" of policymaking—the patterns of reasoning, evidence, and expertise used to "know" a policy problem.

Using the recent controversial history of patenting living organisms in the United States as a case study, I identify two types of sustained activist challenges to the epistemic structures of policymaking. In the first type of challenge, activists accept the dominant mode of reasoning to think through a policy problem, but offer new types of evidence and expertise that are more sympathetic to their goals. In the second type of challenge, activists offer alternative methods of reasoning, which require reformulation of existing evidence and expertise and inclusion of new types. I explore how activists mounted these challenges against traditional stakeholders and patent policymakers, and the responses they engendered.

Considering the epistemological dimensions of activism reveals a hitherto overlooked, but crucial, dynamic at work in the policy process, sensitizes us to how the political environment is linked to trends in intellectual history, and improves our prospects for a more stable resolution of these conflicts. This case study is based on archival materials and interview data from advocacy and industry groups, patent lawyers, the US Congress, and the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Her major Publications
"Building Genetic Medicine: Breast Cancer, Technology, and the Comparative Politics of Health Care," Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (April 2007)
"Architectures of Genetic Medicine: Comparing Genetic testing for Breast Cancer in the USA and UK," Social Studies of Science.35.1 (2005): 5-40
"The Patent is Political: The Consequences of Patenting the BRCA Genes in Britan," Community Genetics Supplement. Vol.8 (2005): 235-242.


Institut für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung

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