International knowledge relations: the case of bioethics
Bob Simpson (Durham University)
Paper short abstract:
The global governance of medical research has become an object of critical policy and intellectual interest This paper considers the place of bioethics in these developments and specifically how a global ethics of human subject research are fashioned into workable structures on the ground.
Paper long abstract:
In the rapidly burgeoning field known as international or comparative bioethics, a fundamental binary is often in evidence. At one level are to be found abstract, codified, translatable and transferable norms which encircle the globe like an ethically charged stratosphere made up of protocols, declarations and guidelines held together by the energy of international committees and conferences. On the other hand, there are the 'local moral worlds', which Kleinman  so effectively described, and in which actual persons struggle to achieve their own versions of human flourishing. Out of this rather problematic binary that pits the 'developed' against the 'developing world', other binaries may be unpacked: global versus local, universalism versus relativism, modernity versus tradition, rhetoric versus reality, and with these come a well-worn conceptual apparatus of western geography, philosophy and history and the notion that there is a 'divide' which must be 'bridged'. Yet, what are missing from these formulations are the complex mediations and articulations that already connect first world researchers with third world subjects. One might therefore reasonably ask, just what is the nature of the opposition given that at various levels there is activity underway to create, shape and contextualise sets of relations that go way beyond the paradigmatic relationship between researchers and their human subjects? By what mechanisms is the global ethics of human subject research made into workable structures in particular contexts? What are the locally felt motivations to organise around emergent forms of ethical knowledge and practice? Drawing on case materials collected during research in Sri Lanka, this paper maps the development of bioethical discourses and draws attention to some of the knowledge relations that emerge around recent developments in biomedical research and technology.
Medical anthropology, Europe and the world