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Supergrans and nanoflowers: Reconstituting images of gender and race in the promotion of biotechnology and nanotechnology in Aotearoa New Zealand

Abstract

This paper explores the use of communication strategies to promote the social acceptance of science. It considers how gender and ethnicity are being constructed in science promotion and marketing, and discusses the intersections of knowledge, colonization and commercialization in science discourses. We critically assess a series of advertisements, posters, and news media articles published in Aotearoa New Zealand during 2000–2009, a period of significant political controversy and conflict over public investment in science and technology. We highlight the representation of women, indigenous peoples and the natural world in communication strategies aimed at mitigating public concerns about controversial technologies such as genetic engineering (GE) and nanotechnology. Adopting a critical discourse approach, we consider both images and words as political text. We illustrate how gender, ethnicity and nature are appropriated, constituted and reconstituted in an attempt to collapse the divide between the powerful world of science and the realm of everyday life. These communication strategies contribute to and are constitutive of the social relations of technology. They draw on deeply rooted social archetypes to re-present a politically constructed image of science to defined audiences, notably to those with the most concerns about its potential effects. In a socio-political context characterized by continuing civic challenges to the representation and rationale of modern science, such strategies represent an increasingly influential dimension in the framing and governance of emerging technologies.

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