Title page for ETD etd-06182007-223727

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Klein, Michael Joseph
Author's Email Address mklein@vt.edu
URN etd-06182007-223727
Title The Rhetoric of Repugnance: Popular Culture and Unpopular Notions in the Human Cloning Debate
Degree PhD
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Halfon, Saul E. Committee Co-Chair
Hirsh, Richard F. Committee Co-Chair
Collier, James H. Committee Member
Dubinsky, James M. Committee Member
King, Neal M. Committee Member
  • cloning
  • rhetoric
  • science fiction
  • science policy
Date of Defense 2007-06-05
Availability unrestricted
An ethical frame grounded in science fiction literature shaped the discourse on cloning following the announcement of Dolly-the-sheep’s birth through nuclear transfer. Using methodologies drawn from the social shaping of technology (SST) and rhetoric of science, my analysis demonstrates how individuals and institutions, including the media, ethicists, policymakers, and legislators, appropriated and re-appropriated this ethical frame. In doing so, they employed science-fiction stories as rhetorical tropes, thereby providing the public with a frame for understanding the social issues involved with cloning. However, these institutions used science fiction as a way to simplify and present ethical arguments that silenced dissent rather than encouraged dialog.

While ethics discourse can validly make use of literature in debates about technology, such a simplistic view of the literature misrepresents the themes the authors explored in their works and limits discussion. I conclude by offering a deeper analysis and reading of some of these stories, relying on the texts themselves rather than the myths that have evolved around these texts as my primary source material. Such a reading provides a valuable counter-narrative to the on-going debate, one that more adequately explains the effects of technology in a society.

In short, this dissertation demonstrates that the reductionist interpretation of works from the science fiction genre had real effects on policy formulation. People utilized their literary-derived perceptions of cloning in political discussions about technology. Thus, policy discussions of the perceived effects of the technology developed much of their meaning and significance from fictional depictions of the technology.

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