Scientific Imaginaries and Ethical Plateaus in Contemporary U.S. Toxicology



This article contributes to a growing literature in the anthropology of science, focusing on contemporary U.S. toxicology and the development of “toxicogenomics.” Toxicogenomics research aims to understand impacts of environmental stressors at the genetic level and to create a “systems toxicology” that combines different kinds of biological data for holistic understanding. Toxicologists are challenged to deal with greater and greater complexity while fulfilling their historic mission of producing results relevant to regulatory, legal, and clinical decision making. Although there is now a robust body of anthropological work on the sciences—in practice, as sites of cultural production, and as cultural and political-economic forces in a variety of domains—a relatively underdeveloped theme is subject formation within the sciences. This article directs ethnographic attention toward understanding how scientific imaginaries take shape and interpolate technical, biomaterial, political-economic, social, cultural, and ethical elements. We map such efforts in contemporary toxicogenomics as an instance of “civic science.”