The Microphysics of Accountability
Accountability in research 2011 May; 18(3): 163-80
How is it possible to deploy the law to create and perform accountability? To answer this question, I address the argumentative function of the law in order to legitimize genetic medicine. Using interview data, I will in particular elaborate on how medical experts strive to convince interviewing social scientists that their own professional action is above all ethical reproach. For this purpose, medical experts capitalize on the law in specific ways. It is the aim of this article to expound exactly how this happens during qualitative research interviews. The analysis of the interview data is informed by the works of Sheila Jasanoff and Michel Foucault. The former provides an instructive conceptual background for demonstrating how the law serves as an important element of accountability practices. The latter is known for his plea not to understand the law in repressive terms. Accordingly, the law does not prohibit specific medical practices, but in a specific sense it rather makes medical practice socially robust. Based on qualitative analysis of interview data, I conclude that referring to the law allows experts of genetic medicine to evade engaging with ethical and social aspects of their work. The law was rhetorically utilized to bring a discussion on such issues to a communicative closure. For that purpose, the existence of the law was presented as proof that undesirable practices would not be possible and consequently further discussions of the matter would be unnecessary. The law allows medical experts to transfer ethical problems to other places and actors and also to promote their professional interests.
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