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Genetics and the Division of Semantic Labour

October 16 2006

Venue: ESRC Genomics Forum, St John’s Land, Holyrood

Organised by: Innogen

It is ironical that Durkheim's fecund suggestion that the classification of things reproduces the classification of people was never applied to societies with high division of labour by the author of `The Division of Labour in Society' himself. And even now we have not made the most of the suggestion in understanding the knowledge of our own societies, wherein classifications of nature are elaborated and sustained by diverse groups of natural scientists and other expert professionals. Perhaps we have not sufficiently appreciated how a division of technical and epistemic labour is also likely to be a division of semantic labour. Perhaps, too, we have not made enough of an important implication of Durkheim's suggestion: that classification is always hierarchical. Reflection on these suggestions might both enrich our understanding of the semantics of `gene' and reveal how problems associated with `gene-talk' among specialists and those that arise between specialists and non-expert audiences are much more like than is currently acknowledged.,1352,en.t4.html