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Impure Cultures

University Biology and the World of Commerce

Daniel Lee Kleinman

Publication Year: 2003

How are the worlds of university biology and commerce blurring? Many university leaders see the amalgamation of academic and commercial cultures as crucial to the future vitality of higher education in the United States. In Impure Cultures, Daniel Lee Kleinman questions the effect of this blending on the character of academic science.

Using data he gathered as an ethnographic observer in a plant pathology lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Kleinman examines the infinite and inescapable influence of the commercial world on biology in academia today. Contrary to much of the existing literature and common policy practices, he argues that the direct and explicit relations between university scientists and industrial concerns are not the gravest threat to academic research. Rather, Kleinman points to the less direct, but more deeply-rooted effects of commercial factors on the practice of university biology. He shows that to truly understand research done at universities today, it is first necessary to explore the systematic, pervasive, and indirect effects of the commercial world on contemporary academic practice.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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pp. ix-xii

I picked up the local newspaper some months back to find that the governor of our state had decided to move forward with the so-called BioStar Initiative—a massive public-private partnership to build state-of-the-art facilities for the biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. First proposed by then governor Tommy Thompson in January of 2000, the terms of this...

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pp. xiii-xv

This book was a number of years in the making, and I incurred many debts along the way. While I taught at Georgia Tech, I was fortunate to have several good friends with whom I could exchange ideas and share a beer. These include Jon Schneer, Joan Sokolovsky, Andrea Tone, and Steve Vallas. I am pleased that Steve and I continue to collaborate, and my contact with...

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1. Impure Cultures

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pp. 3-32

Every week, members of Professor Jo Handelsman’s laboratory congregate in the “community room” for Chinese food. These gatherings are generally lighthearted. Anything and everything can provide the basis for humor. On a Thursday in July of 1995, lab members finished the entrees they ordered and turned their...

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2. Traversing the Conceptual Terrain

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pp. 33-64

The process of collecting and sifting through ethnographic data is inevitably shaped by an incalculable set of assumptions with which one enters the research site. This is an age old problem. It has been both ignored (for example, in the case of empiricism) and considered obsessively (for example, certain varieties of...

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3. Braided Paths: The Intertwined Development of Biocontrol Research and Agro-Industry

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pp. 65-89

1882. 1889. 1902. 1945. 1983. 1985. These dates mark pivotal points in the braided history of chemical treatment of agricultural plant pests and of an alternative means of protecting plants from disease and insects: biocontrol. The first chemical fungicide was discovered in 1882. The first instance of an insect outbreak...

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4. (Un)Intended Consequences: Commercially Produced Research Materials and the Transformation of University Biology

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pp. 90-113

The techniques and approaches of molecular biology pervade life science research in virtually all fields (see Fujimura 1996). Although analysis and experimentation in the Handelsman lab takes place at a range of levels, from farm fields and soil ecology to bacterial cultures and biochemical interactions, the techniques...

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5. Owning Science: Intellectual Property and Laboratory Life

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pp. 114-137

A selection of articles appearing in Science magazine in the late 1990s points to the growing concern about intellectual property in the increasingly commercialized world of the biological sciences. One article discusses a debate over patenting human gene fragments (Science 1997b, 187). Another talks of the...

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6. It Takes More than a Laboratory to Raise the World

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pp. 138-159

In the early 1990s, an interesting and provocative hypothesis emerged from the Handelsman laboratory. The idea was that bacterial strains with biological control activity would be more effective at suppressing plant disease at the site from which they were isolated—typically a farm field—than would strains...

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pp. 160-162

Some years have has passed since I completed my fieldwork in the Handelsman lab. Some things have changed. The composition of the Handelsman group is different. Most of the students who were in the lab when I was there have moved on to teaching positions or professional jobs. To the biocontrol and microbial...


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pp. 163-179


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pp. 180-202


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pp. 203-205

E-ISBN-13: 9780299192334
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299192341

Page Count: 205
Publication Year: 2003