Constructing public images of new genetics and gene technology: the media discourse on the Estonian Human Genome Project


Piia Tammpuu


University of Tartu



Abstract. This paper examines the construction of public images of new genetics and gene technology in the media by focusing on the example of the Estonian Genome Project. Being one of the few countries where such a large-scale population based genome bank is being established, Estonia serves as a particular case for investigating public representation and reception of gene technology. Of special interest are the discursive strategies of framing and argumentation applied by different social groups for justifying and legitimating, as well as criticising and challenging the implementation of the genome bank. As the study suggests, the domestic public discourse on the genome project has to a great extent been influenced by modernist ethos, regarding scientific and technological development inevitable and progressive. Yet it will be argued that the significance attributed to the genome bank in public extends beyond medical and scientific domain, being introduced by its initiators and proponents as a joint national venture contributing to the country’s further development and its worldwide reputation as an innovative and high-technological small state. However, while focusing primarily on the advantages arising from the project, the domestic media coverage has provided little critical reflection about the broader social and ethical implications of gene technology and human gene databases.