Event Report: "An International Workshop on Bioethics in Historiographical Perspective"
On June 28th (Sat.), the Ritsumeikan University's Research Center for Ars Vivendi hosted an event entitled“An International Workshop on Bioethics in Historiographical Perspective” in the Conference Room of Soshikan Hall, Kinugasa Campus. There were a total of 40 participants, including students and members of the general public.
We invited Professor Roger Cooter (University College London), who has been a leading force behind the narrative method in relation to medical history and the study of the history of bioethics to speak at this workshop, and he gave a lecture entitled “Historicizing the history of bioethics”. Professor Cooter elucidated the nature of the present, that is, the circumstances that govern the current state of bioethics, and emphasized the necessity of historicizing bioethics itself, or, in concrete terms, using historiography as a technique/tool for understanding the present, in order to maintain criticism of it. In order to explain this he made use of key terms such as “Western”, “globalization”, and “Neo-liberalism”, and also pointed out the importance of reexamining the concepts of “human rights” and “justice”.
Next Professor Yoko Matsubara took the stage, and, in a manner inspired by Prof. Cooter's deep engagement with these issues, gave a detailed explanation of the context of Japanese bioethics criticism. Her talk dealt mainly with the historiography of eugenics and its connection to bioethics, and key figures such as Shôhei Yonemoto were introduced in chronological order. She also commented on the connection between the disability movement in Japan and the history of eugenics, and concluded by posing the question “Is the history of eugenics 'autonomous'?” and demonstrating an awareness of the fact that a perspective which evaluates the significance of research being accumulated within the “limitation” of current research circumstances that cannot avoid “presentism” is also necessary.
After these two lectures, Akihisa Setouchi (Assistant Professor, Kyoto University Institute for Research in the Humanities) commented on what had been discussed with reference to the “recursive turning of science studies”. In response to Professor Cooter he questioned the dichotomy of historiography and historical narrative and whether bioethics is “Western”, and to Prof. Matsubara he asked how we are to (critically) write a history of eugenics that corresponds to a liberal eugenics era. These are all crucial questions, and importantly they offered the participants a clear illustration of the points under discussion. Finally, as an issue concerning this workshop as a whole, Prof. Setouchi asked the very provocative question of whether it is necessary to restore a critical science studies given the existence of a “science and technology system” that incorporates all useful criticisms.
In the final session, Akinobu Takabayashi (Lecturer in the Faculty of Letters at Seisen University), who served as an organizer and host of the event, and Satoshi Kodama (Associate Professor in the Faculty of Letters at Kyoto University), who served as Professor Cooter's interpreter, joined Professors Cooter and Matsubara and Associate Professor Setouchi for a five-member panel discussion. To begin with, in response to Associate Professor Setouchi, Professor Cooter emphasized that “what is important is the awareness that you yourself are inside historicity”, and Professor Matsubara pointed out that “even when we talk about criticism of the system by the people in question themselves, the interests of the people in question are not all the same. (To overcome “limitations”) it is important to properly describe this fine-grained diversity”. Questions that cut to the heart of these matters such as “Why has the relationship between theories of justice and bioethics come to be seen as an issue?” and “How much importance does “politics” possess within the scientific/technological system?” were asked from the floor, and a spirited back-and-forth ensued.
The discussion developed at this workshop possessed universal significance and offered stimulating content not just to scholars specializing in bioethics but to anyone with an interest in how broadly historical things are addressed. Many perspectives that should be shared among the graduate students and scholars positioned around “ars vivendi” were presented, as were methods of critically examining extant academic history. We hope opportunities to developmentally introduce the contents of this workshop will arise in the future. (Kiyoshi Murakami).