The Public Face of Human Gene Therapy: Images and Metaphors of an Emerging Medical Technology in the Mainstream Media

by Christine Crofts

Institution: Boston College
Year: 2012
Keywords: gene therapy; geneticization; genetics; sociology of expectations; sociology of science; sociology of technology
Record ID: 1945881
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2345/2739


This study seeks to better understand the "public face" of human gene therapy through an examination of coverage of the technology in mainstream U.S. newspapers, news magazines, and online news sites from 1989 to 2011. By conducting a qualitative content analysis that employs a constant comparative method and uses the computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software HyperRESEARCH, prevailing images and metaphors about human gene therapy are identified. These images and metaphors are analyzed through the lens of the sociology of technology, with particular attention given to technological determinism, geneticization, and the sociology of expectations. Further, their connection to issues of self and identity, embodiment, and illness meanings is explored. Four main types of images and metaphors emerge from this analysis: essentialist, fatalistic, expectant, and conflictive. While these types present an array of diverse (and sometimes conflicting) characterizations of human gene therapy, they all contribute to a positive, hopeful public face of the technology, despite its limited successes and sometimes tragic failures over the past three decades. The study considers the broader implications of these findings and addresses the role sociologists could play in helping the public to navigate the media discourse surrounding human gene therapy and other emerging medical technologies.