The rhetorical helix of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Linda Burak Gretton (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Myers

Abstract: "Since the 1980s, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have interacted in a pattern best described as a "helix of rhetorical transformation," with each engaging in a recursive and interactive process of definition, description and ingratiation. The relatively recent emergence of the biotechnology industry has destabilized the older pharmaceutical industry, causing heightened activity of self-evaluation for each, as well as assessment by media, government, economic development agencies, investors, and others. Although the two industries have much in common, their differences have set in motion a rhetorical helix that winds both toward and away from each other. Both industries have foundations built on the modern scientific method and share a mission to develop new drugs for humans and animals. At the same time, they are also made distinct by size (small biotechs versus "big pharma"), relative age, method of drug development (biology-based versus chemistry-based), product capabilities, and characterization of the employee base (innovative and risk-taking versus traditional and risk-averse). In the early 1900s, nascent pharmaceutical companies were keen to shed the image of drug manufacturing as alchemy and adopt a new definition that was grounded in scientific methodology. Public ingratiation soared mid-century with the development of life-saving penicillin but declined toward the end of the century, attributable to several high-profile drug failures as well as charges of excessive profiteering and immoral marketing practices. Meanwhile, public response to biotechnology was rising since the newer industry represented greater potential for transformation--not only of the landscape of drug development, but of communities themselves. The intricacies of the bio-pharma rhetorical helix--including the play between scientistic and dramatistic approaches to language--can be examined by using the framework of dramatism and specifically Kenneth Burke's pentad of key analytical terms. Burke's concepts serve as a systematic form of inquiry for understanding the biotechnology and pharmaceutical meta-narratives (including the mythology associated with Alexander Fleming, Francis Crick, and James Watson) that have emerged within a complex and volatile cultural environment of shifting modernism and postmodernism. They also provide a basis for predicting future constructions of the "biopharmaceutical" drama. George Lakoff's work in metaphor (alone, and in collaboration with Mark Turner and Mark Johnson) is useful in understanding the potent imagery of the double helix, and Ann E. Berthoff's observations of the writing process as a helix speaks to the usefulness of this structure in generating exciting and transformational new meaning."--Abstract from author supplied metadata.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2007
pharmaceutical, biotechnology, industries, , helix of rhetorical transformation, recursive, interactive, process, definition, description, ingratiation
Pharmaceutical industry

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