Representations of doping (“Social Science and Doping” group, Director: Patrick Trabal)

English - Español - Français

Visions of the future

WILD DREAMS - Promises and prophecies in controversies concerning nanosciences and nanotechnologies (project financed by the ANR P-NANO) with Francis Chateauraynaud (GSPR, EHESS), Marianne Doury (LCP, CNRS) and Patrick Trabal (CERSM, Univ. Université Paris Nanterre)

Can we systematically describe the forms of argumentation and judgement at work in the controversies related to the challenges of nanosciences, nanobiotechnological promises and prophecies predicting a post-humankind?

In this case we have put ourselves in a perspective pertaining to fundamental research. Through developing a reasoned set of corpus in which models of transformation or mutation of the human race are made visible, we propose to highlight the many controversies and debates which have been agitating the public sphere since the mid-1990s. One of the issues at stake is to understand the joint evolution of the sense of reality and the sense of possibility in their argumentative dynamics. Does the multiplication of controversies relating to nanosciences and the technological promises associated with them affect “common sense”? How are the borders between legitimate expectations and unreasonable projects or prophecies and scientific anticipation made up and debated? Through the convergence of methods from the sociology of science, the sociology of risk and the theories of argumentation, we offer cognitive tools which allow the assessment of forms of representation and degrees of belief of the various actors in terms of nanobiotechnological promises. One way to attain this is to bring the statements and discourses under study back to deeper configurations, the first elements of which will be tracked in earlier debates on cloning.
To explore the full range of anthropological futures invested in the accumulation of scientific promises and their many criticisms, we shall develop a sociology of types of argumentation from a collection of corpus of digitalized texts. The creation of the corpus aims at deploying and making comprehensible the discussion of all of the scientific and technological breakdowns in the public sphere. By collecting the many debates and controversies, we study the way each representation takes shape within a specific argumentative network. The analysis of the arguments, and the characterization of the actors supporting them will lead us from the problems created by the body transformations (cf. as in the case of the improvement of sensory and physical performances) to the reference to imaginary creatures (generated by science-fiction), and the long list of entities which transit, more or less rapidly, from texts and laboratories to the physical, sensitive world and thus to the social world (android robots, electronic brain, nanochip and implants, cyborgs and other avatars of technological genius). How do actors who participate in debates – from the most exclusive scientific controversies to the most open discussion forums – elaborate their reasoning and their critical standpoints? What form of sharing or lack of it produces each discussion between the different possible positions, from classical rationalising to eschatology, and fictional creation?
Being interested in sport and doping when assessing the ways the mutations which bionanotechnologies may produce in the human race are envisaged, may not be immediately obvious. Considerations on bionanotechnologies, cryogenics and transhumanism seem very distant from the preoccupations of sports- men and women and those who are eagerly waiting for the results of the next day of championship. However for several reasons, the shifting of our survey to the field of sport appears as heuristic.
Firstly, sport involves training the body and perceiving its limitations. Getting back to the body itself, how to straighten it up to embellish it, to keep it fit in a hygienist perspective, to modify and adapt it to face aggression or the demands of performance, or even a quest for achievement, makes it possible to understand how we mobilize techniques of physical manipulation – instrumented at times, like wearing a corset – by posing constraints which mix together scientific, hygienist, pedagogical, political, metrological and esthetical dimensions. Doping practices seem to have existed for quite a long time since almost all writers on the subject are endlessly mentioning forms of doping prevailing in ancient Greek times, the coca-consuming Indians of the Andes or those taking “dynamite” as expressed in the famous revelations made by the Pélissier brothers to Albert Londres during the 1924 Tour de France. The tension between a desire to artificially change the body to achieve a performance and the need to supervise it as recommended by doctors in the 1950s is finally not so distant from the debates opposing the supporters of bionanotechnologies and their detractors, and it is worth examining the different arguments which may be used in these various controversies.
  • Secondly, the title of the famous report from the NSF – “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performances” – could be the theme of study days for coaches of high level sports- men and women. Modern sport promotes positivist ideals of self-surpassing and faith in Progress which can clearly been seen in the famous slogan: Citius, Altius, Fortius. It is no wonder then that technological research is part of the evolution of sport while debates often arise about limits. Is there not a change in the very nature of sports challenge when bikes are equipped with derailleur gears, jump poles are made of fibreglass and rowing boats have movable handles? Besides these debates relying on oppositions according to which innovations change everything (or it would be meaningless for the innovator to defend them) but also on nothing (the fairness of the challenge is not questioned), we can find debates on the economical stakes in the spreading of new technologies. Nanotechnologies are often mentioned in these studies and refer to the analysis of the deployment conditions of the products equipped with these innovations. When they do not concern materials or revolutionary products but mankind, debates on limitations become tenser.

A report

  • CHATEAURAYNAUD F., DOURY M., TRABAL P., 2012, "Chimères nanobiotechnologiques et post-humanité : Promesses et prophéties dans les controverses autour des nanosciences et des nanotechnologies", Rapport de recherche ANR, 273p. (Text on line)

Publications :
  • ADAM C.E., TRABAL P., 2013, « Les performances controversées d’Oscar Pistorius en athlétisme », in C. Collinet et P. Terral, Sport et controverses, PUR, pp. 19-39
  • QUET M., HUBERT M., 2013, « Dopage, éthique et dommage génétique : le sport à l'épreuve de la biomédecine », in Bernard Andrieu (dir.) / L'Ethique du sport, à paraître aux Editions L'Age d'Homme, pp. 378-391 (Text on line)
  • Promesses et Prophéties dans les controverses autour des nanosciences et des nanotechnologies, Journées Nationales Nanosciences et Nanotechnologies, Bordeaux. (Diaporama on line)
  • TRABAL P., 2012, A questão do “tempo dos atores” na sociologia pragmática, Contemporânea, v. 2, n. 1, pp. 187-202 (Text on line - in portuguese)
  • TRABAL P., 2012, « Le corps sportif à l’épreuve des nano-biotechnologies et du dopage génétique : Une sociologie pragmatique des visions du futur sur les mutations du genre humain », Département d’anthropologie de l’Université Fédérale de Porto Alegre, Brésil
  • TRABAL P., QUET M., 2011, Expérimenter des usages à venir ? Le corps sportif à l’épreuve des nanobiotechnologies et les enjeux du dopage génétique, Colloque – Hybridations, Immersions et Sensations dans l’activité physique et les pratiques corporelles, Nancy.


We study the questions on doping and on the fight against doping in reference to healthism. One can interpret these social activities as expressions of health practices reshaping and strengthening the relations between patients, their health and the medical staff. But a pragmatics of powers interested in the asymmetries of “grips/grasps” and of “influence” (Chateauraynaud, 2015) allows us eventually to describe more subtly these complex processes.  

  • TRABAL P., 2015, "Doping oneself cautiously: A critical approach of Healthism", Eä – Journal of Medical Humanities & Social Studies of Science and Technology, Vol 7, N°1, pp. 125-139 (Texte en ligne).

Updated on 25 avril 2016