A place for social science? Experiences of collaborating with synthetic biologists

When:7 Apr 2016, 4pm - 6pm
Venue:Morven Brown LG 2 (map ref C20)
Who:Dr Jane Calvert (University of Edinburgh)
Jane Calvert

Environmental Humanities Seminar


Scholars from the social sciences and humanities are increasingly becoming engaged in collaborations with scientists and engineers, particularly in emerging technological fields that are perceived to be potentially contentious. It was in 2008 that I was first invited to join a synthetic biology network. Since then my involvement has deepened and I am now part of several large synthetic biology research projects.

In this presentation I draw on the idea of ‘rooms’ to make sense of my diverse experiences as a social scientist in synthetic biology. I discuss the laboratory, the classroom, the conference room, the policy room, the art studio, the coffee room and the ivory tower. I argue that rooms both constrain what it is possible to do, and enable certain behaviours and interventions.

I explore connections to multi-sited ethnography, and the links between multi-sitedness and critique. I address the issues that arise from not only from being invited into certain rooms, but also benefitting directly from the funding for the field. I conclude by asking whether it is possible to develop an embedded yet normatively-oriented and epistemically autonomous place for social science in these collaborative arrangements.

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