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Making Research Translatable: Articulating and Shaping Synthetic Biology in the UK

Meckin, Robert (2016) Making Research Translatable: Articulating and Shaping Synthetic Biology in the UK. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

Synthetic biology, an engineering approach to genetic modification, has emerged at a time when academics are increasingly expected to translate research to other domains of society. Proponents of synthetic biology often deploy promissory rhetoric to create expectations of major improvements in medicine, energy and food production. How else are actors in the field of synthetic biology addressing these translational expectations? This thesis takes synthetic biology in the UK as an empirical site to explore the various ways in which research translation involves multiple rhetorical, organisational and material transformations. In this project I developed a conceptual framework using post-Actor Network Theory, post-social theory and other STS concepts. I generated data by employing qualitative research methods including observations, interviews and by collecting documentation from various institutions. I visited field sites such as academic science laboratories, academic events and administrative offices. Participants included scientific researchers, research administrators, industry representatives and policymakers. I transcribed the interview data, typed up field notes and iteratively coded the texts and documents to generate themes. From my analysis I identified a variety of strategies and practices that appear to make synthetic biology translatable. These included: articulating synthetic biology research with absences in other areas of society (e.g. state economic and industrial deficits, problems with private-public collaborations) and imagining a future industry; demarcating synthetic biology research from other programmes such as genetically modified organisms; realising rhetorical promises in the everyday organisation, research training and material work of synthetic biology practices. My research indicates that translation in synthetic biology involves multiple groups orientating research facilities and researcher training, particularly towards industrial manufacturing. I go on to theorise synthetic biology as an unfolding multiple. Actors expand synthetic biology and in the process they entangle the state, institutions, laboratories, cells and molecules. To achieve this, actors mobilise vulnerabilities that others have identified in science, state and society to create a central heroic object of synthetic biology. These conclusions offer a conceptual framework to further investigate and interpret contemporary technoscience and its connections in society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > Sociological Studies (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.689319
Depositing User: Dr Robert Meckin
Date Deposited: 06 Jul 2016 11:27
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2016 13:15
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/13451

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