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Knowing As Making, Making As Knowing: The Many Lives of Synthetic Biology


The ways in which the various activities of synthetic biology connect to those of conventional biology display both a multiplicity and variety that reflect the multiplicity and variety of meanings for which the term synthetic biology has been invoked, today as in the past. Central to this variety, as well as to the connection itself, is the complex relationship between knowing (understanding, representing) and making (constructing, intervening) that has prevailed in the life sciences. That relationship is the focus of this article. More specifically, my aim is to explore the different assumptions about how knowing is related to making that have prevailed, implicitly or explicitly in the various activities—now or in the past—subsumed under the name synthetic biology.

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Correspondence to Evelyn Fox Keller.

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This article grew out of a previous one (Keller in press) that was also based on a lecture given at the École Normale Sup érieure (Paris, March 17, 2009). The particular argument being made here, however, is somewhat different, even if it does draw on many of the same quotations for support.

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Keller, E.F. Knowing As Making, Making As Knowing: The Many Lives of Synthetic Biology. Biol Theory 4, 333–339 (2009).

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  • efficiency
  • engineering
  • material models
  • practical cause
  • synthetic biology
  • technoscience
  • theoretical models
  • understanding