Systems-Oriented Approaches in Biology: System Biologist’s Narratives of Present, Past, and Future

  • Martin DöringEmail author
  • Anne Brüninghaus
  • Regine Kollek
  • Imme Petersen


Systems biology has been framed as a newly emerging paradigm in biology conceived to overcome the theoretical and methodological shortcomings of previous approaches such as molecular biology. Framed as an approach, its history has to date rarely been addressed which means the historical analysis of its theoretical roots and ancestors still remain in the dark. This chapter aims at partly filling this gap by analyzing the imagined presents, pasts, and futures of systems biology as seen through the systems biologist’s eyes. For this to be done, a narrative analysis is applied to written sources and expert interviews conducted with system biologists in Germany. The analysis reveals considerably different pictures of imagined present, pasts and futures between the written and interview data. It becomes apparent that despite current attempts to establish a common definition of systems biology considerable differences of what it represents exist. More important, however, is the fact that an ahistoric perspective prevails among many system biologists interviewed. Albeit historical references to so-called predecessors appear now and then, we discuss the danger of a prevailing ahistoric narrative in systems biology. A solution to this problem is a still missing conceptual historiography of systems biology that holds the potential to provide clarification of definitional fuzziness and the relevance of a historically grounded understanding of its conceptual importance in current biology. Only the knowledge about imagined presents, pasts and futures can help us better understand the present condition of systems biology and contribute to substantiating its conceptual deficits.


History of systems biology Narratives Oral history Sociology of the future 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Döring
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anne Brüninghaus
    • 1
  • Regine Kollek
    • 1
  • Imme Petersen
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Centre for Biotechnology, Society and Environment (FSP BIOGUM)University of HamburgHamburgGermany

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