Placing a New Science: Exploring Spatial and Temporal Configurations of Synthetic Biology

Part of the Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook book series (SOSC, volume 29)


Synthetic biology is a field that can be and often is described as “emerging”. The field-in-emergence is creating futures, problems and new objects that remain elusive. By turning an ethnographic gaze on the nascent stages of a new research field, we can pose interesting questions about the formation of local configurations and their relations to wider policies and actions in ways that the analysis of established fields would struggle to illuminate. In this paper we explore how a new field such as synthetic biology is actively ‘placed’, tracing the development of the field in the UK and in France. The concept of ‘placing’ allows us to interrogate the local configurations of an emerging field and tie these into non-local manoeuvres. The concept permits us to comprehend and link entities that are commonly differentiated as “local” (universities, research teams), “national” (funding, policy-streams, public debates, platforms), and “non-local” (international competitions, international conferences and publications). Placing a science means that the practices and discourses of the science co-emerge with its modes of organisation and geographies and with its histories and futures.


Synthetic biology Placing Emergence Policy France United Kingdom Public dialogues iGEM 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Agro ParisTech (UFR Sociologies) and INRA (SenS)ParisFrance
  2. 2.Department of Sociological StudiesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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