Synthetic Biology and the Role of Civil Society Organizations

Shaping the Agenda and Arena of the Public Debate
  • Dirk StemerdingEmail author
  • Huib de Vriend
  • Bart Walhout
  • Rinie van Est


In this chapter we discuss the role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in current and future public debates about synthetic biology as a new and emerging science and technology. We see CSOs as potentially important intermediaries between scientific and governance institutions on the one hand and wider publics on the other hand. In this role CSOs have already contributed to the agenda of the emerging debate about synthetic biology. However, the way in which CSOs and wider publics may be involved in future debates about synthetic biology will also depend on the framing of the issues at stake by governmental and scientific actors in these debates. To make this clear we refer in this chapter to the lessons learnt from earlier debates about genetic engineering and nanotechnology which show a notable difference between governmental and scientific approaches to the implications of new science and technology, focusing on issues of risk and regulation, and the activities of CSOs, emphasizing broader societal issues. This tension is also apparent from our analysis of the agenda of the emerging synbio debate and from the results presented in this chapter of a survey in which we have interviewed a variety of CSOs about their visions on synthetic biology. In the light of this tension we also discuss in this chapter the conditions that should be met for a constructive role of CSOs in future public debates about synthetic biology.


Civil Society Genetic Engineering Synthetic Biology Public Debate Civil Society Organization 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk Stemerding
    • 1
    Email author
  • Huib de Vriend
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bart Walhout
    • 1
  • Rinie van Est
    • 1
  1. 1.Rathenau InstituteDen HaagThe Netherlands
  2. 2.LIS ConsultDelftThe Netherlands

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