The emerging field of synthetic biology promises to engineer the living world. This is potentially extremely contentious, so scholars from the social sciences and humanities have been incorporated into synthetic biology research programmes from the outset. The ENLIFE project’s distinctive contribution will be to study both the engineering of biology and the role of social scientists within this. Its two objectives are: to investigate the movement of ideas, practices and promises from engineering into the life sciences, and to examine the ways in which social scientists and other groups are being mobilised as part of this endeavour.
We will carry out novel social scientific research into the engineering of living things, by collecting a rich body of empirical data. This will involve semi-structured qualitative interviews, participant observation at conferences, and ethnographic research in synthetic biology laboratories that are attempting to make biology easier to engineer. We will simultaneously address the interdisciplinary entanglements that arise in all these contexts, which involve scientists, engineers, social scientists, philosophers, lawyers and sometimes even artists and designers. We will also run four experimental interdisciplinary workshops, where we will explore the possibility of producing new knowledge together, across disciplinary divides.
The project aims to provide a critical, empirically grounded analysis of a field that promises to drive the next industrial revolution and is currently the target of high levels of investment across the globe. It will also provide insights into the engineering imagination, how it is applied to living things, and how it is challenged and expanded in interdisciplinary interactions. The study of these interactions will build on our understanding of the role of the social sciences in interdisciplinary collaborations, and contribute to pressing debates about the future of Science and Technology Studies.
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