Scientific Agency and Social Scaffolding in Contemporary Data-Intensive Biology
University of Minnesota Press
Reason for embargo
Under temporary indefinite embargo pending publisher permission.
It is widely recognised that social scaffolding is crucial to the entrenchment of new technologies and related standards and practices in scientific research, as well as to its manifestations and results. At the same time, there is little understanding of the circumstances under which, and the reasons why, some forms of sociality are effective in promoting particular types of scientific work. This chapter explores these questions by focusing on two forms of social scaffolding involved in the development of practices of data dissemination through digital means – and particularly infrastructures such as online databases – within the contemporary life sciences: (1) ontology consortia, which have recently emerged as de facto regulatory bodies for data curation in the US and Europe, and (2) steering committees for model organism communities, which play significant roles in the governance of biological research in the UK. I discuss the successful transformation of these initially ad hoc groups into scientific institutions with political and epistemic visibility and power. Drawing on political theory, I then argue that viewing these organisations as social movements is a fruitful strategy to understand their development from informal gatherings into well-recognised regulatory bodies, and how this process of institutionalisation builds on highly entrenched forms of group socialisation. This in turn facilitates an analysis of the interrelation between institutional and infrastructural scaffolding involved in the evolution of scientific knowledge-making activities.
This research was funded by the European Research Council grant award 335925.
In: Beyond the Meme: Articulating Dynamic Structures in Cultural Evolution (Editors: Love A and Wimsatt, W)