Synthetic Biology in a Fractiversal World: On Novel Biologies and Modest Geographies
Ledingham, Katie Anne
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The object of inquiry of this thesis is synthetic biology. In this thesis I ask what is this ‘thing’ that is synthetic biology (Latour, 2005) and what might it mean for synthetic biology to inhabit the world and to inhabit it well? Synthetic biology’s coming into being has been accompanied by a considerable amount of ‘hype’ and ‘hyperbole’ (Marris and Rose, 2012) – by what the philosopher Annemarie Mol (1999) would describe as a noisy ‘perspectivalism.’ My aim in this thesis is to contribute to the telling of different kinds of less-perspectival and less-technologically-deterministic stories about the development of this burgeoning approach to biological engineering. In drawing on a combination of empirical material from over 30 1-2 hour interviews with leading synthetic biologists and ethnographic materials generated from working alongside the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (the UK regulatory authority responsible for overseeing the development of synthetic biology), I aim to multiply outwards registers for understanding what synthetic biology is and what it might become. I highlight, for example, how synthetic biology is not simply a hubristic endeavour (Lewens, 2013) but is also about processes of learning and apprehension. What’s more, depending on how synthetic biology takes shape(s) in different practices, ‘time’ also becomes aleatory and freed from its modernist shackles (Serres, 2008). I use the lens of regulation as a means of addressing the question of what it might mean for synthetic biology to inhabit the world well. Synthetic biology’s regulatory provocations have been largely underexplored within STS and human geography literatures. The thesis is informed by and builds upon, theoretical notions of multiplicity (Mol, 2002) and of syncretisms (Law and Mol, 2013). The thesis contributes to a broader shift in social theory from critique towards compositionism and concludes by arguing for the development of a modest geography of novel biologies.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
PhD in Geography