Negotiating the dynamics of uncomfortable knowledge: The case of dual use and synthetic biology

Marris, C., Jefferson, C. & Lentzos, F. (2014). Negotiating the dynamics of uncomfortable knowledge: The case of dual use and synthetic biology. Biosocieties, 9(4), pp. 393-420. doi: 10.1057/biosoc.2014.32

[img]
Preview
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0.

Download (315kB) | Preview

Abstract

Institutions need to ignore some knowledge in order to function. This is "uncomfortable knowledge" because it undermines the ability of those institutions to pursue their goals (Rayner, 2012). We identify three bodies of knowledge that are relevant to understandings of the dual use threat posed by synthetic biology but are excluded from related policy discussions. We demonstrate how these "unknown knowns" constitute uncomfortable knowledge because they disrupt the simplified worldview that underpins contemporary discourse on the potential misuse of synthetic biology by malign actors. We describe how these inconvenient truths have been systematically ignored and argue that this is because they are perceived as a threat by organisations involved in the promotion of synthetic biology as well as by those involved in managing biosecurity risks. This has led to a situation where concerns about the biosecurity threat posed by synthetic biology are not only exaggerated, but are, more importantly, misplaced. This, in turn, means that related policies are misdirected and unlikely to have much impact. We focus on the dynamics of discussions about synthetic biology and dual use to demonstrate how the same "knowns" that are denied or dismissed as "unknown knowns" in certain circumstances are sometimes mobilised as "known knowns" by the same category of actors in a different context, when this serves to sustain the goals of the individuals and institutions involved. Based on our own experience, we argue that negotiating the dynamics of uncomfortable knowledge is a difficult, but necessary, component of meaningful transdisciplinary collaborations.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: strategic ignorance; synthetic biology; dual use; biosecurity; science and technology studies (STS); innovation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine
Divisions: School of Social Sciences > Department of Sociology > Centre for Food Policy
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/13415

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item

Downloads

Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics