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The construction of imaginaries of the public as a threat to synthetic biology

Marris, C. (2015). The construction of imaginaries of the public as a threat to synthetic biology. Science as Culture, 24(1), pp. 83-98. doi: 10.1080/09505431.2014.986320


Scientific institutions and innovation-focused government bodies have identified public attitudes to synthetic biology as an obstruction to the field. This view is based on a perception that the public is (or will likely become) fearful of synthetic biology and that a ‘public scare’ would impede development of the field. Fear of the public's fear of synthetic biology, which I characterise as ‘synbiophobia-phobia’, has been the driving force behind the promotion of public engagement and other activities to address ‘ethical, legal and social issues' (ELSI). These activities have been problematic in two ways. Firstly, they are based on the discredited ‘deficit-model’ understanding of public responses to science, in which negative public attitudes towards science are thought to result from a lack of scientific knowledge. Secondly, they have taken for granted sociotechnical expectations put forward by scientific institutions. These promises of the field, and the tacit normative commitments embedded within them, have not been opened up to public appraisal.
In these ways, synthetic biology exemplifies many phenomena described by Welsh and Wynne (2013). This article analyses the ontological stakes in the work conducted by scientific institutions to conjure up imaginaries of publics with respect to synthetic biology. As synthetic biology emerges as a field of hope under threat from publics, how have science, publics and the relations between them become defined?

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: Q Science
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
SWORD Depositor:
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