1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · Research

Barcoding Nature: Shifting taxonomic practices in an age of biodiversity loss

Claire Waterton

Start date


Affiliated staff

Rebecca Ellis (LEC), Brian Wynne (Cesagen)


This project represents on-going research and the writing of journal articles, chapters, and a book to be published by Routledge: ‘Barcoding Nature: shifting taxonomic practices in an age of biodiversity loss’. At present we are focussing on completing the book. The book is based on ESRC-funded research (2006-2009) that observed and documented a shift within taxonomy towards a genomics-inspired global production and mobilisation of taxonomic knowledge for specified ‘biodiversity’ knowledge-actors, users and publics. This shift introduced a series of innovations in the way that taxonomy is practised. The research documented ongoing efforts to ‘DNA barcode life’ (under the auspices of organisations such as the Consortium for the Barcoding of Life (CBOL), the Barcoding of Life Initiative (BOLI), the Canadian Center for DMA Barcoding (CCDB) and the International Barcode of life Project (iBOL)).


We aim to publish articles, chapters and the above book in ways that both draw on the ESRC research ‘Taxonomy at a Crossroads: Science, Publics and Policy in Biodiversity’ and intersect with the main foci of Cesagen Theme 3. This operates around the following three thematic objectives:

  1. Challenges and opportunities for innovation in the technosciences.
  2. Globalisation and Technoscientific cultures.
  3. The geneticisation and digitisation of life.


The project is based on analysis and writing up of ethnographic and interview-based research.


Key findings are clustered around the following issues and can be viewed in full in our End of Award Report - Waterton et al, (2010) Taxonomy at a Crossroads: science, publics and policy in biodiversity: Full Research Report ESRC End of Award Report, RES-000-23-1470. Swindon: ESRC, available online at: esrcsocietytoday.co.uk).

Key findings:

  • DNA Barcoding as revolution
  • DNA Barcoding as innovation
  • New Nature-Cultures
  • Standardization
  • Democratization and imagined publics
  • Governance through BOLI
  • Taxonomy and (bio) value
  • ‘Consortium Building’ with natural science partners


Waterton, Ellis and Wynne Barcoding Nature: shifting taxonomic practices in an age of biodiversity loss. London: Routledge. Forthcoming 2012 Busch, L., Ellis, R., Frow, E., McNally, R., MacKenzie, A. Waterton, C., Wynne, B. ‘Bringing standards to life in contemporary biology’. Submitted to Science, Technology and Human Values. (Under Review).Waterton, C. (2010) ‘Barcoding Nature: strategic naturalisation as innovatory practice in the genomic ordering of things’ in S. Parry and J. Dupré (2010) Nature After the genome. Chichester: Oxford: Blackwell PublishingWaterton, C. (2010) ‘Experimenting with the Archive: STS-ers as Analysts and Co-constructors of Databases and other Archives’, Science Technology and Human Values, 2010 35: 645-676. Originally published online 26 February 2010, DOI: 10.1177/0162243909340265Ellis, R. Waterton, C. and Wynne, B. 2009 ‘Taxonomy, Biodiversity and their Publics in 21st Century Barcoding’ Public Understanding of Science. Published on July 3, 2009 as doi:10.1177/0963662509335413Ellis R. (2008) Rethinking the value of biological specimens: laboratories, museums and the barcoding of life initiative. Museum and Society 6: 172-191.

Further information

Further information about the ESRC project* and the way that it intersects with Cesagen Theme 3 issues can be found on the ESRC’s Society today website esrcsocietytoday.co.uk or on the project website here.