‘Making it Big?’ Tracing collaboration, complexity and control in the biosciences
Research presentations by:
- Jane Calvert (University of Edinburgh)
- Gail Davies (UCL)
- Rebecca Ellis (Lancaster University)
- Emma Frow (University of Edinburgh)
- Stephen Hilgartner (Cornell University)
- Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter)
- Kaushik Sunder Rajan (University of Chicago)
- Niki Vermeulen (Universitat Wien)
Emma Frow (ESRC Genomics Forum, Edinburgh), Gail Davies (Geography, UCL) & Sabina Leonelli (ESRC Egenis centre, Exeter)
VenueReed Hall, University of Exeter, UK
The aim of this workshop is to chart and compare the emerging cartographies of ‘big science’ in the contemporary biosciences. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the human genome project (HGP) came to embody the very idea of ‘big science’ in biology: it was an interdisciplinary project, featuring international cooperation and competition, and a combination of public and private funding. The human genome project was delivered on budget and ahead of schedule, and received considerable popular press coverage. It became at once a model of how big science could be imagined, and an illustration of the complexity of such an endeavour. New biological programmes and research initiatives have proliferated in its wake, in areas including proteomics, systems biology, synthetic biology, bio-nanotechnology, functional genomics, and so forth. Many have similarly international ambitions, comparing themselves to the HGP, declaring themselves ‘big science,’ and, at times, competing with one another.
This workshop aims to explore the diversity of ‘big science’ projects emerging in the wake of the HGP. In convening a conversation among social scientists investigating distinct, but related, biological programmes, we will discuss commonalities and differences across these emerging bio-scientific projects, and reflect on the interrelations among them. Such projects may face similar general challenges in managing complexity, and in organizing collaboration across different research disciplines and institutes. Yet, the objects of concern differ, including diverse technologies, model organisms, and biological grammars. Furthermore, these projects vary in size and scope: they are territorialized in different ways, with distinct patterns of collaboration and relations to geopolitical imaginaries. They also vary in the extent to which they are seen to have (or imagine themselves to have) public and regulatory dimensions, and in their degree of engagement with social science — some have sought social science engagement from the outset, while others receive far less attention. Even when social scientists are involved, understanding of their roles may differ. By developing this historical and comparative analysis, and in relation to current theoretical debates about biocapital and biopolitics, we will explore what is at stake, for both natural and social scientists, in ‘making it big’.