Accepted Paper:

Making trouble practically absent in synthetic biology  


Sam Weiss Evans (Harvard University)
Emma Frow

Paper long abstract:

What accounts for differences in matters of non-concern across different national contexts? In this paper, we consider how policy communities in the United States and United Kingdom are explicitly attending to some concerns regarding the governance of synthetic biology, and are turning other issues into matters of non-concern. Can variables such as institutional structures, funding mandates, political cultures, sensitizing events, and rhetorical strategies — traditionally matters of focus for analysing matters of concern — also help to account for the production of non-concerns? We explore this question through two case studies: first, the distribution of synthetic seeds from a crowd-sourced Do-It-Yourself biology (DIYBio) campaign in the US, and second, the case of a British journalist who was able to mail-order a genetic fragment of the smallpox virus. In the US case, we ask how it was that what, from a British perspective, might be seen as an opportunity to conduct proactive citizen engagement about the governance of DIYBio led instead to the government considering such effort as unnecessary. In the UK case, an event that would be seen in the US as an example of a failure in biosecurity preparedness was quickly determined to be adequately handled by existing governance mechanisms. Our focus is on exploring the adequacy of analytic tools traditionally employed to study the co-production of knowledge and social order to instead address the co-production of non-knowledge and social order.

Panel C4
Non-concerns about science and technology and within STS