Accepted Paper:

Sensory and embodied engagement: situating anticipation of biotechnological flavours in everyday practices  


Robert Meckin (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Current policy agendas urge innovators to engage publics and anticipate issues arising with their technologies. The production of biosynthetic flavours and fragrances offers a sensory entry point into exploring the ways that citizens anticipate technoscientific innovations in everyday practices.

Paper long abstract:

Current political and scientific policies urge researchers to engage citizens and stakeholders and anticipate issues arising with novel technologies. Synthetic biologists, advocating an approach to life sciences where multidisciplinary teams apply design principles with an aim of making biology easier to engineer, have targeted flavours and fragrances such as menthl for biomanufacture research. Consumer products containing menthol and mint, such as muscles rubs, shower gels, sweets and chewing gums occupy spaces that are often not-quite-foods and not-quite-pharmaceuticals, yet are important components in diverse enactments of care, hygiene, leisure and illness. The paper explores the intersections of biosynthetic menthol with these everyday practices and what this means for anticipatory engagement.

Recent debates regarding public participation have highlighted a range of biases that include privileging discursive methods and abstracted versions of futures in engagement processes. This paper addresses some of these critiques and describes a method of anticipatory engagement that focuses on sensory and embodied interactions with technoscience. This argument draws on theoretical discussions in STS and other disciplines to describe an approach to the future involving object-elicitation interviews and home tours that situates anticipation in mundane material practices. Mint and menthol are widely used flavours and fragrances that have distinctive interactions with the human senses. The paper shows how sensory engagement can stimulate rich discussions about people's ethical commitments, how they anticipate the possibility of consumer products that could contain biosynthetic menthol, and indicates a complementary approach to contemporary technology governance.

Panel A25
Trouble swallowing? Food, technoscience and publics