Accepted paper:

Serious yet playful: the benefits of play when social scientists and synthetic biologists meet


Carmen McLeod (University of Newcastle)
Stevienna de Saille (University of Sheffield)
Brigitte Nerlich (University of Nottigham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper outlines interdisciplinary workshops that were devised using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, involving social scientists and synthetic biologists. We argue that opportunities for playfulness during interdisciplinary encounters can enable novel insights and understanding across disciplinary divides.

Paper long abstract:

This paper outlines interdisciplinary meetings between social scientists working in the area of synthetic biology. Encounters between social scientists and synthetic biologists can be fraught (e.g. Rabinow & Bennett (2012). There are also many potential 'roles' that might be ascribed to social science work within this space (Balmer et al., 2015). Recently, synthetic biology has also provoked experimental collaborations where art and science can meet (e.g. Calvert & Schyfter, 2017). We are interested in how interdisciplinary meetings associated with synthetic biology can become opportunities for fruitful playfulness. We describe workshops that were devised using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) to enable synthetic biologists to explore the concept of risk in their work. Using the LSP methodology allowed participants to visualise and verbalise a variety of representations about science, responsibility and creative mitigation of risk. Some examples were concrete and well-known to laboratory bench workers, and some were more hidden and abstract related to institutions, incentives and power. Overall, our analysis demonstrated that the LSP format gave scientists the opportunity to 'play out' sometimes surprising visions of risks and responsibilities through constructing verbal and visual metaphors. These moments of play also provided novel insights into the reality of their working lives. Additionally, these meetings provided an opportunity for social scientists to think beyond stereotypes and narrow disciplinary expectations. We argue that providing opportunities for playfulness within interdisciplinary spaces such as these, can enable both "bridging and confronting" (Huutoniemi et al., 2010) of different disciplinary epistemologies and approaches.

panel C11
Scientific meetings across disciplinary boundaries