Self-regulation vs. precautionary principle: governing uncertainty in and around DIY biology in Europe and North America
Anna Verena Eireiner
(University of Cambridge)
Paper short abstract:
This paper offers an empirical analysis of the DIY bio movement in Germany and Canada. Within the two political cultures and regulatory traditions, technological innovation is perceived radically different. This co-shapes the formation and practices of DIY biologists in both countries.
Paper long abstract:
Bio-nerds are the new computer-nerds. In recent years growing numbers of people have started to embrace amateur, or DIY, biology. DIY biologists are dedicating themselves to the conceptualization of whole new biological systems far outside of traditional academic or corporate laboratory settings.
Although the DIY biology movement is organized internationally, we can observe great national differences in state-DIY biologist relations and regulation. In most countries, the legal situation around amateur genetic engineering is ambiguous. In contrast, Canada and Germany both regulate DIY biology rather clearly but take opposing stances.
The Canadian government offers lab certifications, one-on-one consulting and generous funding opportunities. DIY biology is celebrated as a pathway to innovation, community engagement, art and education.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the EU is in legal limbo. In a surprising move, Germany most recently banned the import of a DIY biology essential: DIY biohacking kits. This was met with global media attention and outrage from the local DIY biology communities.
While Canada interprets the risks as familiar and manageable, Germany sticks to its skeptical stance that it has established towards genetic engineering in the last decades. Meanwhile, DIY biologists in Germany and all across Europe continue their pursuit of synthetic biology in different stages of legal limbo.
This paper offers an empirical analysis of both countries as deviant cases. How is innovation governed in a situation of uncertainty? What are the underlying interpretations and how are they rooted in different political cultures? How does this impact the practices of DIY biologists? How is resistance forming?
Outlaw innovation and the invention of the outlaw