How a ‘Drive to Make’ Shapes Synthetic Biology

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Abstract

A commitment to ‘making’—creating or producing things—can shape scientific and technological fields in important ways. This article demonstrates this by exploring synthetic biology, a field committed to making use of advanced techniques from molecular biology in order to make with living matter (and for some, to engineer living matter). I describe and analyse how this field’s ‘drive to make’ shapes its organisational, methodological, epistemological, and ontological character. Synthetic biologists’ ambition to make helps determine how their field demarcates itself, sets appropriate methods and practices, construes the purpose and character of knowledge, and views the things of the living world. Using empirical data from extensive ethnographic and interview-based research, I discuss the importance of seemingly simple and unimportant commitments—in this case, a focus on the making of things rather than the production of knowledge claims. I conclude by examining the ramifications of this line of research for studies of science and technology.

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