Managing Demands for Social Engagement

Cecilie Glerup

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In recent years numerous calls have been made to enhance the social responsibility of biotechnology from both social scientists (e.g. Nowotny et. al. 2001) and political institutions (e.g. Royal Society 2004; U.S. Congress 2003; EEA 2002). The demands vary in form and content: From state incentives to make
biotechnology the driver of the knowledge economy thus creating jobs and growth, to pleas for more public influence on the development science and grassroots movements’ attempts to prevent future environmental and social harm caused by technologies. The various – and contradictory – calls put pressure on the biotech research organizations that find themselves in a
jumble of demands to engage themselves with society. Mccarthy and Kelty, for instance, quote a nano-technologist for saying that he is afraid of “too much responsibility” (2010: 407). Based on a laboratory ethnography, this paper explores how two research organizations in the field of synthetic biology strategically manoeuvre among the many discourses on scientific
responsibility. One of the labs defines itself through user-inspired science and focuses on the development of ‘products’ that benefit abstract stakeholders such as ‘the general public’ or ‘the troops’. The other lab has many diffuse ‘side-activities’ with bio-hackers, government and policy groups, but partly seems to engage in order to stay ahead of policy-makers and protect their core activity, which they find to be ‘basic research’. The paper finally argues that the way society’s expectations are managed have severe implications on how research projects are organized and prioritized among the organizations’ employees.
StatusUdgivet - 2012
BegivenhedThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012: Design and displacement: Social Studies of Science and Technology - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Danmark
Varighed: 17 okt. 201220 okt. 2012
Konferencens nummer: 2012


KonferenceThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012
LokationCopenhagen Business School