Crafting life : a sensory ethnography of fabricated biologies
Author(s)Roosth, Hannah Sophia
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
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This ethnography tracks a diverse set of practices I term "constructive biologies," by which I mean efforts in the post-genomic life sciences to understand how biology works by making new biological things. I examine five fields of constructive biology - synthetic biology, DIY (do-it-yourself) biology, hyperbolic crochet, sonocytology, and molecular gastronomy - investigating how they are enmeshed in sensory engagements that employ craftwork as a means of grasping biology. Synthetic biology is a community of bioengineers who aim to fabricate standardized biological systems using genetic components and manufacturing principles borrowed from engineering. DIY biology is a community of "biohackers" who appropriate synthetic biologists' terminologies, standards, and commitment to freely exchanging biomaterials in order to do hobbyist biological engineering in their homes. The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef is a distributed venture of thousands of women who are cooperatively fabricating a series of yarn and plastic coral reefs in order to build a material simulation of oceanic morphologies and evolutionary theories. Sonocytology, a technique in nanotechnology research, uses scanning probe microscopes to "listen to" cellular vibrations and "feel" the topologies of cells and cellular components. Molecular gastronomy is a movement in which practitioners - physical chemists and biochemists who study food, and chefs who apply their results - use biochemical principles and laboratory apparatuses to further cooking and the culinary arts. In analyzing these fields, I draw on histories of experimental biology, anthropological accounts of artisanship, science studies work on embodiment and tacit knowledge in scientific practice, and sensory ethnography. Based on data gathered from participant-observation and interviewing, I argue for thinking about making new biological things as a form of "crafting," an analytic that illuminates five aspects of contemporary biological manufacture: 1) sensory cultivation, 2) ongoing participation with biological media and forms, 3) the integration of making biological things and practitioners' selfmaking, 4) the embedding of social relations, interests, norms, and modes of exchange in built artifacts, and 5) the combination of making and knowing. In this study, I argue that both biology the substance and biology the discipline are currently being remade, and that increasingly, life scientists apprehend "life" through its manufacture.
Thesis (Ph. D. in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society (HASTS))--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, 2010.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 297-326).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.