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Tales of Emergence—Synthetic Biology as a Scientific Community in the Making

  • Susan Molyneux-Hodgson (a1) and Morgan Meyer (a2)

This article locates the beginnings of a synthetic biology network and thereby probes the formation of a potential disciplinary community. We consider the ways that ideas of community are mobilized, both by scientists and policy-makers in building an agenda for new forms of knowledge work, and by social scientists as an analytical device to understand new formations for knowledge production. As participants in, and analysts of, a network in synthetic biology, we describe our current understanding of synthetic biology by telling four tales of community making. The first tale tells of the mobilization of synthetic biology within a European context. The second tale describes the approach to synthetic biology community formation in the UK. The third narrates the creation of an institutionally based, funded ‘network in synthetic biology’. The final tale de-localizes community-making efforts by focussing on ‘devices’ that make communities. In tying together these tales, our analysis suggests that the potential community can be understood in terms of ‘movements’—the (re)orientation and enrolment of people, stories, disciplines and policies; and of ‘stickiness’—the objects and glues that begin to bind together the various constitutive elements of community.

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