PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Science communication and performativity
How are we talking about synthetic biology?

Britt Wray  

This presentation is concerned with the use and influence of personal imagination in 'performative sentences' about synthetic biology, and how the role of the science communicator might be revitalized to nuance such imaginaries. The paper begins with an analysis of depictions of synthetic biology as a revolutionary field that allows scientists to "not only alter nature but guide human evolution as well," where life becomes more than "as it could be," transforming into "life as we could make it be" (Pauwels, 2013). Synthetic biology's 'economic calculus' that connects 'engineering practice to a plurality of life forms' has created the condition upon which it appears unprecedented (Mackenzie, 2013). But is this lack of precedents real, or imaginary? I will present my initial findings from an interactive science engagement project I've created that comprises my PhD, that involves the private thoughts and feelings of a group of practitioners who have been connected to synthetic biology through their work in recent years. It catalyzes experimental discussions and audio recordings between scientists, philosophers, anthropoligists, bioartists, bioethicists and entrepreneurs about the imaginaries that construct our understandings of 'neo-life' that synthetic biology brings forth. This is done in an attempt to generate experiments in knowledge production between scientists, social researchers and their publics that are "pluralist, reflexive, and promote mutual learning" (Rabinow & Bennet 2012, Fitzgerald 2014, Pauwels 2013, 225). The assemblage of the recordings I've collected through my research is being turned into an interactive documentary that embraces heterogenous and multi-voiced communication about this emerging technoscience in order to critique the reign of cohesive, specifically-angled narratives in science communication that connect to real people's lived experiences.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.