Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Making Life is Easy: Novelty and Uncertainty in Synthetic Biology
Authors: DAN-COHEN, Talia
Advisors: Hammoudi, Abdellah
Contributors: Anthropology Department
Keywords: Emergence
Synthetic Biology
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Scandinavian studies
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation, based on roughly eighteen months of fieldwork in two laboratories at Princeton University, examines how practitioners of synthetic biology orient themselves vis-à-vis organic systems, by both engaging with and displacing biological knowledge. It also explores experimental methods in a highly uncertain field. Synthetic biology is a new field of study in which practitioners are attempting to build novel organic systems from materials in the lab, drawing on knowledge and practices from engineering as well as biology and chemistry. Many synthetic biologists share the long-range aim of designing organic systems that will perform predictable functions. They seek to use cells for technological ends: a material among other materials. The newness of synthetic biology, I argue, has methodological value for anthropology in that it transposes difference--a hallmark of classical anthropological knowledge production--to the register of time. Novelty is a tool for generating difference and discontinuity, a tool that allows scientists and engineers, but also anthropologists, to unsettle entrenched understandings. There are two major themes that emerge from my research. The first theme has to do with the denaturalization of biological knowledge. I examine the transformations and mythical alterations by means of which synthetic biologists question deeply held beliefs about living beings. The second theme involves the ability to take a conceptual framework or hypothesis and use it to produce results in the lab. The dissertation thus addresses such questions as: How are concepts reinforced and embedded in the research process? How do researchers conceive of their projects and their findings in such a way that the results of their work fit into the broader world in which it is set? And how do their projects and the answers they generate build on or displace other ways of approaching living beings?
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Anthropology

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
DANCOHEN_princeton_0181D_10113.pdf1.35 MBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.