Toward democratized biotechnology? Biohacking communities, sociotechnical transitions and the marketization of open-source biology

Authors: Dan Santos*, Clark University, James T Murphy, Clark University
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: biotechnology, marketization, socio-technical transitions, democracy,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Is biotechnology in the midst of being democratized? Over the past decade or so, access to biotechnological knowledge, materials and tools has become increasingly easier and cheaper. This has been facilitated by community biohacking labs, where the broader public can engage in biotechnology experiments and collaboration outside of ‘mainstream’ scientific institutions (academic, industry, government). These labs establish their own start-ups and develop open source biological products and protocols (e.g. Open Insulin project), and operate through distinct practices, motivations and subjectivities. Therefore, biohacking communities are characterized by economically diverse aspirations, from market-oriented goals to expanding open source possibilities in biotechnology, and appear to be facilitating a transition in the biotechnology industry as its markets, knowledges and practices are shaped increasingly by non-market logics.

In this paper, we conceptualize these dynamics as an emerging socio-technical transition driven in part by marketization processes. We argue that concepts from the marketization literature can be usefully deployed, adapted and combined with the multi-level perspective to help conceptualize this transition. Specifically, we demonstrate how biohacking communities ‘pacify goods’ (whether market-oriented or open source), which are then ‘valued’ in different ways by the socio-technical agencements comprising the biotechnology industry. The practices of pacification and valuation subsequently shape the sector’s evolution and the prospects for a transition to a more democratized industry. In broader terms, this approach offers a way to conceptualize how non-market logics and practices may relate to, co-exist with, consolidate and/or undermine existing market configurations, and the materialities, technologies, “fuzzy” boundaries, and actors involved.

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