Template:Team:UC Berkeley/Notebook/MT anthropological narrative

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Summary and Narrative


This year’s UC Berkeley iGEM team includes a human practices component. It is the second Berkeley team to include one, and the 2007 UC Berkeley iGEM team was the first of any team to address human practices issues (read Kristin Fuller’s notebook here). In relation to research being conducted under the banner of synthetic biology, human practices, which is the fourth thrust or branch of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), proposes to:

-PROBLEMATIZE critical domains of human life, such as energy, health, security, and environment.

-RAISE THE QUESTION of the good life (eudaimonia) in contemporary forms.

-CALL FOR COLLABORATION in the recognition of shared problems, stakes, challenges, and evolving norms. [1]

This year’s HP component differs from last year’s in its focus not on a delineated controversial topic but instead on the attempt to facilitate these three proposed goals within multiple problem spaces and venues.

My work focused on these three goals through the following modes of inquiry: (1) situating research done in the lab within a larger cultural context and distinguishing the assumptions on which proposed research and research organization was founded (e.g.: how are standards made, who has the power to change them, and how are habits changed to herald them in?); (2) complicating the terms which give meaning to work in the lab and to other projects under the synthetic biology header in the United States (e.g.: what conditions are established to designate that a rhetorically separated “public” is benefiting from synthetic biology research?); and (3) aiding in the search for an appropriate and effective forum for collaboration between the many actors and stakeholders of synthetic biology (e.g.: seeking a space where discussion about synthetic biology is multi-facetted and unfettered by power structures). To achieve these goals, I became a participant observer of research done in the iGEM lab and maintained a blog; maintained an on-line lab notebook; conducted filmed interviews of many actors of the research and organization; and generated and edited content for, as well as helped conceptually design, the preliminary version of the website Ars Synthetica with the purpose of creating an engaging space of education, collaboration, and discussion between those who have an interest in synthetic biology.



The UC Berkeley College of Engineering blog for iGEM is the location for discussion and chronicling of controversial issues surrounding synthetic biology.

My on-line lab notebook is the location for less restrictive discussion of problematization of research done in the lab and reflection on readings, experiences, and conversations relating to the lab.

Ars Synthetica will be evolving over the next few months to include more content from other human practice members on the UC Berkeley campus, as well as building the necessary framework to implement design principles surrounding creating a space for discussion.

"How do you become a synthetic biologist?" and "A day in the life of an igemmer" are two interactive slideshows hoping to expand the limits of form of discussion.

This is the link to videos of interviews conducted over the summer, some which are yet to be integrated into the Ars Synthetica website.


[1] Rabinow, Paul and Gaymon Bennett, “Conceptual Addition: From SynBERC through Weber to the Three Modes and Human Practices,” Powerpoint Given in UCB Anthropology 112 Lecture, Fall 2007.

[2] Rabinow, Paul, and Gaymon Bennett, "Human Practices: Interfacing 3 Modes of Collaboration,” in The Prospect of Protocells: Social and Ethical Implications of Recreating Life, Bedau and Parke, eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

[3] Anderson, J. Chris, Personal Interview, 25 June 2008.

[4] Rabinow, Paul, Anthropos Today, Princeton Press, 2003.

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