Parasite labs: laboratory protocols of do-it-yourself biology

Cluck, Jonathan Isaac
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Fortun, Michael
Campbell, Nancy D. (Nancy Dianne), 1963-
Fortun, Kim
High, Kathryn
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Science and technology studies
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
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I seek to answer three questions about DIY biologists: how do they affirmatively refigure what it means to be a scientist; how do they differentially reproduce the contents and contexts of laboratories; and how do they alter scientific knowledge, its meanings, and its means of production? I draw upon four years of participant observation fieldwork across two primary sites and many conferences and meetings to answer these questions, and to describe the emergent cultures of DIY biology. My ethnographic work is supplemented by an analysis of electronic discussions (chat rooms, forums, mailing lists, websites, and personal or group weblogs) that DIY biologists use to record their methods and disseminate their findings, popular culture and print/electronic media which shape the particular historical moment in which DIYbio has developed, and historical literatures on “amateur science” which provide comparative accounts of conflicts over who may produce scientific knowledge and where it may be produced. To analyze and examine these source materials, I use a theoretical framework derived from various meanings of “parasite” from Michel Serres, J.L. Austin, George Marcus, and Jacques Derrida.
This project examines and documents the workings of DIYbio (do-it-yourself biology), a loosely-affiliated global group of “amateur” biological researchers, and the ways in which they construct their laboratories, produce new scientific methodologies, and change what it means to be a scientist. I argue throughout this work that the laboratories that DIY biologists construct are materially and conceptually “parasitic” on institutionalized science: they are structured through deep connections to the traditional places and spaces of scientific practice, and differentially reproduce them through the development of adjacent scientific practices. In the creation of and the elaboration of meanings about these “parasite labs,” DIY biologists develop new means of producing biological knowledge and produce material critiques of contemporary institutional science, and also operate as a frontier for the future of biology.
December 2015
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
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