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ESRC Seminar Series on Synthetic Biology and the Social Sciences - Seminar 1: Defining the agenda

February 14 – February 15 2011

ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum
The University of Edinburgh
College of Humanities and Social Science
St John's Land
Holyrood Road
Edinburgh EH8 8AQ

A distinctive feature of synthetic biology is its early-stage attention to social and ethical concerns, which owes much to earlier controversies concerning technologies such as genetically modified crops, and recent attempts to establish a more productive and integrated relationship between the natural and social sciences. Social scientists are increasingly being called upon to characterise the social dimensions of synthetic biology in real-time, and this can be seen in synthetic biology research programmes across Europe and the United States.

The aim of this first seminar is to bring together researchers in science and technology studies who are currently collaborating with synthetic biologists, to explore the possibility of developing a research agenda for our involvement in the field. Speakers will include social scientists working on synthetic biology, as well as those who have been closely involved with other scientific fields.

We will ask whether it is possible to adopt a 'post-ELSI' approach to synthetic biology – one that sees the societal, ethical and policy dimensions of synthetic biology as embedded in and simultaneous with scientific developments. We will discuss the roles that social scientists can and should play in synthetic biology research programmes, and what is expected of us. We will go on to look at whether there are guiding ideas and principles that we might usefully adopt, such as reflexivity, co-production or integration. Our overall aim is to articulate better what social scientists can bring to these new interdisciplinary collaborations.

Places are limited, to facilitate discussion. If you are interested in attending please send a short statement (approx 200 words) describing your research and its relevance to the seminar topic to,24429,en.t4.html