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The choreography of a new research field: Aggregation, circulation and oscillation

Vermeulen, N

Environment and Planning  


September 2017

This paper analyses how a group of researchers from different disciplines has been able to form creative collaborative spaces to model life together. Making mathematical models of life is a new way of creating biological knowledge – called systems biology – that ultimately aims to revolutionise medicine, by making it more effective through personalisation. By conceptualizing this interdisciplinary effort to create a new research field as a Scientific/Intellectual Movement (SIM) (Frickel & Gross, 2005), I analyse the entanglement of epistemic and social transformations, discussing how systems biology moved from the periphery towards the center of biology. Thereby, I am turning the focus on the spatial dimensions of SIMs. More specifically, I introduce a topological approach detailing three interrelated spatial movements: aggregation, circulation and oscillation that together constitute the choreography of systems biology. They show how some strong, dispersed, local centres have effectively raised funds to build human capacity,organisations and infrastructures, while creating international networks. Through interaction with science policy makers, a global circulation of policies took place,stimulating the building of collaborative centres for systems biology, while the ending of funding programmes is now causing fragmentation again. As such, this paper argues that the choreography of systems biology as a Scientific/Intellectual movement exemplifies how spatial (re-)configurations are fundamental to transformations in the knowledge landscape and the institutionalization of creativity.