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How did DNA become hackable and biology personal? Tracing the self-fashioning of the DIYbio network

Tocchetti, Sara (2014) How did DNA become hackable and biology personal? Tracing the self-fashioning of the DIYbio network. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The DIYbio (Do-It-Yourself biology) group was established with the aim of turning biology and biotechnology into a creative practice accessible to everyone. The group is composed of graduate and post-graduate students and drop-out graduate students, but also disenfranchised researchers and professionals who see in the initiative the possibility of reviving their passion for science. Inspired by the analogy of the personal computer as a 'spokes-technology' for a free, egalitarian and decentralized society, that of the free and open-source software movement, and inspired by the image of the Victorian amateur and his home laboratory, DIYbio members organize regionally in what they call 'community laboratories,' or they practice in the comfort of their homes. Based on a series of interviews with DIYbio members, participants' observations of DIYbio's transient practices and a literary analysis of DIYbio members' use of social media, this thesis traces what I provisionally call 'the making of a personal biology.' Starting from the narrative formation the network, it then moves from the foundation of the DIYbio network in 2008 to the establishment of the first 'community laboratories', tracing the contingent orchestration of a diverse set of people, sites, tools and events, into a four-year community building effort. Due to its recent emergence in the field of Science and Technology Studies, only a limited number of research initiatives engage with the DIYbio network. Such works, mainly in the form of dissertations chapters and short articles, are analytically rich but limited in their observations, and often focus only on specific aspects of the network (Aguiton, 2010; Roosth, 2010; Delfanti, 2011; Meyer, 2012). This thesis recognizes the emergence of the DIYbio network as a cultural phenomenon in itself, and addresses the gap in the literature by tracing how DNA became hackable and biology became personal. Following Donna Haraway's effort to critically address the politics of technoscience as a practice of 'turning tropes into worlds' (1997: 59), the overarching topic of this research is how the trope of the biohacker became a world, and what type of world it became. The aim of this research is, therefore, to explore how members of the DIYbio network and biohackers define themselves, construct their identities and organize their work. This research also aims to situate the discourses and practices of DIYbio members in a context where governments and industries are intensifying their effort to make the coming century of biology into a reality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Sara Tocchetti
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Franklin, Sarah

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