With its claim to construct living organisms, synthetic biology raised a lot of heads within the science community. Public interest, however, has remained low. An international team of experts, working within the EU funded project SYNENERGENE, has set out to change that.
Synthetic biology aims at constructing living organisms from scratch. It wants to re-program existing organisms, using standardized genetic building blocks. This could lead to the construction of organisms with entirely new properties. The approach promises to deliver new applications, for example in the area of pharmaceuticals. If it works, biological science could be transformed following true engineering principles, creating “products” efficiently and in a well-planned way.
Different expert bodies have commented on both ethical aspects and risks associated with this field of research. From a science policy perspective, the main question is how the development of synthetic biology might be shaped to meet the requirements for Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).
SYNENERGENE picked up on this very issue. The project, executed as part of the EU’s 7th framework program (under ‘science and society’), aimed at stimulating the publics’ interest in synthetic biology through various participatory methods. By drawing from a wider range of perspectives, it wanted to add on to existing pools of knowledge that help shape technologies responsibly. To do so, stakeholders from industry, science and civil society were brought into a dialogue.
The ITA’s task was to comparatively analyse different forms of dialogue. Such dialogues took place in the context of exhibitions, film festivals or science cafés, for example. The ITA’s analyses showed that lively controversies develop within the framework of this invited participation, especially when diverse normative positions are represented in the citizens’ panels and the participants are able to actively shape the framing of the concrete issue at stake.
Digitalization, automation and increasing robotisation in health care, industry and beyond, coupled with the advent of platform-based competitive mediation of work (crowdworking) – all impact on the future of work and labour. The associated challenges to the labour market, working conditions, wages, and the blurring boundary between private and professional life are the topic of intensive political and societal debate in many countries. Just take the conflicts surrounding Uber and AirBnB and their entry to traditional markets, as well as the vision of the so-called Internet of Things or cyber-physical systems, as the most prominent issues. Technology assessment (TA) always tries to be at the forefront of such debates. It is therefore not surprising that the member institutions of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network have already devoted a number of projects on labour issues related to digitalisation. The Annual EPTA Conference 2016 'The future of labour in the digital era: Ubiquitous computing, virtual platforms and real-time production' was thus devoted to this timely and exciting topic. This report continues a series of similar reports compiled by the respective presidency of the EPTA network. As in previous years, it is a collection of contributions written from the perspectives of all full and associate members of EPTA. This report also includes a general introduction and a synthesis that gives the reader a compact summary of the state-of-the-art in the EPTA countries. The report was originally intended to inform the participants of the Annual EPTA Conference held in the Austrian Parliament in Vienna on 21st October 2016. After the conference it has been amended to reflect the lively debates and to include the preliminary results of the conference debates.
Publisher: EPTA – European Parliamentary Technology Assessment
Published: Vienna; November 2016
Editor: Michael Nentwich
Authors Chapter 'Austria': Tanja Sinozi
To understand controversies over technologies better, we propose the concept of ‘problematisation’. Drawing on Foucault’s idea of problematisation and on the concept of frames in media research, we identify characteristic forms of problematising biotechnology in pertaining controversies, typically emphasising ethical, risk or economic aspects. They provide a common basis for disputes and allow participants to argue effectively. The different forms are important for how controversies are negotiated, which experts get involved, what role public engagement plays and how political decisions are legitimised – in short, for technology governance. We develop a heuristic for analysing the link between forms of problematisation and different options for technology governance. Applied to synthetic biology, we discuss different problematisations of this technology and the implications for governance.
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme FP7-SCIENCE-IN-SOCIETY-2012-1 under grant agreement n° 321488. Any opinions expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Community.
("Synthetic biology - Engaging with New and Emerging Science and Technology in Re-sponsible Governance of the Science and Society Relationship")
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