From biology to the techno-sciences - addressing fundamental scientific change in technology assessment

Today, the close connection of the life sciences and biotechnologies goes without saying. What we should make of this connection within science as well as within society is still open for discussion. This FWF funded project addresses this issue. It also aims at a (re-)positioning of technology assessment in answering to the new technosciences like synthetic biology or computational neuroscience.


In the 19th century, when biology acquired its disciplinary status, the field was listed as (natural) philosophy. Not short after its ensuing emancipation as a natural science, biotechnology started making its career as a new label within biological research. With the end of the 20th century, biology and medical research were combined under the umbrella term ‘life sciences’; the relation between biology and biotechnology remained unclear.

‘Bioengineering’ is the new buzz word of the early 21st century. It is distinguished self-confidently from former attempts at introducing a technological approach to biology. Can all these categorical disruptions be explained by general changes in parlance and/or gearing towards media attention alone? Or, do the new terms represent completely new research approaches, maybe even fundamental shifts in the understanding of research and the role of science in society?

Technology assessment (TA) cannot evade these cardinal questions. Conducting a TA of biology as a natural philosophy or natural science seems uncalled-for – at least at a first glance. The assessment of the sociietal consequences of a philosophy or science is not part of the classical repertoire of TA. An assessment of biotechnological projects on the other hand is often asked for and conducted, e.g. regarding the genetic modification of organisms in agri-biotechnology or the creation of human-admixed embryos for medical research. Along which approach the new attempt at ‘bioengineering’ (as it is paradigmatically realised within synthetic biology) should be assessed and governed is a current bone of contention.

Theoretical approach

The project at hand will analyse and discuss fundamental changes and/or differentiations in highly topical biological research on empirical as well as theoretical grounds. It builds upon Karin Knorr-Cetina’s conception of ‘epistemic cultures’, conceiving of science as community, culture and practise and allowing for a comparative reconstruction of distinct ideal types. With recourse to the re-definition of science as technoscience, Knorr-Cetina’s concept is extended to include ‘techno-epistemic cultures’. In consequence, the categorical distinction of science and technology is blurred, allowing for an explicit re-discussion of the (techno)sciences’ societal role and governance.

Empirical results and advisory output

The project addresses the co-existence or prioritisation of diverse orientations in day-to-day research. Researchers may aim towards gaining new scientific knowledge and understanding, towards developing new technologies of intervention or towards creating new production systems. Such orientations that guide decisions and actions taken throughout the research process are investigated with the help of expert interviews and laboratory visits. On this empirical basis, the socio-political relevance of the re-constructed ideal types of doing (techno)science is discussed. Finally, current developments in the assessment and governance of emerging technosciences are presented and new options for future approaches are highlighted.



  • Kastenhofer, K. (2021). The seamless web of next generation sequencing and Covid-19. Tatup - Journal For Technology Assessment In Theory And Practice, 82. Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Molyneux-Hodgson, S. (Eds.). (2021). Community and Identity in Contemporary Technosciences (p. 315). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-61728-8
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Molyneux-Hodgson, S. (2019). Making Sense of Community and Identity in 21st Century Technoscience. In K. Kastenhofer & Molyneux-Hodgson, S. (Eds.), Community and Identity in Contemporary Technosciences. Springer.
  • Lösch, A. (2019). Technology Assessment and Socio-Technical Futures – A Discussion Paper. In A. G. A. Lösch M. Meister (Ed.), Socio-Technical Futures Shaping the Present. Emprirical Examples and Analytical Challenges. (pp. 285-302). Wiesbaden: Springer. Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2019). Nichtwissens-Konstellationen in unterschiedlichen Wissenschaftskulturen der Natur- und Technikwissenschaften. In C. Thim-Mabrey & Brack, M. (Eds.), Verschiedene Rationalitäten im Diskurs von Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft? (pp. 197-227). Books on Demand.
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2018). Community and identity in contemporary technosciences: conceptual issues and empirical change. Easst Review, 37, 32-35.
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2017). Systems Biology: Science or Technoscience?,. In S. E. Green (Ed.) (pp. 157-167). Springer.
  • Lösch, A. [et al]. (2016). Technikfolgenabschätzung von soziotechnischen Zukünften (Ko-AutorInnen des ITA: Daniela Fuchs, Karen Kastenhofer und Helge Torgersen). Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2016). Biología de sistemas y biología sintética como tecnociencias emergentes / Systems and synthetic biology as emerging technosciences, 529-550.
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Torgersen, H. (2016). Transhumanismus und Neuroenhancement: technowissenschaftliche Visionen als Herausforderung für die Technikfolgenabschätzung, 52-56.
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2015). Die Rekonstruktion idealtypischer Nichtwissenskulturen: Beispiele aus der Risikoforschung zu Grüner Gentechnik und Mobilfunk. In P. Wehling & Böschen, S. (Eds.) (pp. 63-117). Baden-Baden: Nomos.
  • Riedlinger, D. (2014). The Tomato Dilemma. Retrieved from
  • Riedlinger, D. (2014). Das Tomaten-Dilemma. Ita-Newsfeed. Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Molyneux-Hodgson, S. (2008). Community and Identity in Contemporary Technosciences. (P. Weingart, Tran.). Berlin: Springer.
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Conference Papers/Speeches

Conference Papers/Speeches

  • 17/06/2021 , Trieste / Online
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Fighting Procrustes: moments of resistance in academic minds, identities and career choices
    STS Italia 2021
  • 04/11/2019 , Bratislava
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Value meets CRISPR: from value regimes of actions-in-context to TA diplomacy
    4th European Technology Assessment Conference
  • 08/07/2019 , Oslo
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Should we stay or should we go now? Introduction to an open workshop with examples from the histories, philosophies, and sociologies of systems biology
    ISHPSSB conference
  • 27/05/2019 , Wien
    Helge Torgersen,  Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Die Geister die ich rief .... TA, Missionsorientierung und TechnoWissenschaft
  • 15/09/2018 , University College London
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    The biology that was? Generational patterns as a medium of disunity
    "Unity and Disunity" – Biennial Conference 2018
  • 07/06/2017 , Wien
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    The 'newly emerging techno-sciences' and the contemporary funding regime
    Eu-SPRI Annual Conference „The Future of STI – The Future of STI Policy”
  • 13/10/2016 , Bergen
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    "Systems biology is the worst label of all." Identity and community under techno-scientific conditions
    8th Annual S.Net meeting: The Co-Production of Emerging Bodies, Politics and Technologies
  • 13/10/2016 , Bergen
    Helge Torgersen,  Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Options for technology assessment in a techno-scientific innovation regime
    8th Annual S.Net meeting: The Co-Production of Emerging Bodies, Politics and Technologies
  • 02/09/2016 , Barcelona
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    "I am a Biochemist by Training": identity in systems biology
    4s/EASST Conference 2016: Science and technology by other means – Exploring collectives, spaces and futures
  • 04/05/2016
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    "I am a Biochemist by Training": Identity and Community in Systems Biology
    Vienna STS Talk
  • 04/12/2015 , Wien
    Helge Torgersen,  Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Speculative responsibility and the hermeneutic turn in TA
    Living in Technoscientific Worlds. International Conference Celebrating the Launch of STS Austria
  • 04/12/2015
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Making Sense of Disciplines in Contemporary Life (Techno)Science
    Living in Technoscientific Worlds. International Conference Celebrating the Launch of STS Austria
  • 16/10/2015 , Liége
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    From trading zones at the micro-scale to trading zones 'at large': a discussion based on a case study of contemporary systems biology
    Trading Zones in Technological Societies. 20 years of SPIRAL Research Centre
  • 24/10/2014 , Vienna
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    The Power of Framing in Technology Governance
    second BIO·FICTION Science Art Film Festival
  • 18/09/2014 , Torun
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    What does systems biology stand for?
    EASST 2014 Conference – Situating Solidarities: social challenges for science and technology studies
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10/2014 - 09/2019

Project team