A lab of one's own. The DIYbio ideology of democracy and the convergence between autonomy and manual faculties
Author: Daphne Esquivel-Sada, email@example.com
University: Université de Montréal, Canada
Supervisor: Céline Lafontaine
Year of completion: 2017
Language of dissertation: French
Areas of Research: Science and Technology , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development
After decades of social struggles over the democratization of biotechnologies, societies from all corners of the globe witness the burgeoning of « Do-It-Yourself Biology » (DIYbio). In the wake of the open-source and DIY/Maker movements, DIYbio claims that every citizen should be able to freely appropriate and make bio-artefacts. Accordingly, it undertakes the democratization of biotechnologies by putting them in the hands of the public. This doctoral dissertation seeks to understand this democratic model, to grasp the social and cultural stakes of the intertwining between individual autonomy and bio-innovation on which it is grounded, as well as and its neoliberal echoes. At the crossroads between science studies and critical theory, this study delves into the DIYbio democracy through its ideological content, understood here not in a derogatory sense, but rather as a vision of the world. Each chapiter explores the hypothesis that the democratic model of DIYbio rests on a displacement of the ideal of political autonomy, its center of gravity moving from mental towards manual faculties. This gives rise to what I call the « autonomous laboratory », a notion analogous to the concept of public sphere. The ideology of the autonomous laboratory is examined in constant dialogue with its technoscientific alter ego, namely synthetic biology. This twofold perspective highlights how both the sociopolitical and the scientific domains share a common cherishing of manual faculties as the prime medium of their activities. Conceptually, this study draws on the epistemological foundations of the hacker culture. Through discourse analysis of qualitative interviews conducted with actors of the DIYbio network, of observations within Canadian DIYbio groups, and of documentary data , this dissertation brings to light six pillars of the ideological structure of the autonomous laboratory. These are: the sociocultural identities of the adherents—grouped as artists, techies and biotechnoscience academics—and their quest for individual autonomy in bio-experimental work; the ideal of a research model rooted on self-referentiality and normative self-determination, which fosters a bio-experimental laissez-faire process at the expense of social mediations (such as abstract knowledge, peer judgement, academic education) that ground the practice of science as a collective activity; the reliance of bio-experimental autonomy on the innovation regime; the technological mode of existence ascribed to living entities and the view of ethics as an individual responsible act of conduct; the democratization of intellectual property over biological entities; and lastly, the combination between a sociopolitical commitment to genetic engineering and a positivist representation of the public opposition to gene technologies. The conclusion suggests that the ideological cornerstones of the autonomous laboratory meet the exigencies of a “neoliberal democratization” of biotechnologies, and that the DIYbio hands-on approach to democracy reveals, all in all, a disengagement from deliberative democracy biddings. Rather than the ideal ethics of discussion, it favors the open-source hacker ethos ingrained in the individual autonomy on innovation.