Workshop 1: Emotion and imagination in laboratory practices
Organised by Trine Antonsen, Norce Norwegian Research Institute
Practices are fundamental for a meaningful and ethical relationship with the material world. Our interests in this workshop are in the skills and practices involved in the advances in biotechnology, particularly those that concerns our food culture. For most people, the laboratory is an invisible part of the food chain at best known through representations in the media. However, similar to the field, the barn or the slaughterhouse, the laboratory is a place for interaction between humans and other organisms. And it is a place for choice with respect to these relationships, which, following a virtue theory approach, makes it a matter of ethics.
In our experience, in biotechnology laboratory practices, researchers are attentive to the bacteria, cells and the genome in ways that can be best described using a language of imagination, metaphor and attachment: agency, integrity, knowledge, negotiation, care and feeling. During a three-year research project on gene technology (“ReWrite”), we have witnessed researchers’ empathic outbursts upon noticing a dying colony of cells, frustration over slow growth and failure to understand the cells’ needs. We found the researchers talk about spending time with the cells, carefully getting to know them by attending to their responses to the experiments. We have discussed cell communication and the cells relationships to each other, as well as the status of the cell in relation to the organism in which they origin.
Similar practices are reported in Evelyn Fox Keller’s biography of the pioneering work of American scientist Barbara McClintock. More recently, Calvert and Szymanski’s work in synthetic biology and yeast reveal that researchers do not have a straightforwardly exploitative relationship to the organisms that they work on even in engineering whole organisms. The long history of interrelatedness with some species, they argue, opens for an affective but conflicted relationship.
• If the attention to and care for the organisms is the inspirational and ethical source of practicing science, how is this affected by, and how can this be reconciled with strict rule following that is required by the scientific method?
• If ethics is not separable from scientific practice, and exploring the other with attention, emotion and imagination is what starts ethics off, do we need to change or adapt scientific method, scientific dissemination, or the very foundational values and ideas of science?
• How does attention to methods of attachment impact the stories we tell about science, the trust we have in science and our scientists, how science is perceived in the public that such experiences are not communicated?
Researchers working with the intersection between lab research, development and responsible research and innovation. Research institutions, producers, regulators, and policy makers concerned with public trust in science and her products. Ethicists concerned with the sources of normative practices.
Panel of discussants:
1. Trine Antonsen, NORCE Norwegian Research Institute (corresponding chair): Ethical significance of emotion in laboratory practices.
2. Jane Calvert, University of Edinburgh: Feeling for the (micro-)organism.
3. Erik Lundestad, UiT The Arctic university of Norway: Anthropomorphism and epistemic standards in science
4. Torill Blix, NORCE Norwegian Research Institute: Human-salmon relations
5. Sigfrid Kjeldaas, UiT The Arctic University of Norway : The post-colonial
6. Hedda S. Bjerklund, NORCE Norwegian Research Institute: Plant consciousness
Chair: Anne I. Myhr, Norce Norwegian Research Institute