Convergence Work: on brining society, genomics, and social sciences together.

A new on-line dossier in EMBO reports [LINK]

The governance of modern science requires a heightened sensitivity to societal issues in relation to, and in particular within, the life sciences. Governments, research funding agencies and industry seem to have learnt, to some extent, that what was once fittingly called 'organized irresponsibility' must be transformed into 'organized responsibility' if scientific research, new therapies and diagnostics, improved health care, and new consumer products and services are to stand any chance of being accepted by society. Since a couple of years, projects and entire institutes have been launched that have the task of searching for opportunities and carrying out work at the manifold boundaries of genomics and society. The task is difficult. Convergence does not mean to merge different points of view, but rather to approximate perspectives, issues and practices from various fields.

Peter Stegmaier, member of STePS, has in September 2008 organized workshop, held in Nijmegen, investigating this field of cross-disciplinary practice. He considers this a contribution to the study of social sciences, intermediary institutions in science governance and of governance-in-action. He has also editied an article series in the Nature journal EMBO reports from February to July 2009. The papers from this workshop are now available in an on-line dossier.

It has also been asked how much 'boundary maintenance' is necessary to assert academic authority, or to establish a career as a 'convergence worker'. Is there a growing job market for people with cross-competence, and what sorts of knowledges and skills are necessary? Moreover, it is important to explicate the normative standpoints and assumptions that underlie and support current society and genomics initiatives; conversely, it is also crucial to explicate the values and norms that the convergence workers, as individuals, use during communication in the field.

This series of original and thought-provoking articles highlights 'convergence work' that aims to bring the life sciences — in this case, genomics — nearer to the social sciences and the humanities and vice versa. They introduce to the new multi- and transdisciplinary developments taking place in the field of 'society and genomics'. The articles explore the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI, or aspects, ELSA) surrounding genomics research, present the results from a wide range of projects, and/or critically analyze the future of 'convergence work'. The articles were published in consecutive issues of EMBO reports between February and July 2009.

List of the the contributions:

Peter Stegmaier The rock 'n' roll of knowledge co-production

Roald Verhoeff, Dirk Jan Boerwinkel and Arend Jan Waarlo Genomics in school

Jane Calvert and Paul Martin The role of social scientists in synthetic biology

Bart Penders, Rein Vos and Klasien Horstman Sensitization: reciprocity and reflection in scientific practice

Maud Radstake, Eefje van den Heuvel-Vromans, Ninne Jeucken, Koen Dortmans and Annemiek Nelis Societal dialogue needs more than public engagement

Emma K Frow A forum for 'doing society and genomics'

Joop Ouborg Two-way communication between genomics and society. Science & Society Series on Convergence Research

Daan Schuurbiers and Erik Fisher Lab-scale intervention

Bram De Jonge and Niels Louwaars Valorizing science: whose values?

Hub Zwart and Annemiek Nelis What is ELSA genomics?

Arie Rip Futures of ELSA

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