Taking Roles in Interdisciplinary Collaborations: Reflections on Working in Post-ELSI Spaces in the UK Synthetic Biology Community

  • Andrew S Balmer
  • Jane Calvert
  • Claire Marris
  • Susan Molyneux-Hodgson
  • Emma Frow
  • Matthew Kearnes
  • Kate Bulpin
  • Pablo Schyfter
  • Adrian MacKenzie
  • Paul Martin
Keywords: ELSI, post-ELSI, synthetic biology, collaboration, collaborative turn, interdisciplinarity


Based on criticism of the “ethical, legal and social implications” (ELSI) paradigm, researchers in science and technology studies (STS) have begun to create and move into “post-ELSI” spaces. In this paper, we pool our experiences of working towards collaborative practices with colleagues in engineering and science disciplines in the field of synthetic biology. We identify a number of different roles that we have taken, been assumed to take, or have had foisted upon us as we have sought to develop post-ELSI practices. We argue that the post-ELSI situation is characterised by the demands placed on STS researchers and other social scientists to fluctuate between roles as contexts shift in terms of power relations, affective tenor, and across space and over time. This leads us to posit four orientations for post-ELSI collaborative practices that could help establish more fruitful negotiations around these roles.