Bio-Objects and their Boundaries

Governing Matters at the Intersection of Society, Politics and Science

Project collaborators: Ulrike Felt, Ingrid Metzler, Niki Vermeulen

COST/Action IS1001 - 12/2010-12/2014

Bio-Objects and their Boundaries

In this COST Action a network of European scholars across a ragen of disciplines develops the new concept of ‘bio-objects’, which refers to the categories, materialities and processes that are central to the configuring of “life”. New developments in the biosciences - especially through the molecularisation of life – are increasing the knowledge of the biological, thereby generating new bio-objects, such as genetically modified organisms, pluritipotent stem cells oustide the body, sythetic biology, etc., These bio-objects are fundamentally transforming what life itself means and where its boundaries lie and (re-)shape healthcare and other aspects of our society.

Within the COST Action these bio-objects are given an integrated and sustained examination. Three Working Groups are developing novel interdisciplinary tools that will improve our understanding of bio-objects, their production, circulation and governance. The core questions answered through this COST Action are: how are the boundaries between human and animal, organic and non-organic, living and the non-living opened up?; how do bio-objects change social relations?; how does the public-private interface shape the making of bio-objects?; and how does the governance of bio-objects perform at different levels, from the level of the European Union and its Member States to the sub-political level, and finally in clinics and laboratories? The Action will develop models of processes of bio-objectification, the policy challenges and political and social resources needed to address this.

The Department for the Social Studies of Science of the University of Vienna takes part in this Action because it has transformation processes in and through life sciences research as a main line of investigation. This is expressed in various projects, concerning research practices in life sciences, ecology research and obesity. These projects fit very well into the COST Action on bio-objects as they all explicitly reflect on the ways in which science, society and politics interact in the realm of the life sciences. More specifically these projects are examining various levels of research objects in the biosciences, varying from genes, to (model)organisms, human individuals and populations. They analyse how matter and conceptions of life become intertwined in the process of knowledge creation, and by exploring how this interacts with societal and political matters of concern, they are also reflecting on questions of governance of life and science.


Ingrid Metzler