Enterprising environments: Knowledge production in epigenetics in two British laboratories

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandlingForskning

Epigenetics is the study of the processes that control gene expression but do not entail a change in DNA sequence. This is a growing field in the world of bioscience and has implications for the understanding of various diseases, from metabolic disorders to cancers. Epigenetics research highlights the importance of environmental factors which can impact gene regulation by leaving marks on the epigenome. This thesis provides an STS-inspired empirical and critical account of epigenetics research, through an analysis of scientists’ practices in the field of epigenetics and following the notion of environment.

I started this PhD by asking how ‘the environment’ in epigenetics is conceptualised and enacted, with a review and synthesis of the epigenetics literature. Then, drawing upon findings from an ethnographic study carried out in two laboratories conducting epigenetics research in the United Kingdom (UK), I analysed how scientists make and maintain knowledge in epigenetics. My initial findings led me to conclude that instead of solely asking what the environment in epigenetics is, I should also ask what the notion of environment does in this field. As suggested by my data, I explored the notion of environment as a vehicle that enables research teams to do what they do.

The two laboratories studied are embedded in highly ranked, research-led universities in the UK, where Research Excellence Frameworks (REF) treat research as a business that ought to be audited, tightly managed and rendered profitable. My findings point out that, despite strongly pronounced differences in research aims and methods, both laboratories regarded epigenetics as a profitable research area that can be fostered to produce scientific, health and wealth value. In my thesis, I show how the laboratories make their epigenetics research valuable in different respects by enacting a set of entrepreneurial practices. I demonstrate how they turn their key resources, such as their expertise, scientific credibility, technologies or data, into assets that can be mobilised within and outside their labs towards the creation or extraction of different forms of value. These knowledge production processes entail building and maintaining assets, and then putting them to productive use in a variety of projects to gain revenue. This detailed account of research practices, beyond its relevance to the case of epigenetics, contributes to our understanding of scientific knowledge production within 21st century universities, marked by the increasing market-oriented nature of research and the audit-driven nature of research governance.
StatusUdgivet - 1 jan. 2019
Eksternt udgivetJa

ID: 223128549