What Counts as the Environment in Epigenetics? Knowledge and Ignorance in the Entrepreneurial University

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Epigenetics research is well-known for its attention to the ‘environment,’ as it explores how what surrounds the genes impacts gene regulation. In addition, epigenetics has commonly been described as the new socio-biology capable of capturing how the broadly defined social environment, structured by social inequalities, shapes biology. Yet, this vision is not realised in the context of the entrepreneurial university. In the two laboratories where ethnographic fieldwork was conducted, scientists focus their research on narrow articulations of the notion of environment, around individual ‘lifestyle’ or micro-environments within which tumours develop. While the entrepreneurial university is characterised by multiple authoritative agencies evaluating and legitimising research, the narrowing of research priorities in epigenetics can be explained by the overlap of multiple scales of environment in which such authoritative agencies exercise authority: a disciplinary environment with peer-reviewed journals, an institutional environment with research managers, a market environment with funding bodies and commercial firms. In a general context of precarity, these environmental scales successively shape the content of research, by imposing filters on researchers’ practices, while implementing incentives encouraging certain forms of research. In particular, it favours a certain type of epigenetics research that is individualised and clinically centred, while leaving unexplored the social determinants of health and its biological corollary. This article adds to existing scholarship by, first, operationalising the broad concept of entrepreneurial university through the analysis of authoritative agencies and their role on research practices, and second, by providing empirical evidence of the interplay between research content and research environment.
TidsskriftScience as Culture
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)311-333
Antal sider23
StatusUdgivet - 2022

ID: 298646148