Synthetic Biology and the Role of Civil Society Organizations, Shaping the Agenda and Arenda of the Public Debate

Dirk Stemerding, Bart Walhout, Rinie van Est

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


In this chapter we discuss the role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in current and future public debates about synthetic biology as a new and emerging science and technology. We see CSOs as potentially important intermediaries between scientific and governance institutions on the one hand and wider publics on the other hand. In this role CSOs have already contributed to the agenda of the emerging debate about synthetic biology. However, the way in which CSOs and wider publics may be involved in future debates about synthetic biology will also depend on the framing of the issues at stake by governmental and scientific actors in these debates. To make this clear we refer in this chapter to the lessons learnt from earlier debates about genetic engineering and nanotechnology which show a notable difference between governmental and scientific approaches to the implications of new science and technology, focusing on issues of risk and regulation, and the activities of CSOs, emphasizing broader societal issues. This tension is also apparent from our analysis of the agenda of the emerging synbio debate and from the results presented in this chapter of a survey in which we have interviewed a variety of CSOs about their visions on synthetic biology. In the light of this tension we also discuss in this chapter the conditions that should be met for a constructive role of CSOs in future public debates about synthetic biology.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSynthetic Biology, The technoscience and its societal consequences
EditorsMarkus Schmidt, Alexander Kelle, Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra, Huib J. de Vriend
Place of PublicationNetherlands
Number of pages185
ISBN (Print)978-90-481-2678-1
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series



  • METIS-262217
  • IR-101868


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