Synthetic: An Interview

Sophia Roosth’s wonderful new book follows researchers clustered around MIT beginning in 2003 who named themselves synthetic biologists. A historically informed anthropological analysis based on many years of ethnographic work, Synthetic: How Life Got Made (University of Chicago Press, 2017) offers a fascinating account of the changing relationship between making and understanding in the life sciences, and of the metamorphoses of life itself as an analytic object. The chapters of the book consider traditional ethnographic conventions as they manifest in the case of synthetic biology and reflect the forms of life being built by the synthetic biologists: religion, kinship, economy and property, labor, household, origin tales. Interludes between the chapters function as keyword entries, each probing earlier articulations of what it meant to be synthetic in different contexts, from the synthetic fabrics industry to Soviet synthetic dance to music, chemistry, and much more. It is a beautifully written and totally absorbing study, and you can listen to us talking about it for the New Books in STS podcast by clicking this link.