Project

The social dynamics of contemporary life sciences

Goal: This project deals with the socio-cultural dynamics of contemporary life sciences in the interface between science, policy and wider social issues. Here dealt with are such examples of chemical biology, natural products chemistry, micro-biology and structural genomics.

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5

Project log

Masato Fukushima
added a research item
Developing a new research instrument for scientific discovery requires evidence of its validity amidst the web of existing instruments. This study explores the case of developing atomic force microscopy (AFM) for biological use. Despite the early expectation of a major breakthrough in the life sciences, its development has encountered multiple difficulties in terms of proving its novelty. To understand the obstacles, this paper proposes the framework of the "instrumental matrix," which focuses on the interaction of multiple instruments in terms of both collaboration and competition. Methodological efforts for the real-time observation of this process of development in laboratories using two different strategies, namely object-centered and instrument-centered, are compared and examined in terms of defining the research object, the structure of rival instruments, and commitment from the industry involved. The reason each strategy to make AFM dominate rival instruments has failed can be attributed to different values attached to "seeing the surface" in the different epistemic cultures of physics and biology. This eventually led to the underdevelopment of AFM's capacity other than imaging amidst the competition.
Masato Fukushima
added a research item
This article explores the potential fruitfulness of an encounter between psychoanalysis and science and technology studies (STS) by examining Perry’s (The Human Nature of Science: Researchers at Work in Psychiatry, The Free Press, New York, 1966) book, and its intellectual and socio-cultural background. From his close observation of experimental LSD therapy in a psychiatric research center in the USA, Perry seminally claimed—a decade ahead of similar claims in STS—the social construction of scientific theory. His work, being idiosyncratic as a hybrid of STS and psychoanalysis in terms of both his research subject and research framework, later sank into complete oblivion. Examined here, first, is the parallel development of the reflexivity concept in both STS and psychoanalysis: Harry S. Sullivan’s pivotal role in introducing sociological reflexivity into the latter is detailed. Second, the predicament of mental institutions in the post-war USA is identified as the important milieu that allowed such diverse approaches as Erving Goffman’s Asylums. The highlighted potential of Perry’s work vis-à-vis contemporary STS is its reflexive ethnography that combines research ethics with emotional dynamics in situ. This contribution is contrasted with its limited applicability to large-scale social issues, another lesson we learn from this historical reflection. (*The full text available now)
Masato Fukushima
added a research item
This is a paper discussing the problem of the way how the practitioners in situ understand and carry out a variety of theoretical frameworks on innovation processーin this case, drug discoveryーfor the discussion of the interrelation between STS and innovation theory. A case taken from a chemical biology lab.
Masato Fukushima
added a research item
This is a detailed ethnographical study on the everyday practice of risk management in psychiatric wards in a small mental hospital at the outskirt of Tokyo, Japan. Attention was given to the improvising process of constructing the situated meanings of risk by the ward staff for various types of occasions where both the staff and the inmates were involved, such as the multiple meaning of putting the patients in what is called the protective room.
Masato Fukushima
added 3 research items
This article analyzes the emergent new discipline known as chemical biology as part of the rapidly developing postgenomic research agenda. Despite chemical biology’s academic as well as political significance in terms of its expected contribution to drug discovery, the international STS community has failed to pay serious attention to its dynamism thus far. The objective of this paper is to fill this gap by conducting a case study on the rapid formation of the Japanese Association of Chemical Biology, which is a global pioneer, in 2006. By bridging different theoretical concerns, namely laboratory studies in STS and the study of policy process, particularly the theory of policy window by Kingdon, this paper analyzes how three different levels—laboratory practices, community of scientists, and policy process—are mutually constitutive, and why both Japanese scientists and policy makers believe that chemical biology is important both in science and policy. This paper will substantiate the all-encompassing notion of coproductionism given by Jasanoff, by emphasizing more specific instances such as the role of policy entrepreneurs, international competition, and sense of scientific tradition, which are crucial for enabling coproduction.
The recent declining rate in the discovery of new drugs has made natural product (NP) research—the traditional method of using living organisms to acquire drug candidates—regain its importance, despite the fact that it was once regarded as an obsolete method in the face of the exalted expectations about emerging new approaches since the 1990s. The concept of ‘resilience’ in scientific research provides a clue for understanding the dynamism of this rebound in research. Four elements may be highlighted in the context of microbial NP research in Japan: first, ‘institutional precondition’ is essential in the sense that the research must be rooted in an institutional complex involving academia, drug companies, and national policies. Second, the dual nature of the ‘attack from rival innovations’ including semiotic labeling and technical advances is examined. Third, four approaches to NP research are observed as responses to such challenges: (1) reevaluating the naturalness of NPs; (2) adopting various technical elements from their rivals; (3) shifting the emphasis from the practical pursuit of drug candidates to biological research using bioprobes; and (4) examining the uneven degree of resilience between academia and industry. Fourth and finally, NPs are viewed as an icon of cultural practice. This view may eventually open the door to questions about the meaning of ‘tradition’ in the context of general contemporary scientific research.
This study focuses on the 5-year Protein 3000 Project launched in 2002, the largest biological project in Japan. The project aimed to overcome Japan’s alleged failure to contribute fully to the Human Genome Project, by determining 3000 protein structures, 30 percent of the global target. Despite its achievement of this goal, the project was fiercely criticized in various sectors of society and was often branded an awkward failure. This article tries to solve the mystery of why such failure discourse was prevalent. Three explanatory factors are offered: first, because some goals were excluded during project development, there was a dynamic of failed expectations; second, structural genomics, while promoting collaboration with the international community, became an ‘anti-boundary object’, only the absence of which bound heterogeneous domestic actors; third, there developed an urgent sense of international competition in order to obtain patents on such structural information.
Masato Fukushima
added a project goal
This project deals with the socio-cultural dynamics of contemporary life sciences in the interface between science, policy and wider social issues. Here dealt with are such examples of chemical biology, natural products chemistry, micro-biology and structural genomics.