The bioeconomy is a political project envisioning an economic system based on principles of circularity, on products from biological resources such as plants or microorganisms and the use of biotechnologies. With its central narratives of sustainability and renewability, it claims to pursue a broad conversion of the economic production base away from fossil sources and towards bio-based materials and biological processes.
As the outlines of various bioeconomy sectors begin to take shape in countries such as Germany, its approach is characterized by the high-tech valorization of living nature with a strong focus on (bio)technological innovation in the life sciences including a convergence with several digital technologies. This high-tech vision and approach to this transformation (rather than other possibilities such as local, low-tech use of biomass) by driving actors and institutions leads us to specify that the bioeconomy is more precisely a high-tech bioeconomy.
BioMaterialities contributes to critical social science research in this area by investigating how various societal relations are being transformed in the high-tech bioeconomy. It does so from the particular perspective of inquiring into the material qualities of nature as the central productive base of the bioeonomy. From a social science perspective the materiality of nature can be approached in various ways both empirically and theoretically, from inquiry into its underlying material assumptions such as the renewability and the availability of biomass, to analyzing how the reproduction of organisms is being inserted into the spatial and temporal framework of the high-tech production.
BioMaterialities will study the transformations in production, reproduction and its political regulation through the lens of various commodities that can exemplify various processes that seem to be either characteristic of the high-tech bioeconomy, or that can shed light on its unfolding dynamics. These include its connection to other high-tech industries and technologies, the international division of labor in the production of goods, the hierarchies of knowledge that are in place or the discourses surrounding sustainability and renewability.
The project has three research goals:
- The (comparative) analysis of various commodities or commodity networks that incorporate bio-based materials or biological processes in three industries: The chemical processing industry; the food processing industry; and industries with important interfaces between bio-based processes and digital technologies.
- The study of how these bio-based commodities intersect with social relations and technologies a) related to the productive sphere, including the labor and valorization processes; b) related to the reproductive sphere, including consumption patterns, new practices regarding health and nutrition and new cultural ideas of what is sustainable; c) related to constellations that are shaping and being shaped by institutional political relations such as laws and regulations, but also by social struggles and political conflicts.
- A cross-cutting analysis of three normative dimensions associated with the high-tech bioeconomy: sustainability, political participation and inequality.