Gene editing of livestock : Sociotechnical imaginaries of scientists and breeding companies in the Netherlands

Middelveld, Senna; Macnaghten, Phil


Gene editing technologies allow users to make in vivo (live) changes to an organism’s DNA. Advances in the field of gene editing have made it arguably more precise, efficient, flexible, and cheaper compared to previous technologies. This has generated an upsurge of interest in gene editing and its governance, including in livestock applications. Although gene editing in livestock promises benefits, it also raises technical, ethical, and societal questions alongside the prospect of (radical) transformation. Since the technology is still to be developed into marketable products, it is the designs, visions, or what we term “sociotechnical imaginaries” that shape gene editing technologies and that represent an important site for sociological inquiry. In this article, based on an analysis of interviews with breeding company representatives and agricultural scientists in the Netherlands, we analyze the assumptions, values, and commitments that underpin their imaginaries. These imaginaries matter, since their negotiation will help structure how the technology develops and how it will subsequently transform livestock and human–animal relations. In our analysis, we analyze the discursive practices from the interview data distilling three sociotechnical imaginaries that shape and underpin how respondents discuss gene editing in livestock. Elaborating the sociotechnical imaginary concept to make it more amenable to the emerging dynamics of gene editing in livestock, we show how imaginaries need to be studied “in place” and in terms of “material practices.” Even though each of the imaginaries frame livestock gene editing as desirable and beneficial, they nevertheless have differential effects in how they structure industry, researcher, government, and consumer/citizen relations. We conclude by discussing how and why sociotechnical imaginaries on livestock gene editing matter and their implications for governance and research.