Biofacts – A New Research Initiative

What are biofacts and what are the implications for the industries such as agricultural and food? A research project in Germany, “The Language of Biofacts“, is an interdisciplinary alliance which is aiming to promote communication on biofacts in order to expose problems in the field and make them more understandable and open to discussion and communication.

Biofacts are hybrid objects that, like the cloned sheep and the genetically modified tomato, undermine the traditional distinction between inanimate technology and living nature and thereby cause social conflicts again and again. Examples are the rise of persistent controversies such as the registration of patents and the effect of releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment. Here, the distinction between man-made objects and those made by nature has become blurred. This is the reason for the new term ‘biofact’.

Biofacts, however, remain ambiguous objects because the difference between their technical qualities and those which are contributed by nature remains largely invisible. Many discussions and political negotiations are framed by uncertainty therefore making ongoing dialogue difficult.

The objective of the research project is to work out a theoretically grounded and empirically thorough framework for the analysis and the understanding of biofacts as socio-technical objects. A better understanding of biofacts will help contribute to their potential role in modern technical societies, on the one hand, and to a better understanding of the social conflicts they give rise to in important sectors such as agriculture and food.

The objective of the research group, “The Language of Biofacts”, is to develop–using the example of high-tech plants–a theoretically and empirically sound framework for the analysis and comprehension of biofacts as socio-technical objects in modern societies.

As an interdisciplinary alliance of scientists–from history, philosophy, sociology and industrial design–the research association comprises six sub-projects. The scientists are based at the Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, the Technical University Braunschweig and the Technical University Munich. The coordination of the research association is situated at the Technical University Munich.

Photo credit: Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).



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