This paper reports preliminary findings from an inductive study of a regulatory development process. Between 2012 and 2015, Canadian regulators consulted with scientists, techno-legal experts, and managers in regulated organizations to develop a regulatory framework – regulations, policies, and programs – to govern the use of pathogens, viruses, and toxins in laboratories.
Historically the regulation of scientific work with biological materials focused on worker safety and the public health risks of accidental release of materials. This recent regulatory project expanded the focus to include security risks located in scientists’ tacit skills, knowledge, and collaborations. I analyze how scientists and techno-legal experts influenced biosafety requirements by mobilizing their detailed knowledge of the materials, daily scientific practice, and organizational constraints. I compare this with their relative failure to negotiate biosecurity requirements. This analysis shows that conjecture about scientists’ motives and morality – produced by an emerging transnational biosecurity dialogue – supplants scientists’ knowledge of their community.
Overall, the findings demonstrate how incontrovertible expertise of a task jurisdiction may be an insufficient resource to maintain control of social closure processes. More generally, these findings raise questions about how emerging risk professionals who collect and analyze information about professional practices (actuaries, intelligence officers, risk managers) may disrupt professional efforts to control the conditions under which they work.
Professor Ruthanne Huising
Professor of Management and Organizations, EMLyon Business School
Ruthanne Huising is an ethnographer of work and organizations. She studies how organizations respond to external pressures to change and the implications of these changes for professional control and expertise. Across her various projects she has observed how organizations accommodate regulatory change (Human Pathogens and Toxins Act), auditing fads (Environmental Management Systems), and efficiency efforts (Ontario perioperative coaching program) and the complex responses of scientists, biosafety officers, health physicists, surgeons, nurses, and administrators.
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