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Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited$
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Catelijne Coopman, Janet Vertesi, Michaeland Lynch, and Steve Woolgar

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262525381

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262525381.001.0001

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Rendering Machinic Life

Rendering Machinic Life

Chapter:
(p.153) 8 Rendering Machinic Life
Source:
Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited
Author(s):

Natasha Myers

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262525381.003.0008

Practitioners in the life sciences make extensive use of machine analogies to describe molecular structures. This chapter offers an ethnographic account of a particular family of machine analogies in molecular biology, drawing materials from the history of protein science and twenty-first century research and teaching contexts. The analysis focuses on protein modelers’ rendering practices. Rendering proteins as machines is described as a craft practice that demands creativity and dexterity with both words and model building materials. Practitioners must also cultivate machine knowledge as they learn to “put machines to work” in living organisms. Approaching machinic models in this way makes it possible to understand how practitioners use such models to intervene in molecular worlds in effective ways. In a more cautionary mode, the chapter also draws critical attention to moments when machine analogies collapse in upon their referents and literalize molecules as machines.

Keywords:   Biological engineering, Protein modelling, Machine analogies, Rendering practices

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