The digitalisation paradox of everyday scientific labour: How mundane knowledge work is amplified and diversified in the biosciences

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper examines how automation and digitalisation influence the way everyday scientific work practices are organised and conducted. Drawing on a practice-based study of the field of synthetic biology, the paper uses ethnographic, interview and survey data to offer a sociomaterial and relational perspective of technological change. As automation and digitalisation are deployed in research settings, our results show the emergence and persistence of what we call ‘mundane knowledge work’, including practices of checking, sharing and standardising data; and preparing, repairing and supervising laboratory robots. While these are subsidiary practices that are often invisible in comparison to scientific outputs used to measure performance, we find that mundane knowledge work constitutes a fundamental part of automated and digitalised biosciences, shaping scientists' working time and responsibilities. Contrary to expectations of the removal of such work by automation and digitalisation, we show that mundane work around data and robots persists through ‘amplification’ and ‘diversification’ processes. We argue that the persistence of mundane knowledge work suggests a digitalisation paradox in the context of everyday labour: while robotics and advanced data analytics aim at simplifying work processes, they also contribute to increasing their complexity in terms of number and diversity of tasks in creative, knowledge-intensive professions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104607
JournalResearch Policy
Volume52
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2022

Keywords

  • Automation
  • Digitalization
  • Labor
  • Practice
  • Synthetic biology
  • Work

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Biotechnology
  • Digital Futures

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