School of Social and Political Science

Jane Calvert

Job Title

Professor of Science and Technology Studies

Research interests

Research interests


I work in the area of the sociology of the life sciences, and my current research focuses on attempts to engineer living things in the emerging field of synthetic biology. I have a long-standing interest in interdisciplinary collaborations of all sorts. I draw on the sociology and anthropology of science, the philosophy of biology, and science policy in my work.

I have an undergraduate degree in Human Sciences from the University of Sussex and an MSc in the History and Philosophy of Science from the London School of Economics. I did my doctoral work at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex, on the idea of 'basic research'. I then worked as a research fellow at the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) at the University of Exeter. I started at the University of Edinburgh in 2007.


Keywords: Science and technology studies, Sociology of science, Philosophy of biology, Science policy, Engineering studies, Synthetic biology, Systems biology, Interdisciplinary collaborations

My research interests include:

The engineering of living things

  • the uptake of engineering ideas and practices in the life sciences
  • design, evolution and values in the engineering of biology
  • sociological/philosophical analysis of engineering 'life'

Interdisciplinary collaborations

  • between scientists and engineers
  • between scientists, engineers and social scientists
  • between scientists, engineers, social scientists and artists and designers

STS and science policy

  • the governance of emerging technologies
  • the 'normative turn' and policy engagement in STS

New book 2024

I've just published a book A Place for Science and Technology Studies (follow link for Open Access) which reflects on my research on synthetic biology over the last 15 years in these different places:

Current projects

Completed projects (selection)

Other research activities

Policy engagement

I have been involved in several policy groups including the Nuffield Council of Bioethics Working Party on Emerging Biotechnologies, the BBSRC’s BioScience for Society Strategy Advisory Panel, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Synthetic Biology.


Calvert, J (2024) A Place for Science and Technology Studies: Observation, Intervention and Collaboration Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Calvert, J (2022) Reflection. In BioStories: Re-envisioning Relationships with NatureReport produced by Faber Futures, London

Szymanski, E, Smith, R and Calvert J (2021) ‘Responsible research and innovation meets multispecies studies: why RRI needs to be a more-than-human exerciseJournal of Responsible Innovation doi: 10.1080/23299460.2021.1906040

Szymanski, E, Bates, N, Cachat, E, Calvert, J, Catts, O, Nelson, L, Rosser, S, Smith, R, Zurr, I (2020) ‘Crossing kingdoms: How can art open up new ways of thinking about science?’ Frontiers in Bioengineering & Biotechnology doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2020.00715

Calvert, J and Szymanski, E (2020) ‘A feeling for the (micro)organism? Yeastiness, organism agnosticism and whole genome synthesisNew Genetics and Society 39(4): 385-403

Marris, C and Calvert, J (2020) ‘Science and technology studies in policyScience, Technology, & Human Values 45 (1): 34-61

Smith, R, Scott, D, Kamwendo, Z and Calvert, J (2019) An Agenda for Responsible Research and Innovation in ERA CoBioTech Swindon, UK: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

Szymanski, E and Calvert, J (2018) ‘Designing with living systems in the synthetic yeast projectNature Communications 9 (2950): 1-6

Calvert, J (2018) ‘Wedging’ in Lury, C, Clough, P, Chung, U, Fensham, R, Lammes, S, Last, A, Michael, M and Uprichard, E (Eds) Routledge Handbook of Interdisciplinary Research Methods London: Routledge

Calvert, J (2018) ‘The two sides of STS: reflection on an interview with Arie RipEngaging Science, Technology, and Society 4: 197-199

Scott, D, Berry, D and Calvert, J (2018) ‘Synthetic Biology’, in Gibbon, S, Prainsack, B, Hilgartner, S and Lamoreaux, J (Eds) Routledge Handbook of Genomics, Health and Society Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 300-307

Calvert, J and Schyfter, P (2017) ‘What can science and technology studies learn from art and design? reflections on Synthetic AestheticsSocial Studies of Science 47 (2): 195-215

Balmer, A, Calvert, J, Marris, C, Molyneux-Hodgson, S, Frow, E, Kearnes, M, Bulpin, K, Schyfter, P, Mackenzie, A and Martin, P (2016) ‘Five rules of thumb for post-ELSI interdisciplinary collaborations’ Journal of Responsible Innovation 3 (1): 73-80

Balmer, A, Calvert, J, Marris, C, Molyneux-Hodgson, S, Frow, E, Kearnes, M, Bulpin, K, Schyfter, P, Mackenzie, A and Martin, P (2015) ‘Taking roles in interdisciplinary collaborations: reflections on working in post-ELSI spaces in the UK synthetic biology communityScience and Technology Studies 28 (3): 3-25

Schyfter, P and Calvert, J (2015) ‘Intentions, expectations and institutions: engineering the future of synthetic biology in the US and the UK’ Science as Culture 24 (4): 359–383

Calvert, J and Frow, E (2015) ‘The synthetic yeast project as a topic for social scientific investigationMacquarie Law Review 15: 27-37

Ginsberg, D, Calvert, J, Schyfter, P, Elfick, A and Endy, D (2014) Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Calvert, J (2014) 'Governing in the context of uncertainty' commentary in the special edition 'Synthetic future: can we create what we want out of synthetic biology?' Hastings Center Report 44(6): S31-S33

Calvert, J (2013) 'Collaboration as a research method? Navigating social scientific involvement in synthetic biology' in Doorn, N, Schuurbiers, D, van de Poel, I, Gorman, M (eds) Early engagement and new technologies: Opening up the laboratory Dordrecht: Springer

Calvert, J (2013) 'Systems biology, big science and grand challenges' BioSocieties 8 (4): 466-479

Calvert, J and Frow, E (2013) 'Social dimensions of microbial synthetic biology' in Harwood, C and Wipat, N (eds) Microbial Synthetic Biology (Methods in Microbiology Series, Volume 40) Burlington: Elsevier Academic Press, 69-86

Frow, E and Calvert, J (2013) 'Opening up the future(s) of synthetic biology' Futures 48: 32-43

Schyfter, P, Frow E and Calvert, J (2013) ‘Synthetic biology: making biology into an engineering discipline’ Guest editorial for special edition of Engineering Studies 5 (1): 1-5

Frow, E and Calvert, J (2013) '"Can simple biological systems be built from standardized interchangeable parts?" Negotiating biology and engineering in a synthetic biology competition' Engineering Studies 5 (1): 42-58

Calvert, J (2013) 'Engineering biology and society: reflections on synthetic biology' Science, Technology & Society 18 (3): 405-420

Calvert, J (2012) 'Ownership and sharing in synthetic biology: a 'diverse ecology' of the open and the proprietary?' BioSocieties 7 (2): 169-187

Wiek, A, Guston, D, Frow, E and Calvert, J (2012) 'Sustainability and anticipatory governance in synthetic biology' International Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable Development 3 (2): 25-38

Calvert, J (2012) 'Systems biology, synthetic biology and data-driven research: a commentary on Krohs, Callebaut, and O’Malley and Soyer' Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1): 81–84

Bostanci. A, Calvert, J and Joly, PB (2012) 'Regulating gene regulation: Patenting small RNAs' Intellectual Property and Emerging Technologies: The New Biology Rimmer, M and McLennan, A (eds) Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Calvert, J and Fujimura, J (2011) 'Calculating life? Duelling discourses in interdisciplinary systems biology' Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 42 (2): 155-163 (selected in 2018 as one of the top 20 articles in the journal in the last 20 years)

Bonaccorsi, A, Calvert J, and Joly, PB (2011) 'From protecting texts to protecting objects in biotechnology and software. A tale of changes of ontological assumptions in intellectual property protection' Economy and Society, 40 (4): 611-639

Calvert, J and Joly, PB (2011) 'How did the gene become a chemical compound? Shifting ontologies of the gene and the patenting of DNA' Social Science Information, 50 (2): 157-177

Calvert, J (2010) 'Systems biology, interdisciplinarity and disciplinary identity' in Parker, J.N., Vermeulen, N & Penders, B. (eds.) Collaboration in the New Life Sciences Aldershot: Ashgate

Calvert, J (2010) 'Synthetic biology: constructing nature?' Sociological Review, 58 (s1): 95-112

Haddow, G, Bruce, A, Calvert, J, Harmon, SHE and Marsden, W (2010) 'Not "human" enough to be human but not "animal" enough to be animal - the case of the HFEA, cybrids and xenotransplantation in the UK', New Genetics and Society, 29 (1): 3-17

Calvert, J and Fujimura, J (2009) 'Calculating life? A sociological perspective on systems biology' EMBO reports, 10 (S1): S46-S49

Calvert, J and Martin, P (2009) 'The role of social scientists in synthetic biology' EMBO reports, 10 (3): 201-204

Calvert, J (2008) 'The commodification of emergence: systems biology, synthetic biology and intellectual property' BioSocieties, Vol. 3, Issue 4, pp.385-400

O'Malley, M, Powell, A, Davies, J and Calvert, J (2008) 'Knowledge-making distinctions in synthetic biology' BioEssays, Vol. 30 No.1 pp.57-65

Bostanci, A and Calvert, J (2008) 'Invisible genomes: the genomics revolution and patenting practice' Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 39, pp.109-119

Calvert, J (2007) 'Patenting genomic objects: genes, genomes, function and information' Science as Culture, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp.207-223

Powel, A, O'Malley, M, Müller-Wille, S, Calvert, J and Dupré, J (2007) 'Disciplinary Baptisms: A comparison of the naming stories of genetics, molecular biology, genomics and systems biology' History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Vol. 29, pp.5-32

O'Malley, MA, Calvert, J, and Dupre J (2007) 'The study of socioethical issues in systems biology' American Journal of Bioethics, Vol.7 No.4 pp.67-78

Calvert, J (2007) Goodbye blue skies? The concept of 'basic research' and its role in a changing funding environment Chinese translation, Wuhan University of Technology Publishing House: Wuhan, China

Calvert, J (2006) 'What's special about basic research?' Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol.31, Issue 2, pp.199-220

O'Malley, M, Bostanci, A and Calvert, J (2005) 'Whole Genome Patenting' Nature Reviews Genetics, Vol.6, Issue 6, pp.502-506

Hauskeller, C and Calvert, J (2004) ‘The meanings of genomics’ Guest editorial for special edition of New Genetics and Society Vol.23, No.3, pp.251-254

Calvert, J (2004) 'Genomic patenting and the utility requirement' New Genetics and Society, Vol.23, Issue3, pp.301-312

Calvert, J and Senker, J (2004) 'Biotechnology innovation systems in two small countries: a comparison of Portugal and Ireland' Science and Public Policy, Vol.31, Issue 5, pp.359-370

Calvert, J (2004) 'The idea of 'basic research' in language and practice' Minerva, Vol.42, Issue 3, pp.251-268

Calvert, J and Patel, P (2003) 'University-Industry Research Collaborations in the UK: bibliometric trends' Science and Public Policy, Vol. 30, Issue 2, pp.85-96

Hinze, S, Calvert, J, Reiss, T, Senker, J, Patel, P (2003) 'International benchmarking of biotech research centres' Research Evaluation, Vol.12, Issue 2, pp.85-89

Calvert, J (2001) 'Is there a role for 'basic research' in Mode 2?' in VEST Swedish Journal for Science and Technology Studies, Vol. 13, Issues 3-4, pp.35-51

Calvert, J and Martin, B (2001) 'Science funding: Europe' in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences, Elsevier, Jasanoff, S (Section Editor, Science and Technology Studies), Smelser, NJ and Baltes, PB (Editors in chief), Vol. 20, pp.13676-80

PhD Topics

I have enjoyed supervising postgraduate students from a range of different backgrounds including the social sciences, the biological sciences, philosophy and design. I'd be very happy to discuss potential research projects with prospective postgraduate students. Topics I'd be interested in supervising include (but are not limited to): the engineering of living things (including questions about design, evolution and 'life'); interdisciplinary collaborations (between scientists, engineers, social scientists and artists and designers); and STS and policy (particularly the governance of emerging technologies and the 'normative turn' in STS).

Find out more about the programmes that I am involved with: