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Dynamics and practices of internationalisation in model organism science - a South American perspective

  • Rodrigo Liscovsk
Friday 21 October 2022

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Though science has always had an international dimension, for some time now academics and policymakers have considered that research could become ‘more international’ under the assumption that in doing so it becomes better, i.e. more collaborative, innovative, dynamic, and of greater quality. Such a positive conceptualisation of internationalisation, however, rests on interpretations coming almost exclusively from the Global North that systematically ignore power dynamics in scientific practice and that regard scientific internationalisation as an unproblematic transformative process and as a desired outcome. In STS, social research on model organisms is perhaps the clearest example of the influence of this dominant vision of internationalisation. This body of literature tends to describe model organism science and their research communities as uniform and harmonious international ecosystems governed by a strong collaborative ethos of sharing specimens, knowledge and resources. But beyond these unproblematic descriptions, how does internationalisation actually transform research on life?

My research revisits the dynamics and practices of scientific internationalisation in contemporary science from the perspective of South American life sciences. It takes the zebrafish (Danio rerio), a small tropical freshwater fish, originally from the Ganges region in India and quite popular in pet shops, as a case study of how complex dynamics of internationalisation intervene in science. While zebrafish research has experienced a remarkable growth in recent years at the global scale, in South America its growth has been unprecedented, allowing average laboratories, which often operate with small budgets, and with less well-developed science infrastructures, to conduct world-class research.

My focus on South America, where researchers have been traditionally characterised by lack of access to international commercial holdings, helps me to understand the complexity of internationalisation dynamics beyond the lenses of the dominant discourse that prevails in the STS literature on model organisms.

Rodrigo Liscovsky received his PhD in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies from the University of Edinburgh (2022).

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