Desk Scientists no more: Political Yeast, Synth Travels and DIYbiology in Indonesia

The global emergence of grassroots community spaces such as makerspaces, hackerspaces, citizen science initiatives and do-it-yourself (DIY) biology laboratories offer unique perspectives on cross-disciplinary knowledge exchanges across laypersons and experts and alternative cultures of technological production and design. Prior research has shown how practitioners in these sites, notably from the Global South, challenge how and where knowledge is located, produced, and legitimized (Lindtner et al., 2016, 2015; Kera, 2014, 2012). In this paper, I discuss how contemporary hacker and DIYbio cultures in Indonesia present both new sites of political action and interdisciplinary knowledge production. In particular, I demonstrate how DIYbio serves as a site to intervene into long-standing relations regarding knowledge production and distribution between scientific elite circles and civil society. I draw from a year of ethnographic research in Yogayakarta, Indonesia focused on the transnational collaborations between a citizen science initiative, Lifepatch, and hackers, artists and scientists from Europe and India. Specifically, I focus on the production and distribution of a fermentation yeast kit and a DIY synthesizer, following their materializations and transformations in and outside of Indonesia. These scientific and technological objects illustrate how DIYbiology is an important contemporary cultural site to understand how transnational processes of knowledge production unfold and exist beyond the frames of local and global, consumer and producer, innovation and copycat. In this paper, I bring into conversation Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Southeast Asian Studies, as an entry point to discuss two things. Firstly, I seek to recognize how Indonesian DIYbiologists’ technoscience work and creative productions navigate between the globalized work of hacking and making and the national cultural contexts they operate in. Second, it aims to build on scholarly work which recognize how particular forms of innovation come into being in so-called “third-world” countries. In doing so, I argue that the scientific and technological work of Lifepatch not only rework previous structures of knowledge production and flows between lay persons and experts, but also between scales of locality and globality. My work builds on a growing body of scholarship that studies culturally embedded practices of making and hacking in the Global South (Avle & Lindtner, 2016; Lindtner, 2015; Lindtner et al., 2015) and how the ‘digital’ play out in peripheral sites of innovation (Chan, 2014). It also contributes to existing work on Indonesia which focuses on grassroots technological and scientific cultures and how they decenter where and how knowledge is being produced (Barker, 2015; Tsing, 2005).