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The political ecology of the bioeconomy: Tracing nature and benefits from collection to the laboratory

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  • Full or part time
    Dr B Neimark
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The proposed research plan: The late 20th century was a watershed moment for the bioeconomy. Advances in user friendly screening technologies, such as bioinformatics and robotics, increased the demand for natural resources used for new drugs, biofuels, agrochemicals, functional foods, cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals. The growth of this industry has been transformative. The EC estimates that the bioeconomy sector employs up to 22 million people and has an annual turnover of €2 trillion.1 Proponents hold that the bioeconomy is a win-win, as the commercialization of natural products provides the motivation, and more importantly financing, for sustainable development.2 Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) arrangements codified in the 2010 Nagoya Protocol laid the framework to provide source-country governments and local participants with a portion of the commercialized benefits from discoveries (i.e., royalties, technology transfer, and sustainable development funding). However, tracing benefits is particularly challenging given that nature is highly adaptable and its genetic structure can be manipulated and mass produced in high-tech biotechnology laboratories far away from their collection sites in the global south. Nature’s mobile agency and complex diversity potentially upends ABS agreements bound to territorial domains within nation-states raising ethical issues of ‘inclusivity’ within bioeconomy platforms. Some question that if benefit delivery is the linchpin for the bioeconomy why have so many been left out of its global value creation? This thus leads us to ask just what does inclusion into the bioeconomy mean and what are the material implications in terms of benefits and burdens of participation across the whole commodity chain?

Research objectives: While scholarly work in the bioeconomy is beginning to appear, the majority has been largely theoretical (Tyfield and Birch, 2014; Goven & Pavon, 2014); in contrast, this empirically-focused project is truly interdisciplinary drawing on research and industry expertise in the UK and South Africa to look at production and consumption of natural products, issues of value, labour and benefits. Using a political ecology lens (Ribot and Peluso 2003), the research will essentially map power over access and control of resources across multiple sites using commodity chain analysis and advanced visualization tools in and digital humanities and critical cartography. This work integrates both theoretical frameworks and new methodological techniques in the humanities and science and technology studies following ‘digital traces’ found inside available collection databases and historical records (Latour et al. 2012), including the integration of multi-polar ‘big’ genomic databases with ‘small’ data (e.g., local ontologies and traditional knowledge).

Further Information:

Academic Requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree, or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Deadline for applications: 14 February 2016

Provisional Interview Date: [tbc] Week Beginning 29 February 2016

Start Date: October 2016

Application process: Please upload a completed application form (download from outlining your background and suitability for this project and a CV at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications,

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod ([Email Address Removed]), Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

Funding Notes

Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years or full studentships (International tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for International students for 3 years.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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