Reordering Life

From Inside Technology

Reordering Life

Knowledge and Control in the Genomics Revolution

By Stephen Hilgartner

How the regimes governing biological research changed during the genomics revolution, focusing on the Human Genome Project.
Hardcover $35.00 X £27.00





How the regimes governing biological research changed during the genomics revolution, focusing on the Human Genome Project.

The rise of genomics engendered intense struggle over the control of knowledge. In Reordering Life, Stephen Hilgartner examines the “genomics revolution” and develops a novel approach to studying the dynamics of change in knowledge and control. Hilgartner focuses on the Human Genome Project (HGP)—the symbolic and scientific centerpiece of the emerging field—showing how problems of governance arose in concert with new knowledge and technology. Using a theoretical framework that analyzes “knowledge control regimes,” Hilgartner investigates change in how control was secured, contested, allocated, resisted, justified, and reshaped as biological knowledge was transformed. Beyond illuminating genomics, Reordering Life sheds new light on broader issues about secrecy and openness in science, data access and ownership, and the politics of research communities.

Drawing on real-time interviews and observations made during the HGP, Reordering Life describes the sociotechnical challenges and contentious issues that the genomics community faced throughout the project. Hilgartner analyzes how laboratories control access to data, biomaterials, plans, preliminary results, and rumors; compares conflicting visions of how to impose coordinating mechanisms; examines the repeated destabilization and restabilization of the regimes governing genome databases; and examines the fierce competition between the publicly funded HGP and the private company Celera Genomics. The result is at once a path-breaking study of a self-consciously revolutionary science, and a provocative analysis of how knowledge and control are reconfigured during transformative scientific change.


$35.00 X | £27.00 ISBN: 9780262035866 368 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 15 b&w illus.


  • The book offers a well-written and engaging discussion of the HGP that will be interesting and enriching for general readers. The technical descriptions and illustrations are clear, concise, and precise. To those who work on genomics from historical, philosophical, social scientific, and anthropological approaches, it offers this as well as considerable resources, perspectives, and plenty of empirical detail to provoke new insights and lines of investigation.

    History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences


  • Reordering Life provides a fascinating account of the making of a new kind of biology: one in which technology development is rapid, datasets big, and science 'open.' Hilgartner brilliantly shows how this new kind of biology has become possible through struggles over knowledge, control, and collaboration that shaped scientific outputs at the same time as they produced new standards to evaluate—and valorize—the practices that create them.

    Barbara Prainsack

    Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, King's College London

  • This is the first in-depth assessment of the Human Genome Project from a thorough science and technology studies perspective. A masterpiece.

    Hans-Jörg Rheinberger

    Director emeritus, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin; coauthor of A Cultural History of Heredity

  • Reordering Life is a fascinating book, unfolding a subtle, theoretically deep, and empirically rich account of the Human Genome Project. It represents a major contribution to a vast and growing body of science and technology studies literature covering the 'genomics revolution.' Hilgartner skillfully uses this highly visible big science endeavor to unpack the coproduction of deep scientific and societal transformations brought about through this project. This book will become a standard text engaging with the entanglement of epistemic, material, and political processes, and with the problems of governance that arise in concert with new genomic knowledge and technology.

    Ulrike Felt

    Professor of Science and Technology Studies, University of Vienna; coeditor of The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, fourth edition


  • Honorable mention, the Robert K. Merton Book Award of the Science, Knowledge, and Technology section of the American Sociological Association