Human Genome Project as a Social Enterprise


As a social enterprise, the Human Genome Project (HGP) can be understood in a number of different ways, including the social organisation of science, the influence of society and culture on scientific work and the influence of scientific findings and endeavours on society. The HGP introduced new forms of organisation to the biological and biomedical sciences; these include the entrance of ‘Big Science’ modes of organisation, automation and routinisation. Disagreements between the public HGP and private projects were based on different aims, organisation and guiding norms. In particular, there is a tension between the norm of collaboration in science and the role of competition. Despite concerns that the HGP would promote genetic determinism and even eugenics, these fears have not been realised.

Key Concepts

  • The founding and funding of the Human Genome Project required advocacy from government departments and agencies, prominent scientists and support in the US Congress; there was opposition within and without the scientific community.
  • The Human Genome Project was an international collaboration that required models of organisation appropriate to ensure coordination between the centres that conducted the sequencing.
  • The project has been conceived as an example of ‘Big Science’ and also ‘Fast Science’; it brought new ways of organising research into the biological sciences.
  • The opposition of the public Human Genome Project and private sector initiative centred on organisation, the values of collaboration and/or competition and the dissemination and prospective use of the data generated by sequencing.
  • Fears that the Human Genome Project would provide support for eugenics and genetic determinism have not been realised.

Keywords: human genome project; big science; collaboration; competition; genomics; sequencing


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Lowe, James WE(Nov 2016) Human Genome Project as a Social Enterprise. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005650.pub2]