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Rethinking the value of biological specimens: laboratories, museums and the Barcoding of Life Initiative.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2008
JournalMuseum & Society
Journal number2
Volume6
Number of pages20
Pages172-191
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This paper explores the shifting values and fragilities of museum biological specimens as they have recently become enrolled in the Barcoding of Life Initiative (BOLI); a global techno-scientific project which seeks to provide the ‘barcode’ to ‘anyone anywhere’ as a ubiquitous species naming device for all species on the planet. The reliance of BOLI upon museum collections for the industrialized high throughput sequencing necessary to rapidly accumulate DNA barcodes, I argue, positions museum specimens in a newly configured relationship with a ‘global populace’ assumed to require instantaneous species information. I discuss how museum specimens, as scientific, epistemic objects are sites of evolving and contested meaning as alternative approaches to the potential (classificatory and possibly commercial value) of DNA barcodes continue to be negotiated within the taxonomic community. As such they are sites of lively and ever-emerging forms of material culture in natural history museums as they speak for multiple natural orders.