ETHNOGRAPHIES OF SCIENCE
Nicola Bulled, University of Connecticut
Anna Zogas, University of Washington
In a 2001 themed issue of Cultural Anthropology, "Anthropology and/in/of Science," editor Daniel Segal noted a scarcity of ethnographically grounded accounts of the practices of scientists. In this collection we aim to highlight ethnographies of science, with particular attention to those that are concerned with the tools and epistemic objects of the sciences and are grounded by research conducted in and around laboratories and other scientific institutions. Taken together, the five essays collected here provide a platform from which to consider the theory and practice of ethnographic science studies. The articles point to different mechanisms by which the very act of investigation shapes its object, they provide a variety of perspectives on how the ethnographer is positioned with respect to their scientist interlocutors, and they trace how social categories become embedded in the practice and the products of biomedical and life sciences research.
In their different approaches to the study of knowledge production in the biomedical and life sciences, these pieces also demonstrate different ways that anthropologists might construct a fieldsite in and around scientific institutions. Svendsen and Montoya trace biological matter and data as they move through and between laboratories, clinical settings, and markets. Lakoff's analysis is grounded outside the laboratory entirely, focusing on other sites of expertise where knowledge about pandemics are developed and implemented. The articles also point to some of the practical considerations of doing science ethnography. Hayward, for instance, provides a usefully transparent description of her entry into the marine laboratory, and Helmreich's article contemplates how scientists' perceptions of the culture concept shape scientific and ethnographic practice alike. Together, these articles offer multiple perspectives on how ethnographers become entangled in the logics and discourses of scientific practice, and how ethnography can illuminate the laboratory's relationship to broader social and moral contexts.
In addition to putting the articles themselves in conversation with one another, this collection includes special commentary from each of the authors about their research and the nature of science itself. In this forum, Eva Hayward, Stefan Helmreich, Andrew Lakoff, Michael Montoya, and Mette Svendsen consider the theory, practice, and stakes of the ethnography of science. Carlo Caduff, faculty in the Department of Social Science, Health & Medicine at King's College London, provides further analysis, and commentary on the five authors' responses and on the collection as a whole.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cultural Anthropology, November 2010, Vol. 25, No. 4: 577-599.
Hayward's study of marine corals in a California marine laboratory explores the physical and affective impressions that laboratory interactions leave on human research scientists and laboratory animals alike.
Cultural Anthropology, November 2001, Vol. 16, No. 4: 612-627.
In his engagement with scientists attempting to create Artifical Life, Helmreich questions how the distinctively anthropological notion of "culture" is understood in the popular consciousness. Given changes in the history of anthropological analyses from an understanding of laws, structures, and institutions, towards more interpretive examinations of meaning, representation, and power, Helmreich questions whether understandings of "culture" may be similar or distinct between contemporary anthropologists and practicing scientists attempting to recreate humanity.
Cultural Anthropology, August 2008, Vol. 23, No. 3: 399-428.
Lakoff traces the emergence of particular logics of security that surface alongside a norm of public health preparedness in the United States. Comparing the 1976 swine flu campaign and more recent "pandemic preparedness" measures, Lakoff explores how knowledge claims are articulated, authorized, and contested in the absence of actual events.
Michael J. Montoya
Cultural Anthropology, February 2007, Vol. 22, No. 1: 94-128.
Montoya documents the multiple and heterogeneous practices through which social conditions of a group of people are folded into biomedical knowledge about diabetes, processes he refers to as bioethnic conscription. In this article, Montoya examines two instances of bioethnic conscription. The first illustrates a process by which ethnicity comes to be represented scientifically, in negotiations between quantitative geneticists and the editors of a scientific journal. The second explores the biomedical representation of ethnicity in a pharmaceutical advertising campaign.
Mette N. Svendsen
Cultural Anthropology, November 2011, Vol. 26, No. 3: 414-447.
Exploring one aspect of regenerative medicine research, Svendsen documents the linguistically-driven process of "moving" human embryos across the socially constructed boundary that differentiates biographical matter from biological matter. Tracing donated embryos as they circulate from fertility laboratories, to clinical encounters between doctors and couples in IVF therapy, to research laboratories, Svendsen demonstrates the culturally and politically specific articulations of potentiality that are necessary to redirect embryos from IVF laboratories to human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research laboratories.
In their contributions, Eva Hayward, Stefan Helmreich, Andrew Lakoff, Michael Montoya, and Mette Svendsen insist that generalizations about "science" are utterly misleading. There is no such thing as science. There are scientific discourses and practices, and there are powerful scientific institutions that impact our existence. Yet for these anthropologists, the rejection of generalization is not the end point of inquiry, it is, on the contrary, the starting point of ethnography.
Clockwise, starting at top left:
Javier Quevedo, "Patri", via Flickr
Antoine Gady, "The Girls on the other side of the Bench", via Flickr
United States Department of the Interior's South Building (also known as the US Public Health Service Building), via WikiMedia Commons
Matt Brown, "ICMB labs", via Flickr
Florence Ivy, "Blinded by Science", via Flickr
Ryan Somma, "Laboratory", via Flickr
Center for Scientific Review; "A reviewer at the National Institutes of Health evaluates a grant proposal," via WikiMedia Commons
Eva Hayward, coral tentacles