*ANTHRO 1957. Laboratory Lives: Scientific Spaces, Selves, Subjects

Scientific laboratories have become important cultural sites for making new knowledge about the world, and in doing so, for remaking society, nature, and the relationship between the two. But what are scientific laboratories? How do they produce knowledge? How is the knowledge they produce shaped by nature and society, and how does that knowledge reshape society and nature? This course examines the scientific laboratory from an anthropological perspective, through key ethnographic, historical, and theoretical readings that explore the distinct spaces, selves, and subjects that make up “laboratory life.” The first half of the class introduces the lab as a socio-historically situated cultural space dedicated to producing authoritative knowledge through experimental practices. The second half then takes a deeper look at the scientific selves and various human and nonhuman actors that inhabit these distinct experimental spaces, exploring issues of agency, objectivity, and experimentality as they are pursued and problematized at the lab bench. Course topics include: the emergence of the laboratory sciences and the figure of the scientific self in history; the normative dimensions of the experimental life as a calling and a profession; instruments, inscription practices, and scientific objectivity as both problem and epistemic virtue; the laboratory as a site of fact production, and experimentation as a social and semiotic process; the relationship between scientific labs, nature, and society at large, with comparison to other related spaces of knowledge, from cathedrals to artist’s studios to the psychotherapist’s couch; and finally the role of laboratories, models, and simulations in the politics of knowledge animating debates about global climate change. More generally, scientific laboratories have become important sites for social research in the growing field of science studies, a field to which anthropologists and their ethnographic methods have made important contributions. This course explores these contributions.


Stephen Scott







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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2018-2019 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
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