Question Forum 3

Question Formation:

Q1. This week we look at new methodologies for approaching the study of STS. What sort of information do Ethnographic or Laboratory Studies produce and what types of knowledge does it exclude? Contrast these methodologies to S.C.O.T, E.P.O.R, or the work of Schaffer and Shapin to best illustrate your answers.

Q2. Ethnography embeds the author into the environment they are studying. How may the subjectivity of the observer influence their eventual project? Does the position of Traweek as a scholar among scholars present additional challenges in a laboratory environment that might not be present in a more traditional site of anthropological study? Do these challenges weaken the idea of an ethnography of science?

Jonathan's Response

Q3. Knorr-Cetina writes that a constructivist interpretation of science must consider “how contextual factors such as social interests enter particular knowledge objects” (116). What are some of the ways she proposes to study study these interests? What sort of archive or theoretical work is she using to make these distinctions?

Q4. For Latour, eliminating the distinction between outside and inside the lab is essential for the project of laboratory studies. Explain Latour’s argument here and bring up any issues you may have with his conceptualization. Additionally, thinking back to Leviathan and the Airpump, did understandings of what is inside or outside the laboratory have an impact on the work of Hobbes or Boyle?

Anita's Response

Latour argues that eliminating the distinction between outside and inside the laboratory is essential for laboratory studies, in order to examine and “assess” the larger problems that scientists try to solve within laboratories (143). For Latour, the laboratory is a micro-level institution that represents macro-level society, and getting rid of the distinction between the two is important to understand either one. He cites “enormous” societal interest in Pasteur’s microbe studies, as well as Pasteur’s temporary lab that he set up on a farm in order to study anthrax in cattle, as an example for why the distinction between inside and outside the laboratory should be rejected – Pasteur brought his lab work outside of the traditional laboratory setting, into a space that was more visible to non-scientists (145).

My main problem with Latour’s argument is that the conditions that exist within laboratories often do not mimic real-world conditions. Later in his paper, Latour discusses the process by which Pasteur’s lab was able to create a culture of the anthrax bacteria, and mentions that the “exponential” rate at which the bacteria multiplied in culture would be impossible in nature (146). He is correct; while Pasteur’s use of the anthrax cell line did enable him to learn more about how the bacteria behave in cattle, the reality of how cell cultures work shows that the inside of the laboratory is distinct from the outside. The anthrax cell line that Pasteur grew in his lab was able to demonstrate the effect that the bacteria have on cattle – both inside and outside of the lab – but the conditions under which the cells were multiplied could not happen in nature. While this knowledge was used to “solve [the] anthrax problem” that existed outside of Pasteur’s lab, this is different than saying that there is no distinction at all between conditions inside and outside of laboratories (146).

This distinction between inside and outside the laboratory also applies to Boyle and Hooke’s work with the air pump. Shapin and Schaffer write that, while laboratories that housed air pumps were “public spaces,” access to these labs was limited to certain people (39). This creates a clear division between which spaces were considered to be part of the laboratory, and which were considered to be outside of the laboratory – and also delineated who was allowed to participate in and contribute to science/natural philosophy, and who was not.

Q4. Ariel's Post

To begin, Latour acknowledges that throughout this text he is “multiplying the words ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, ‘micro’ and ‘macro’, ‘small scale’ and ‘large scale’, so as to make clear the stabilizing role of the laboratory” (Latour, 143) Latour commences the work of destabilizing the laboratory, so that it becomes open to interpretation, by telling the story of Pasteur. He notes that Pasteur learned from the environment in which he embedded himself and his lab as well as others (e.g. veterinarians) who worked in that space. Indeed, Latour highlights the observations that became a site of knowledge as well as one of fluency as the laboratory assistants translated “the ‘infected field’ in the farmer’s language” (Latour, 145). This is how Latour begins to make the case that the interests of others are captured and sustained. For if there is not a common language, even if the concerns or subjects studied are the same, barriers are created.
Latour also plays with notions of scale. In the start of the article he acknowledges the macro- and micro- levels, and throughout the text delineates the inside of the lab as pertaining to the micro level, while the farm with its complexities becomes cast as the macro level. When the laboratory is situated in the “real” world, he suggests that the scale becomes large enough that the bacterium becomes known to the naked eye. Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest that “something happens to the bacillus that never happened before” (Latour, 146). Thus, Latour suggests that when Pasteur steps into this liminally situated laboratory existing in the mixed space of the field laboratory the objects studied (bacillus) are changed.
Latour suggests that the power dynamics shift when the scientist can state to the farmer and veterinarians that “if you wish to solve your anthrax problem, come to my laboratory, because that’s whwere the forces are reversed. If you don’t (veterinarians or farmers) you will be eliminated” (Latour, 147). Latour further notes that this translation would not be compelling, due to the multiple contextual features that influence transmission, without the ability to inoculate (Latour, 146-147). Indeed, here Latour is suggesting that there is a shift in the hierarchy in which “veterinary science” becomes subjugated to microbiology (Latour, 147). Despite this, Latour suggests that these laboratories are still only imitating the “variation of virulence” (Latour, 148). It is worth acknowledging the power dynamics that Latour is highlighting, as it is suggestive of his perception of the relationship between knowledge and power.
Latour highlights the dichotomy of inside and outside of the laboratory and associates these contructs with the practical and the theoretical, respectively. Thus, he suggests that Pasteur succeeded because he was able to “do inside his laboratory what everyone tries to do outside, but where everyone fails because the scale is too large”(Latour, 149). He posits that such destabilizations and shifts in power are transformative (Latour, 149). Given this reading of the inside/outside dichotomy and the role of the laboratory, it is worth reflecting back to the Leviathan and the Airpump, and the ways in which Hobbes and Boyle perceive the role of the laboratory. To begin, the public was at the center of Hobbes’s philosophy as it was peace that he sought; however, his “public was not a witnessing and believing public, but an assenting and professing public” (Shapin and Schaffer, 334). Thus, Hobbes had faith in a rational public that participated with their “minds and tongues” as opposed to Boyle’s reliance on their “eyes and hands” (Shapin and Schaffer, 334). In Boyle’s construction of the laboratory the public plays a validating role as collective witnesses. However, Shapin and Schaffer note that witnessing was effective if “first, the witnessing experience had to be made accessible; second, witnesses had to be reliable and their testimony had to be credible” (Shapin and Schaffer, 336). In conclusion, conceptualizations of the inside and the outside of the laboratory and the ways in which these interact profoundly shape laboratory studies and even the ways in which science is conducted.

Rich's post

In his defense of the microstudy of laboratory life, Latour’s assertion that in order to effectively describe and understand how scientific discoveries gain the power to change societies one must eliminate the boundary between inside and outside the laboratory as a characterization of actors and actants that influence the lab. (Latour 2011, 162-163) He also disputes the relevance of scale when discussing the details of laboratory work compared to political and social events outside the physical boundaries of the lab. His point is the in order to understand how the everyday occurrences in the laboratory grow in power to change societies one must look inside and outside the laboratory. Arguably, one could see that the dispute between Hobbes and Boyle about the nature and process of scientific discovery is a precursor to this modern debate in the study of science and technology.

Latour’s point is that to the extent that science is politics by other means it is impossible to understand the activities of the laboratory without the context of influences outside the physical space of the laboratory. (Latour, 168) Nor can one understand the society changing effects of science by looking only at the macro level if economic and political factors (Latour, 168) Certainly one could argue that Shapin and Schaeffer points out these relationships in their history of the development of Boyle’s air pump.

Social convention was decisive in the development of Boyle's experimental practice. (Shapin & Schaeffer 1985, 329) The activity in the experimental space and the development of experimental practice was meant to shape social order. (Shapin & Schaeffer 1985, 341) The public was an integral part of the experiment. Hobbes and Boyle may have had different views of who comprised the public but the idea that there was no real boundary between the experimental space and the public. This model of interaction by experimental generation of knowledge and the polity has persisted for three centuries. (Shapin & Schaeffer 1985, 343) Supporting Latour’s argument, there is no social wall that mirrors the physical walls of the experimental place. If the experiment is conducted in the physical space of a laboratory this doesn’t the influence of society on the lab and the lab on society. Shapin and Schaeffer suggest that Boyle understood this when he used virtual witnessing (an inscription device) to engage people not physically at the experiment .

Q4: Lisa's response: Latour, Bruno. "Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World." In Science Observed, 141-170. (1983).

The inside/outside boundary is one of three main themes in Bruno Latour’s argument: he takes on “the dissolution of the inside/outside boundary; the inversion of scales and levels; and finally the process of inscription” (165). Even in this relatively early work from 1983, Latour used his words precisely, so examining the text of his phrasing is crucial to the student of science and technology studies (STS). He asserted strongly that there was no functional boundary between inside the laboratory and outside the laboratory, saying the scientist is as much a part of the social context as the social context must be transformed in order to understand the scientific facts the scientist needs to present:

  • “The only way for a scientist to retain the strength gained inside his laboratory by the process I have described is
  • not to go outside where he would lose it at once. It is again very simple. The solution is in never going out. Does
  • that mean that they are stuck in the few places where they work? No. It means that they will do everything they
  • can to extend to every setting some of the conditions that make possible the reproduction of favourable laboratory
  • practices. Since scientific facts are made inside laboratories, in order to make them circulate you need to build costly
  • networks inside which they can maintain their fragile efficacy. If this means transforming society into a vast
  • laboratory, then do it” (167).

This act of “transforming society into a vast laboratory” describes the training of the lay public citizens into people who can understand the terms and accept the translations the scientist makes from the experimental observations into results that are acceptable as being meaningful. This concept of translation, and a series of translations, is central to Latour’s analysis. The scientist extracts and isolates selected elements from the “real world,” as Louis Pasteur extracted the anthrax bacillus from the pastures with sheep and took them to the lab. In the lab, he was able to grow the anthrax and scaled up production of the bacillus to concentrations which did not exist in the “real world.” By culturing an artificially high level of the bacillus, he was able to purify quantities and create a vaccination. Then the scientist again translated the resulting vaccination out of the lab and back to the farmers’ fields. The scientist had to enroll the bacillus, and the farmers, and the sheep, and the policy makers, to accept that injecting anything – much less an allegedly protective cultured vaccination – was a valid and reasonable practice that would benefit, not harm the farmers by protecting their sheep from a disease. This translation from lab back to the field required an act of faith by many, to learn to accept the practice of science as being valid, useful, and not harmful. Latour got to these issues when he addressed scale: “The scientist works on scale models, multiplying the mistakes inside his laboratory, hidden from public scrutiny. He can try as many times as he wishes, and comes out only when he has made all the mistakes that have helped him gain 'certainty' “ (165). The ‘inscription’ issue is how the experiment and its salient results are conveyed from scientist to scientist, and from the scientist to the farmer, the lay public, the bureaucrats, the policy makers, and so on. All become part of the laboratory as its extended, believing network. For Latour, “the laboratory is just a moment in a series of displacements that makes a complete shambles out of the inside/outside and the macro/micro dichotomies” (168).

Boyle was a precursor to Latour, establishing the processes for doing experimental science within the lab. Appropriate types of models and inscription were set forth by Boyle. He trained his network of fellow practitioners to believe similarly about what constituted proper experimental technique, meaningful data, presentation of data, translation of the data to salient “proven facts,” and descriptive language for results. However, as Kuhn observed, while Boyle worked within the lab to establish the process, and demonstrated some understanding of extending results to the scientifically-minded people who belonged to the elite Royal Society, he did not extend his first-generation understanding past the paradigm shift that Latour demonstrates. The incommensurability between Latour and Boyle would have been profound, yet Latour explicitly built on the understanding of experimental techniques as practiced by scientists of Boyle’s generation.

Latour’s extension of the lab to the world opens up and acknowledges unseen possibilities. “What counts in laboratory sciences are the other means, the fresh, unpredictable sources of displacements that are all the more powerful because they are ambiguous and unpredictable” (168). Boyle and his generation sought to experiment to prove their hypotheses; Latour opens the view to gather un-forecasted results.

“There is no outside of science but there are long, narrow networks that make possible the circulation of scientific facts” (167).

Elijah's Response

Q4 - Russ Rochte' response:

Bruno Latour is focused on changing the methodology by which one studies the activities and effects of laboratories. He argues against the artificial dichotomies of inside/outside, micro/macro, and etc. Latour’s argument concerning the laboratories is that the laboratories themselves are built in order to “destabilize or undo” the “difference between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ [of the lab], and the difference of scale between ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ levels” (143). His illustrations from the work of Louis Pasteur concerning anthrax illuminate the process by which Latour sees laboratories starting as “micro” entities, but coming to finally incorporate the “macro” – the entire society within which the laboratory and the scientist is situated. According to Latour, Pasteur’s moving of his lab to the field in order to study anthrax effectively translated the work of others (farmers, veterinarians) to the lab. Having found and isolated the critical element in the problem (in this case, the anthrax bacillus), Pasteur removed the lab back to its former location – taking the farm with it, so to speak, in the form of the bacillus. By eliminating the inside/outside boundary, the lab become essential to the portion of society with which it worked – without the lab, the farmer and the veterinarian could no longer function at their highest level. In other words, Latour says that Pasteur’s laboratory work shifted, or translated, the interests of the farmers and veterinarians to the lab – in order to solve their problem, they had to pass through the lab, as it were. The “walls” of the lab were removed and the interested public (the farmers and vets) became participants of a sort. Therefore, one must examine both the inside and the outside influences to determine why a scientific development in an isolated laboratory can cause effects on a societal scale and, likewise, one must examine more than the customary political and economic effects if one is to discover how and why the laboratory does what it does. Else, one cannot discover the influence of society on the lab and of the lab on society.
The issues concerning opening to the interested public and the translation of their interests through the lab and its work is suggestive of the points being argued in Leviathan and the Air Pump. The argument concerning public witnesses to experiments parallels the translation of farm and vet interests into and through the anthrax lab – each served to validate the results of lab in ways unavailable if the lab experiments and outcomes were locked away. The proof as it were of the lab efforts was to be found in the public – the witnesses of the air pump and the farmers and vets who could see the use of inoculation and the reduction of the cases of anthrax. By removing walls (real and conceptual), Latour thus argues that it isn’t the cold, isolated, sterile lab out of touch with its society that produces scientific advancements (the customary pop culture picture of the “scientist,” no?), but “scientific fact is the product of average, ordinary people and settings” (162). The emphasis, other than methodological change, seems to be on the setting. This can only happen when average, ordinary people – and their inscription instruments – communicate beyond the laboratory setting – outside of the wall.

My concern with this approach, and with the example given in the illustration, is that Latour seems to accept a priori that the conditions inside the laboratory (e.g., once removed from the farm and gone back to its place) always continue to replicate the conditions of the “outside.” I do not think this is the case. The lab might well approximate the field environment, but it cannot replicate the complex and interconnected web which forms the life-context in which the problem at hand exists. Latour’s process of “dissolution of the inside/outside boundary; the inversion of scales and levels; and…the process of inscription” works in his example, but I cannot help but wonder if one couldn’t find one or more counter-examples wherein his process was followed, but failed to produce significant results.

Q5. Latour and Traweek spend extensive time discussing the status of scientists, both within the scientific community, and with the non-scientific communities. Describe the distinctions made by both authors, are they making the same argument? Where do they diverge?

Special Question for Sonja and Jim.
Aside from the Cowan reading in the supplementary articles from 2 weeks ago, this is the first inclusion of women writers into our course syllabus. Can one or both of you comment about the role of women or lack thereof in the formation of Science and Technology Studies. Was ethnography/anthropology a more accessible way for women to enter the field?

Katelyn Kuhl

Treweek, in reflecting on the relationship between SLAC and the unionized technicians within the lab, point out the perspective by the physicists that they “have been committed to being scientists since early adolescence, and their own training teaches them to regard physcis as a calling, not an occupation.” (21) This perspective led them to oppose a union which, to them, demeaned the work of the lab as simply any other job.

The physicists also cherished their unclassified and open to the public status. In an effort to distance themselves from the classified weapons work of past physicists, the open campus of SLAC was critical to their understanding of their work as “pure” research as opposed to the applied governmental work of the past.

Lastly, the physicists conflicted with the local affluent communities who didn’t appreciate the large power lines powering the lab. “The physicists regarded all these concerns as silly, a sign of ignorance and a confusion of priorities.” (21)

Latour instead focuses on the power of scientists within the laboratory and the need to extend the laboratory outside of its walls in order for them to maintain their authority. The boundaries between laboratory and outside world are torn down instead of distinguished, as Treweek does in her work. As Latour states, “since scientific facts are made inside laboratories, in order to make them circulate you need to build costly networks inside which they can maintain their fragile efficacy. If this means transforming society into a cast laboratory, then do it.” (166) The world of the lab is extended outside of the lab instead of separated from it.

Pratama Yudha


Similar with classical ethnography, laboratory studies tend to study “cultural shared” that a community understands and sees its world in a particular context. In the classical ethnography, a researcher usually does participant observation in “the different world”, for example many ethnographers from the developed world did research in the third world. However, in laboratory studies, a researcher is not always being different with the community that he or se researches. By using a laboratory as a site, a researcher might have same professional career with the community he or she studies. In addition, laboratory studies are more likely looking at production knowledge in a laboratory, where scientists create “prior knowledge”. To do this, a researcher should pay attention in context. In Knorr Cetina’s Laboratory Studies; the Cultural Approach to the Study of Science, she provides theoretical framework and methodological work of laboratory studies. She draws laboratory studies involved in participant observation and discourse analysis in laboratory. Unlike classical ethnography, laboratory studies have possibility “to consider the technical activities of science within the wider context of equipment and symbolic practices within which they are embedded” (p. 143). Moreover, Traweek’s Beamtimes and Lifetimes: the World of High Energy Physicists is a good work in which explores how physicists produced standardization knowledge, and symbolic practice works face to face between physicists, among physicist communities, and among physicists, organizations, governments, and the other organizations. Also, the rationale of wider context is found on Latour’s Give Me a Laboratory and I will Raise the World. In his study of Pasteur, he illustrates that “Scientific facts are like trains, they do not work off their rails. You can extend the rails and connect them but you cannot drive a locomotive through a field.” (p. 155). In my opinion, this approach tends to be different with SCOT’s methodology in the term of unit analysis. SCOT might be concerned on social shaping of technology with symmetry analysis within “outside” social groups. However, laboratory studies tend to dissolve “outside and inside”.


In my view, subjectivity in ethnography can’t be eliminated. In addition, by using a constructivist approach in laboratory studies, a researcher may be involved belief, value, or/and ideology in making interpretations. It might happen when a researcher found scientific practice that it contradicts his or her belief or value. In particular, in doing translation from laboratory representing society or discourse analysis in laboratory. However, a researcher might acknowledge in advance that her or his ethnography is a result of holistic work. It means that ethnography works based on the result of researcher’s interpretation and subject’s interpretations. Moreover, in Traweek’s Beamtimes and Lifetimes: the World of High Energy Physicists, his position as a scholar is different with his subject scholarship, which is physicist. In this term, I think his position can be classified as an “outsider”. According to Monaghan and Just, “outsider” has benefit in noticing tacit understanding people take for granted as common sense or natural categories of thought (2000:30). Also, I am interested in some implications of constructivism in laboratory studies to the social world. Particularly, what does the result of laboratory studies affect people’s trust in science? And to what extent people can believe in science?

Monaghan and Just, Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction, New York. Oxford, 2000.

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