Thursday, March 27, 2014

Impure Culture, Chapter 1

Purposes of the chapter are 1) to clarify author’s main research question, 2) to introduce author’s methodology for answering the question, 3) to introduce the research subject and 4) to convince the readers that chosen subject and methodology are promising to answer the author’s research question.
In terms of research question, Kleinman clearly declares that his interest is “in the ways that what might broadly be termed the world of commerce shapes the everyday practice of academic laboratory science.” (p. 4) More specifically, author clarifies what are examined and claimed in this book. Kleinman claims that 1) researches on university-industry relations (UIRs) have neglected the pervasive, but indirect influence of commercial world on laboratory practice, and 2) analysis on the agency of laboratory life not sufficient to grasp the actual practice of laboratory, and thus analysis of structure of the laboratory is useful.
           For the purpose of claiming such arguments, author chose to investigate the lab as a participatory observer. It is clearly notified that Kleinman conducted a full-time ethnographic research for six months on spring of 1995, and followed by part-time observation even after the six month intensive research period. Author also explicitly emphasizes that he tried to be a part of lab culture by wearing like them, learning several lab techniques, and talking with them. By learning PCR and electrophoresis technique, Kleinman was able to approach to lab members, and being introduced into the lab ritual, such as Thursday afternoon Chinese take-out.
           However, as an ethnographer, author confesses that there were several conflicts during and after the research. For instance, Jo Handelsman criticized that Kleinman was “misunderstood by collegues”, and also “attention to intellectual property issues might make the lab seems greedy.” (p.25) To clarify that the purpose of ethnographic research was not to blame individual member or single lab, author introduces C. Wright Mills’ emphasis on structural factors. In other words, it is emphasized that the analysis on this book is on structural representation, which is beyond the control of any individuals.
           Thirdly, what is Handelsman laboratory? Author’s detailed illustration of Handelsman’s laboratory is inseparable from the intention to justify that his methodology and subject is thoroughly well designed to answer his own research question. Professor Handelsman was in the Department of Plant Pathology in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s CALS, and focusing on UW85, which could be used to prevent damping off and root rot of plants. Laboratory has several different kinds of meetings such as weekly lab meeting, journal club, and departmental seminars. Kleinman observed that lab budget management was the central issue of Handelsman’s laboratory, even though she highly committed to academic scholarship and education. She worried that “if the research does not progress, if the experiments do not succeed, if the publications and patents do not continue, neither will be finding.”
           Description of Handelsman’s lab directly goes to the final issue, which is to convince the readers why Kleinman’s ethnographic work on Handelsman’s lab is a promising project. Author argues that “I came to realize that the kinds of direct and ad hoc effects that influence university science only tell part of the story.” Handelsman’s laboratory was not place of compromising the scientific integrity by monetary concern, even though it was “structurally” exposed to the world of commerce. Thus, Kleinman soundly insists that if Handelsman’s lab is affected by the world of commerce, it could be an evidence that the subtle influence of industrial culture is pervasive and influential in university biology overall.

1.     Is it always best choice to emotionally strongly attach to subject of ethnographic research? How participatory researchers could balance between ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’?
2.     Author confesses that his initial assumption was partly changed during his research. In this sense, how much tentative argument or conclusion should we set at the beginning stage of the research? How can we utilize the serendipitous moment of research to articulate or reconfigure out initial assumption?
3.     What are advantages of ethnographic research? What could be possible alternative methodology of this book?
4. What are the most important roles of introduction chapter?

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