Friday, April 11, 2014

Henke and Gieryn, Sites of Scientific Practice: The Enduring Importance of Place (2008)

This chapter from the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies is shedding light on the trends how STS scholars have dealt with the issue of location and space in scientific research. Furthermore, authors urge to focus more on “how place has consequence for scientific knowledge and practices, and why focus on geographic location and situated materialities can enlarge our understanding of science in society.”
           First, authors introduce four trends of answers how the place matters in STS chronologically, 1) positivist understanding that the place does not matter 2) laboratory ethnographers who revealed the context specific construction of knowledge 3) historians and sociologists of science who focused on how different knowledge regimes acquired the legitimacy of knowledge in different material settings, and 4) actor network theory (ANT) scholars who transcend the physical boundary of the place by emphasizing the network of heterogeneous actors for the construction of knowledge. Henke and Gieryn argue that the fourth wave is underestimating the importance of the place setting in knowledge construction, thus insist academic scholarship should develop the third wave more thoroughly to understand why and how the place matters.
           Then, why people gather together and make complex of team in scientific research? The role of place is not only limited as a geographical place with proper research facilities. The complex of people and facilities, moreover, imbue the authority to the knowledge, thereby constitute the scientific knowledge. For instance, particle accelerator facility is a “trading zone” of high energy physicists to meet each other and exchange their research data to construct the trust and authority of their research. In this sense, research place is a cultural setting which demarcates the reliable scientific research and inappropriate science. Scientific lab is the place where the disorderness is reinterpreted as an ordered phenomenon, public and private is separated, invisible things become visible, and standardization of particular experimental technique take place. The structure of scientific lab implies not only scientists’ relationship with non-scientists, but also drastically represents the relationship among them. For instance, the top floor of SLAC is for theoretical physicists while the basement is for instrument shops. Laboratory architecture reveals the disciplinary differences rather than the unity among them.
           Several current STS challenge the authority of physical setting of research laboratory by presenting the empirical studies on the knowledge construction in various non-laboratory places. In other words, as Brian Wynne’s Cumbria sheep farmers’ case shows, the boundary between laboratory and field is getting blurred.

1)     How much the importance of the ‘place’ is different depends on different scientific disciplines? For instance, the meaning of laboratory for high energy physicists who need the large scale infrastructure setting and for ecologist who should find their knowledge source from out there nature must be different.

2)     Why the laboratory should be the place inside of research facility? In other words, if we assume that the field is kind of laboratory, aren’t we able to extend the discussion on how the material setting is interrelated with knowledge construction?

3)     In other words, why lab is opposite word of field? Denial of this dichotomy is not to weaken the authority or importance of ‘the place’ but to broaden the discussion!

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