Schultheis Post 5

As I do not know the details of Mulkay’s studies and, therefore, what “attention to the technical” specifically means in context, the following observation may be shortsighted, but I was struck by one passage in particular: “because outsiders are seldom interested in technical culture and are usually technically incompetent, the accounts given them by participants must be treated with considerable caution” (24, 26). While this seems more than reasonable, it resonates a bit too closely to Ramsey’s call for all DH-ers to code, and while it is certainly important to understand some of the technical culture, I do not see why a sociologist’s study of a “scientific”[1] lab would be deficient because they are not technically proficient in that lab. Sociologist can still understand aspects of the human’s relationship to the lab (which includes equipment and other humans) regardless, which makes the push to keep the lab and human separate laughably futile. The fear that studying the lab will turn this research “into a sociology of scientists rather than a fully fledged sociology of science,” seems utterly absurd—not because their fear is unfounded, for in fact that is exactly what will happen, but because they imagine a study of the lab where humans and science are separate.

This leads me to ask, how unfamiliar are scientists with their own history? A lot of my own research focuses on medical and scientific history, but shouldn’t scientists also know, at least in part, their evolution from herbal recipes to the Royal Society onward? It seems to me that even a cursory study of scientific history would yield a better understanding of a lab as a social space with major social implications. Granted, Laboratory Life came out in the 70’s and as of late there has been a focus on medical humanities and medical history courses, so this claim is not entirely accurate, although these courses are aimed towards future MD’s who are more likely than lab scientists to interact with human subjects.

I struggled with the Laboratory Life this week. As a humanist, it seems obvious that interacting with the past (through text or object) allows us to embody the past in the present, which in turn contributes to the greater sum of human knowledge and mitigates some anxiety towards futurity. I see the potential for this work in traditional archives but also in humanities labs like CU’s Media Archeology Lab (MAL). Describing its motto as “the past must be lived so that the present can be seen,” the MAL offers a chance for researchers and artists to revivify what we now consider obsolete tools. Most humanities research maintains that understanding the lived and embodied experience of the past is significant to their work. Holding this premise, the MAL distinguishes itself from more traditional humanist research, however, in its emphasis on, what I’ll call, knowledge by physical manipulation—something akin to “play.” I make that distinction because I see all research as play that invokes knowledge through a particular medium: as literary scholars, words; as biologists, cells. In a way, this actually situates the MAL between the “two cultures”—if they exist.

[1] As if sociologists or humanists aren’t doing scientific work . . .

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