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The matter-of-fact in science: a sociological ethnography of a biochemistry laboratory

Abstract

The development of intellectual strands pointing to the
value of ethnographies of science are traced and the approach adopted for the present research is related to other laboratory observations. The findings gathered for this thesis are then presented. The ethnography is divided into two parts. Part 1 is written in the traditional anthropological style (describing the material surroundings, personnel, actions and events) but
part 2 departs from this tradition in order to indicate the primacy of the scientists' formal "stocktaking" discussions, In the course of these, meaning is attributed to laboratory findings and the actors discover what their following actions snould be. The group as a whole speaks to individuals, even to professors, and they obey. The GROUP, then, becomes a vib­rant being, a 11macroactor11 , and this being finds a voice in
the formal conversations. The character of these discussions is then analysed and the most plausible assumption is that the significance of reality is negotiated by the actors who use terms which are unavoidably and universally INDEXICAL. The literature on indexicality is reviewed. The disciplines of ethnomethodology and sociology are discussed and an emerging approach - the Theory of the Actor-Network - is chosen as an analytical framework in which ethnographic observations may be set. Its advantages are that it takes cognizanee of signifi­cant developments in both ethnomethodology and sociology and that it is directed towards understanding the tactics of control. With this analytical tool, the interactive maleability of of interests and knowledge becomes evident and phenomena
less visible to analyses unconcerned with power and control crystalise - for example, the negotiation of the attribution of authorship.

Publication Date Jan 1, 1984




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