Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Ethnographic Invention: Probing the Capacity of Laboratory Decisions

Fisher, Erik

Journal Information:
Vol. 1, Num. 2


In an attempt to shape the development of nanotechnologies, ethics policy programs promote engagement in the hope of broadening the scope of considerations that scientists and engineers take into account. While enhancing the reflexivity of scientists theoretically implies changes in technoscientific practice, few empirical studies demonstrate such effects. To investigate the real-time effects on engineering research practices, a laboratory engagement study was undertaken to specify the interplay of technical and social considerations during the normal course of research. The study employed an ethnographic invention in the form of a decision model to structure reflection on ongoing social processes. A short series of interactions with one engineering researcher illustrates the deployment of the model in the form of an interview protocol. The cultural embedment of the protocol allowed it to function as a feedback mechanism, creating a more self-critical environment for knowledge production, and perturbing the system in research-tolerable ways.