, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 155–165 | Cite as

Ethnographic Invention: Probing the Capacity of Laboratory Decisions

Original Paper


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.


Nanotechnology Modulation Socio-technological change Laboratory Ethnography 



Thanks to Clark Miller, Shiv Visvanathan, Arie Rip, David Guston, Elizabeth McNie, David Conz, Rutger van Merkerk, Paul Rabinow, and two anonymous reviewers for commenting on earlier drafts of the paper; Roop Mahajan, Carl Mitcham, Michael Lightner, Juan Lucena, Roger Pielke, Jr., Doug Sicker, and Ron Brunner for their input on the project objectives and design; and the researchers in the Thermal and Nanotechnology Laboratory, including Gurpreet Singh, Paul Rice, Frank Kreith, and especially Krishna Ramadurai. Michael Gorman and Jane Macoubrie commented on early versions of a decision protocol. This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under cooperative agreement #0531194.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State UniversityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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