Allotropes of Fieldwork in Nanotechnology

  • Christopher Kelty
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 101)

This article discusses the distinctive contributions that the discipline of anthropology (in particular, socio-cultural anthropology) might make to the study of nanotechnology. It focuses on recent research conducted by anthropologists on the subject of nanotechnology, human health and the environment at the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University. The chapter plays on the chemical concept of “allotropes” as a way of understanding three variations on the method of anthropological fieldwork. These allotropes of fieldwork include a focus on site, in this case CBEN; a focus on method, especially the role of observations, particip?tion and objectivity; and a focus on substance, the subject matter of nano-science and technology, in this case water and its Relationship?to nano-materials. The argument of the paper is that all of these are necessary for effective ethnographic work and they can focus attention on the human practices that shape research, concepts and results in nanotechnology. It further argues that such practices go unnoticed, or are deliberately downplayed, by some nano-scientists and engineers, and so the contribution of anthropology can be to highlight certain critical projects or p?tential alternative futures not otherwise visible.

Keywords

Anthropology fieldwork environment human health methodology 

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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

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  • Christopher Kelty

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