Manufacturing Invisibility in “the Field”: Distributed Ethics, Wearable Technologies, and the Case of Exercise Physiology

  • Andi JohnsonEmail author


Exercise physiology has been reflecting and reconfiguring science and sport for over a century. Since the late nineteenth century, physiologists have investigated “exercising” motions, like running, walking, and bicycling, in both laboratory and field studies. Because these scientists move between their labs and what they consider “the field,” including spaces of athletic training and competition, exercise physiology offers an exciting case to answer questions relevant to both Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Sport Studies: How do exercise physiologists transform sporting spaces into sites of scientific experiment? How are competing athletes enrolled as research subjects, and how do they experience the research encounter? Do scientists consider the knowledge produced about human physiology in sporting spaces more or less “real” than their laboratory-generated data? Drawing from seven months of transnational ethnographic research, this chapter follows physiologists within and between their labs and their fields. Ethnographic data suggest that, in contrast to inhabiting a rather dramatic role in the laboratory, exercise physiologists manufacture their own invisibility in the field—such that athletes may not sense they are subjects of scientific research. The chapter illustrates how exercise physiologists manufacture this “invisibility” through two distinct mechanisms, one social and the other technical.



I thank the scientists, physicians, and subjects who permitted me to enter the laboratory—and field!—with them and to observe their work. I am particularly grateful to “Kara,” who gave helpful feedback on previous versions of this chapter, as did Rob Kohler, Mary Mitchell, Taylor Dysart, and Jon Johnson. Thank you to Mary McDonald and Jennifer Sterling for organizing the 4S panel, editing this book, and helping to bring the worlds of Science and Technology Studies and Sport Studies together. I am also extraordinarily grateful for the way they pushed me to clarify the argument and writing in this chapter. A Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Research Grant from the National Science Foundation and a Helfand Graduate Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Health helped support the research.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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