Laboratory senses

Recent studies of science and technology have been highlighting their importance of listening, smelling, tasting, touching or proprioceptive bodies in scientific practice. Such studies show that even if though in many fields the sensory body is no longer a primary research tool, it is still often involved in a variety of secondary ways.

Scientists rely on their sensing body, for instance, in checking up on the status of experimental processes, in monitoring progress or periodicity, or diagnosing their equipment’s operation. The aural experience of science is a case in point here. Probe microscopists have been shown to listen to monitor the progress of their experiments and diagnose technical failures in their equipment. Likewise,  computer operators at Philips Physics Lab in the 1950s developed a deeply sensory relation with their equipment.

Drawing on participant observation/sensation and qualitative interviews at laboratories in the Netherlands and US, this project aims to contribute to such work by studying which roles sensory skills may play in the lab; what kinds of knowledge they yield; how they are cultivated, taught, mediated, justified and transferred between individuals and labs; and how they become embedded in the social relations of the lab. 

Focusing in part on the soundscapes of the laboratory, this post-doctoral project builds on my book Sound Science: Recording and Listening in the Biology of Bird Song, 1880-1980. The research has been part of the Sonic Skills: Sound and Listening in the Development of Science, Technology and Medicine (1920-now) project, which is funded by an Innovation Research Grant by the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and directed by prof. dr. Karin Bijsterveld. This project aimed to understand the contested position of sonic skills in knowledge production, historically as well as ethnographically.

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