Introduction to the anthropology of science and technology
Culture Lab -
Team Project Instructions
In the course of the semeseter you will conduct a hands-on anthropological study of a cultural group in Claremont. Throughout the semester you apply anthropological tools and methods to gain an intimate knowledge of this group. Your research results in a collective research paper that provides an in-depth description, and an analysis of the cultural idiosyncracies of this group.
This is a team project; as a team you identify a group you want to learn about, you choose your methods, conduct the research, and write the report. There are two restrictions: you must choose a research object (a cultural group) that identifies itself, somway or other, through its involvement in science an/or engineering; and in your research you must apply anthropological methods we learn in class.
The purpose of this project is threefold: (1) learn anthropological appreoaches, and learn to apply anthropological methods; (2) learn about your research object; (3) experiment with working in a team.
How to choose a "research object"
Your research object is a group that distinguishes itself from other groups through particular cultural characteristics; your team's job is to identify, understand, describe, and analyze what binds this particular group, and how its members distinguish themselves from others. Your "research object" (cultural group) acn be a variety of things: a major, a research lab, a course, a dorm, the dining hall, the library, an academic institution -- as long as your research object constitutes a group; as long as it is defined in some way by its engagement in science and/or engineering, and as long as the members of this cultural group identify themselves as members. Through studying this cutural group you want to learn something about the culture of science and techology more generally, so your object should be identified in some way or other by the pursuit of knowledge. You want to be sure from the outset that the group you will be studying forms a distinct cultural space; when choosing your object you have to be confident that it is different from other possible objects and that the differences can be attributed to "culture." Since time is limited it is useful to choose a cultural space that you are familiar with and/or have access to; on the other hand you have to be able to distance yourself to such an extent that you can learn to identify what sets this group apart. Don't get trapped in stereotypes -- be prepared to learn something new about your research object. Identifying culture is not the same as reproducing stereotypes!
What is this thing we call culture? People -- or so anthropologists belive -- are to a large extent products of the culture in which they live; anthropologists explain differences between people primarily in cultural (rather than biological) terms. To understand what anthropologists mean by the word culture, think of how biologists use it: culture here means an environment for growth. And think of its use by humanists: civilization. For anthroplogists culture is an ewnvironment that socializes people in particular ways; the world is divided in many cultures, each of which is a complex and intricate system of meanings, symbols, myths and historically developed practices. As Sharon Traweek describes it in Beamtimes and Lifetimes (1988, 7-8), culture is a group's "shared set of meanings, its implicit and explicit messages, encoded in social action, about how to interpret experience." Cultures, then, have a coherence (my identity is to some extent formed by the culture in which I grew up and I recognize myself -- as much as otehrs recignize me -- as a member of that culture); a geography (place), a history (how did we collectively get where we are), a mythology (or a cosmology, that explains the world), a social organization (hierachy that stratifies and orders people and things), a developmental cycle (changing roles as people mature), and a material counterpart (objects that have special meaning and function). It is your job to "map" these aspects of your research object.
Anthropological tools and methods
These include, amongst other things, interviews, participant observation, visualization, experiment, informed consent, maps, charts, diagrams, flowcharts, kinship structures, survey, focus group, discussion list, etc. We will discuss these tools and methods and and expand the list throughout the semester, based on your contributions. Be creative in thinking up new methods.
Culture, society, space, structure, process, belief system, discipline, objects, others???
The course has built-in team assignments: there are milestones that need to be completed, such as photoreports, maps, interviews, interim report, report outline, and the like. These milestones need to be completed on time; not only are they part of your grade, they also serve to give you a sense of progress, to keep your team project on track, and to make sure that you complete it on time. See schedule for due dates.
Team work, self-grading, and transparency
Working in teams is notoriously difficult and this course iintends to give you experience and hand you some tools to do it effectively. Transparency, collaboration and communication are key: transparency about who does what and about carrying your individual load; collaboration in sharing work, thoughts, and ideas; communication about team objectives, activities, and processes. As a team it is your responsibility to involve all team members in team activities, and to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. For every completed team assignment I expect each member of the team to hand in a self-grade form, in order to maintain transparency and accountability. Please consult me if you have questions or if your collaboration isn't as smooth as it should be.
20-25p; using 5 external sources (for example course text books) and based on your application of anthropological methods. The paper is a collective product; your individual work will be documented in self-grade forms. Do all you can to make the collaboration smooth; pay attention to process and consult me whether or not there is a snag.
I will meet with each team at least once every three weeks, more frequently if so desired.