Seminar: Susan Silbey, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Bronfman Building Room 410, 1001 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 1G5, CA

Governing Green Laboratories: Trust and Surveillance in the Cultures of Science

Susan Silbey
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Date: April 25, 2014
Time: 10:30 am - 12:00 pm
Location: Room 410


The social studies of science have produced a rich literature documenting the ways in which the cultures of science vary, from the degrees of social embeddedness, the organization of space, the locations in social hierarchy, the meanings of data, the relationships among theory, experiments and available technology, and the different ways in which fields of science constitute knowledge, what Knorr Cetina calls epistemic cultures. In this work, I expand the repertoire of variation by describing the different ways in which biologists and chemists respond to the prospect of legal regulation of their laboratories, to increased surveillance and inspection, as well as prescribed training programs and monitoring, all in the name of environmental health and safety. With data from an ethnographic study of the creation and implementation of an environmental health and safety system for managing hazards in academic laboratories, this paper presents the results of what turned out to be a natural experiment. Two departments (biology and chemistry) with similar hazards and together producing over 75% of the chemical waste on campus respond differently to the safety system designed to apply uniformly across all departments and laboratories. I explain the variation in terms of the histories, laboratory organization and epistemologies of the disciplines.  Despite the different interpretations of the responsibilities for managing hazards in the laboratory, both biologists and chemists accept the overall legitimacy and importance of the project of environmental health and safety but create safety in distinctly different ways. 

For more information, please contact Linda Foster at: linda [dot] foster [at] mcgill [dot] ca