Ethnography of Laboratory in Digital Humanities
Below, you can find slides presentation for a conference talk given by Urszula Pawlicka-Deger at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) organised by the University of Victoria, Canada in June 2021. More details can be found on the DHSI 2021 website here.
Ethnography of Laboratory in Digital Humanities: Methodological Reflections
In the 1970s, sociologist Bruno Latour stepped inside a neuroendocrinology research laboratory at the Salk Institute in California to seek answers to the questions: What happens inside laboratory walls? How are scientific facts produced in a laboratory? Questions such as these stimulated ethnographic studies of laboratories aimed at understanding scientific work. The study of science and technology through direct observation at the root of where knowledge is produced – in the laboratory – contributed to enhancing the public understanding of the substance of science that is, in fact, a network of complex actors and factors. Is it, therefore, possible to understand how humanities knowledge is produced by stepping inside a laboratory for humanities inquiry and observing research, technical, and administrative teams at work?
In this presentation, I will discuss the methodological approaches to conduct the ethnography of laboratories in digital humanities. It will be based on my ethnographic study of King’s Digital Lab – a unique lab made up of research software engineers who work on technical research solutions for conducting digital research in the humanities and social sciences. First, I will reflect on why the study of humanities knowledge creation has been largely unexplored and why it is important to open a Pandora’s box of humanities inquiry. Next, I will discuss the integrative methodology that I have developed and used in my research. By merging various ethnographic methods – a laboratory ethnography developed in science and technology studies, the ethnography of infrastructure in information studies, and digital ethnography in anthropology – I aim to build a new toolset for studying the intertwining of human organisation, infrastructure, and knowledge. I will also consider epistemological challenges that need to be addressed to reveal and understand the entanglement of technology, practices and culture in knowledge production.