Life Among the Scientists: An anthropological study of an Australian scientific community
Oxford University Press, 304 pp, $19.95 pb
It’s a lovely idea – to go among the scientists in a pith helmet, learn their lingo, suss out what’s really going on behind the myths of cool objectivity. Like any other major human undertaking, science is a matter of interests, conscious or covert, set by policy and ideology alike. Such factors are all too easily accepted as inevitable and innocent; think of the male-dominated, reductive cast of traditional laboratory practice.
During the last decade, a kind of anthropology of urban subcultures has arisen, abandoning the highly romanticised jungles of the Third World to colonise the offices and labs of our own. Exchanges between participants are explicitly treated not as an ethnographic resource to be taken at face value, but as a topic for sceptical investigation.