“Groping for Trouts in a Peculiar River:” Challenges in Exploration and Application for Ethnographic Study of Interdisciplinary Science

In Kieran C. O'Doherty, Lisa M. Osbeck, Ernst Schraube & Jeffery Yen (eds.), Psychological Studies of Science and Technology. Springer Verlag. pp. 103-126 (2019)
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Abstract

We describe our efforts to address theoretical opportunities and methodological challenges that arose in the context of our ethnographic investigation of research labs in four different fields of bioengineering science. The multiyear study compared the common and specific features of four sites of interdisciplinary practice and aimed to analyze personal and collective goals, problem formulations, methods, technologies, and social organization within each lab. In the second phase of the study we sought to inform curriculum development for biomedical engineering from the ethnographic study, with the broader goal of positioning students to engage in the kind of thinking scientists actually do. Evaluating thinking in action posed considerable challenges, and required us to develop an approach to assessing the extent to which students enrolled in the new course were “thinking like a biomedical engineer.” Our principal point of emphasis for this chapter is that honest confrontation of the challenges of ethnographic study of science practice must lead to caution, yet that ethnographic study of science enables innovative adaptations of methods and can yield vital insights into psychological dimensions of science, including interdisciplinary science.

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Nancy Nersessian
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