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Message posted on 08/10/2020

Proposal: Among white coats: Politics and practices of ethnographies of biomedicine and STEM

Dear Colleagues,

Please find below a call for chapters that might be of interest for those of you working on biomedicine and STEM.

Best wishes,


Among white coats: Politics and practices of ethnographies of biomedicine and STEM

The political epistemology of ethnography has undergone significant changes since the 1970s, exploring the asymmetries of power between the ethnographers and the participants, the positionality of the ethnographer, and how ethnographic knowledge is produced. However, most of the reflection has focused on cases in which the ethnographers hold more power and legitimacy in the global production of knowledge than the other participants. In this edited volume we aim to explore the asymmetries arising when conducting ethnographic research on biomedicine and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

An early reflection on studying up applying ethnography to study groups with a higher social prestige was advanced by Laura Nader in 1974. Since then a wealth of ethnographic studies have emerged that roughly fall under the umbrellas of Anthropology of Science and/or STS (Science and Technology Studies). Despite the proliferation, systematic analyses of the specific challenges of doing ethnography in these contexts have been relatively rare and confined to the methods sections of books and articles of ethnographers working on the sectors (e.g. Gusterson 1997; Williams 2018).

We aim to analyse the asymmetries of power arising both between the actors and between the actors and ethnographers and the situated, contextual and political nature of knowledge. We aim to untangle the different element of these asymmetries, including the divide between expert and lay, local and global/universal, objective and militant knowledge, and the hierarchies between disciplines. We are also interested in how official roles, formal qualifications, as well as class, gender and race/nationality/ethnicity, structure the production of knowledge.

Ethnographers bring their own positionality to the field, and this volume also aims to explore the conditions of the production of the ethnographers gaze.

We invite contributions rooted in specific ethnographic experiences, but with a focus on the standpoint, methodological and epistemological issues arising from doing ethnography of biomedicine and STEM, rather than on the findings pertaining more strictly to the objects of research.

We invite contributions exploring traditional ethnographical methods (participant observation, shadowing, in-depth interviews, etc.), as well as the methods of digital ethnography, taking in consideration also how the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting in-person ethnography.

If you are interested in contributing to this project, please send an abstract (300 words maximum) and a bio (200 words maximum) by the 30th of October to and

The selected abstracts will be included in a book proposal. We are currently discussing the publication of the volume in an STS book series.


Gusterson, Hugh (1997) Studying Up Revisited. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 20(1): 114-119.

Nader, Laura (1974) Up the Anthropologist Perspectives Gained From Studying Up. In Dell Hymes (ed.) Reinventing Anthropology. New York: Vintage Books: 284-311.

Williams, Logan D.A. (2018) Mapping Superpositionality in Global Ethnography. Science, Technology & Human Values 43(2): 198-223.

Fatima Elfitouri

PhD Candidate

Graduate Teaching Assistant

Department of Global Health & Social Medicine

School of Global Affairs

Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy

Kings College London

North-East Wing | Bush House | London | WC2B 4BG

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