Invisible Labour in Modern Science is about the people who are concealed, eclipsed, or anonymised in accounts of scientific research. Many scientific workers—including translators, activists, archivists, technicians, curators, and ethics review boards—are absent in publications and omitted from stories of discovery. Scientific reports are often held to ideals of transparency, yet they are the result of careful judgments about what (and what not) to reveal. Professional scientists are often celebrated, yet they are expected to uphold principles of ‘objective’ self-denial. The emerging and leading scholars writing in this book negotiate such silences and omissions to reveal how invisibilities have shaped twentieth and twenty-first century science.
Invisibility can be unjust; it can also be powerful. What is invisible to whom, and when does this matter? How do power structures built on hierarchies of race, gender, class and nation frame what can be seen? And for those observing science: When does the recovery of the ‘invisible’ serve social justice and when does it invade privacy? Tackling head-on the silences and dilemmas that can haunt historians, this book transforms invisibility into a guide for exploring the moral sensibilities and politics of science and its history.
Jenny Bangham is a Wellcome University Award Lecturer in the School of History, Queen Mary University of London, where she researches the politics, meanings, and practices of genetics. She is the author of Blood Relations: Transfusion and the Making of Human Genetics (2020), which explores the intimate connections between the infrastructures of blood transfusion and the development of human genetics. She is co-editor of the open access volume, How Collections End: Objects and Loss in Laboratories and Museums (2019).
Xan Chacko is a lecturer in science, technology, and society at Brown University, whose research complicates narratives of scientific practices and knowledge. Her current book, The Last Seed: Botanic Futures in Colonial Legacies situates the emergence of cryogenic seed banking as a response to catastrophic species loss of plant life in the twentieth century.
Judith Kaplan is a historian of the human sciences who teaches in the Integrated Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She has published widely on topics from orientalism to sound studies and is currently completing a manuscript on Living Language and the Transformation of Linguistics, 1871–1918.
Series Editor’s Note
Commentary: Sabine Clarke: People and the processes of erasure
1. Julia Rodriguez: Under the Mexican sun: Zelia Nuttall and eclipses in Americanist anthropology
2. Lan A. Li: Escaping immortality: science, civilization, and Lu Gwei-djen
3. María Fernanda Olarte-Sierra: Producing and delivering truth: The (in)visibility of forensic scientists in Colombia
4. Margaret Bruchac: Of animacy and afterlives: Material memories in Indigenous collections
5. Alexandra Noi: The ex-prisoners of Gulag in the Siberian Expeditions
6. Laura Stark: The bureaucratic ethic and the spirit of bio-capitalism
7. Elise Burton: ‘They Say They Are Kurds’: informants and identity work at the Iranian Pasteur Institute
Commentary: Gabriela Soto Laveaga: (Em)powering narratives of technology
8. Mihai Surdu: Categorizing Roma in censuses, surveys and expert estimates
9. Ana Carolina Vimieiro Gomes: Situated knowledge and the genetics of the Brazilian Northeastern population, 1960–1980
10. Sarah Blacker: The invisible labour of translating Indigenous Traditional Knowledge in Canada
11. Omnia El Shakry: Invisible bodies: psychoanalysis, subjugated knowledges, and intimate ethics in postwar Egypt
12. Susannah Chapman: The (in)visible labour of varietal innovation
13. Stuart McCook: Coffee breeders, farmers, and the labours of agricultural modernization
Commentary: Susan Lindee: Invisible, secret, and social,
14. Elena Aronova: Citizen seismology, Stalinist science, and Vladimir Mannar’s Cold Wars
15. Jenny Bangham: Blood, paper and invisibility in mid-century transfusion science
16. Xan Chacko: Invisible vitality: the hidden labours of seed banking
17. Judith Kaplan: Oneida inscriptions,
18. Whitney Laemmli: Making movement matter,
19. Caitlin Wylie: Invisibility as a mechanism of social ordering: How scientists and technicians divide power
Commentary: Judith Kaplan: Teaching practices with invisible labour
20. Joanna Radin: Collecting human subjects: ethics and the archive
21. Lara Keuck: Locating sources, situating psychiatry, complicating categories: a journey through three German archives
22. Boris Jardine: Turing, or: an exhibition should not mean but be
23. Alexandra Widmer: Reproductive labour and indigenous hospitalities in post/colonial fieldwork
24. Rosanna Dent: Invisible infrastructures: A’uwẽ-Xavante strategies to enrol and manage warazú researchers
25. Michaela Spencer: Cultivating a northern Australian public for Yolŋu Cosmologies: ‘Keeping visible’ Yolŋu research practices and their effects
About the Editors and Contributors
Over the past four decades, scholars who study science have demonstrated that assistants, technicians, field guides, Indigenous elders, and research subjects become invisible in public accounts of science. Reflecting the concern to recover these persons, this volume's contributing authors seek to describe "science as a social and cultural activity" (p. 255) more accurately by examining the processes that obscure or erase. Collectively, the 25 short case studies cover representative sites where knowledge has been produced (laboratory, field, museum, archive) in a range of disciplines around the globe in the 20th and 21st centuries. Bangham, Chacko, and Kaplan successfully bring together a volume that will spark debates over methods and ethics within their own disciplines and beyond. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students and faculty.
What do we not see? A lot! Invisible Labour in Modern Science brilliantly uncovers the layers of global infrastructures of people, power, process, and practices behind the production of science. Rich, expansive, detailed, and nuanced, this is an invaluable collection.
Many sorts of people are involved in making scientific knowledge; only a few appear as its authors. Invisible Labour in Modern Science is a wide-ranging collective effort to draw attention to those many and to say why their work has attracted so little notice.
The history of modernity is often told as a fable about the triumph of vision enabled by science. This collection rewrites that familiar story as a parable about invisibility. By shadowing the various forms of labor that mediate between the seen and the unseen, the authors draw out the many scales, techniques, uses, abuses, and essences of invisibility haunting both science and the history of science.
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