Sandra Calkins

Between the lab and the field:  Plants and places of evidence in a Ugandan-Australian research collaboration

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Abstract   What, if any, new ideas can standardized and self-validating testing set-ups in molecular biology distill in a place like Uganda? This lecture thematizes the distribution of value and labor in a joint Ugandan-Australian project. Ugandan biologists are testing transgenic banana plants in a context, where the banana is a highly familiar main staple and where their work takes them more into the field than is usual in their lab-based discipline. I examine the ways in which place and forms of valuation become implicated in one another in scientific practices, tightening hierarchies between western, masculine places of high science in Australia and their devalued and feminized counterparts in Uganda. Based one and half years of ethnographic field research, I trace how the banana plant nonetheless becomes differently thinkable in the place-specific field practices of Ugandan biologists. Although these conceptual innovations become backgrounded in a disciplinary culture that fetishizes placelessness, even repetitive and self-affirming testing arrangements are not epistemically locked-in but can make familiar entities thinkable in new ways.

Biography   Sandra Calkins is Assistant Professor for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Free University of Berlin. She has done field research in Sudan, Uganda, and Australia on uncertainty, nutrition, land rights, and human-plant relations. Her current research, inspired by STS, more-than-human anthropologies, and medical anthropology, examines a Ugandan-Australian science collaboration to improve banana plants.

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Published Sep. 3, 2020 1:00 PM - Last modified Oct. 20, 2020 12:30 PM