AHP readers will be interested in the open-access Focus section of the most recent issue of Isis. Dedicated to fields, the section includes several pieces on the history of the human sciences. Titles, authors, and abstracts below:
“Introduction: What Is a Field? Transformations in Fields, Fieldwork, and Field Sciences since the Mid-Twentieth Century,” by Cameron Brinitzer and Etienne Benson. Abstract:
In recent decades, scholarship in the history of science has explored the emergence and development of sciences in which fields serve as privileged sites of knowledge production. Much of this work has focused on the field sciences’ formative period from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, and it is the definitions of the field, fieldwork, and field science emerging from the study of this period that have come to dominate the historical literature. Those definitions cannot, however, account for transformations that have taken place across many field sciences since the mid-twentieth century. Examining a diverse set of disciplines and contexts, the contributions to this Focus section reveal the specific conceptual and material contours of fields, fieldwork, and field sciences during this more recent period and suggest a number of unanswered questions and topics for future research.
“Reservations,” Laura Stark. Abstract:
The lab/field binary obscures a coherent structure that grounds both types of sites: settler colonialism. In the United States, settler colonialism has depended on property relations based on dispossession and white supremacist logics that have supported and been supported by sciences in a range of sites. The case of the National Institutes of Health on the reservation(s) registers the experiences of a college student who was alternately a “human subject” of lab-based medical research and a white-settler science technician for human-subjects field research on a Native reservation in the early 1960s—as well as a “human subject” of this historical research. This case documents how settler scientists in the postwar period used the term “reservation” to refer both to the land on which laboratories sat and to the Native Land on which they carried out field research. In doing so, the essay explores how anthropology and medicine have been mutually constituted; how scientific pursuits, whether in the lab or in the field, depend on settler occupation; and yet how responsibility to account for past and ongoing dispossession has largely fallen on the history of the field sciences—even as anti-colonial laboratories are transforming science in the present day.
“Whose Home Is the Field?” Rosanna Dent. Abstract:
Twentieth-century field research in the human sciences has repeatedly rendered specific communities and people as subjects of study. As scientists layered field upon field in the same spaces, subjects have gained their own forms of expertise. This essay examines the history of research in Terra Indígena Pimentel Barbosa, in what is now Central Brazil, to argue that fields are composed of human relations and that historians of science have the moral responsibility to recognize that fields are almost always someone’s home. As we constitute our own fields, we accrue obligations of reciprocity, both with the scientists we study and with the communities that were their subjects. To study the past, we must attend reflexively to the futures we make possible.
“Generating Fields,” Cameron Brinitzer. Abstract:
Historians of the field sciences originally advocated an analytic turn away from lab sciences like physics, arguing that science in the field provided richer opportunities for investigating scientific practices than science conducted in labs, while advancing a conceptual definition of fields as categorically opposed to labs. But by attending to the technical use of an electromagnetic field in an experimental psychology lab that I constituted as a field for my own research, I revisit the lab–field relation in light of this layered multiplicity of fields in the lab, demonstrating how fields are always generated—whether as sites of science, sources of epistemic authority, or invisible physical entities—through a diverse range of social, conceptual, technical, and material practices.