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New article by Alice Street in Social Studies of Science

The hospital and the hospital: Infrastructure, human tissue, labour and the scientific production of relational value

Abstract

How does science make a home for itself in a public hospital? This article explores how scientists working in ‘resource poor’ contexts of global health negotiate relationships with their hosts, in this case the doctors, nurses and patients who already inhabit a provincial-level hospital. Taking its lead from recent works on science, ethics and development, this article seeks to ‘provincialize the laboratory’ by focussing on the scientific tropics as a space of productive encounter and engagement. A view from the hospital reveals the tenuous process of ‘setting up’ a place for science, in a world that does not immediately recognize its value. The article examines the material exchanges of infrastructure, bodily tissues and labour that enable one young scientist to establish a scientific life for himself. The success of those transactions, it argues, ultimately derives from their objectification of scientific vulnerability and their enactment of relationships of mutual recognition. As opposed to asking how scientific knowledge is produced in the tropics, the view from the hospital challenges us to focus on the establishment of relationships between scientists and their hosts as a productive endeavour in its own right.

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