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Pedagogy and Performativity: Rendering Laboratory Lives in the Documentary Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist

Natasha Myers
Isis
Vol. 101, No. 4 (December 2010), pp. 817-828
DOI: 10.1086/657480
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/657480
Page Count: 12
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Pedagogy and Performativity: Rendering Laboratory Lives in the Documentary Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist
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Abstract

ABSTRACT A recently released documentary on life in a protein crystallography laboratory offers an exemplary opportunity to examine how a popular account of scientific training models narrowly defined norms of masculinity and mentorship and simultaneously sets these as the tacit conditions for success in science. Rather than treating this documentary as a good or bad representation of what life in the lab is actually like, this analysis draws attention to how the scientists featured in the film perform for the camera and how the filmmakers splice together the action to animate an engaging story. This essay shows how this popular and widely circulating documentary frames science as a game to be won and stages scientific success on an agonistic playing field. Those who can “make it” are those who are tough enough and those who are willing and able to get entangled in the taunting, jesting, and jostling relationships that appear to be required for mentorship in this lab. The essay argues that this documentary tethers this model of success in science to restrictive norms of masculinity and in so doing promotes a pedagogical culture that fosters competition, rivalry, and ritualized shame. Feminist theories of performativity are engaged to consider the iterative processes through which narrowly circumscribed masculinities and styles of pedagogy are sedimented and naturalized. This essay aims to spur renewed attention to the care historians and anthropologists might take to examine the often hidden tropes that are lurking inside the stories about science that we find so salient.

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