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Urban Laboratories

Workshop Urban Laboratories: towards a Science and Technology Studies (STS) of the Built Environment

Thursday 5 and Friday 6 November

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Maastricht University, the Netherlands

Organized by the Manchester Architecture Research Centre and Maastricht Virtual Knowledge Studio

  • Theme and Focus
This workshop follows a recent argument by Collier, Lakoff and Rabinow (2006) in highlighting the relevance of the laboratory concept for the human sciences and proposes to analyse the urban built environment as an assemblage of local knowledge claims, collaborations and emergent interactions. This approach highlights ? following a veritable tradition in STS - the contingent cultural and institutional dimensions of knowledge production.

Such a shift allows for a more ethnographic investigation of laboratory dynamics and creates awareness of the heterogeneity of urban laboratories: besides academic research institutions, it might also be productive to investigate policy think tanks, planning departments, economic development agencies, architectural firms and creative clusters as urban laboratories.

Despite increasing references to the notion of laboratory in specific urban development and policy projects, sustained research on the role of these and other laboratories in shaping and transforming our cities is almost absent. This seems to reflect a broader trend in STS: after foundational work in the 1970s and 1980s that investigated the socio-cultural and technical context of knowledge production, this once active field of laboratory studies is now rather neglected (Kohler 2008) and Karin Knorr Cetina?s hope in a 1995 review essay that laboratory studies could be further extended by investigating ?processes of laboratorization? (163) in a variety of settings has hardly been realized.

This workshop aims to contribute to this extension by revisiting the theoretical notion of laboratory and by investigating the ways in which this notion can be productively put to work in our analysis of the urban built environment. Three dimensions are central in this regard:

  • Dimension 1*: we still know very little of the actual dynamics involved in
the emergence and reproduction of urban laboratories. Research, however, needs to avoid the internalist bias of early laboratory studies and should pay explicit attention to communication between urban laboratories and the rise of regional and transnational networks of expertise. *How do facts emerge and circulate in and through these networks of expertise?*

  • Dimension 2*: this second dimension is related to the first, but zooms in
on questions of method i.e. the ways in which features of urban life become objects of laboratory research and manipulation. In the case of research on and in the city in particular, there seems to be a constitutive tension between laboratory and fieldwork science that needs to be addressed (Gieryn 2006). *Through the use of which methods and in what ways do the various urban laboratories construct and manipulate local objects of research?*

  • Dimension 3*: laboratories interact with other laboratories, but they also
engage with a world directly outside the laboratory. This third dimension refers to the fact that laboratories actively shape the urban environment in which they are embedded. *How and to what extent do processes of laboratorization transform the built environment in which laboratories are simultaneously embedded?*

For a full call for papers, please see: http://www.fdcw.org/maastrichtvks/2009/04/workshop-urban-laboratories-to.htm