Open science hardware (OSH) are prototypes of laboratory instruments that use open source hardware to extend the purely epistemic (improving knowledge about nature) and normative (improving society) ideals of science and emphasize the importance of technology. They remind us of Zilsel’s 1942 thesis about the artisanal origins of science and instrument making that bridged disciplinary and social barriers in the 16th century. The emphasis on making, tinkering, and design transcends research, reproducibility, and corroboration in science and pushes to the forefront educational, emancipatory, and aesthetic and exploratory uses. I will use two recent projects, OpenDrop electrowetting platform and Open Source Estrogen that make but also reflect OSH’s playful, expressive, and performative strategies and define the present practices as “artisanal science.” These hybrid and ambiguous practices bridge divides between present disciplines and skills but they also define science as an everyday activity directly connected to the private and public interests of the citizens. To describe this epistemic and normative ambiguity of artisanal science, I employ Hannah Arendt’s 1958 critique of homo laborans and homo faber and claim that science artisans (citizen scientists, geeks, makers, and hackers) offer an alternative to professionalization of science as practiced in the university and R&D laboratories. Science artisans design and build instruments to engage in civic “vita activa” over instruments but also leisurely “otium” outside of the work and science labor. OSH in this sense empowers individuals and communities to explore new connections between scientific practices, public actions, and private interests (leisure). The science artisans strive for and explore sovereignty, dignity, and freedom in an age immersed in science and technology controversies by bridging the divides between art, science, engineering, and humanities.
Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society – SAGE
Published: Jun 1, 2017