Between the Lab and the Field. Plants and the Affective Atmospheres of Southern Science
Calkins, Sandra – 2021
In view of persistent global inequalities in scientific knowledge production with clear centers and peripheries, this paper examines a lingering concern for many scientists in the Global South: why is it, at times, so hard to have scientific insights from the South recognized? This paper addresses this big question from within a long-term field immersion in a Ugandan–Australian scientific collaboration in molecular biology. I show how disciplinary hierarchies of value affect the distribution of labor between Uganda and Australia and thematize the role of place and its affective atmospheres that texture the quotidian scientific work in this project. Unsurprisingly, they tend to devalue Ugandan sites and contributions, and turn Uganda into a rather unlikely site for new insights to emerge. However, in spite of doing devalued and outsourced “menial” labor such as fieldwork, Ugandan biologists’ fieldwork involves affective encounters with their experimental banana plants that thereby become differently thinkable. The paper argues that attending to affective atmospheres that infuse research sites offers clues about scientists’ position in global hierarchies and at the same time can help make room for insights that emanate from unexpected places.