Between Theory and Craft: Exploring the Role of Co-operation within Scientific Research Labs

Bryn Lander


This article explores how researchers in a scientific research lab co-operate with each other and value these co-operations, using a case study of a life sciences lab as an illustrative example. It explores how researchers within the lab co-operate in three main ways: through their ideas, methods and resources. A core contention of this article is that the values researchers attach to these different ways of co-operating can be assessed on two dimensions: goals and ways of understanding. The goals dimension moves from group goals, manifested in the vision of the lab defined by its principal investigator, to the goals of individual researchers within the lab, often achieved through work on individual projects. Individual goals were more highly valued by researchers in this case study. The ways of understanding dimension moves from theory-based and theory-building research activities, to craft-based activities related to the research lab’s experiments. Theoretical ways of understanding are more highly valued by researchers in this case study. Combined, these two dimensions mean that researchers will value co-operations that support individual goals and theoretical ways of understanding more highly. Idea-based collaborations, individualistic and theoretical in nature, were the most highly valued. Collaborations based on resources, communal and craft-centered, were the least valued in this case study.

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