Black Box Labs is an undergraduate laboratory in the Science in Society Program at Wesleyan University that offers students training in qualitative research methods aligned with science and technology studies and the opportunity to collaborate with faculty on research.
Our lab’s icon, the black box, has different valances in science studies, critical race theory, and performance studies, each of which contributes meaning for our work. Sometimes, we open and unpack black boxes, paying close attention to the power relationships that constitute them like Bruno Latour, sometimes we get in them to escape like Henry “Box” Brown, other times, we close the curtains create meaningful things with each other in them as in the intimate space of the black box theater.
As a lab, we are inspired by the radical spaces of critical scholars, activists, revolutionaries, and performers around the world who conspire for justice, freedom, and liberation. The lab is where the elements of rhetorical composition, embodied performance and digital recording technology come together in a cipher to create new knowledge. By invoking the language of the meeting as cipher, we encode our work into the age of technoscience as it intersects with the rise of neoliberalism and neocolonialism, generating the need for the cypher in hip hop–the gathering of co-creators focused on a common vision.
We aim to decipher methods, translate technoscience, and foster justice. Our vision is that the lab will be a generative force for faculty-student-community research collaborations that draw upon the methodological insights of science and technology studies to do the work of science, technology, and social justice. As such, the lab will operate via antiracist, feminist, and decolonial research praxis and will build on intellectual linkages to and expertise from across and beyond our campus.
The lab has a research mission and a teaching mission. The lab will enhance students’ distinctive learning experiences by expanding their training in social science research methodologies and the ethics of social research in both scholarly and applied settings. Training in qualitative research methodologies synchronizes our research and teaching missions.
The lab’s research mission is organized thematically into crosscutting projects in science, technology, and health. The lab will cultivate active engagements across the social and natural sciences, humanities, and creative arts and will investigate problems that cut across histories, cultures, and epistemes. Over time, the lab will develop new faculty, student, community research projects that flow out of our ongoing relationships. Overall, we are committed to translating STS knowledge into social justice practices and grounding STS research in an ethics focused on justice.
The lab’s teaching mission is focused on applied training for students, faculty, and community groups in STS-aligned qualitative research methodologies (ethnographic, archival, narrative, visual). We will develop pedagogical resources (“Manuals”) for teaching each other how to do qualitative research on science, technology, and health and package those resources digitally for future cohorts of lab participants. Over time, we will sharpen and refine our manuals, articulating what it means in processual terms to do certain kinds of investigations of scientific objects and technological systems.