About the Lab

Black Box Labs (est. 2020) is a research and training 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. Methodology describes a process for conceptualizing, collecting, and organizing evidence. Qualitative methodologies use texts as the primary form of evidence in response to a particular research question. The lab trains students in qualitative methodologies in STS and associated fields (sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, feminist and critical race studies, performance studies, architectural and design studies, philosophy and history of science) that guide the collection and interpretation of evidence pertaining to scientific knowledge and practices, the relationships between users and technologies, and broader scientific institutions and technical infrastructures. Black Box Labs opens up space for experimental methodologies that cut across these areas of inquiry. Digital arts and humanities scholarship, website design, and science communication are equally central to the Lab’s translational approach.

Our lab’s icon, the black box, has different valances in science studies, critical race theory, and design and performance studies, each of which contributes meaning for our work. The black box carries connotations of mysterious processes, privacy, and escape. The black box has important meanings for our orientation to research methodology, design, and the ethics of social research. In STS, the black box represents a kind of technoscientific process/object/system whose inner workings are unknown or poorly understood. Visitors may want to consult Bruno Latour’s 1999 book Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies or The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money by Frank Pasquale for more extensive treatments of black boxes in global science and capitalism. Our vision is for the lab to be a generative space for research collaborations that draw upon the methodological insights of STS to open the black boxes that create unequal patterns of penalty and privilege across societies. In this register, we are trying to deconstruct the black boxes that perpetuate social inequalities and suffering and help design those that might lead towards more liberatory futures.

In some moments, we will work like STS scholars, opening and deconstructing black boxes, paying close attention to the power relationships that constitute them; in others, we get into a black box to escape like the activist and artist Henry “Box” Brown did; and, still others, we close the curtains and create with each other as in the intimate experimental space of the black box theater or recording studio. The story of Henry “Box” Brown inspires our work in the lab, especially as rendered by Daphne Brooks in Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910 and Britt Russert in Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture. Mr. Brown was Black man, born into slavery in Virginia, who made successful arrangements to ship himself to freedom in 1849 in a wooden box, subsequently becoming a performance artist and abolitionist.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. In hip hop culture, 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 for expressive liberation. As such, the lab operates via antiracist, feminist, and decolonial research praxis. Through our collaborative research, we aim to decipher methods, translate technoscience, and foster justice.