Trust and Surrveillance in the Cultures of Science


On June 18, 2001, the First Circuit Federal Court in Boston recorded a consent decree between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") and a major research university. This agreement is an example of a relatively new form of regulation seeking to promote better management of private firms in ways that meet legislated public goals. Although most regulation attempts to manage some activities of private firms, this strategy supplants more familiar policies that mandate either the use of specific technologies or specific levels of performance. This management based strategy locates the design, standard setting, and implementation of regulation within the regulated organization itself, creating a form of private management in the public interest, or regulation at a distance. Both the EPA and the University viewed this agreement as an opportunity to create a model of safe, healthy, and 'green' laboratories, thus enhancing the reputation and effectiveness of both institutions.

This project studies the development and implementation of this new environmental, health and safety system ("EHS"). While much research tries to determine if regulation works and whether it is cost effective, too few studies have looked at the ground level - inside the organizations, at the shop floor level - to trace the behavioral and cognitive threads between the routines of daily work and government regulation. By observing the invention of the new EHS organization, its implementation, and dissemination across very different organizational units, the research will unpack the black box of regulatory culture by mapping the ways in which local cultures influence health and safety practices and create the possibility of sustainable improvement in environmental conditions. How, and in what ways, do local organizational cultures instantiate or challenge legal norms and regulations? What forms of surveillance and control operate, and with what effects, in professional/collegial versus bureaucratic/hierarchical organizations? The research will also expand the already significant roster of ethnographies of laboratory practices while focusing on the creation and work of boundary objects and organizations that mediate the worlds of science, law, and politics.

The EPA mandate is directed to the entire University organization, but in fact the University is at least two organizations and many local cultures, a professional-bureaucracy. One side is collegial, collectively governed, participatory, and democratic. The other side of the organization is an hierarchical, top down bureaucracy with descending lines of authority and increasing specialization. These organizational structures have implications for the differential interpretations of and responses to legal mandates, for how regulation is experienced, and what self-governance might mean. Participant observation, interviewing and ethnographic analysis will trace variations in the interpretations and responses to regulation, following the work of the committees and administrators designing the new system, a reorganization of the environmental health and safety office, as well as interviewing the lawyers from the University and the EPA who negotiated the consent degree.

More and more everyday social transactions now take place through new organizational forms, through intelligent machines, distant connections, and virtual worlds. This project follows the development of a model for how government can regulate in the public interest innovative and flexible organizations - just those kinds of organizations that have both invented and typify our contemporary social worlds. This is important not only because of the increasing significance of scientific and educational institutions in our current economy, but also because these institutions serve as models for new emerging organizational forms which depend on innovation, flexibility and large knowledge bases. Creating safe green laboratories can provide a model of how we can have both freedom and safety.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0518118. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.



Joelle Evans (2006-)
Stella Kounelakis (2007-)
Ruthanne Huising (2003-2008)
Tanu Ghosh (2005-2008)
Kiri Gurd (2007-2008)
John Paul Ferguson (2007-2008)
Sophia Roosth (2005-2007)
Kate Parrot (2007)
Heng (Alice) Xu (2007)
Kieran Downes (2007)
Hille Bruns (2006-2007)
Abby Spinak (2003-2004)
Katerina Ailova (2002-2004)
Dorota Wojtas (2003)
Alice Street (2002)
Lillie Werner (2003)
Rachel Prentice (2003)
Anita Chan (2003)


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