Labs support the production of research, but what supports the production of labs? The answer is infrastructure, combined with the policy that brings that infrastructure into being and maintains it. For many scholars of media and communications, the near synonymy of culture and infrastructure in the twenty-first century makes the study of infrastructure and policy imperative for anyone who wants to make a serious contribution to the critical tradition. While science and R&D labs seem to be ideal cases for the study of the sort of standardized, regulated, and structured spaces that enable further standardized and regulated things to emerge, the hybrid labs that we investigate are also founded on various levels of infrastructure, from material technologies to gray literature (that mass of mission statements, grant applications, annual reports, and other documents that drives the creation and long-term support of labs) to a multitude of protocols.
This chapter discusses labs from the point of view of infrastructure and policy. It highlights the role of gray literature in how labs produce and circulate knowledge, as well as the thick policy layer underlying lab infrastructure, with case studies concerning early home economics labs in the Canadian prairies and the Tuskegee Institute’s Jesup Wagon. These are followed by a discussion of two policy documents describing very different approaches to knowledge production, university lab policy, and infrastructure in the new millennium. The first, Michael Century’s report for the Rockefeller Foundation’s arts and humanities division, hews closely to the thread we have been pursuing throughout this book on the importance of hybrid studio-labs. The second is Michael Crow and Barry Bozeman’s book Limited by Design, a study of the role of R&D lab research in the origins of contemporary policy interventions such as the Arizona Model for the reorganization of university strategy. The Arizona Model uses a particular series of linkages between policy, university infrastructure, and the national economy to bring about a radical transformation of the university in order to align it with neoliberal political aims.
As a concrete and contemporary example of the complexities surrounding something so foundational and subtle as infrastructure, on March 25, 2019, the U.S.-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released a seemingly innocuous news brief in which the organization stated that it was updating “astronaut assignments” for the remaining two spacewalks of 2019. Christina Koch had been scheduled to conduct a spacewalk on March 29 with fellow astronaut Anne McClain in, according to NASA officials, “what would have been the first all-female spacewalk” (perhaps a gesture to Women’s History Month in the United States). However, after McClain learned in an earlier space walk on March 22 that a medium-sized spacesuit torso fits best, the organization found itself in the embarrassing position of only having one spacesuit that fit both women, and thus McClain was replaced with Nick Hague.1 The invisible, rarely mentioned infrastructure behind NASA consists of the many labs (as well as research and flight centers) across the world that attend to an astonishingly complex array of operations relating to aeronautics and space travel. Yet, despite its twenty-billion-dollar annual budget, the agency was unable to take into account the baseline needs of its female astronauts. Despite the “PR nightmare” that ensued, this should not be surprising considering that, as recently as 2017, according to Science magazine, “women make up just 15% of NASA’s planetary mission science teams.”2 It is not simply a matter of how the organization needs to have equal representation among its employees. It concerns how the very notions of what counts as expertise and who counts as an expert are intrinsically tied to the infrastructure and administration of that crucial engine of knowledge production: the lab.
Infrastructure is a broad concept because what it describes is messy, complex, and difficult to discern. In her foundational essay “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” Susan Leigh Star writes that the common conception of infrastructure as “a system of substrates” that is “by definition invisible, part of the background for other kinds of work [and] ready-to-hand” works well for most purposes.3 As the embodiment of standards and protocols themselves, infrastructure is hard to observe because it extends into and depends on other structures, technologies, and social arrangements to which it connects in a standardized way. Because it does not have to be reassembled or reinvented every time a task is performed, it really only becomes visible at moments of breakdown, lag, and other types of failure.
As Gregory Crane, Brent Seales, and Melissa Terras write, in the context of research, infrastructure does have a materiality that we can describe, however complex it might be:
Infrastructure includes intellectual categories (e.g., literary genres, linguistic phenomena, and even the canonical book/chapter/verse/line citation schemes whereby we cite chunks of text), material artifacts such as books, maps, and photographs, buildings such as libraries and book stores, organizations such as universities and journals, business models such as subscriptions, memberships, and fee simple purchases, and social practices such as publication and peer review. Our infrastructure constrains the questions that we ask and our sense of the possible.4
In other words, infrastructure isn’t just about stuff. It is distinct from lab apparatus (see chapter 2), not simply as a question of what is “inside” and “outside” a given lab but because of its variable scale. Infrastructure is often larger and more nebulous than apparatus, but it is no less determinative of what goes on inside labs—sometimes even more so. “Infrastructure does not simply affect the countless cost/benefit decisions we make every day—it defines the universe of what cost/benefit decisions we can imagine.”5 As Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski have emphasized, though, infrastructure also operates simultaneously at the microscale of bits and bytes. When thinking about infrastructure, we need to take a large range into account when describing the intricacies of the material and cultural relations it brings into being.6 Asking questions about infrastructure is part of the inquiry into how we relate to what’s inside a given lab and how it structures our relations with each other and, increasingly, with everything else.
As Alan Liu points out, our current experience of infrastructure is practically synonymous with the idea of culture itself, because the substance of most of our lives, both inside and outside of work, is structured by how various kinds of institutions organize it.7 In its recursive mode, infrastructure gives shape to specific communities of practice that modify the shape of that infrastructure in turn. Often, the only way to learn its intricacies is through membership in those communities (where, in tandem with space and people, as we discuss in chapters 1 and 4, it often also performs a gatekeeping function, indicating who does or does not have membership and therefore access). In other words, to study infrastructure is to study the organization of social practices and relations as well as networks of things.8
Complicating things even further, infrastructure is time-critical in that it always involves practices taking place in a particular setting at a particular historical moment. Sheila Anderson, in her conclusion to “What Are Research Infrastructures?,” picks up on this notion, observing that infrastructure is always about when as well as what:
Infrastructure becomes research infrastructure as part of a process of change, collaboration, and engagement. In these infrastructures, collection-holding institutions act as creators, curators, and bearers of knowledge about their holdings; technical development seeks not only to capture and represent digital information and content but also the processes by which that knowledge is created and continues to be created as it is analysed and used; researchers act not just as users but also as “readers,” of both the collection holding institutions and of the holdings, possessing both archival and artifactual intelligence, and weaving narratives based on interpretive and analytical research methods and processes.9
As Anna Foka and her coauthors contend, considering the temporal aspect of infrastructure allows us to consider how labs and the organizations that contain and fund them change over time.10 Studying the infrastructure of hybrid labs also requires us to think about the intertwined systems of substrates that structure the social and technical relations in, around, and through them that enable the production and circulation of knowledge at a particular time and place. As Foka et al. point out, though, this will require humanities scholars in particular “to review the categories that have so far helped us make sense of the sociotechnical reality we study. As technology progresses, we need to invent new concepts, relationships, and vocabularies to understand its impact. The concept of digital research infrastructure is, in this regard, especially challenging, as it cuts across and integrates concerns at multiple levels and across multiple temporal scales.”11
This review process is already under way. To assist in its study, Star, along with Karen Ruhleder, developed a list of properties to assist scholars thinking about infrastructure: it is embedded into various technologies and cultural assemblages; it is transparent and redundant because it does not have to be built from scratch every time it is needed; it extends beyond unique locales and events; it is inseparable from communities of practice that shape it and are shaped by it; it uses standards and protocols to connect to other infrastructures; it is built on an installed base; it becomes most visible during breakdown; and it becomes fixed incrementally rather than in a totalizing manner because, although things like international standards bodies exist, “nobody is really in charge of infrastructure.”12
The perception that no one is in charge of it is precisely why studying infrastructure requires a critical perspective. As Liu has observed, digital humanities in particular tends to be “lightly antifoundationalist,” in that its scholars recognize that although organizations and their attendant infrastructures might present themselves as orderly and rational, they are just as messy as any other aspect of culture. However, Liu argues that these scholars are “less interested in exposing the ungrounded nature of organizational institutions and infrastructures (as if it were possible to avoid or get outside them) than in illuminating, and pragmatically guiding, the agencies and factors involved in their making and remaking.”13 He argues that a lightly antifoundationalist approach is of limited use—and we concur—because it ultimately supports the status quo. Academic infrastructure has always been connected to other societal institutions, but these connections have become increasingly bushy and dendritic, complicating critical judgment.
We contend that hybrid labs are a product of the desire to use infrastructural affordances tactically, often for ethical reasons (Stone’s codeswitching umbrella, discussed in chapter 4, is a prime example). The fact that labs are products of a desire for tactical intervention of a sort also implies that critique of their infrastructure needs to be complemented by other forms of practice that produce alternatives in the course of lab work. There is, then, an opportunity to see labs as supported by and creative of novel sorts of infrastructures for academic practices that are relevant to a wider set of social contexts. Working in and around hybrid labs can and should lead to new ways of being a scholar, of training new scholars, and of connecting what happens in the academy to the larger world with all of its ambivalences, including the private sector.
Infrastructure as Document: Gray Literature
Because of its omnipresence and complexity, infrastructure can be difficult to pin down. But traces of it often manifest “as lists of numbers and technical specifications, or as hidden mechanisms subtending those processes more familiar to social scientists.”14 The material form that those lists of numbers and technical specifications often take is called “gray literature.” Gray literature, like infrastructure itself, is a congeries. This mass of bland and generally unobtrusive writing occupies a fuzzy middle zone on the spectrum between literary writing and scientific writing. Gray literature itself breaks down into what John Guillory has called “information genres” which we pretend have been flensed of all rhetorical value in order to better convey that peculiar modern invention called “information.”15 Examples include instruction manuals, documentation, reports, specifications, dissertations, conference proceedings, white papers, bibliographies, and so on.16
Gray literature is particularly constituent of labs in universities and in other institutions that house them. It is the stuff of mission statements, grant applications, annual reports, and web pages, all of which (must) make claims to cultural, governmental, and grant-providing institutions for how labs produce and circulate knowledge and how they expect legitimization and funding in return. This constitutive relationship between labs and gray literature is most visible in the case of hybrid labs housed inside universities (which actually run on gray literature, despite the loathing of faculty to produce or read it), but it is never entirely absent, even in the most iconoclastic of hybrid labs.
Journal articles, book chapters, newspapers, and other kinds of popular journalism describe what labs have accomplished, but gray literature makes labs into labs in the first place. Gray literature organizes the jumble of objects, practices, techniques, discourses, and subjects into institutionally recognizable forms. None of this organization requires that the people filling out the grant applications, requests for proposals, expense reports, and other documents believe what they are writing; passion, conviction, and good intent have nothing to do with it (which is partly why this stuff is called “gray” in the first place). All that matters is that the forms and reports have been completed, accepted, filed, and processed and that they continue to appear according to the institutional timetable in question. The job of gray literature is to fade into the background. It is a conduit that powers the claims of the laboratory and its denizens with the silent assent of the accrediting institution.
So how do we begin to discuss lab infrastructure when its precise job is to blend in, passing itself off as something too mundane to worry about? We are now quite familiar with methods for thinking about other aspects of the extended lab assemblage—subjects, discourses, material objects, and cultural techniques. What remains is to consider the role that infrastructure and policy plays in the production of labs as labs and in their articulation to larger cultures. Making visible this see-saw relationship between production and articulation is what Bowker and Star refer to as “infrastructural inversion”—learning to look at technological assemblages in such a manner that it becomes difficult for them to disappear from view.17 Gray literature is a ubiquitous component of infrastructure, and therefore, like other manifestations of ubiquity and interdependency, is a good starting point.18 It provides a set of articulations that make the productive work of the lab possible, yet infamously, it is seldom read after its creation.19 Our job is to adequately describe both the work of production and the work of articulation in this scene. In this instance, Bowker and Star are more helpful than, say, McLuhan’s notion of the figure/ground inversion, because they provide both an account of the properties of infrastructure and a set of methods for beginning to discern it. Given that it’s possible to find the gray literature around both contemporary and historical media labs in the backs of long-forgotten filing cabinets, used bookstores, and, increasingly, in the hastily digitized and unsorted stacks of digital repositories such as archive.org (all of this is part of what Bowker and Star refer to as the “materiality and texture” of infrastructure and its classification systems), gray literature provides a significant opportunity for beginning to think about the larger assemblage of lab infrastructure.
An analysis of gray literature should also involve a hunt for the work it makes invisible and for the workers whose labor is discounted or not formally recognized. For Bowker and Star, recovering the indeterminate multiple “voices and silences” that classification systems have elided in their drive to standardize is an important task.20 Who types up the reports and makes the phone calls bothering principal investigators until they finally fill in the forms, and where and how are those reports filed? Who requests price quotes for the purchase lists of tech, who organizes timetables and schedules for work, and what productivity software do they use? Who cleans the lab? Who patches the software and runs the cables, and where do the cables come from? Who watches the kids during crunch time? The production of gray literature, it seems, involves considerable amounts of affective and “immaterial” labor,21 which, at least, we now have a critical language to describe. But there is also a “practical politics” of design at play; someone made the decisions to create standards that include some people and things but exclude others. Behind the creation of those standards is power, as always, but how does it exert itself on anyone in any particular instance? Who wields it, and how long do the decisions they make last?22
Working through the gray literature that is part of the assemblage around any technology, labs included, is vital because it provides clues about how political decisions become embedded in infrastructure and then disappear from view, where they can do their work of classification and inclusion with relatively little oversight. As Bowker and Star point out, infrastructure’s tendency to fade into the background allows tyrannies of various sorts (large and small, intentional and unintentional) to take hold.23 If we’re going to take labs of any sort as an object of study—never mind contesting or reforming such processes of erasure—we need a better sense of the factors that guide our relationship to institutional infrastructure. One of those factors is policy.
Infrastructure and Lab Policy
“Policy” is a catch-all term for the set of rules, laws, and tools that a government or institution uses to manage activity in a particular cultural sphere. As Michel Foucault explains in Security, Territory, Population, “one of the most fundamental and typical elements” informing contemporary ideas about policy is police, which in turn points to the fact that policy manages the relationship of the individual to the state and to other individuals.24 One way it accomplishes this task is by producing, regulating, and maintaining particular kinds of infrastructures. Policy has an obligate relationship with infrastructure; it can lay out the conditions necessary to produce new infrastructures, and it can modify or manage existing infrastructures that have emerged piecemeal, but it is also developed according to infrastructural needs and requires a functioning infrastructure of its own in order to come into being at all and operate consistently and effectively.
Lab infrastructure has a thick policy layer that is particularly visible in tightly regulated government, institutional, and university labs. Hybrid labs such as media labs, art labs, and hacklabs may well express an oppositional stance, but the operations of many are subvented by operating funds from universities and by grants from arts organizations. Even the refusal to take any funding whatsoever, as in the case of a squatter hacklab, requires some sort of relationship to policy, insofar as such sites are nested in the implied governance infrastructures of urban planning, citizenship, and so on. Still, under such conditions, many hybrid labs have made significant progressive contributions both to their own fields and to transdisciplinary policy discourse.
An increasingly important example for us while writing this book has been the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), a feminist and anticolonialist marine science laboratory at Memorial University of Newfoundland that specializes in the community-based and citizen-science monitoring of plastic pollution, with particular attention to the appearance of plastics in food webs.25 CLEAR’s policies and protocols for knowledge production are the opposite of gray literature in that they are designed for maximum visibility and circulation. Not only are their basic principles stated up front on their web page, along with sources of funding, current personnel rosters, and land acknowledgments, but CLEAR has developed a Lab Book that explains everything on the same level, from their protocols for the visual processing of cod and other fish guts to look for tiny plastic traces without the aid of chemical analysis to how to run a weekly feminist science lab meeting.26 As a process document, the Lab Book bears the traces of its own history. Deprecated protocols such as the “Protocol Using Premade 10% KOH to Dissolve Fish Guts,” which the lab no longer employs because it creates toxic substances, remain in the document as a trace of the parallel development of policy and practice. The lab’s director, Dr. Max Liboiron, is both a research scientist and associate (indigenous research) at Memorial University—a division of labor which makes it more likely that progressive grassroots policy developed in such labs might be formalized into official university protocols.
Hybrid labs introduce new challenges and may still have unforeseen limitations. A prudent response to this situation would be solid, progressive policy formation as an aspect of infrastructural work. The reality, however, is that policy formation is always playing catch-up to what is occurring in society. Labs of all sorts frequently play a role in that process, as the historical example of home economics labs in western Canada shows in the following case study.
We began this book with the conviction that labs are more than a tangle of spaces and apparatus and people. Labs are sites for situated practice—geographically and historically specific chains of operations and techniques that produce not only knowledge but also specific kinds of subjects. Describing that specificity means also paying attention to the factors that inform any particular lab: cultural policy and its attendant infrastructure, but also the lab imaginary, that is, the fantasies, beliefs, and ideologies that provide the lab with its consistency, and the discourses in which that imaginary circulates. “The extended laboratory” is a useful name for this assemblage, rooted in a hugely significant but underexamined history. As with the famed “circuit of culture” in British cultural studies, scholars can begin anywhere in our extended lab assemblage as long as their analysis visits all of the other aspects of it along the way.27 Here, we’re going to begin with the lab site and work outward, but there are other ways to tell this story. For reasons of space, we have limited the scope to roughly the first half of the twentieth century.
The idea of “the extended laboratory” laid out in the Introduction to this book has a specific historical origin. The idea of extension evokes the early-twentieth-century policy project in western Canada called “agricultural extension”—the umbrella term under which the discipline that was variously called domestic science, household science, home economics, and finally human ecology, came into being. This policy project emerged directly out of home economics laboratories at various universities, notably at the University of Manitoba, by way of the discourse of modernity and scientificity that those labs developed and by way of the kinds of subjects they produced. By virtue of various infrastructures at the university and provincial levels (railways, roads, the electrical and gas grids, the telephone exchange, the newspapers, radio stations, and eventually TV channels), in combination with a series of innovative policy instruments and tools, trained and accredited researchers from home economics labs flowed out of the university and into the larger publics of city, town, and farm. Some of them went directly to work for the provincial government, consolidating links between these infrastructures, working to improve the circulation of new subjects into the university for training and to improve the process of knowledge dissemination back out again.
The relative beginnings of domestic science in colonial North America are with Ursuline nuns in Quebec, as early as the seventeenth century. But over the nineteenth century in Great Britain and the United States it was the imaginary of modernity that set the stage for industrialization, the rise of scientific objectivity, women’s suffrage, the sovereignty of the individual, and changes in pedagogical philosophy.28 Even the earliest public-facing documents of prairie home economics define its imaginary in terms of scientific method. A 1902 circular from the Winnipeg School of Household Science is worth quoting at length:
Household Science may be defined as the application of scientific principles and systematic methods of work to the mechanical problems of homemaking. It also embraces instruction in the science of all the processes carried on in the home, as well as the practical application of these scientific principles to the daily operations of housekeeping.29
Visual records from the period illustrate how this ideology was put into practice in concrete ways. These images have survived in university archives because of the kind of subject that the discipline of home economics produced via its lab spaces: it’s part of the ethos of home economics to keep meticulous records of everything, so the University of Manitoba’s fonds is a particularly rich site for researchers. Two other major resources include Johanna Gudrun Wilson’s comprehensive but unpublished 1966 master’s thesis for the University of Manitoba Faculty of Education, “A History of Home Economics Education in Manitoba 1826–1966,” and A Time in Our Lives: A History of Manitoba Home Economists in Extension, a privately published collective autoethnography written by midcentury alumni of the University of Manitoba Home Economics.30 The materials in these sources identify not only what is inside various domestic science and home economics labs but what it cost, where it was sourced, and where it went after new equipment was purchased.
Figures 25, 26, and 27 depict the University of Manitoba Home Economics Food Lab around 1914. The first image, shot from a different angle and probably with a different lens or different camera, seems to have been flipped horizontally for aesthetic reasons, creating a sense of spaciousness absent from the other two images. These images date from the year that the Household Science diploma program at the Fort Garry campus that would become the University of Manitoba (which began in 1910 at the old Manitoba Agricultural College in a different part of the city) became a degree.31
As Wilson notes in her thesis, because of the financial stresses created by World War I the construction of the promised home economics building was delayed, and it did not open until 1950.32 As a result, the Department of Household Science (later the Department of Home Economics) occupied the basement, second, and third floors of the Administration Building (60). The spatial arrangement of the lab follows the “open square” model, which had already been employed by 1909 in household science labs in Winnipeg high schools, like the Alexandra School in Winnipeg School Division no. 1 and the Brandon Central School’s domestic science department in 1911 (154). It includes stationary tables on three sides of the room with gas jets for each student along a metal strip at the back of the table; the teacher’s desk on the open end; a table for supplies in the middle; and storage space built into the benches (112–13).
This setup was a substantial improvement over the Department of Household Science’s original food laboratory apparatus at the old Manitoba Agricultural College. The earliest food laboratory equipment there (around 1909–10) included wood, coal, and gas ranges plus the then-common “fireless cooker,” or haybox (40). (A 1902 circular from the Winnipeg School of Household Science describes an even earlier food lab as being equipped with twelve desks and Bunsen burners .) Home economics pedagogy always explicitly included the selection and care of equipment, and, as we point out above, home economists tracked everything, so we know that, in 1919, the equipment from Alexandra School was transferred to the Cecil Rhodes, Gordon Bell, and Hugh John McDonald Schools and that its estimated worth was still $2,800 (129, 115). Home economics was no different from any other science in terms of its participation in the long and honorable tradition of scrounging for lab equipment.
The uniforms in the images are also an explicit part of the lab apparatus. In 1909 the program required its students to manufacture specific aprons for the food laboratory, sewing, and housekeeping (37, 39). In the 1950s, students wore an entirely white uniform for the food lab, and some home economists continued to wear these after graduation while working in the field to project an aura of scientific efficiency.33
There were also other home economics lab spaces at the University of Manitoba, including the practice apartments and practice houses. A practice housekeeping apartment in the Administration Building served as the lab space for courses in materials and household efficiency, which were regularized as a course in household management in 1927. Mrs. L. C. Duncan, who taught this course for years, “urged the Board to provide proper laboratory facilities,” so in 1929 the university rented the Sprague House on the northern edge of the university campus for that purpose. Wilson notes that in 1931 the department took over a second house, the Farm Cottage, which it used until 1939 (54). The Farm Cottage was small and poorly heated, so Ralph Ham designed the Practice House, a new redbrick Georgian residence, specifically for the Department of Home Economics.34 Wilson goes on to write that in 1957–58 the department opened four new home management apartments (64).
Wilson also tells of how two children, “wards of the Child Welfare Department,” also lived in the Sprague House “to give students experience in understanding and caring for young children” (54). Between 1929 and 1953, thirty-three children—mostly infants—lived in the Sprague House under the care of Miss Florence Mclauchlin (later Mrs. T. R. Brownridge).35 For a period it was mandatory for all third-year students to briefly spend time in the house as “child director” (54–55). After 1950 the new home economics building still had a “nursery school laboratory” (62). Just because we might find it difficult to imagine how a laboratory practice involving the rearing of children inside the lab would pass a university ethics committee today doesn’t mean that the Practice House was out of step with the university research culture of the time. The Practice House was every inch a hybrid laboratory, in keeping with a long tradition of display as part of animal behaviorist studies at the university’s Department of Psychology that persisted well into the 1980s, when ducklings inside a vitrine in one of the university tunnels were a popular sight.
By 1950, when the Department of Home Economics finally received its own building, it contained a range of laboratories (62). The food lab was renovated to include a section equipped for taste testing, and the new demonstration room, like an operating theater, included a large adjustable plate glass mirror over the main table (62–63). In 1961 a new textile lab and conditioning room opened, and a second, smaller textile lab for honors and graduate students opened in 1964 (63). By the 1970s the apparatus of the various home economics labs had become highly sophisticated, including equipment like gas chromatographs, amino acid analyzers, textureometers, weatherometers, Allo-Kramer shears, and Magnehelics. Many of these devices were part of the textile lab and were used to artificially stress or age fabric samples and then provide precise measurement of the changes they had undergone.36
Wilson writes that, from the time of the second household science year in 1911, “enough science was taught to give the student an intelligent understanding of the natural processes which she would encounter in her daily life and a scientific basis for practical studies” (41–42). Once the school relocated to the Fort Garry campus, students took courses in chemistry and bacteriology (44). In 1929, Miss Louise Pettingell became the first Manitoba home economics graduate to teach on the Winnipeg School Board staff (117). By the mid-1930s, high school home economics students were producing laboratory reports on the experiments they conducted (118). Meanwhile, by 1930 there was a thriving home economics research culture at the university, producing and disseminating original research: “Problems of an experimental lecture were carried on at the request of other departments or as part of nutrition studies. Between 1928 and 1934 experimental work on animals was undertaken to demonstrate, for example, the effect of proper food on growth” (51). Around 1940, the University Research Council approved the purchase of equipment for the establishment of a textile research laboratory (52).
There’s one more unusual home economics hybrid lab space that demands some attention, in part because it circulates; this space also briefly returns us to the materiality and function of the images with which this case study opens. The three images of the 1914 food lab aren’t just photographs: they’re postcards. The university wanted these images to circulate, and literally wanted people to comment on them. Production doesn’t mean much without circulation.
This other lab space—or rather, these spaces—were the Better Farming trains, and they were crucial to the early history of Manitoba (and Saskatchewan) home economics. These trains took the labs directly to the people, presenting “new research” as well as improved techniques for a range of applications on the farm and in the farmhouse.37 There were two such trains, provided free, with crew, by each of the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. Faculty from the Agricultural College, including home economics faculty, traveled throughout the province over the summer. Wilson writes that, in 1911, as a North American first, a dedicated home economics car was added to the trains (43). According to the Manitoba Agricultural College calendar for 1912–13, in 1912 alone the trains staged 150 meetings, with over thirty-five thousand people attending.38 We have found newspaper reports of such trains running as late as 1927. They were very effective tools and bear a strong family resemblance to the agit-trains that the Bolsheviks began using to promote the art and culture of the Revolution after 1918. The circulation of both postcards and trains leads directly to our notion of the extended lab, one that only makes sense in the context of a discussion of cultural policy and the kinds of subjects it desired to produce. The trains, for example, were authorized by the Provincial Department of Agriculture and supported by the Dominion Government as part of an extremely long-lived and successful policy program known as Agricultural Extension.39 At root, extension was a policy initiative to bring modernity to the prairies through the creation of a scientifically informed population in order to better stimulate agricultural industry. It has its relative beginnings in a series of acts passed by the government of Manitoba over the turn of the century, beginning with an 1872 act to establish agricultural societies, which was expanded the following year to include fairs and agricultural exhibitions.40
The concern of cultural policy is the relationship of the individual to the state. Rather than brutalize people into obeying, modern democratic policy uses a variety of training regimes to organize and produce, by and large, willingly productive citizen-subjects. In 1902 the Agricultural Society Act stipulated that an agricultural society could be established anywhere in the province, as long as there were fifty members.41 A 1906 act established the degree-granting Agricultural College for men; W. J. Black, the first president of the college, was responsible not only for home economics and agriculture at the college but also for provincewide extension work.42 In 1910 an act provided for the creation and organization of home economics societies (which became Women’s Institutes in 1919). In the same year, the Agricultural College established a diploma course for women, which became the Bachelor of Home Economics degree in 1916.43 From 1914 to 1923 the Manitoba Department of Agriculture supplied a grant under the Dominion Agricultural Instruction Act to finance a Home Economics Extension program; the grant was withdrawn in 1923, which nearly killed the program. The program was kept alive almost single-handedly by Esther Mackay (née Thompson), one of the first graduates of the program and subsequently director of the home economics program.44
This series of resolutions created the conditions for citizens to emerge who were not only subject to cultural policy but also active contributors to it and producers of it. In 1911 the Household Science Association in Morris, Manitoba (the first of its kind in Manitoba, founded the previous year), made its first resolution, requesting support from Premier Rodmond Roblin.45 After this first resolution, Women’s Institute members regularly took positions on cultural issues and made significant contributions to provincial cultural policy.46 By the 1930s, home economists were working in many Manitoba government departments, including Relief in Public Works, Child and Family Welfare, the Prairie Housing Committee, and the Flood Restoration Committee.47
Many home economists applied their technological skills by working directly for corporations that maintained provincial infrastructure. For example, widespread electrification didn’t take place in Manitoba until after World War II. Winnipeg City Hydro and Manitoba Hydro, the two utilities providers, directly employed home economists to aid with this process. Extension graduates were involved in the redesign of farm homes to accommodate electricity—remodeling kitchens for new appliances as well as helping to design and add bathrooms, mudrooms. and farm offices.48 They also demonstrated the new electrical and gas appliances for shoppers on-site and in the Hydro store and the department stores that sold them. Home economists employed by the utilities also served as a predigital information network; in addition to authoring publications such as cookbooks, writing regular newspaper columns, and appearing on radio and TV, they were available for free public consultation over the phone about any and all domestic questions related to the new technologies.
Perhaps the best known of the many policy instruments that Home Economics Extension put in place is the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, later known as the 4-H Clubs. In 1913, eight Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs were formed in rural Manitoba towns; by 1915 there were twenty-eight such clubs, and the 1916 report stated that they were the most effective way of teaching home economics. Designed for rural youth aged ten to twenty-one, the clubs’ stated “primary purpose” was to convey improvements in agricultural and home economics methods. Their mandate was to develop the “citizenship potential of these children by participating in a voluntary activity and to become aware of improved agricultural and home economics technology.”49 The program’s success meant that it soon required other staff, and it exists to the time of this writing.
There is far more to say about the extended home economics lab than we can cover in the space of a brief case study. What we want to emphasize is that the lab space, apparatus, and people in the home economics labs—and any labs, really—do not make sense unless we also take into account the larger cultural policies, infrastructural support, and the various imaginary regimes that position and produce the labs. Lab assemblages are flat, and the whole mess emerges by fits and starts in unpredictable ways.
The politics of Home Economics Extension are what historian Veronica Strong-Boag dubs “working feminism.”50 It made women and their difficult work a subject for serious study, and it employed the scientific method to produce not only primary research but new techniques for developing modern, productive subjects versed in everything from the scientific method to parliamentary procedure.51 For Strong-Boag, early-twentieth-century home economics had “some of the same consciousness raising and research goals” as “modern” (ca. 1986) women’s studies programs.52 In the autoethnographies of twentieth-century prairie home economists, the varieties of feminist politics range from the radical to the conservative. But over the course of the century, what began as an effort to ameliorate the work of women in the private sphere passed through the home economics laboratories to become a collective cultural policy agenda. When the University of Manitoba closed the Faculty of Human Ecology on July 1, 2015, transitioning remaining units to other faculties, a significant, century-long part of the project of modernizing the Canadian prairies came to an end.53 Revisiting it by way of the laboratory is only one piece of an ongoing assessment of its complex legacy.
Shamefully, for much of the modern history of laboratories, Black people and Black bodies were, and in some cases continue to be, reduced to objects of experimentation.
The most infamous example from the modern era is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In Macon County, Alabama, between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service staged a study of 399 Black men with syphilis and 201 control subjects.54 The first published research from the study appeared in 1936, and further publications followed every four to six years thereafter. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) finally halted the study in 1972 when journalists began to report that, though penicillin had been easily available to the general public since the 1950s, the syphilitic men in the study had not been treated with it. By that point, over a hundred men in the study group had died from advanced syphilitic lesions. In the wake of halting the study, HEW declared in a 1973 report that the study was “ethically unjustified.”55 On May 16, 1997, a quarter century after the study ended, President Bill Clinton formally apologized to all participants in the study on national television, with a direct satellite connection to the community in Tuskegee, which included six of the remaining survivors and their families.56 But the matter is far from resolved; noting a revisionist trend in early-twenty-century historical articles on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Susan M. Reverby stresses the ongoing need for not only facts and historicization but an awareness of “the politics of memory” and the necessity of incessantly linking race, class, and gender to medical and scientific decision making: “The collective memories of events tell us much about historical moments and must be analyzed along with the ‘facts’ that get emphasized or chosen. Re-analyzing the past and searching for new meanings and new facts will be a continual process.”57
In that spirit, it is worth noting that there is an intriguing body of research on laboratories run by Black scientists and researchers as part of agricultural extension projects in the same region of the southern United States, at Tuskegee University, at the beginning of the twentieth century. These labs also played a significant role in the development of agricultural policy in the southern United States. In many important respects, the articulation of this project is very different from agricultural extension in western Canada during the same period, but the combination of agricultural policy and laboratory work suggests that there might be grounds for both a renewal of archival research on these labs and a fruitful comparison to Canadian agricultural extension projects.
In 1896, at the invitation of Tuskegee University founder and president Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver became the director of the institution’s Agriculture Department. As a firm believer in the principle that scientific research was of direct benefit to practical agriculture, Carver saw the value of establishing a laboratory with that as its mission. In the same year that Carver was hired, Washington convinced the Alabama legislature to establish the Tuskegee Agricultural Experiment Station. Laboratory work at the station consisted largely of soil analysis and the concomitant testing of seeds and fertilizers in order to optimize crop yield.58
From the time of his arrival at Tuskegee, though, Carver had also been experimenting with what would eventually become “a marvelous roving laboratory that exposed rural communities to the latest in farm machinery and equipment.”59 He had adopted a practice of Washington’s and begun to visit local farms with a buggy full of exhibits and tools to stage demonstrations based on seasonal needs.60 But Washington had more ambitious plans; he envisioned a rural educational network he called “The Movable School of Agriculture” and commissioned Carver to draw up plans for a demonstration wagon that would bring it into existence.
When it first came into operation in June 1906, this vehicle was dubbed “The Jesup Wagon,” after Washington’s friend in New York, Morris K. Jesup, who made the donation that purchased and equipped it. The authoritative primary source for an account of its operation is The Movable School Goes to the Negro Farmer, a book by Thomas Monroe Campbell—a graduate of Tuskegee and, as of November 12, 1906, operator of the wagon, the first Black agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),61 and later a supervisor.62 Campbell notes that the wagon was fitted with two mules, a harness, a cream separator, two crates, a churn, and a cultivator, for a total cost of $674.50 (about $19,479.41 in 2020). His annual salary of $840.00 ($24,259.01 in 2020) was paid by the Tuskegee Institute and General Board, with an additional yearly allowance of ten dollars from the federal government.63 The institute also loaned additional equipment for use on the cart, including a milk tester, a revolving hand churn, a two-horse steel-beam plow, a one-horse steel-beam plow, a diverse cultivator, a spike-toothed harrow, a middle burster, and a set of garden tools. On his initial trip with the Jesup Wagon, Campbell came to the realization that “some of its equipment was greatly out of proportion to the agricultural status of the people,” so he removed the milking equipment and retrofitted the cart with a large crate to accommodate either a cow or a pig and a razorback hog with cards displaying information about their respective ages and weights so that farmers could learn how to improve their herds.64 The equipment on the cart was rotated seasonally; in spring, for example, it was fitted with “a portable garden with vegetables growing thereon.” In all cases the idea was to provide as many concrete demonstrations of how to do the work as possible, such as using the team from the wagon to cultivate fields with modern plows (95).
The science practiced with the Jesup Wagon was imbricated into the whole life of the people in the communities it visited, including caring for their spiritual and physical well-being. Campbell mentions that “I was not only able to use the Jesup Wagon in the week days for carrying on farm and home demonstrations, but found that it came in handy in transporting speakers from Tuskegee Institute to near-by churches on Sundays. And here, I should like to make this observation, that no worker among rural people can reach the fullest degree of his usefulness who does not spend a great deal of time with the rural people in their churches on Sundays” (96). After 1918, Campbell sought the appointment of a registered nurse as part of the Jesup Wagon staff. In 1920, despite resistance from physicians and nurses to the plan, Miss Uva M. Hester, a Tuskegee graduate, was appointed as the first rural nurse to work on the project, with her salary paid jointly by the Tuskegee Institute and the Alabama State Health Department (111–13). This is yet another example of why the extended laboratory model employed in this book is helpful when reexamining the historical record around any lab; these aspects of the Jesup Wagon’s work receive only cursory mentions in the existing scholarly literature.
Campbell and company initially relied on rail to extend the network by transporting the wagon to distant parts of the state. However, the logistics of moving lantern slides, charts, and illustrated lecture and physical exhibits, combined with the need to secure transportation on the other end, proved unwieldy (10). In 1918 they successfully lobbied state director Dr. J. F. Duggar for money to purchase a truck to replace the wagon. They named it the Knapp Agricultural Truck after Dr. Seaman A. Knapp, who initiated farm demonstration work in the United States. It was during this period that the USDA made Helping Negroes to Become Better Farmers and Homemakers (1921), a two-reel half-hour documentary that became part of the truck’s regular equipment inventory (109).
The inclusion of the documentary as part of the Knapp Agricultural Truck’s equipment inventory requires comment, because at that point the mobile lab becomes more than a conveyor of scientific innovation, health-care information, and church-centered conviviality; it becomes a vector of government propaganda65 and institutionalized racism. In Documenting Racism: African Americans in U.S. Department of Agriculture Documentaries, 1921–42, J. Emmett Winn pays particularly close attention to Helping Negroes to Become Better Farmers and Homemakers, because it was the first movie produced by the USDA to focus on Black Americans.66 Winn demonstrates how, in addition to depicting Black farmers through the racist stereotypes typical of the period in the interest of supporting the practice and doctrine of racial separation (14), the film systematically downplays the role of Black agricultural extension workers, assigning the credit to white USDA officials:
The film chooses to end the Movable School sequence with a visit from two white USDA representatives and again suggests that white USDA agents or supervisors were a key feature of black extension work. However, historical evidence does not support this position. In fact, county agent scholar Gladys Baker asserts that “the Negro county agent is not generally considered to be administratively responsible to the white country agent,” and Campbell’s recollections do not suggest even a moderate level of involvement by white agents in the Movable School project. Thus, the film is misleading in its recurring references to the importance of white USDA personnel to the development and work of black demonstration work.
When the messages of the film are compared with the historical records, it is clear that those messages are inaccurate. Thus, the film’s form and content function rhetorically to argue that white agents were the source and focus of black agricultural outreach in Alabama despite the fact that Tuskegee personnel were both the impetus and the facilitators of black extension work. In other words, despite understanding that the black agents worked independently of white agents to enact positive change in the community of African American farmers via the long-standing projects started and maintained at Tuskegee, the filmmakers cinematically locate the power, authority, and knowledge within the white authority figures. (22)
The USDA’s agenda was very different than that of Campbell, Carver, Washington, and the other Black scholars and citizens involved directly in the Tuskegee agricultural extension program. Winn notes that though the events of the movie are staged, “it is reasonable to assume that the people represented in the film are actual farmers, county agents, and administrators” (13). However, the larger cultural context suggests that “the idea of making farm life more attractive to black Americans is better understood in terms of the migration of blacks from the rural South to the industrialized North” during a period when white tenant landlords were becoming frustrated that Black Americans were abandoning the exploitative sharecropping system for a factory wage in cities like Detroit or Chicago. To white audiences, then, “at least part of the point of the [USDA] extension work and the circular [produced at the same time as the film] was to demonstrate how the USDA was helping to address the problem of blacks leaving the farm for the city” (15) and thus maintaining both the separation of Blacks and whites and the ongoing viability of the political order of tenant farming, which “inherently favored the white landlord and abused the black tenant” (28). Winn concludes that despite effectively showcasing the work of the extension service and explicitly demonstrating that the USDA was trying to improve the lives of southern Black families, the film also supported racial segregation and the maintenance of “separate but equal” cultural policy (34).
There were also other mobile labs after the Jesup Wagon and Knapp Truck involved in the ongoing operation of the Movable School. After five years the Knapp Truck finally broke down, and it was replaced when thirty thousand Black Alabama farmers pooled five thousand dollars of their own money to purchase a new truck, “The Booker T. Washington Agricultural School on Wheels,” and equipment including spraying outfits, farm levels, carpenter’s tools, a milk tester, an inoculating set, a farm lighting plant, a motion picture projector, Kodak cameras, a sewing machine, an electric iron, a baby’s bathtub, a set of baby clothes, a medicine cabinet, kitchen utensils, and playground apparatus. This larger truck carried a staff of three, plus the county farm and home demonstration agents.67
Regardless of the ambivalences of the USDA’s publications, returning to primary source materials makes it clear that Black agricultural extension work, designed and executed out of the Tuskegee Institute via mobile laboratories like the Jesup Wagon and its successors, was the forerunner of broader U.S. government extension programs and cultural policy rather than their product.68 Making sense of the scientific and cultural contributions of hybrid labs like the Jesup Wagon and its successors, though, requires a willingness to engage not just with hardware and apparatus but with all of the aspects of the extended laboratory model, especially policy, infrastructure and people.
Hybrid Labs and Policy
The Home Economics Extension project and the Movable School are important examples of hybrid lab practice for many reasons. One reason for paying close attention to these two cases is that, just as arguments about lab infrastructure require attention to the variability of scale, they also need to be provincialized, as Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Rutherford point out:
Infrastructures have always mattered, albeit to different groups in differing ways and to varying extents. If they were ever concealed or backgrounded, it was to or by those in hegemonic social positions. By contrast, they have always been foregrounded in the lives of more precarious social groups—i.e. those with reduced access or without access or who have been disconnected, as a result either of socio-spatial differentiation strategies or infrastructure crises or collapse—constantly working and reworking the material constructions of the very existence of these groups. A focus on “provincialized” political infrastructures thus inherently links notions of governance and citizenship, demonstrating both that policies, powers and subjective experiences of the urban fabric are intertwined and mutually constitutive, and that it is the multitude of ways in which this intertwining takes shape which helps to explain the persistent . . . diversity (and inequalities) at play within and across scales and times.69
Another is that they demonstrate the cyclical relationship of situated lab work and policy formation (whether vicious or virtuous) made possible by the infrastructural connections between them. Gaining a better understanding of this process can be of great assistance in our efforts to understand hybrid labs in other contexts.
One of the issues we have spent a lot of time considering while working on this book is whether the spread of hybrid labs was merely a form of “science envy”—a tactic for the humanities to legitimize itself in the face of a wave of early-twenty-first-century neoliberal attacks about their relevancy and legitimacy. But it is not as simple as “the studio is like a lab,” or “the lab is like a studio.” In the twentieth century there was a third term to which both referred, an expanded circuit relating to production, productivity, economy, and metaphorics. Peter Galison and Caroline A. Jones argue that in the decades following World War II, labs and studios were part of the same cultural order and that the larger model for both was factory production.70 Further, despite this common relation, neither lab nor studio starts to become “like” a factory:
We do not see the decentering of the laboratory or the dispersal of the studio as merely “mirroring” some independent, underlying change in the economy. Instead, we find large consortia of laboratories participating in the same dynamical process of coordination that one finds among consortia of companies; equally, we see the production of artistic meaning since the 1970s as honing the very discursive systems that enable a service-and-consumer economy to flourish. . . . Positing an industrial “base” that either is autonomous, or univalently determinative, of the cultural sphere of scientific-artistic work fails to capture these worlds’ fluidity, permeability, and coextensiveness.71
In other words, both lab and studio function according to the factory model, but in turn they contribute to its development; that is, factories begin to adopt some of the characteristics of the science lab and the art studio. But “large consortia of laboratories” and “processes of coordination” are the stuff of infrastructure and policy, not discourse alone. Arguments like the one Galison and Jones make here suggest there is more to consider in terms of the longer history of other kinds of institutions in relation to laboratories and lab discourse.
For example, powerful art institutions have a much longer relationship to lab discourse than one might expect. This is different from artists talking about their studios as labs. When an institution takes the studio-as-lab metaphor and mobilizes it as policy, the metaphor begins to accrete authority, and culture likewise shifts on national and international levels as infrastructure support begins to appear. Consider also the longer institutional history of a major moment in hybrid lab discourse. In 1939 the Museum of Modern Art staged the landmark Art in Our Time exhibition to mark its tenth anniversary. In the exhibition catalog, Alfred H. Barr Jr., who had been appointed director in 1929, wrote the following: “The Museum of Modern Art is a laboratory. In its experiments the public is invited to participate.”72 Such a statement about the role and function of an institution like the Museum of Modern Art was possible because of a history of institutional policy pronouncements dating from the nineteenth century.
Indeed, in the 1920s the Fogg Museum at Harvard had already been referring to itself as a laboratory.73 On the opening of the new Fogg, Paul J. Sachs described it as “a laboratory of the fine arts”; Sybil Gordon Kantor, arguing that the arts should be treated on an equal footing with the laboratory sciences, notes that “the notion of a laboratory was consistent with the authority of science found in the critical writings of the period.”74 Kantor explains that the infrastructural support for Barr’s statement came even earlier, when he was teaching what may have been the first course in the United States on modern art at Wellesley College in 1927. Alice Van Vechten Brown, director of Wellesley’s Farnsworth Museum, had initiated “The Wellesley Method” for the study of art history in 1897, with the proviso that technical training in the form of “laboratory work” would occur alongside a conventional art history survey.75 Laboratory work at Wellesley took the form of experimenting with materials and techniques. Students conducted exercises dealing with materials associated with the specific historical production of art in different times and places, such as gesso, egg tempera, and gilding.76 The process is clear: individual practical operations concatenate into techniques and methods, which then become part of an institutional discourse that is formalized as policy (as such, there is a deep relationship here among lab work, policy, and cultural techniques, one that we touch on in chapter 6). The policy allows for the creation of infrastructure to support similar activity at that institution. If the policy successfully produces new infrastructures, other institutions take notice while administrators (who circulate from one institution to another) take scraps of successful policy with them and build on it for their new employer. We would be remiss, though, in suggesting that arts institutions in the twentieth century were simply capitalizing on the value of lab discourse. The historical exchanges between labs, studios, factories, and discourses of knowledge, creativity, and work has only become more complex.
This chapter concludes with two sections that present significantly different policy and infrastructural approaches to the role of labs in late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century universities. As academics, this is a subject that we approach out of necessity, with a mixture of hope and trepidation. We see enormous potential in hybrid labs to change our institutional cultures for the better. Many hybrid labs are developing their own protocols and policy documents for how to conduct academic research differently. The Collaboration and Publication protocol at Monash University’s Emerging Technologies Research Lab is one good example.77 Another is the work out of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) at Memorial University on the ethical aspects of research circulation.78 The patient production and circulation of documents by labs such as these exert a small but persistent pressure on policy makers to change processes and infrastructures to increase accessibility and equity. But there is also an enormous amount of pressure on universities to instrumentalize education to ever greater degrees, usually operating under the rubrics of creativity and disruption and using labs as its vehicle.
Hybrid Lab Policy for the New Millennium
Michael Century’s Pathways to Innovation in Digital Culture is a report written for the Rockefeller Foundation’s arts and humanities division in 1999.79 The report foregrounds the role of the “studio-laboratory” in networked digital culture as the privileged site for the production of innovation at the end of the millennium (6). It also brings to the fore how labs are at the center of an emerging debate about media arts as a point on a continuum between critical practice and creative industries.
From the outset of his report, Century recognizes the complexity of the studio-lab as an ongoing emergent phenomenon:
The studio-laboratory as a class is by no means homogenous. Some are privately funded by corporations, seeking to understand the properties of radically new media technologies via aesthetic R&D programs; others are public funded and linked to traditional museological mandates for public education; others are industrially sponsored precompetitive laboratories based in universities; still other models are network-based and more or less explicitly tied to long-term state or regional industrial development objectives. The studio-laboratory can be understood as providing a site for an ongoing and progressive series of negotiations between artist-users and technology designers, which simultaneously shaped the technology, its use, and users. (14)
Like us, Century identifies these studio-labs as hybrid institutions because of the types of activities that occur within them (3). Importantly, he resists the temptation to locate the relative beginnings of the studio-lab at any particular point in modernity, instead correlating its peaks of activity to Joseph Schumpeter’s “waves” of modern technological innovation that occur at approximately fifty-year intervals, beginning in the late eighteenth century (13, 52). The report claims that studio-lab activity becomes more pronounced around 1960 in the wake of both the avant-gardes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and a shift in the industrial, military, and scientific modes of post–World War II knowledge production (9, 4).80 There was another intense wave of studio-lab activity in the 1990s, which was the impetus for the document’s production: “This pace has now reached a point where it is no longer conceivable to keep accurate track, particularly with the proliferation of all manner of ‘new media centres’ at various degrees of sophistication and scope on university and college campuses, within corporations, as regional industrial development efforts, and as catalysts for public access and digital literacy efforts” (11). Part of the reason it’s becoming harder to track the proliferation of hybrid labs is that specialized equipment is becoming less important to their functioning. What matters, increasingly, is the type of collaborative dynamics they can foster. As a result, such labs pop up in a wide range of environments, including the home (44). Instead of attempting to produce a comprehensive list of studio-labs, Century focuses on the various approaches to innovation that such labs take—what we call “situated practices” in this book.
For Century, the point of the term “studio-lab” is to correlate basic but underexamined shifts in culture and avant-garde aesthetics to the more instrumental knowledge production modes that business, industry, and government take as their priority (8). This correlation is also why Pathways to Innovation in Digital Culture was created as a policy instrument rather than as an academic essay. Century contends that the growing number of studio-labs and other kinds of hybrid labs is an index of how cultural producers are busily networking with science and industry. In turn, this emerging network of new kinds of productive relationships requires bureaucrats and administrators to rethink cultural policy as well as innovation and research policy in order to better support these new types of activities (3).
From Century’s perspective, the major issue for North American independent media labs is sustainability (or whether, for that matter, lab projects should have a built-in expiry date). The traditional homes for such hybrid labs are on a campus, whether that campus belongs to a university or a large corporation. But the report notes that there is another, underutilized option, namely, the infrastructure of other kinds of cultural institutions, such as theaters, museums, or public libraries (45). A more contentious question is how to allocate public funding and other resources. Should they flow equally to all applicants, or only to a select few, and if so, who will establish the criteria? The answer, as the report notes, is geographically and culturally specific and often requires integrating digital media with older, residual forms that are still in use in various locations (45).
Other than the issue of sustainability and geographic specificity, the report raises a number of pertinent questions about the role of hybrid labs around the globe. What kind of infrastructure encourages a higher degree of networking between such labs in more and less economically developed countries? Is it possible to make corporations see the value of “an engaged type of cultural support” that promotes innovation without duplicating the shortcomings of traditional models of patronage? And is it possible for a network of hybrid labs to bridge the gaps between the art world, research culture, and civil society? The report imagines some sort of “cultural informatics” that might yoke the progressive agenda of social and cultural theory to techniques from computer science and engineering (46). The emergent field of cultural analytics might be part of such a project, but it hasn’t yet come close to realizing the ambitious mandate that Century’s report establishes.
For that mandate we have to look elsewhere. But the reality of the sort of transformation in knowledge production that we have been describing here has a much more ambiguous politics than Century might have anticipated.
Lab Infrastructure, Lab Policy, and the New American University
The university is still the major institutional container for labs outside of industry, and it is being rocked by challenges from all sides, especially from growing pressure to monetize all aspects of its activities.
Many universities need new sources of revenue to continue to perform their traditional missions, let alone expand them, especially those without endowments from wealthy alumni. Their revenue has to come from tuition, from government funding drawn from taxation, from some sort of relationship with industry, or from a combination of these. Without a dramatic shift to the left in societal values, North American governments are unlikely to increase how they fund universities in a substantial way, and we are arguably far past the limit to the money that can come from tuition. That leaves relationships with the private sector, which underlines the importance of monetized transdisciplinarity, with all of its attendant benefits and perils. For most academics, having co-creators from the private sector is appealing until you have to deal with the full implications of the notion—for example, the growing link between entrepreneurialism and precarious labor. Hybrid labs are a major flashpoint in this change, because they are some of the key spaces in and around which these arguments are being staged.
In Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity, Gerald Raunig argues that both inside and outside of universities a mode of “radically dispersed” knowledge production is emerging.81 For Raunig, something in the economy of knowledge production shifted around the turn of the millennium (100, 111). After the triumph of factory discourse in the arts and humanities that Galison and Jones describe in their work, Raunig sees a shift away from the factory model to “temporary, ephemeral, project based” clusters of micro-enterprises and pseudo-institutions, populated by “entrepreneurial” workers (101). Whereas the logic of the factory and related large institutions functioned by the discovery and managing (if not resolving) of contradictions, the new mode promotes “precarization and insecurity” (101). As for Galison and Jones, for Raunig the arts and humanities are not a passive object shaped by the discourse of big science; they have played and continue to play an active role in producing the current milieu.82 Even though the characteristic quality of this emerging economy is its diffuseness, the processes and techniques that made the factory so successful as a paradigm continue to function. Likewise, industry does not disappear; rather, it populates all areas of lived experience at a micro-scale (95–96). Like many others, Raunig gives these assemblages the collective name “creative industries,” and we’d be well justified to count hybrid labs in general and media labs in particular as part of this economy.
The term “industry” represents at once the problem and the possible latent form of its own solution. Following on Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Raunig sees “the culture industry” as a mode of subjectivization in which “desire and enslavement coincide” (117). The culture industry exhorts us to be creative in a way that is not optional: “Everyone is an artist, so he or she should also work and live in a way that is accordingly flexible, spontaneous, and mobile, or self-exploiting, without security and forced into mobility” (191). In other words, the gig economy is the truth of the life of the artist: spontaneity and mobility come at considerable personal risk. Simultaneously, Raunig sees potential escape routes from these same conditions. Examining the French term industrie, he identifies factors in industry that exceed “the economic circles of time efficiency” because industry also always contains the possibility of “doing things differently” (121): not business, but the busyness (122) of “disobedient industries” (153), “little monsters that thwart the structures and institutional antagonisms through their obstinacy” (27).
Raunig’s work provides the larger context for how we see contemporary hybrid labs as a problem containing the emergent possibilities of a solution. Hybrid labs are both a product and a symptom of the creative industries and what Raunig calls “the global landscape of universities, which cannot be simply classified in identifiable categories such as neoliberal or reactionary” (25). Raunig begins with the premise that this landscape is complex and geopolitically differentiated, but he insists that “authoritarian hierarchies can certainly go hand in hand with soft forms of conduct, budgets cuts can coexist with particular rewards, stabilizing procedures can be implemented alongside practices of existential and social destabilizing” (26). Moreover, the real and imagined threats and the authorities that govern them are not external to the university and its faculty; they also emerge from faculty and students themselves (26). But it is always possible to imagine reinventing knowledge production within this system, producing what Raunig calls “the contemporary, modulating university” (24). As we examine below in our discussion of deep organizational changes that have taken place at Arizona State University, the lab is one of the chief sites in which that reimagining is occurring.
Despite this tectonic shift in the organization of work in general and universities in particular, many scholars still feel, as Robert Frodeman does, that a traditional liberal education is the primary mission of the university in the twenty-first century: “University life cannot be mapped onto the producer-consumer relation, if for no other reason that one engages in research or attends college in order to educate and thus change one’s soul, proclivities, and desires. This is the difference between a liberal and a technical education. Thus what is called for is an artful balancing of attention to the needs of the larger community with the scholar’s loving care.”83 However, nothing says this situation can’t change, or that it hasn’t already done so in many universities. One institution that many scholars are watching carefully with the possibility of change in mind is Arizona State University.
Work on transdisciplinarity by scholars like Frodeman and Peter Weingart provides a major touchstone for Michael M. Crow and William B. Dabars’s Designing the New American University.84 Crow has been president of Arizona State University (ASU) since 2002. For an academic book, Designing the New American University has received a remarkable amount of attention from outside the university and bears signs of its bipartisan influence in its blurbs, the first two of which are from former U.S. Democratic president Bill Clinton and former Republican governor of Florida and 2015 U.S. presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Crow seizes on the concept of transdisciplinarity and its implications for the contemporary university, but, along the way, he erases the ambiguities in the work of scholars like Frodeman and Weingart, mobilizing their arguments while downplaying their careful qualifications and ambivalences.85 For example, Crow and Dabars write that “Peter Weingart makes the corollary point that . . . the university has lost its monopoly on the institution of knowledge production,” erasing Weingart’s observation that this supposed loss is anecdotal and unsubstantiated and taking it instead as a fait accompli (204–5). In his position as university president and continental thought leader, however, Crow is in a position to turn this observation into practice through policy formation.
Crow’s work at ASU has produced an institutional blueprint that he calls the New American University, but it is commonly referred to as the Arizona Model. This blueprint has two laudable goals: first, to situate the university’s mission of knowledge production within the insistence that the institution should be representative of the full demographic and economic diversity of the region in which it is situated; and second, that the knowledge it produces should be relevant to that population. Crow and Dabars write that as a design process, it “constitutes an institutional experiment at scale in real time” (240). Also like the living labs, the Arizona Model is both network and platform. Outside ASU itself, this resulted in the creation of an eleven-institution University Innovation Alliance that shares the same goals.86
The Arizona Model values interdisciplinarity because it sees it as a way of developing competitive research capacity. Since 2009, ASU’s traditional department-based organization has passed through a series of changes in which departments have closed or have merged into other departments. At the same time, there has been an increase in interdepartmental structures like labs and research centers. In The New American University, Crow and Dabars tout recommendations for new organizational models from National Academies Press’s book-length report Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, based on matrices—“structures long evident in industry and government laboratories” that use centers, labs, courses, and offices between departments to encourage the free movement of students, faculty, and staff (187). Following on that report, Crow and Dabars emphasize repeatedly that “interdisciplinary research in industrial and government laboratories should serve as a model for academia” because laboratories organize themselves flexibly and temporarily according to the problem that they wish to solve (187–88). In the Arizona Model, labs are pivotal to the transformation of the university as an institution.
This thinking emerges out of Crow and Barry Bozeman’s earlier book, Limited by Design: R&D Laboratories in the U.S. National Innovation System. Though it is not nearly as widely read as Designing the New American University, this book is the largest-scale laboratory survey that we know of, so it is worth discussing in detail, especially in light of the obvious influence it is now having on university policy formation and infrastructure redesign. Crow was heavily involved in the National Comparative Research and Development Project (NCRDP) from 1984 to 1998. During that time, over forty researchers interviewed thousands of scientists as well as administrators and bureaucrats in the field in order to produce the first comprehensive study of R&D labs in the United States.87 Using NCRDP data, Crow and Bozeman estimated in 1998 that there were more than sixteen thousand R&D labs in the United States, and probably fewer than seventeen thousand. By their definition, an R&D lab focuses on engineering and science research and employs at least twenty-five people full-time (7). In the face of this staggering number, Crow and Bozeman candidly admit that “knowledge of R&D laboratories as a whole is virtually impossible” (11): “R&D laboratories are among the most diverse sets of organizations one will ever find. Labs have unique and deeply entrenched cultures. Labs differ in technical capabilities, organizational structure, resources, market interaction, political and bureaucratic environment, and adaptability” (5). Not surprisingly, then, Crow and Bozeman describe some of the more intriguing individual labs they encountered as “hybrids” (in one of their studies, focusing on energy-related R&D labs in Canada and the United States, a full one-third of the labs in question were hybrids ), but their use of the term differs from ours in that for them, hybridity describes a mix of public and private ownership (xix–xx). So how to proceed when “there is no obvious point of analytical departure” (7) and “knowledge of R&D laboratories as a whole is virtually impossible, except at the most superficial level” (11)?
Crow and Bozeman’s interest in R&D labs is systemic and strategic. They see their methodological perspective, which they dub “institutional design” (27), as the most important part of their research (xxi). They are interested in the particular role that R&D labs play in the national innovation system, “the complex network of agents, policies, and institutions supporting the process of technical advance in an economy” (42), because they want to ensure that policy makers have a better sense of what, exactly, they are funding and defunding (xxi). In fact, they go so far as to point out that “the policy frameworks that dominate R&D policy work against system-level knowledge” (9). As a result, they place their emphasis on government R&D labs, which hold the potential to contribute to innovation on a national level because “those are the ones that policy makers can quickly and directly change” (249). Of the remaining “Mysterious 16,000,” as they call them, about 65 percent are “small, engineering job shops” created to do work specific to the interests of the firm that houses them (5). They estimate that there are “no more than 1,000 laboratories of sufficient size and resources to make significant contributions, on an ongoing basis, to public domain science and technology,” and of those there are only “500 or so high-capacity laboratories responsible for most sweeping science and technology change” (229). In Crow and Bozeman’s argot, these “superlabs,” which make up less than 0.5 percent of the labs in their sample group, are the “players” (77), and what they dub “the player principle” dictates that these few labs are the proper target for government R&D policy that would strive to improve national levels of innovation (72). And it has been this way for a long time: “The superlabs are familiar. They have dominated American science and technology for more than 100 years” (75). The rest of the sixteen thousand must fare as best they can in the open market (35).
Although Crow and Bozeman are emphatic that small labs make a meaningful contribution to the national economy by increasing the productivity of the firms that house them, “their activities are best viewed as only marginally related to government policy because the knowledge externalities from these activities are usually quite modest” (97). Early in the book, when Crow and Bozeman describe a “cookie-cutter scientist” (3) interested in publications and scientific prestige, the scorn is palpable because this person is not a player in the game of high-stakes lab funding. On the face of it, this laissez-faire attitude seems cold, but Crow and Bozeman are, at least, non-interventionist: “Merely muddling the missions of public laboratories with commercialization missions while failing to understand the diversity of science and technology investigations underpinning industrial success will contribute little” (71).
In essence, in The Lab Book we are trying to develop a model to talk about the missing matter of the Crow and Bozeman study. The labs we care about are not just those with fewer than twenty-five full-time people employed but also those that fall entirely outside of the science and engineering fields (Crow and Bozeman also excluded labs “chiefly concerned with conducting research in the social sciences” ). Perhaps the only thing that hybrid labs have in common is a kind of family resemblance. The extended laboratory model is a framework that will allow people to think usefully about such labs, because it’s not enough to say that they exist and then ignore them. We also recognize that in some cases the examples we discuss do not fit easily only as humanities labs or social science labs, but span a changing landscape of academic work.
In this respect, our aim is similar to various aspects of the media-archaeological program, especially Siegfried Zielinski’s “variantology”: “I advocate a philology as exact as possible of nonperfect precise things, which will be devised and developed to support communications with others, to facilitate them, to make them a sensational, even perhaps scandalous happening.”88 If there is a better description of hybrid labs than a “nonperfect precise thing” that is “devised and developed to support communication,” it is difficult to imagine. As Crow and Bozeman write, “Knowledge of R&D labs comes in clusters and clumps or, more often, in singletons” (9). Given this reality, neither the aggregate approach nor the detailed individual case study does exactly what we want. Like the hybrid labs that constitute our object of study, ours is a hybrid approach based on the operational function of spaces that someone has decided to call a lab. That last factor, the naming of the lab as such, is also crucially important. A study like Crow and Bozeman’s, impressive as it is in terms of scale, begins from the assumption that what is reported in a questionnaire is not necessarily factually true but that the vast size of the sample will itself correct for exaggerations and prevarications (“Often the dominance of ideology in science and technology debates is less due to hard and fast positions of disputants than to lack of evidence” ). However, even this assertion could be made much more easily in the relatively sunny days of the Clinton administration, before the current post-truth era of U.S. government. We are not suggesting that scientists, scholars, and bureaucrats deliberately lie in such documents, but rather that there are always rules in place that determine what can be said or not said about a given lab in advance. As a result, we need concepts like the ACTLab codeswitching umbrella (which we discuss in a case study in chapter 4) that enable various hybrid modes to function in a conflictual, even hostile environment.
One of the goals we hope to meet by providing a framework rather than a focused study is to allow hybrid labs to better talk about themselves. Even Crow and Bozeman are careful to hedge their bets, noting that their institutional design model “is not a theory of policy making or even a set of interrelated assumptions yielding specific prescriptions” (248). Like them, we are interested in creating an interpretive framework, but our object and audience differ from theirs. If most hybrid labs engage in some form of basic (as opposed to applied) research, then they need to be better at describing their various specializations and competences. This means not just talking about individual research properties, or even the mission of the lab, but also how this mission is articulated to the priorities of the institution that houses them. Especially in the academy, this is both complex and crucial, because “university labs are increasingly set within larger structures that have diverse missions, in some cases missions that are not strictly academic” (18).
Crow and Bozeman’s research indicates that “most scientists know a great deal about their own research and very little about the lab, its missions, its connections to the outside world, its funding, budgeting and planning processes. Researchers know much more about other researchers who work on similar problems but on the other side of the world than they know about research in unrelated fields in the next building. Most scientists, except for their involvement in writing grant proposals, seem to assume mystical research funding processes” (9). Moreover, we need to be able to talk about how labs connect to each other. What kinds of ad hoc and formal relationships appear? How long do they last? What do they accomplish? To what extent do these relationships become part of a long-term strategy? These are issues that are usually distasteful to artists and scholars because of the residual hangover of romanticism and the sense of the sovereignty of the individual creator, but labs are collective enterprises by nature, and we have spent far too little time thinking about infrastructure in the arts and humanities.89 Even if our own labs are too small to be funded, or “mediocre” in Crow and Bozeman’s sense, every lab is still affected by how public-policy decisions are implemented (227).
“The gentle nudge that policy makers give industrial labs by altering the tax treatment of R&D or by providing subsidies,” write Crow and Bozeman, “does not compare to the ability to create (or terminate) labs and missions” (38). In order to change lab culture at the institutional level, one needs to be holding the reins of the institution. Indeed, at ASU, new institutes replete with research centers and labs have appeared, and other labs have been closed abruptly. Hundreds of jobs have been eliminated as multiple units have been combined into one interdisciplinary unit with fewer staff.90 Not everyone is happy, as with new structures come new forms of social distinction and new pecking orders. Several prominent researchers have launched lawsuits against Crow and ASU, with the university making counterclaims about misconduct and safety violations on the part of the scientists.91
Because of the prominence of science in the Arizona Model, it’s not surprising that lab space and infrastructure are a huge part of these battles. University laboratories are every bit as heterogeneous as the rest of the non-player sixteen thousand: “There is no template for university R&D laboratories.”92 The one thing that they have in common is that they are almost all dependent on the government for financing, except for “relatively uncommon university-based industrial service laboratories and the many mediocre university labs that do not compete well for government funding.”93 It seems that this latter sentiment is still at play in Crow’s organizational efforts at ASU. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2006 that “every laboratory bench in the 138,000 square feet of lab space is on wheels in wide-open rooms. If a researcher’s grant money evaporates, or another gets a funding windfall, the institute can shrink or expand any of the labs quickly. The overall benchmark for holding onto space is $225 per square foot, per year, in outside funding.”94 In a lawsuit filed against ASU in 2016, Dr. Dierdre Meldrum alleges in a seventy-four-page whistleblower letter that “her lab was entered—apparently on a weekend night—by an employee who removed research equipment and supplies. . . . University officials answered in emails that the Monterey Bay institute had requested the change of project leadership, and off-hours removal of research gear was just a misunderstanding. Some items were returned.”95
Despite these legal difficulties, the Arizona Model remains highly influential. Crow and Dabars assert that their model is not a one-size-fits-all solution and that the traditional academic value of self-determination remains primary (“Self-determination is the crux of the distinction between the bureaucratic mindset of an agency and the boundary spanning dynamism of an academic enterprise”).96 Like the living labs model (see chapter 6), it may be possible to build a new American university with an eye toward the advancement of social justice and democracy. Furthermore, we acknowledge that the U.S. context does not hold for all cases; redesigning the policy and infrastructure of a university outside the United States along these lines might well play out very differently.
Hybrid labs are proliferating as the result of a massive shift in how knowledge in general is produced and how universities and other institutions around the globe work. There are many versions of this shift, but a substantial number of them have to do with finding ways to extract profit from the production of knowledge. Everywhere, the focus has shifted from the production and circulation of research in the public interest to entrepreneurship, and to the near future rather than the long continuity of historical knowledge. So, the question might be, what if we proceeded otherwise? What would a system of knowledge production look like that focused on the missing sixteen thousand?
Despite the importance of policy and infrastructure, Foka et al. remark in their 2018 article “Beyond Humanities qua Digital” that “despite the growing number of research laboratories, the actual processes whereby digital technology is appropriated for use in the arts and humanities remain poorly understood.”97 They present a case study of HumlabX, the humanities laboratory at the Arts Campus of Umeå University, as a cautionary tale about the dangers of “organizational vulnerability”—a kind of institutional rigidity that makes it difficult to adapt to changes in funding structures, research support programs, and other infrastructural issues. Cultural policy in the form of grants programs and other government initiatives brings into being the possibility of funding for new kinds of research spaces, but, for better or worse, it also holds scholars accountable to new assessment criteria. Foka et al.’s ultimate argument is that scholars working with digital media need to move beyond the partisan debates that characterize any new field and “engage in the development of digital research infrastructure policies” because it’s the only way to ensure that labs will be sustainable and capable of further development.98 The high overhead of running many types of hybrid labs means that scholars ignore infrastructural and policy issues at their peril.
Lab discourse might sometimes sound like it’s issuing from rugged individuals on the vanguard of cultural production, but it always requires support from institutional policy decisions. Such decisions are based on what is occurring elsewhere in culture, as new practices, courses, and funding patterns begin to appear. Labs emerge out of a set of overlapping and sometimes competing and contradictory systems of production, circulation, and consumption, each of which will have some degree of a regulatory system, and those systems will succeed or fail to varying degrees. Considering a range of hybrid lab types in terms of longer cycles is helpful because it allows us to see both the historical development of their form and what might happen in the future.