Of Rabbits and Men, or: How to Study Innovation in Nanomedicine

  • Wiebke SchärEmail author


Innovations in nanomedicine promise better treatments and therapy. The Section of Experimental Oncology and Nanomedicine in Erlangen is in the process of developing a new kind of cancer therapy based on the concept of magnet drug targeting, using nano-particles as carriers. In this chapter, I present material from an ethnography I conducted at that Section. Using this ethnography, I will argue that sociological analyses of research and innovation in nanomedicine are inadequate if described on the basis of an a priori distinction between the ‘social’ and the ‘material’. By considering experimentational practices in Erlangen, I will argue instead that the ‘social’ as object of sociological analysis becomes extremely problematic in association with objects and materials, which are usually excluded from most sociological explanations that tend to reserve the notion of “actor” (and indeed the social itself) to humans exclusively. Through deploying Actor-Network Theory as a method rather than a theory, I present a sociological approach that enables an analysis of nano-medical research and innovations without having to invoke the traditional socio-scientific boundaries and demarcations of nature/culture, human/non-human and social/technical. If ethnographic research does not require these boundaries to make sense of particular practices, the onus should be placed instead on those wishing to maintain these boundaries, to provide a convincing argument why they are so important.


Ethnography Innovation Nanomedicine Actor-Network Theory Methodology 


  1. Birke, Lynda, A. Arluke, and M. Michael. 2007. The sacrifice: how scientific experiments transform animals and people. West Lafayette, Indiana, USA: Purdue University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bloor, David. 1976. Knowledge and social imagery. Chicago and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Callon, Michel. 1986. Some elements of a sociology of translation. Domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay. In Power, action and belief: a new sociology of knowledge?, ed. John Law, p. 196–223. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Callon, Michel, and B. Latour. 1992. Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath School! Reply to Collins and Yearly. In Science as practice and culture, ed. Andrew Pickering, p. 343–368. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Collins, Harry M. 1985. Changing order: Replication and induction in scientific practice. London et al.: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Collins, H. M. 1998. Socialness and the undersocialised conception of society. Science, Technology and Human Values 23: 494–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Degele, Nina. 2002. Einführung in die Techniksoziologie. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag.Google Scholar
  8. Deleuze, Gilles, and F. Guattari. 2002. Tausend Plateaus. Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie, 5th edition. Berlin: Merve Verlag.Google Scholar
  9. Despret, V. 2004. The body we care for: figures of anthropo–zoo-genesis. Body & Society 10: 111–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Folkers, Andreas. 2014. Was ist neu am neuen Materialismus? – Von Praxis zum Ereignis. In Critical Matter: Diskussionen eines neuen Materialismus, eds. Tobias Goll, D. Keil and T. Telios, p. 16–33. Münster: edition assemblage.Google Scholar
  11. Groß, Matthias. 2010. Ignorance and surprise. Science, society, and ecological design. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hacking, Ian. 1983. Representing and intervening. Introductory topics in Philosophy of Natural Science. Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hodenius, Michael. 2002. Polymer- und liposomstabilisierte Ferrofluide und ihre Funktionalisierung. Downloaded on June 02, 2018.
  14. Knorr-Cetina, Karin. 2002. Die Fabrikation von Erkenntnis. Zur Anthropologie der Naturwissenschaft, new revised edition. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  15. Latour, Bruno. 1996. Der Berliner Schlüssel. Erkundungen eines Liebhabers der Wissenschaft. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.Google Scholar
  16. Latour, Bruno. 2005. Von der Realpolitik zur Dingpolitik. Berlin: Merve Verlag.Google Scholar
  17. Latour, Bruno. 2007. Eine neue Soziologie für eine neue Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  18. Law, John. 2006. Technik und heterogenes Engineering: Der Fall der portugiesischen Expansion. In ANThology. Ein einführendes Handbuch zur Akteur–Netzwerk–Theorie, eds. Andréa Belliger, and D. J. Krieger, p. 213–236. Bielefeld: transkript Verlag.Google Scholar
  19. Law, John, and M. E. Lien. 2012. Animal architextures. Downloaded on June 03, 2018.
  20. Mannheim, K. 1969 [1931]. Ideologie und Utopie. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.Google Scholar
  21. Pinch, T., and W. Bijker. 1984. The social construction of facts and artefacts: or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other. Social Studies of Science 14: 399–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pohler Schär, Wiebke. 2017. Innovationen in der Nanomedizin. Eine ethnografische Studie. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sokal, Alan, and J. Bricmont. 1998 Intellectual Imposters. London: Profile Books.Google Scholar
  24. Star, S., and J. R. Griesemer. 1989. Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39. Social Studies of Science 19: 387–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stengers, Isabelle. 1998. Wem dient die Wissenschaft. Hamburg: Murmann Verlag.Google Scholar
  26. Stengers, Isabelle. 2000. The invention of modern science. Minneapolis: Univerity of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  27. Stengers, Isabelle. 2008. Spekulativer Konstruktivismus. Berlin: Merve Verlag.Google Scholar
  28. van Loon, J. 2012. The agency of ethical objects. Studies in Qualitative Methodology 12: 191–207.Google Scholar
  29. Wehling, P. 2001. Jenseits des Wissens? Wissenschaftliches Nichtwissen aus soziologischer Perspektive. Zeitschrift für Soziologie 30: 465–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.sine – Süddeutsches Institut für empirische Sozialforschung e. V.MunichGermany

Personalised recommendations