The final seminar of the year featured a works-in-progress by Dan Dohan. The group helped him brainstorm ideas for a grant he is interested in developing on cultures of responsible research in STEM laboratories. Our meeting began with an overview of social theories of culture, as explained by Lizardo and Strand in their article, “Skills, toolkits, contexts, and institutions: Clarifying the relationship between different approaches to cognition in cultural sociology.” We compared four approaches and perspectives of culture: classic anthropology, classic sociology, contemporary anthropology, and contemporary sociology.

In contemporary sociology, culture, that is, our ideology, values, or norms, are more powerful when times are socially unsettled – we tend to rely on them more to guide practice. On the other hand, during settled times, culture can work like a toolkit, where we can do things in ways that feel natural to us as individuals instead of relying on particular values or norms. These toolkits form cognition because they are ingrained into how we think and act.

Technological advances can regularly unsettle biological science fields and raise new ethical concerns. Our discussion explored how particular sites in biological science fields do or do not display lab culture, including how to identify the inherited values of team members that have followed them through their experiences, and how their resulting behaviors in new or different groups can change or upset existing ethical cultures. We also spent some time creating strategies to identify the goals of calls for grants that institutions put out, as these institutions have particular ideas and thinking about culture engrained in them already.