Instrumental Lives: An Intimate Biography of an Indian Laboratory – Pankaj Sekhsaria


Instrumental Lives is an account of instrument making at the cutting edge of contemporary science and technology in a modern Indian scientific laboratory. For a period of roughly two-and-half decades, starting the late 1980s, a research group headed by CV Dharmadhikari in the physics department at the Savitribai Phule University, Pune, fabricated a range of scanning tunnelling and scanning force microscopes including the earliest such microscopes made in the country. Not only were these instruments made entirely in-house, research done using them was published in the world’s leading peer reviewed journals, and students who made and trained on them went on to become top class scientists in premier institutions.

The book uses qualitative research methods such as open-ended interviews, historical analysis and laboratory ethnography that are standard in Science and Technology Studies (STS), to present the micro-details of this instrument making enterprise, the counter-intuitive methods employed, and the unexpected material, human and intellectual resources that were mobilised in the process. It locates scientific research and innovation within the social, political and cultural context of a laboratory’s physical location and asks important questions of the dominant narratives of innovation that remain fixated on quantitative metrics of publishing, patenting and generating commerce.

The book is a story as much of the lives of instruments and their deaths as it is of the instrumentalities that make those lives possible and allow them to live on, even if with a rather precarious existence.

Publisher – Routledge

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 Pankaj Sekhsaria is Associate Professor at the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (C-TARA), IIT Bombay. He was until recently Senior Project Scientist at the DST-Centre for Policy Research, Department of Humanities and Social Science, IIT-Delhi. His research interests lie at the intersection of science, environment, technology and society. He has a PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from the Maastricht University in the Netherlands and has written extensively on issues of environment, development and wildlife conservation in India with a special focus on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

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