|Title||Protocols, practices, and the reproduction of technique in molecular biology|
|Tag(s)||EMCA, Ethnomethodology, Instructions, Protocol|
|Journal||British Journal of Sociology|
Protocols are one of the main organizational resources in molecular biology. They are written instructions that specify ingredients, equipment, and sequences of steps for making technical preparations. Some protocols are published in widely used manuals, while others are hand-written variants used by particular laboratories and individual technicians. It is widely understood, both in molecular biology and in social studies of science, that protocols do not describe exactly what practitioners do in the laboratory workplace. In social studies of science, the difference between protocols and the actual practices of doing them often is used to set up ironic contrasts between ‘messy’ laboratory practices and the appearance of technical order. Alternatively, in ethnomethodological studies of work, the difference is examined as a constitutive feature, both of the livedwork of doing technical projects, and of the administrative work of regulating and evaluating such projects. The present article takes its point of departure from ethnomethodology, and begins with a discussion of local problems with performing molecular biology protocols on specific occasions. The discussion then moves to particular cases in criminal law in which defense attorneys crossexamine forensic technicians and lab administrators. In these interrogations, the distinction between protocols and actual practices animates the dialogue and becomes consequential for judgments in the case at hand. The article concludes with a discussion of administrative science: the work of treating protocols and paper trails as proxies for actual ‘scientific’ practices.