2021 Society for Anthropological Sciences Carol R. Ember Book Prize - Mads Solberg
In A Cognitive Ethnography of Knowledge and Material Culture: Cognition, Experiment, and the Science of Salmon Lice, Dr. Mads Solberg explores the production of knowledge among Norwegian scientists trying to rid salmon of a parasitic lice that harms aquaculture. This ethnography is more than just an anthropological study of scientists, labs, and their equipment, it is also a study of how these things interact and shape one another as an epistemic system. Using ideas of “distributed cognition” and “materiality” Solberg shows that culture and knowledge exist in an extended “ecological assemblage” beyond the individual. This inclusion of social organization (e.g., teams of scientists, specialists) and material culture (e.g., microscopes, DNA and tissue samples, notes) allows for a more systems-wide analysis of the way we create understandings of the world and act on them. Indeed, Solberg invokes the idea of an insect’s "compound lens" when describing this distributed framework of cognition—each part of the lab—the people, the tools, the samples—are combined synergistically in the process of meaning making. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in cognitive anthropology, material culture, or the philosophy of science.