The Laboratory Turn: Exploring Discourses, Landscapes, and Models of Humanities Labs

Urszula Pawlicka-Deger

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The goal of this paper is to track the path of the formation of the laboratory turn in the humanities and understand the conditions, meanings, and functions of humanities labs. The first section investigates three discourses that gave rise to the emergence of a laboratory in the humanities: the transformation of the humanities infrastructure within the university, paradigm shifts in the social sciences, and the expansion of cultural categories of innovation, the maker movement (the proliferation of makerspaces), and the idea of community. Next, the author presents a history of the laboratory in the humanities and determines the shift from a laboratory as a physical place to conceptual laboratory. The last section analyses five models for humanities labs based on laboratories’ statements and operations: the center-type lab, the techno-science lab, the work station-type lab, the social challenges-centric lab, and virtual lab. The research shows that the laboratory turn has emerged in the humanities as a part of a wider process of the laboratorization of social life, which has been occurring since the 1980s. Next, the study indicates the role of digital humanities as the driving force behind building a laboratory space, which supports situated practices, the collaborative, and technology-based projects. The paper shows that the humanities lab does not simply imitate the science lab but adapts this new infrastructure for its own purposes and needs.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • laboratory
  • laboratory studies
  • lab history
  • humanities lab
  • infrastructure
  • digital humanities
  • knowledge production
  • STS
  • conceptual laboratory


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  • King's College London

    Urszula Pawlicka-Deger (Visiting researcher)

    13 May 201924 May 2019

    Activity: Visiting an external institution typesVisit abroad

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