PhD Project Anna Dorn

Summary of the PhD Project

Substances, Elements, Mixtures. (Out-of-)School Chemical Experiments and their Representations (working title)

Over the last few years, various research projects have proven the significance of technical artefacts in very different areas: in private life, in professional contexts as well as in the science and technology studies themselves. The focus on these artefacts has resulted in other materialities (such as substances, organisms, nature) to be pushed into the background. Within the framework of the more recent materiality research, this dissertation assumes a wider materiality concept and investigates the role of substances and elements in (out-of-)school chemical experiments as well as their translation into the lettering of chemical equations. The dissertation empirically studies how the organisation’s staff (the teachers) and its inmates (the pupils) handle substances, elements, objects and symbols, which meanings are ascribed to them, how they are identified within their interdependencies and how they are framed discoursively.

The sometimes very complex (out-of-)school chemical experiments constitute a conglomerate of knacks, expertise, technical things as well as substances and elements. The dissertation investigates this co-operation and seeks to explicate the tension between acting and reacting with and through substances. Part of this is to observe substances as creation through depiction (Rheinberger), since they provide certain information by changing their colour and smell, which the participants can then experience with their senses. Also of particular importance for the chemical experiments is the generalisation through symbols: the reaction equation transfers the fugacious experiments into something that is precise, verifiable and discoursive. The substances and their reactions are transformed into signs and symbols which can be followed by further experiments. The dissertation is theoretically affiliated with the Social Science of Teaching and Education as well as with more recent materiality research and its concept of practice.