My research is in social studies of science and technology, and deals mostly with issues of expertise, visual evidence, and orientations to surface, depth and clues in relation to knowing, discovering, and sense-making. Among my publications are the edited volume Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited (MIT Press, 2014), and the co-authored paper ‘Eyeballing Expertise’, with Graham Button, which was given the Distinguished Paper Award 2016 by the American Sociological Association, Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis section.
I am a Collaborating Editor at Social Studies of Science, and a member of the editorial board of the East Asian Science, Technology and Society (EASTS) Journal.


'Eyes That Tell Stories'

At the exhibition 'Eyes That Tell Stories' (Singapore, 2011), the eye of Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew is displayed as a big, artistically-rendered iris scan. The cues all around promise that there is something to discover  ‘in’ this eye. The video played on the handheld tablet zooms right into the pupil....  to reveal…. (drop me an email if you want to find out...).  


How do we look upon a picture, an image, a scene, as visual evidence? How do we make visual displays into 'spaces' for the discovery or extraction of something significant, or new?

My research explores how people imagine, position, and orient to images such as mammograms, retinal photographs, data displays and works of art, in search of new knowledge and insights.

This work relates to other research in social studies of science and technology on diagnostic practices, visualization technologies, and inscriptions. Similar to these, its aim is to articulate how the work of seeing and making visible is interwoven with evolving knowledge infrastructures and dynamics of expertise.

A few thematic obsessions run through my work:

  • Surface and depth: this relates to where in the image the opportunity for discovery is located and what that opportunity consists of. A geographical orientation to visual evidence.
  • Suspicion and trust: this relates to acts and practices of opening images up for interrogation, as well as the other side of the coin – that is, not opening them up, enacting them as self-evident.

I work with these themes by studying how they play out in concrete situations where people work with images. For examples, see my articles on imaging and visualization software demos (2011 and 2014). Also see my co-authored work with Daniel Neyland on visual accountability.  My ongoing work with Brian Rappert on expertise and revelation also develops and broadens these themes .

From 'Visual Analytics as Artful Revelation', 2014.

From 'Visual Analytics as Artful Revelation', 2014.


Medical imaging

My PhD thesis was on mammograms - specifically, on the efforts by a startup company to reconfigure the use and value of these images for public health.

I had a chance to study medical imaging again under the auspices of the "Asian Biopoleis" project (2010-2013), led by Gregory Clancey. This project engaged the social, historical, cultural, political and philosophical aspects of biotechnology/biomedicine initiatives in Asian cities. My sub-project focused on ocular imaging in Singapore. The research and public health innovation work done by Wong Tien Yin and his collaborators in and beyond the Singapore Eye Research Institute became the focus for a series of studies.

These include how diagnostic seeing and decision-making is accountably produced;  how retinal images travel; how popular and scientific notions of what the eye reveals transact; how racial difference features in the building of epidemiological datasets in an 'Asian' science hub; and how progress reporting advances notions of what it takes to do one's numbers well.

From 'Eyeballing Expertise', 2014.

From 'Eyeballing Expertise', 2014.

Data visualization

My chapter for the volume Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited was on business data visualization, or visual analytics. This was based on a study of online webinars of Tableau Software, one of the most well-known purveyors of data visualization software. In view of heightened interest in 'data'  in business, science and government,  I used these materials to re-examine longstanding preoccupations with seeing-as-knowing and visualization as an instrument for discovery.


Art forgery

My teaching on 'fakes' brought me into contact with the literature on art forgery - a very intriguing type of fake for the questions it raises about art practice, singularity, and ways of valuing art. This teaching interest has evolved into a research topic. The materials for this are newspaper reports and commentaries, as well as public accounts of their activities given by forgers and experts.  In particular, I explore questions around the 'revealability' of art forgery, and how this connects to seeing-as-knowing, art-as-data, and evolving dynamics of expertise.


Other topics

An invitation to be a commentator at a 2010 NUS workshop on Culture and Cognition in Asia convened by Philip Cho, led to an interest in how visualization features in collaborations between neuroscientists and (Buddhist) meditators. 

My 'Fakes' class also piqued my interest in fake meat - leading to an exploration of how eaters in Asian and Western countries orient to fake meat's 'fakeness', and how they integrate this in their pursuits of 'eating well'.


Collaborating with others has been an important aspect of my research. I much enjoy figuring things out together and bundling complementary strengths.

My longest-standing collaboration is with Brian Rappert at the University of Exeter. His affinity for similar themes, and his ethics and playfulness make it such a joy and privilege to be working with him. We have published on questions of expertise and 'conveying', and, together with Giovanna Colombetti, made such questions specific for the case of neuroscience and (Buddhist) meditation. We are currently working on a book on expertise and revelation.

Reading Representation in Scientific Practice (1990) as an undergraduate made a big impression on me. So the chance to join, together with Janet Vertesi, the original editors Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar for work on a follow-up volume (2014) was a dream come true for me.

I have learned a lot from Graham Button about ethnomethodology, and from Daniel Neyland about accountability.

Conversations and joint analysis with colleagues and students at the  National University of Singapore have helped me work through fieldwork materials and think about the meaning and practice of 'Asia-based' STS. 

I have co-authored publications on eye research with Connor Graham and with Margaret Tan. Former Tembusu colleague Ingmar Lippert has been a sparring partner for work on numbers. I am also currently collaborating with Karen McNamara on a special issue based on our 2017 workshop Framing Technology and Care in Asian Contexts.


Selected Publications

    • Coopmans, C. and Tan, M.A.H. (forthcoming, 2018), 'On 'Asian' distinctiveness and race as a variable: The case of ophthalmic epidemiology in Singapore', Science, Technology & Society.
    • Rappert, B., Colombetti, G. and Coopmans, C. (2017), 'What is absent from contemplative neuroscience? Rethinking limits within the study of consciousness, experience, and meditation,' Journal of Consciousness Studies 24 (5-6): 199-255.
    • Rappert, B. and Coopmans, C. (2015), 'On conveying and not conveying expertise', Social Studies of Science 45 (4): 611–619.
    • Coopmans, C., Vertesi, J., Lynch, M.E. and Woolgar, S. (Eds.) (2014), Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
    • Coopmans, C. and Button, G. (2014), ‘Eyeballing expertise’, Social Studies of Science 44 (5): 758-785. (Distinguished Paper Award 2016, American Sociological Association, Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis section) 
    • Neyland, D. and Coopmans. C. (2014), ‘Visual accountability’, The Sociological Review 62 (1): 1-23.
    • Coopmans, C., Graham, C. and Hamzah, H. (2012), 'The lab, the clinic, and the image: Working on translational research in Singapore's eye care realm', Science, Technology & Society 17 (1): 57-77.
    • Coopmans, C. (2011), 'Face value': Revelation and concealment in imaging software demos', Social Studies of Science 41 (2): 155-176.
    • Coopmans, C. (2006), 'Making mammograms mobile: Suggestions for a sociology of data mobility', Information, Communication & Society 9 (1), 1-19.

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