Beth Bechky, NYU Stern School of Business

The culture of anticipation in a crime laboratory: How occupational captivity shapes work.
Beth Bechky


Winter 2021
Lecture Time: 
Friday, April 9, 2021 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 


Occupational integrity and the culture of anticipation in a crime laboratory The findings of forensic scientists – DNA profiles, chemical identifications of illegal drugs, comparisons of bullets, fingerprints, and shoeprints – are widely used in police investigations and courtroom proceedings. In this paper, I draw on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork at a metropolitan crime laboratory to reveal how criminalists protect their occupational integrity through the “culture of anticipation” in the laboratory. I show how expectations from science, criminal justice and the public shape the work of criminalists. Criminalists consider what analysis attorneys might ask for next, contemplate how jurors might perceive their work, and get ready for what might happen in the courtroom. I describe the practices by which they protect the core of science as well as how they incorporate the perspectives of criminal justice and the public into their work.

Recording & Additional Notes

Beth Bechky joined New York University Stern School of Business in July 2013 as a Professor of Management and Organizations with an affiliated appointment in NYU's Department of Sociology. She teaches courses in managing high performance teams and negotiations.

Professor Bechky is an ethnographer who studies interactions and dynamics at organizational and occupational boundaries. She is interested in how workers collaborate to solve problems, coordinate their activities, respond to technological change, and innovate. She has published her work in journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science and American Journal of Sociology.

Her new book, Blood, Powder and Residue: How Crime Labs Translate Evidence into Proof, is forthcoming in January 2021 from Princeton University Press. In it, she shows how the work of forensic scientists is fraught with the tensions of serving justice—constantly having to anticipate the expectations of the world of law and the assumptions of the public—while also staying true to their scientific ideals.

Professor Bechky was formerly a senior editor at Organization Science and the co-editor of Qualitative Organizational Research. She served on the council of the Organization, Occupations and Work division of the American Sociological Association from 2009-2012.

Prior to joining NYU Stern, Professor Bechky held professorial positions at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Graduate School of Management at the University of California Davis.

Professor Bechky received a B.S. (with Honors) from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, and an M.A. in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from Stanford University.

Research Interests
Technological change and the evolution of work
Sociology of work and occupations
Organizational theory