All posts by Alexa Färber

Gedankensprüngeausstellung

“Let’s pause for a while, follow a procedure and search for different sensors that could allow us to recalibrate our detectors, our instruments, to feel anew where we are and where we might wish to go. 

No guarantee, of course: this is an experiment, a thought experiment, a Gedankenausstellung.” 

(Field book, p. 1)

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

 

That voice is familiar. It appears in many texts and lectures, navigating between directly calling on the reader – never without a sense of humour, but seriously upset about the way we continue to act out modernity – and considerately trying out new ideas and forms of de-modernisation. In short: “r-M!”

“Gedankenausstellung” is one of these ideas, coined by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, who since their “Making Things Public” (2005), have tried to open up new ways of relating to the world through the mode of the discursive exhibition. In “reset Modernity!” it signals the theoretical work to be done by the visitors once they have gone through the six “procedures” that structure the exhibition. The “field book” is another:

“As the name ‘field book’ indicates, you are invited to do a bit of research yourself.” 

(Field book, p. 2).

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

As an impatient visitor of exhibitions, but an anthropologist passionate about analysing knowledge in the mode of the exhibition, I was most curious about the making of “reset Modernity!” when I visited it on its opening weekend. Would space be reserved for reflection on how this Gedankenausstellung became an Ausstellung? And if so, what kind of spatial arrangement could express the localising qualities of this very representational work?

As it turns out, there was. Firstly in the catalogue, which was too heavy to carry, and will be a source for future reading. Here, a seventh procedure with the title “In search of a diplomatic middle ground” had been added. The chapter provides a visual and textual documentation of the conferences, workshops, symposia and plays that took place in the context of AIME — the ERC-funded research project and network based in Sciences Po’s médialab in Paris. The website, which has been developed as a working tool for the group, contains additional materials, including interviews with Bruno Latour on the question, “What is a Gedankenausstellung?” (http://modesofexistence.org/what-is-a-gedankenausstellung/). When it comes to learning about the making-of process, the photographs of their work sessions are potential sources of information – they show people sitting around tables covered with document folders, bottles of soft drinks and plates of sweets, discussing plans that have been projected on the wall. It features photographs and an audio-visual recording of the curators visiting the ZKM in 2015, bent over plans and examining the future exhibition space. It also shows the “statement of intent”, which prompted the following comment: “It sounds exciting. Stay strong and hold on to your original vision. Alicia Flynn (a year ago)” (http://modesofexistence.org/statement-of-intent-for-the-aime-exhibition-at-zkm-2016/)

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

Did they stay strong? And was that the right approach? (It shouldn’t be, see Latour/Weibel 2007: pp. 94-95) They did keep to their plan, and while the catalogue and website document how the research network took on the risks of interdisciplinary work (intertwining research, debate and theatre with analogue and digital design in different locations and constellations) the exhibition includes traces of their original working practice in the form of “stations” implemented in each procedure. Here, thematically related quotes, notes, images and audio-recordings are provided and loosely arranged on a single white wall. These arrangements are aesthetically reminiscent of the associative Warburgian atlas production – without claiming to be exhaustive.

Quite the opposite: These stations point directly to another, virtual actor — potentially a zettelkasten of the AIME team and its collaborators, which could be a probable source for the arrangements. The looseness of the wall arrangements and the virtual zettelkasten cautiously suggest the existence of selection, but not to the ways in which the selection took place. Which lines were drawn between those artworks and references that became part of the spatially, temporally, financially limited exhibition-project? Which artworks and references made their way into the exhibition while transgressing these lines? And which ones never did become a part of it, despite having the strongest of qualifications1 Since much of the “field book” isn’t a “fieldwork notebook”2, the stations don’t offer these types of insights into the representational work. Given that these processes are always driven by tension and passion – which shape the agency distributed between the actors – these walls have a lightness, they breathe and invite the visitor to do the same.

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

But do they provide the quiet that, as Bruno Latour mentioned in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist (http://modesofexistence.org/what-is-a-gedankenausstellung/, 26:14), is necessary for a reset? The field book proclaims that they are “a sort of workplace … this is where you will find more information and where you can discuss the path of the inquiry” (field book, p. 2). Here something might have been lost between the original vision and its spatialisation.

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

The very discreteness of this AIME-archive (the table with books at the intersection of three procedures should also be mentioned) is partially the result of the large, all-consuming two-dimensional artworks that surround these stations. Walking through the exhibition, these spectacular images again and again captured my attention: the more-than-realistic, staged photographs of Jeff Wall showing scientific practices; Armin Linke’s photographic work, which seemed to be part of almost every procedure, and simultaneously points to humanity’s intriguing megalomania and smallness and, visible from far away, at the end of the first exhibition hall, the floating walls of film projections in procedure five. The latter, called “Secular at Last”, resonated with the large scale of the other pictures. One work in this procedure is spatially secluded by a triangular installation of screens: “Obama’s Grace” (Lorenza Mondada et al, 2016). Here, the performative force of Barak Obama’s combination of political statement and religious “sound” is disturbingly intensified. An analytical transcript on one of the screens, however, demonstrates the extent to which this intensity stems from both the president and his parish. When standing between these three screens, the need for a way out of modernity’s binding forces could not be more obvious. Time for a Gedankensprung!

Reset Latour!

In press releases and in the impressive catalogue, the new Reset Modernity! exhibition at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe – (co-)curated by a certain Bruno Latour – is framed as a thought experiment or, in more idiomatic German, a Gedankenausstellung. Having perused through the exhibitions’ 75+ works of various origins and media formats, and thus partaken in the six successive procedures of dis- and reorientation meant to achieve the promised reset, this framing seems to us both highly appropriate and somewhat symptomatic. Appropriate, in the sense that what is being exhibited here, more than photographs and video screens and installation art, is in fact the thoughts of… Bruno Latour. Symptomatic, because in this case as well, German is more precise than English: while thoughts are literally put on display, it seems as if nothing much experimental is happening here. In particular, the detour through other materials seems to make no real difference to how the thoughts unfold themselves.

From start to end, the exhibition looks and feels like a crash course in Latour’s version of science and technology studies (STS). Guided by a field book, we move from laboratory life (a, ‘re-localizing the global’) to the anthropology of techniques (f, ‘innovation not hype’), via more recent interventions aligned to the various modes of existence of the moderns: fictional art (b, ‘without the world or within’), religion (e, ‘secular at last’), morality (c, ‘sharing responsibility’) and politics (d, ‘from lands to disputed territories’). Crashing, indeed, is what modernity is said to be doing, under the weight of ecological crises. Or, to follow the opening video of the show, perhaps the crash has already happened and we are scrambling to face up to its effects? The answer was never entirely clear; just as it was not clear just why modernity needs resetting if, as the curator might say, we were never quite modern in the first place? Perhaps resetting is what happens to critique of ideology, once we stop believing in both critique and ideology?

 

The article’s co-author engages with the thoughts on display, and in the field book, during Reset Modernity!, photograph by author

 

 

With so many interesting ideas flowing around; with such an impressive list of star artists enrolled; and with such a pressing eco-political mandate, Reset Modernity! frankly strikes us as something of a missed opportunity. Not that the show lacks exiting moments, far from it. Strong works of contemporary art, such as those by Simon Starling, Tacita Dean, Thomas Struth and Pierre Huyghe (to name but a few), make it well worth a visit. For anyone familiar with Latour and STS, moreover, the joy of recognition is a palpable one: if you read Reassembling the Social, you will surely enjoy watching Charles and Ray Eames’ promotional video Powers of Ten (and its critical-theatrical deconstruction); and if you follow discussions on the Anthropocene, you will like the enigmatic hybrids of humans and stones conjured by Anne-Sophie Milon and Jan Zalasiewicz (himself a leading geological protagonist). Yet, at the level of curatorial guidance – of which the show has (too) much! – the thoughts on display often curiously falls short of their purported model, i.e. the ground-breaking and thought-provoking writings of… Bruno Latour himself.

Let us give a few examples to illustrate what we mean. During procedure b of the exhibition, the visitor is treated to two striking works by Jeff Wall, the Canadian artist well known for his self-reflexive inquiries into the nature of photographic representation. The choice of artist, of course, is far from coincidental. As many readers of this journal will recognize, Latour has a history of reflecting on one of these works: specifically, Wall’s 1992 photographic rendition of Adrian Walker, Artist, Drawing From a Specimen in a Laboratory in the Department of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver (as the full title reads). In the picture, Walker-the-artist is seen in the laboratory, absorbed in his work of making an anatomical drawing of a detached, mummified limb from a once-living animal. It is a wonderful piece of art, dwelling as it does on the capacity of photography to capture one of those still-rarer moments in scientific practice where artistic competence remains superior in precision to automated inscription.

Latour surely agrees, to a point. As he explains in his brilliant 2005 Spinoza lecture, What is the style of matters of concern?, he is critical of Wall’s gesture: Wall has been blinded, he argues, by the contrivances of this situation, failing to see that its entire aesthetics of matters of fact has been rendered improbable. To his credit, in this 2005 text, Latour re-prints a lengthy response to this interpretation by Wall himself, explaining why it misses what Wall takes to be the key point, to do with the pleasure of all depiction (his own included, of course). Here is the problem, however: at the Reset Modernity! exhibition, this worthwhile exchange is reduced to a mere assertion on the part of the curator. In particular, the other photograph by Wall allows Latour to drive home the point: here, we witness a group of archeologists at work in their field, excavating. Unlike Walker, Latour writes in the field book, scientists “are involved inside what they study”. A nice STS point, for sure. But why do we need Jeff Wall’s photographs in order to make it? Indeed, are we not presented here with a strangely realist, matter-of-factly way of appreciating what is, after all, a highly self-reflexive photographic practice? If scientists are active inside the worlds they study, then what about photographers? Is only STS allowed to determine where the frame starts and stops?

 

 

Elevated view of the exhibition layout, with Milon and Zalasiewicz' The Mystery of Brunaspis enigmatica on the floor, photograph by author
Elevated view of the exhibition layout, with Milon and Zalasiewicz’ The Mystery of Brunaspis enigmatica on the floor, photograph by author

 

A second and related concern arises for us as we start embracing the full diversity of materials on display in the exhibition as a whole: tactile works by world-renowned contemporary artists sit alongside amateur scribblings and installations; videos by Peter Gallison’s STS students stand around the corner from the Eames’ work of design consultancy; a (copy of a) 15th century print by Albrect Dürer shares the space with excerpts from late-20th-century movies. In fact, only the large-size photographs by Armin Linke gives to Reset Modernity! a kind of recurrent visual mark (albeit, we think, a less interesting one than Latour lets on in the catalogue). Such material diversity is of course potentially interesting. It juxtaposes times, spaces, media and genres not usually juxtaposed. It challenges how boundary-work is usually performed in artistic spaces. However, at the curatorial level, nothing much is done with this diversity and its potentials in Reset Modernity!. In fact, and disappointingly, diversity of materials and stylistic genres fails to register anywhere in the thoughts on display, in the (heavy!) narrative being told. It is as if the various thoughts and the various materials, interesting as those registers are, are just not rendered that relevant for each other. Here is a split one would have trusted an STS curator to bridge – especially when that curator has done more than perhaps anyone else to bring to attention the inherent materiality of ideas.

Third and finally, there is the narrative itself, the narrative of what happened to us during the short experience called modernity, and how we might want to reset that experience. Here, as noted, we are treated to a tour around Latour’s universe, slanted towards his more recent concerns: during the show, we move from (ancestral) land to the (modernist) globe; get lost on the way; witness the birth of the environment (out of Nature) and its later morphing into Gaia; only to realize that our imaginary land and utopian globe have both disappeared, leaving us the task of cultivating new careful techniques of attachment to our new and inhospitable umwelt, the Earth. Anyone up to date with Latour’s writings will recognize the (geo-)story. What becomes obvious in this 3-D exhibition version, however, is just hos well Latour’s own wonderful concept of the panorama fits this story of his: we are presented with a 360-degrees full-color projection, with no cracks and fissures, but equally with no visible signs of connection to the world beyond the screen. The panorama, as Latour would say, is nicely suited for preparing its audience, the public, for the collective journey ahead – such, indeed, seems to us the better way of appreciating the Reset Modernity! exhibition. Yet, even the best of panoramas eventually leave you starving for more, for something tangible, connected, entangled, engaged. For the kinds of worlds, in short, which STS is so good at cultivating, and which actor-network theory feeds on, full of gaps and fissures and translations and betrayals.

Few contemporary intellectuals have done more to completely revamp, indeed to seriously reset, all the ingredients of our common world – of science, technology, nature, politics, not to mention the study of their multifarious interrelations, known as STS – than has Bruno Latour. His recent exposition of the modes of existence of the moderns adds new and interesting layers to this already-impressive intellectual edifice, as does his engagement into transdisciplinary dialogues on the fate of our Anthropocene. In the meantime, he has managed to (co-)curate three multi-media art exhibitions, at least one of which (the 2005 Making Things Public) stands as a model for those art-science collaborative endeavors so seriously needed. In light of all this, Reset Modernity! is a parenthesis; not a complete failure, for sure, but neither groundbreaking in any way. Sometimes, resetting your computer is no big deal, just something you do to refresh your extended mind. We suggest a similar procedure here: upon visiting this exhibition, remember to reset Latour (!) and refresh your memory as to just why his thinking matters so much in the first place.

Procedures to deal with modernity without irony

My own interest in this exhibition

Having only witnessed Bruno Latour live in a lecture over two decades ago and having recently (re-)read a large fraction of his work, including his Inquiry into Modes of Existence (2013), I gladly accepted the invitation to take part in the opening event of his exhibition Reset Modernity! My own interest in Latour’s work, including his philosophical work, stems from his combined empirical and theoretical analyses of practices of dealing with uncertainty. Besides having studied Latour’s approach to science and politics (in particular pertaining to global climate change) I was recently triggered by his approach to science and religion (in, e.g., his Rejoicing, 2013). I will here reflect how his exhibition added a useful dimension to the readings I had done before.

 

Executing procedures with more senses

Latour’s approach in his books is already unconventional, for instance by using fictive narrators. In the exhibition, a whole other dimension of the problématique appears, through a variety of media, alongside what can be addressed through the ordinary mode of reading and thinking. During the opening symposium (and in the book accompanying the exhibition) Latour emphasised that in order to be able to deal with the future ‘our individual instruments’ need to be ‘reset’ (from a false modernity) by a sequence of ‘procedures’ that the exhibition carries out with the participants. And to be honest: I took a whole day to dutifully execute all the suggested procedures, using my guidebook and walking through the exhibition and looking carefully and reflecting on what was shown, and indeed got sensitised to several aspects that had escaped my notice from reading his books. This happened already in procedure 1, relocalising the global, when watching the precursors and Latour’s criticism of the film Powers of Ten (Charles and Ray Eames, 1977). I immediately ordered a copy of Kees Boeke’s Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps (1957). Latour highlights the ‘complete implausibility’ of the moves in Powers of Ten. One should not jump too quickly to the ‘big picture’. Or, as Latour writes, ‘Earth is not visible as long as it is hidden behind the globe’. Of course I was already open to it and quite prepared, but still the exhibition is accessible to a large audience (actually, it is more accessible than some of Latour’s books).

 

No irony

Another observation that Latour made during the opening was that none of the work in his exhibition has any form of irony: none of it is critical in the 20th century modernist sense. And he deemed that to be something positive. According to Latour, you do not want to exit from the successes of modernisation. And indeed the exhibition, although it addresses – among other topics – global problems such as climate change, embodies a pragmatist philosophy of hope. Indeed several pragmatist elements are recognisable in the exhibition: avoidance of dualisms; the flux of experience and of the experienced world; reflexivity; responsibility; creativity and inclusivity. The exhibition hence confirms that Latour’s work refers back to the early phase of pragmatism (that of James and Dewey) combined with a sharp analysis of present day connections.

 

Religion as politics

The least attractive procedure, at least for my own project, was the procedure called ‘secular at last’ focussed on the crossing between politics and religion. The procedure focused on religious film and highlighted the politics of religion. While the crossing of politics and religion is no doubt a problématique of global significance, I had hoped to learn more about Latour’s analyses of science and religion, which he both sees as the result of transformations. In the case of science the interest is in information and representation; in the case of religion the interest is in translation and ‘saving’. In Rejoice, Latour had focused on alterations that happen to people when they utter religious speech and engage (models of) beings that ‘have the peculiar characteristic of bringing persons from remoteness to proximity, from death to life’. I would have liked to see demonstrations of how models of God are used in practice, and how deep uncertainty and ignorance about these models are dealt with and expressed in religious practices. And maybe to explore the crossing with the mode of reference, how science models nature.

 

Gaia

To be honest, I have always been sceptical of references to ‘Gaia’. Especially of the popular reception of the Gaia hypothesis as it was put forward, defended and refined by the inventor and independent scientist James Lovelock (the hypothesis being that biota influence the environment in a way that causes a homeostasis in the face of a changing external forcing). While Lovelock and his supporters have consistently tried to accommodate scientific criticism of the Gaia hypothesis by seemingly getting rid of the metaphysical versions, the attractiveness of the Gaia hypothesis for the general public remained precisely what Lovelock cannot suppress himself to say about Earth: ‘It is most certainly an organism—and alive!’ Latour in this exhibition, however, does not at all allude to these metaphysical versions and is able to take a fresh look at Earth, in a grounded way. I found his visual distinctions between globe and Earth enlightening. And also what he indicated during the opening: speaking about Gaia is not about animism: it is to indicate that there was no modernist deanimation in the first place.

Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience

 

Catalyst Issue 4
Catalyst: Issue 1, Vol. 1, Fall 2015

 

 

Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience is a new online, open-source, peer- reviewed journal that has created a publication platform for the ongoing re- activation and remixing of the field of feminist science and technology studies. Catalyst explicitly embraces work that falls within the rubric of called feminist science and technology studies even as it propagates that work within a broader panoply of geographic sites and disciplines as well as through myriad practices, including art, maker culture, and new media praxis. The journal publishes both conventional monographic articles as well as a variety of experimental writings, roundtable conversations, and digital and new media projects. Moreover, Catalyst recognizes the dispersed, divergent, and intersectional political commitments that constitute feminist STS by purposefully moving beyond gender and sexuality as discrete topics to invite scholarship engaged with militarism, blackness, decoloniality, anti-racism, queer politics, political economy, and disability. The journal acknowledges feminist STS as an intersected, many-sited, under revision, and heterogeneous field.

This extensive vision of what might count as feminist engagements with technoscience is signaled by the journal’s name. Etymologically, the word “catalyst” is constructed out of the Greek word katálusis, which means “dissolution.” This sense of coming apart, or coming undone has been reversed in the contemporary usage of the term in social and political discourse, where to catalyze means to stimulate social change or precipitate an event. Catalyst embraces the word’s contradictory associations, including its use as a technical term within chemistry. In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction by changing the amount of activation energy required without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. The addition of a catalyst, in other words, sparks an alternative pathway for a chemical reaction to occur. In practice, this means that a catalyst can be used to trigger a reaction that would otherwise not happen because it requires too much energy. In other words, a catalyst stimulates other routes and relations. Drawing on this plurality of histories and meanings, the journal mobilizes the word Catalyst to describe the task of supporting the ongoing remaking of feminist STS constituted in the uneasy mixture of many trajectories of critical thinking, and towards the political project of a changed world. For instance, tracing an historical itinerary for the term “catalyst,” one could route through the work of the Scottish female chemist Elizabeth Fulhame, who in 1794 published An Essay On Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dying and Painting, wherein the Phlogistic and Antiphlogistic Hypotheses are Proved Erroneous, a text credited with the first description of a chemical catalyst. Aptly, Fulhame’s work in chemistry took as its experimental concern artistic practices, studying chemical processes used within photography, dying, and the creation of metallic fabrics. Thus, routed through Fulhame, the very genealogy of the concept of catalyst brings together the entwined histories of science and art practice, as well as the creation of technoscientific projects in the margins of imperialism and patriarchy.

The desire to create Catalyst came from the acknowledgement that scholars in feminist STS consistently struggled to find journals amenable to their work, and that this especially affected younger scholars who were often undertaking their research in the marginal corners of more conventional disciplines. Thus, it was important to the editorial board that Catalyst be a peer- reviewed journal that would strive to publish work at the cutting-edge of the field. With these ambitious in mind, Catalyst is also a project built out of the labor of a small circle of academic colleagues and graduate students who work transverses the areas of feminist, queer, postcolonial, and antiracist STS and media studies in the US and Canada. The development of Catalyst was not launched by a professional society or academic press, but instead was created out of the work and commitment of people drawing on local and ephemeral sources of funds at their various universities. The journal is made possible by graduate student labor and creativity from UC San Diego, NYU, Emory, UCLA, and the University of Toronto, as well as a modest one-year grant provided by the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S). Thus, the journal currently straddles DIY feminist praxis, where unwaged labor is mobilized to create possibilities otherwise institutionally foreclosed, and a commitment to scholarly rigor and recognition of work in the field.

We are keenly aware that our own composition of US and Canadian academics provides only a partial entry into the efflorescence of critical feminist STS work, and that our itineraries of feminist, anti-racist STS have emerged from particular resistances to American empire and settler colonialism, which are not necessarily the points of departure for critical, political, feminist scholarship generated in other locations. This self-reflection is another reason to embrace the name Catalyst, as a recognition that the work which is submitted to the journal may very well spark a rearrangement of the very terms and boundaries of constitutes feminist STS.

Catalyst publishes two issues a year. It launched its inaugural issue, which included a mixture of both established and newer scholars including graduate students, at the 2015 meeting of 4S in Denver. Its second issue, on Digital Militarism, edited by Lucy Suchman, Isra Ali, Marisa Brandt, Andy Rice, is about to be released in Spring 2016. The Fall 2016 issue, on the theme of Black Feminism and Feminist Technoscience, is coordinated by guest editors Kimberly Juanita Brown, Jared Sexton, and Cristina Visperas. In elevating the ongoing work of black captivity in a range of technoscientific practices, this special issue in particular provokes the question: “What would the end of the world of science – what would the end of science as we know it – do for feminist technoscience, and for science and technology studies more broadly?” A forthcoming special issue on “Science out of Feminist Theory,” guest edited by Banu Subramaniam and Angela Willey, begins from genealogies of postcolonial and queer theory to open spaces for reconceptualizing science itself. Here the contributors will shift the focus from feminist STS to how feminisms and feminist theory can be “generative sites for producing new imaginations and theories of science and the work of knowing our worlds.”

For each special issue, Catalyst has instituted a practice of putting out a wide call for papers that seeks to expand beyond collegial networks and invite interventions into the questions it poses. While all these special issues are purposely crafted to spark the ongoing remixing of feminist STS, Catalyst also invites the submission of individual papers and digital projects looking for a platform from which to stir up of technoscience, feminism, theory, and politics. We hope scholars at EASST and beyond will view Catalyst as a forum where they are welcomed and challenged to the continual remixing of feminist technoscience studies.

Building bridges: new realities, new education approaches and collaboration

 

BIHSENA

 

Since the 1990s, Eastern European societies and their respective health care systems have been undergoing a series of major transformations – some of the changes have worked out successfully, others have had minor positive effects. One of the reasons for lack of progress in the field of health care and the medical innovations is that Post-Soviet governance mechanisms are not well attuned to the new realities. We believe that intersectorial collaboration and new education approaches may help to overcome this problem, as it prepares researchers, professionals and policy makers for analysing and dealing with the specific problems they meet.

The project “Bridging Innovations, Health and Societies: Educational Capacity-Building in Easter European Neighbouring Areas” (BIHSENA) aims to respond to the lack of education opportunities in the interdisciplinary area of health, innovations and society in the two countries of Russia and Ukraine, and to bridge a gap between (bio)medical and social scientists, academics and practitioners in these two countries, as well as between local and international communities. The common history regarding the organization of health care system (by means of the so-called Semashko’s model), and the health sector more generally, as well as similar past attempts to redesign it, create a shared ground for Russian and Ukrainian partners to do research, design solutions and develop up-to-date educational programs.

The project has started at the beginning of 2016. It was supported by Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and brings together seven universities: Maastricht University (the Netherlands); National Research Tomsk State University and Siberian State Medical University (Russia); National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” and Vinnitsa National Pirogov Memorial Medical University (Ukraine); Plovdiv University Paisii Hilendarski (Bulgaria), and Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University (Poland). The project is led by Dr. Klasien Horstman, professor of Philosophy of Public Health at Maastricht University. The Policy Analysis and Studies of Technologies Centre (PAST-Centre) is a key partner in the BIHSENA project.

The BIHSENA project was conceived by a group of scholars who came together in Tomsk to take a part in an international conference Social Sciences and Medical Innovations: Doing Things Together in May 2015 (a report on the conference can be found here: http://www.medanthrotheory.org/read/5431/social-sciences-medical-innovations). In the course of the conference, it became clear that, among the various post-Soviet transitions analysed and discussed at the event, Russia and Ukraine face very similar challenges in the area of health and medicine, even though they have followed relatively divergent development trajectories after the collapse of the USSR. Two central issues were identified by members of BIHSENA consortium in both Ukraine and Russia.

 

BIHSENA group, photograph by author
BIHSENA group, photograph by author

 

First, important shortcomings for the health sectors of both countries result from their education systems. Specifically, there is a major lack of higher education programs and opportunities that would adequately prepare professionals – in the field of medicine, public health, social sciences and social policy – to work under conditions of transition, to effectively govern health reforms/innovations and to conduct the kind of interdisciplinary research that is needed to adequately inform policy- and decision-making for citizens’ health.

Creating educational opportunities to adequately prepare such professionals seems indeed crucial, specially for university-level teaching staff that requires an in-depth knowledge of recent approaches in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society, and varied and active modes of education that fit that content. Currently, however, education programmes in Ukraine and Russia hardly address intersections of health, innovations and society and rarely bring together insights from various disciplinary fields. Traditional formats of education, emphasizing lecturing, large student groups and face-to-face learning are dominant at the expense of more interactive, student-centred and blended learning approaches2.

Second, both countries lack opportunities and platforms for communication and engagement between (bio)medical and social scientists; academics and practitioners; scientists, policy makers and industry. Bridging disciplines, professions and sectors is necessary to early diagnose problems with respect to specific innovations and policies, and to promote more thorough and responsive approaches to health issues in the two countries.

The BIHSENA capacity-building project addresses both problems. In 2016 the BIHSENA team began work together and has already organised training programmes for 40 teachers from Russia and Ukraine in Maastricht University. The training enhanced the capacity of partner universities in Eastern European region to use active, interdisciplinary and blended modes of education, necessary for the development of new educational opportunities in the field of health, innovations and society. The issues, the training programme focused on, included: a. the productive use of Problem-Based Learning in practice; b. design and implementation of blended learning elements; and c. development and planning of active learning curricula. Special attention was given to ways of translating active and blended learning methodologies into different socio-cultural contexts. During the training period groups of teachers developed outlines of new interdisciplinary education modules, using the knowledge gained.

The next upcoming BIHSENA project event is going to take place in Bulgaria. During this event BIHSENA team will deliberate on the content of the new courses that are being developed within the framework of this project. The first part involves problem-based learning sessions, lectures and group discussions devoted to the recent insights from the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and societies. The topics include critical approaches to epidemiology and metrics of disease; current health systems transition; recent perspectives on definitions, processes and implications of innovations for health; developments in governance of health care; roles of publics in public health. The second part focuses on competence-based education and specification of competences for professionals working in health, innovations and society domain. The final, third, part of the workshop consists of presentations and discussions of the new course syllabuses being prepared by BIHSENA consortium members.

The new course syllabuses will be further discussed with healthcare practitioners, representatives of business and regulators to ensure that new education opportunities fit particularities and needs of local settings. Furthermore, in line with the philosophy of student-centred education, students’ perspectives and interests will be incorporated in the development and adaptation of these new educational opportunities. Thus, BIHSENA courses in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society will be co-produced by project partners, students and those already working on the ground.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

PAST against the Clock — Centre for Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology, Tomsk State University, Russia

www.en.past-centre.ru

Mission and History

The mission of the Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology center (PAST-C) is to contribute to the development of the Science & Technology Studies (STS) in Russia as a research field and educational discipline. The main focus of the PAST-C research agenda is the study of technology in the context of non-Western countries, mainly in Russia, with the aim of making a contribution to global discussions.

The team’s chief objective is to establish PAST as the single most important ground for various activities related to social studies and policy analysis of technological change in Russia and in this way to contribute to a consolidation of research, to an effective communication of its results to a broader public, and to setting up educational standards in this field, rather novel for Russia.

Relying on the already established institutional resources and its network of domestic and international partners, and institutions, the PAST team constitutes one of few key hubs that carry out and coordinate the social studies and policy analysis of technological change in the country. A challenge for us results from the still marginal position of Russian social researches in S&T policy and the field of STS is just making the very first steps in its development.

PAST-C opened in 2012 with financial support from Higher Educational Support Program, Open Society Institute, as a part of collaborative project of European University at St.Petersburg (EUSP). The aim of the Project initiated by EUSP was to create sustainable pockets of growth in the new fields of social sciences in a number of regional universities in Russia. Now we are moving from the concept of regionally localized center to the idea of becoming a bridge connecting different disciplines, territories and institutions; science and education; researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. Initiated as a small local center at one of the oldest regional universities in the country, we have rapidly become an institutional landmark in the STS field in Russia. At the next stage our goal is to make more prominent contributions to global STS, producing, in particular, new knowledge on how politics works in science and technology innovation in non-Western countries.

 

 

Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author
Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author

 

 

Research Agenda

Scientists in STS have long been interested in policy issues. Much work has been done by them on issues of democracy, its relationship with technoscience, accountability and public participation in the governance of innovation in rapidly transforming contexts. Many such studies have observed a reduction of nation-state centralized governance of science and innovation processes, while pointing to decentralized networks and power assemblages in the field of S&T governance (Jasanoff, 2004; Irwin, 2008). This growing attention to the processes of governance occurring outside of the official governments and nation states has contributed to a more reflexive understanding of the organization of innovation management and knowledge models inscribed in it. However, despite such meticulously implemented studies of democratic tendencies in technoscience development, the existence of other, non-democratic methods of governance and government signals the need for attention to differences within and between countries and their organization of innovation (for example, Rajan, 2005). While empirical work on politics and science and technology, as well as innovation, has been mostly focused on established liberal democracies of the West, the main focus of PAST-C research agenda is on how and by whom decisions on S&T policy are being made, represented and ‘framed’, what kinds of assumptions operate within these processes, how choices are being legitimised and stakes negotiated in various kinds of societies. Within this frame, PAST-C faculty works on different spheres:

 

1) Medical innovations beyond the West

Since 2015 we have been working with colleagues from Maastricht University on a collective monograph about politics and medical innovations in non-Western world (Zvonareva, Horstman, Popova). What types of power and conflict are dealt with in various societies beyond the Western high-income world, including those with transitional and hybrid political regimes without long established democratic traditions and institutions? What kinds of responses to the politicisation of (bio)medical science and technology are being constructed and institutionalised?

Several research fellows of PAST-C concentrate on studying medical innovations from the STS perspective. The first project is investigating social embeddedness of drug research and development in Russia (Zvonareva et al., 2015). The second one considers Russian maternity care system from viewpoint of interrelations between technology, state policy and doctor’s decision-making (Melnikova 2014; Borozdina 2013).

2) Innovation and Technology in non-Western world

We are also interested in studying the varying political features in different technology fields. Our research projects focusing on non-Western innovation system investigate, first, how Russian top-down innovation policy enforce close positions between academic and industrial partners, a development that is often discussed as ‘coerced innovation’ and, second, how the available technological equipment and how different human agents shape such innovation systems (Bychkova, Popova, Chernysh 2015; Popova 2015).

We are also conducting a 4-years project on academic journals as organizations. It studies how the dependence on professional, commercial and state resources influences journal’s organizational behavior in Russian sociology (e.g. the choice between networks and open peer review as different forms of governance) (Guba 2015).

Another direction of research is devoted to the issue of inclusion of marginalized groups of society in innovation system, i.e. informal innovation, problems with their recognition, institutionalization, and diffusion. The research has focused on India and Russia. This educed new challenges to inclusion connected with the specifics of each policy regime (Ustyuzhantseva O., 2015). Networking with scholars from China, Africa, India and Brazil allows extending this agenda for BRICS.

3) Urban infrastructural transitions in post-socialist countries

Another research field concerns end-user interactions with urban infrastructure in post-communist context. One research project on smart utility meters draws attention to the ways in which end-users of smart technologies in centralized city infrastructures can undermine the proposed policy tasks of ‘commodification’ of public utilities, i.e. transformation of these quasi-public goods into economic goods (Bychkova, Popova, 2016; Bychkova, Popova, 2011).

A related research focus lies at the intersection of STS (particularly ANT) and mobilities studies (Kuznetsov, 2015). The project City, Transport Mediation, Social Justice studies the practices of mundane critiques and justification within sociotechnical assemblage of marshrutkas (Russian type of collective taxis) (Kuznetsov, In print). Recently we launched new two-year collective project aimed at sociotechnical analysis of the consequences of public transport infrastructure transformation in the preparation to the World Cup 2018 that will be held in Volgograd in 2018.

 

Networking and collaboration

We collaborate on issues of science and technology policy with the Center for STS and Center for Governance and Public Policy of the European University at St. Petersburg. In field of technology assessment we have approached the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and the Perm Polytechnic University in the Urals (see: https://www.itas.kit.edu/english/2015_043.php). The main idea was to make pilot research on the topic of TA in non-western world. Two workshops devoted to grassroots innovation and public policy for inclusive innovation development were hold together with member of Science Policy Research Unit of Sussex University. Together with the School of Social Science of Jawaharlal Nehru University, PAST-C is currently exploring the possibility of implementing some of their courses for the Master Program being developed by PAST-C.

Aiming at consolidation of Russian research and educational community in fields of STS and related disciplines, PAST-C hold conferences with participation of leading researchers and most importantly we began an audit of interested parties in Russia (Popova, Simakova, 2013). Two conferences on «Social Studies and Medical Innovations” in Tomsk (O.Zvonareva, O. Melnikova 2014 and 2015) were held in collaboration with Department “Health, Ethic and Society”, Maastricht University (HES). The conferences resulted in establishing links and cooperation with the Siberian Medical University, the NGO Academy of Evidence-based Medicine, as well as technological companies in the field of health.

Summer Schools were hold to attract the attention of Russian young researchers to STS, focusing on “STS for Seven Days” (2013) and on “STS and Urban Studies” (2015). This year we prepared the summer school “Science as a form of life: Watching heterogeneous communities in the ‘field’” in collaboration with Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research (TSU), Centre of Excellence ‘Bio-Clim-Land’, Scientific Research Institute of Biology and Biophysics (TSU) and Plovdiv University. The school aims to train young scholars in applying new theoretical approaches in the anthropology of science, with the process of researching being conceptualized as a heterogeneous community inhabited by different types of agencies (actors) – human, non-human (domestic and wild natural beings), artifacts, and other technical facilities, which are included in various forms of association and cohabitation. It will explore the world of scientists that work at biogeochemical laboratories and will study their methods of remote environmental monitoring through in-city participant observations.

Well-known researchers and practitioners have acted as key-note speakers in different PAST-events: Arie Rip, Stephen Hilgartner, Steve Fuller, Ignacio Farias, Anil Gupta, Guy Ben-Ary, Klasien Horstman, Boel Berner and Jessica Messman.

 

Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, a senior research fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, Senior Research Fellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education and training

PAST-C supports student exchange program with HES, Maastricht University (UM), providing co-supervision of UM students’ Master thesis in collaboration with Tomsk medical organizations and sending local students to attend the spring semester in Maastricht.

In 2015 PAST-C began developing master program “Innovation and Society: Science, Technology, Medicine”. One of the program’s areas is dedicated to medical innovation and is held in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Siberian Medical University a collaboration that received a grant from the European Commission Erasmus+ (see: http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Main/Sitewide/News1/InternationalConsortiumLedByUMReceivesEUfundingOf865.000Euro.htm)

It is also important that following the spirit of STS of fostering a dialogue between and beyond disciplines, the Center also aims to work as a part of civil society. While contemporary Russian policy-makers generally are not open for dialogue with NGO and other non-political groups, PAST-C seeks to attract the attention of general public, politicians, administration, etc. to policy issues in the sphere of science and innovation. PAST-C events seek to secure the dialogue between the different groups involved, concerned and affected.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Towards data sharing in STS

Let me start this new edition of the EASST Review by thanking Ignacio for his superb work in leading its recent transformations, and making it such an exciting platform for information and exchange about the STS community in Europe and beyond, while also rejuvenating the outlook. As such, I did not hesitate for a second when he asked me to join the editorial board, and it is a pleasure to work with him and the others of the Review and EASST to generate ideas and topics for future publications. This edition features the PAST centre in Syberia, the feminist journal Catalyst, Latour’s Reset Modernity! exhibition, as well as two events partially funded by EASST. Many thanks to everyone contributing and we hope you will enjoy reading.

Building on Ignacio’s previous editorial that diagnosed a collaborative turn in STS, I would like to point at the important new development of data sharing in STS, which can also enhance the collaborative spirit of our field. Many STS scholars are studying transforming scientific practices around data collection, curation and preservation, and how these are changing scientific collaboration and data sharing, but we are just starting to think of the implications of this for our own research practice. How do we as STS colleagues share our data, not only with our close collaborators, but also within our field – with current colleagues and future generations of scholars – and beyond the borders of our own community, with stakeholders and various publics?

This topic has been on the agenda of the science and technology studies community for a while, especially since the US National Science Foundation now requires proposal applicants to include a data management plan. This resulted in a workshop in which colleagues from history, philosophy, and social studies of science and technology1 met last year at the National Science Foundation to discuss the opportunities and challenges of storing and sharing data in science and technology studies (involving two EASST members, Sally Wyatt and I). Workshop members reported on their work during the Denver 4S meeting and also discussed the need for a European discussion on this topic, in line with requests from various national councils and European funding bodies regarding data management and our own wishes as a community. However, as the European STS landscape and its funding sources are quite diverse, we will need to find ways to deal with national diversity, so national STS organization may also provide a role in forwarding these discussions, along with EASST.

What follows is a short summary of findings from the US National Science Foundation workshop2 to serve as a starting point for framing European discussions within this more global initiative on data sharing in STS.

The 4S/NSF Workshop participants identified four main benefits of data sharing for STS which are summarized as follows in the report:

 

The National Science Foundation Report on Data Sharing in Science and Technology Studies (2015). 

First, data sharing has the potential to transform the practice, substance, and scope of science and technology studies. This includes allowing scholars to ask broader research questions, conduct large-scale and cross-case comparisons, and create more rigorous and replicable methods, while also enabling the systematic accumulation of STS knowledge via analysis and synthesis of existing data. Such efforts may also enhance the value of STS data and scholarship for policymakers.

Second, data sharing has the potential to advance STS methodology and data curation practices. This includes improvement of measurement and data collection methods to ensure reuse and replicability, protection against faulty data, and archiving and making sustainable STS data rather than allowing them to decay and disappear at the end of a research project or professional career.

Third, data sharing has the potential to provide professional development opportunities. This includes new research training opportunities for advanced techniques for data sharing, synthesis, and reuse, and facilitating scholars’ abilities to meet granting requirements. New training programs may also help establish a cultural shift in STS whereby datasets, data preparation, and data sharing come to be valued as important scholarly products worthy of professional recognition.

Fourth, data sharing has the potential to make STS research more engaged, democratic, and practically relevant by making data and research findings available to scholars and citizens without access to funding and research materials.

 

We also discussed ways in which this cultural shift towards sharing can be stimulated, recognizing the value of data sharing while also safeguarding the diversity of data produced in different fields and specialties, and via different research methods. Most importantly, it seems necessary that different forms of data can have different levels of openness or access, with some data not being suited for actual sharing due to ethical considerations and anonymity. Moreover, and to promote a culture of data sharing within STS, the topic should become part of the agenda of workshops and projects in STS, as well as the training of (young) scholars. In this context, the development and sharing of example data management plans might also be helpful. In order to enable sharing efforts, alliances with publishers, libraries, archives, and museums can be useful to share expertise about data curation and management.

Last but not least, the topic of data sharing within STS is deeply embedded in existing discussions about open data that are taking place in our EASST community, and it is also quite visible in the 4S/EASST Barcelona programme. Tracks on ‘The Lives and Deaths of Data’, ‘Open science in practice’ and ‘Critical data studies’ will certainly be showing various ways in which we are already engaging with this topic, and can perhaps also provide opportunities to discuss these topics in relation to our own work and interests.

News from EASST Council

The EASST Council (the elected body that runs our association) meets twice a year, last time in Munich in October and next in Copenhagen in April. Issues which are currently being discussed and progressed include:

  • Elections: the terms of office (normally 4 years) of the majority of Council members, and the President, come to an end this year. There will be a specific call for self-nominations and details of the election process later in the year. However, if you want to know more about the Council you can see the current members from our website at https://www.easst.net/about-easst/easst-council-members/ and read the constitution at https://www.easst.net/about-easst/easst-constitution/. If you want to know more, please contact our secretary via estrid.sorensen(at)rub.de or the president at president(at)easst.net
  • Current Conference: there has been a massive response to the call for papers with over 2,500 received. Track Conveners and the Scientific Committee are busy assessing these. Students from 4S and EASST are working together to put together a Postgraduate Workshop to procede the conference. Both EASST and 4S have funds to support the conference attendance of students and those at early career stage who have had papers accepted. To keep in touch with developments follow the conference website at http://www.sts2016bcn.org/ .
  • Future Conferences: a reminder that we issued a call for those interested in hosting EASST’s next conference in 2018 (or at a future date). Council will be discussing this at the beginning of April so please get in touch straightaway if you are interested but have not yet told us.
  • Membership: a reminder that our membership year ends on 30th Those members who have a Futurepay agreement to cover renewals will receive a reminder about this – and an opportunity to cancel if you want to. If you know that your credit card has been renewed or changed over the year let us know and we can tell you how to update it. Others will receive an invoice as normal. A reminder that membership offers a discount on conference registration rates.
  • Awards for collaborative activities: thanks for your nominations. Council is considering those and the awards will be made in Barcelona.
  • Science and Technology Studies: our peer reviewed online journal has a new editor Salla Sariola. Thanks to Sampsa Hyysalo, the outgoing editor, for all his hard work. The journal has increased its issues from 3 to 4 per year based on the quality and quantity of submissions. Council is discussing other developments including an open journal platform and a pre-publication repository.
  • Website: we are currently making some amendments to our website to make its format more compatible with mobile and tablet use. We will use this opportunity to make some other minor changes. Look out for our new site soon.
  • EASST Review: we are always keen to hear your news via submissions to EASST Review. To discuss this contact our editor at ignacio.farias(at)tum.de

Tracing Sociomaterial Practices in Technoscientific Worlds. Stakes and Directions for STS

From 3-5 December 2015 the newly established national organization for science and technology studies STS Austria (see www.sts-austria.org) celebrated its launch with an international conference on the premises of the University of Vienna. This conference, organized with support from EASST and various other institutions, explored living in technoscientific worlds, as the title indicated, and thereto brought together a wide variety of researchers and their work from within Austria, Europe and beyond. From all their contributions emerged a colorful picture of what STS has to offer. Richly exhibiting the shared agenda of the field to make sense of the socio-material practices that surround us (as it was summarized in the closing panel), the conference made a strong case for the relevance of current work in STS. All the more reason for participants in a concluding discussion to consider how to strengthen not only research on sociotechnical practices, but also contributions to practices we study and the way we organize the practices of STS itself.

 

The closing discussion panel at the STS Austria Conference.
figure1: The closing discussion panel at the STS Austria Conference. Picture by Erik Aarden

 

The title ‘Living in Technoscientific Worlds’ deliberately opens up a plethora of sites and ways in which people interact with science and technology in their daily lives, and contributions to the conference did not disappoint in mapping many of these ways in great detail. From particular objects to so-called grand political challenges, the program covered the various facets of technoscientific worlds across many scientific disciplines, social domains and geographical locations. Without claiming to either be representative or do justice to this diversity, I came way with many interesting observations, lessons learned and new questions to ask.

As is tradition in STS, various presenters took specific mundane or novel objects and explored their relations to personal identities, social norms, economic ambitions or political imaginations. Among other things, we learned about the ways radio frequency tags in clothing are sold with the promise that they create effortless order and efficiency for the marketplace (or fashion store, as the case may be); how stem cells may be considered different things depending on the model for how to sell them as health care revolutions; or – as Judy Wajcman discussed in one of the keynotes – how our possibilities for digital communication enable the frantic, continuously connected lifestyle we were already committed to – rather than causing it.

Yet STS has also develop particular perspectives on how science and technology affect – and are affected by – sites and forms of living together that have traditionally drawn interest of other social sciences. Various policy-initiatives were critically interrogated, including the transnational travel of elite universities like MIT that turn out to change when traveling away from the US, rather than just being implemented elsewhere. Science also received its due as a profession in contributions interrogating how researchers ‘choreograph’ their interactions in interdisciplinary projects, or how they reflect on the differences and tensions between academic and industrial research from the vantage point of their own careers.

Still further, at various points during the conference discussions moved to interrogating conceptual categories that describe the – perceived – major challenges contemporary societies deal with. ‘Science’ as a category itself is not excluded from this discussion. The challenges science confronts were explored in Maja Horst’s keynote on the various levels at which attempts to communicate science seek to build a widely shared ‘scientific culture’. In related, yet different terms several presenters took up the notion that governance of technoscience needs rethinking, exploring approaches rooted in reflexivity, anticipation, responsibility and engagement as pathways for more socially robust and responsive technoscientific advances.

Across all of the different places, domains and levels of technoscientific worlds addressed in contributions to the conference, presenters – in lively interactions with their audiences – persistently debated the possibilities and limits of the various concepts and perspectives in the toolkit STS provides. What are the differences and implications of the various adjectives for ‘governance’ that (in part) have emerged from STS itself? To what extent are our diagnoses of shortcomings in how scientists conceptualize their publics applicable on new areas? How do we maintain a focus on materiality when thinking about policies, strategies and imagination? What do we ourselves take for granted when trying to unravel the implications of lives in technoscientific worlds?

Questions like these were peppered through a closing session led by Ulrike Felt and Alan Irwin, in which all conference participants were invited to contribute, which formed a fitting conclusion to the conference. This panel both crystallized many of the discussions of the previous two days and provided a helpful baseline for STS Austria in building its presence  – both in STS and in Austria – from its launch onwards. The conversation in this session revolved around various perspectives on both the idea and the practice of ‘practice’ and thereby helped in identifying some of the challenges STS (still) faces in claiming a place in conversing with its technoscientific environment.

One challenging dimension for STS as a field is how it relates to the structural demands of these worlds on how STS works. The field finds itself in a curious position in that regard, since many of its insights on scientific careers, funding mechanisms and indicators of quality and productivity barely find resonance in institutional strategies within STS. While we know that careers are precarious, or that funding requirements and publication scores may shape the issues we focus on and perspectives we develop, several contributions to this discussion implied a variation to the tune that we nevertheless play the game. Can we do more to challenge a system of which we are acutely aware that it has severe limitations?

How scholars in STS collectively respond to this question has important implications for directions the field may take in the future. On the one hand, particularly scholars that find themselves in the transition from junior to senior positions indicated that they miss an awareness of the challenges confronting the next generations in the field – which include, for example, the absence of a perspective on long-term stability due to the short duration of research projects. On the other hand, similar observations were made about geographical expansion of the field and the question how to integrate colleagues from outside Europe, North America, Australia and a few pockets in Asia – and their perspectives on living in technoscientific worlds – in the shared intellectual endeavor of STS. How can STS develop ways to enrich its perspectives on sociotechnical practices into areas it has not (yet) seriously engaged with?

Finally, conference participants also observed how the ways STS engages with its surrounding technoscientific worlds is often influenced by assumptions we carry about ‘outsiders’. Curiously, we often assume interlocutors such as policy-makers to neither understand our conceptual language, nor to be sufficiently reflexive to truly take on board the STS perspective. The question then, of course, is whether we are not too rigid in policing our intellectual tools, whether we aren’t reproducing attitudes we have been critical of ourselves, and whether we thereby not put the potential of our field to participate in conversations on important sociotechnical questions and challenges at risk. As the rich demonstration of STS perspectives in this conference showed, we have many interesting and important things to say. Yet it is to no small degree also up to us to make our voice worth listening to. How then to take serious those ‘outsiders’ that think we can make fruitful contributions to their practices?

The colorful display of STS perspectives on the sociomaterial practices that build the world we live in not only showed why the field is relevant, but also that the questions STS asks are too important to be secluded to an exclusive academic field. If we can draw one conclusion with implications far and wide beyond national boundaries from this conference, it is that both the diversity of work presented and reflexive questions posed to conclude the conference confirm this. While the field of STS thus needs to confront the various challenges of its own technoscientific environment of a disciplinary academy, it simultaneously should remain open to new perspectives coming from new generations, locations or practices adjacent to our own. The concluding panel therefore finished with the observation that there is work to be done for STS in cultivating open encounters with diverse forms of life in technoscientific worlds.

“Making and Doing” at 4S Meeting (Denver): Let’s extend the experiment!

Conceived as “a response to a growing trend among STS scholars in engaging in scholarly practices that produce and express STS knowledge beyond the academic paper or book” (Amir, 2015), the Making and Doing Programme held its first session at the 4S Annual meeting in Denver in November 2015. The idea for this Programme developed from a discussion of scholarly making and doing STS  at the Ecosite/4S meeting in Buenos-Aires (2014). More than 50 presentations were displayed at the 4S meeting. The Programme took the form of an interactive exhibition. Each project was allocated a space of approximately 2×2 meters. The Programme was attention grabbing, notably through performances such as that of Woelfle-Erskine’s (UC Berkeley) “Tell a salmon your troubles” project. This report aims to give a flavour of the diversity and creativity of the exhibits. Despite the specificity of each, we gather them under different headings.

 

Tell a salmon your troubles” project invites working scientists to relate to another critically endangered species, coho salmon, as affective beings who may notice and respond to human actions. “Tell a Salmon” injects feminist STS practices of reflexivity and reciprocity into scientists’ inter-species thinking. Photograph: Paul Naish
figure 1: “Tell a salmon your troubles” project invites working scientists to relate to another critically endangered species, coho salmon, as affective beings who may notice and respond to human actions. “Tell a Salmon” injects feminist STS practices of reflexivity and reciprocity into scientists’ inter-species thinking. Photograph by Paul Naish

 

Visual and Sensory Experiences

figure 2: Light Through Prism, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from the series Science, 1958-1961, photograph: Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991
figure 2: Light Through Prism, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from the series Science, 1958-1961,
photograph by Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991

Special attention was given to art for its way of dealing with human sensibility and science. Named “Visual and Sensory Approaches” by the organisers, these exhibits encouraged reflection on the  place of the arts in science, the role of imagination in scientific comprehension and innovation, or simply how science can be a vehicle for artistic production of objects (or the opposite). Berenice Abbott’s work (see figures 2 and 3), presented by Hannah Rogers and Worthy Martin in the installation “Making Science visible”, is representative of this approach. As a photographer of the twentieth century (1898-1991), she produced pictures through scientific experiments, by using technologies of her time and designing a new kind of camera.  She mainly worked with mirrors and magnets to create black and white graphic photographs. For instance, her work influenced the way we currently represent waves or the diffraction phenomenon in a prism. She aestheticized science.

Similarly, work on medical imaging and its visual styles fascinatingly demonstrated the influence of art on scientific research. A striking example was a Norwegian mini-film of thirty minutes called “The Good, the True and the Beautiful” presented in the documentary “Film: Medical Imaging”.

The above are just two examples of projects focused on the importance of image and art. Other exhibits had different aims. For example, a digital installation titled “The Now(here) project” focused on re-presenting Borderline Personality Disorder and “Anarchy of Imagination” challenged ideas about shared space.

 

Writing and Communicating Experiences

figure 3: Soap Bubbles, New York from the series Science, 1945–1946 photograph: Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991
figure 3: Soap Bubbles, New York from the series Science, 1945–1946, photograph by Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991

A special concern in all the initiatives was the question of “living together”: how can we make knowledge reachable and allow everyone to understand the complex issues of our world? Participants were encouraged to think about science outside textbooks and make it alive. How science can be fun, different, and closer to our everyday life? Innovation in making knowledge reachable relates to the method of communicating science. Some projects offer new forms of publication, of writing and communicating about scientific questions.

Limn magazine works in this direction, by focusing equally on the style and on the content. Limn is an annual magazine, shared in open-access on the Internet and also available in paperback. The articles are short, illustrated and the topics are diverse. Since its creation in 2011 Limn has addressed topics such as “Systematic Risks” (2011), “Food Infrastructures” (2014) or “Ebola’s Ecologies” (2015). Limn is somewhere between a scholarly journal and an art magazine. The goal is to focus on contemporary questions, in an accessible style of reading but contributions are reviewed and carefully edited by the editorial team, as well as shared amongst the contributors.

The digital era has raised questions about accessibility, but moreover about the quality of knowledge. With the vast amount of information around us we need to be able to sort, to shed light on what is working and what is not. Two workshops presented initiatives about notation on the Internet. The aim is to allow its users to mark each other, for example in community sites selling products or services, and also to grade the sites themselves. These projects are “Matters of Care in Crowdsourcing” by Lilly Irani (UC San Diego) and co-authors and “How’s my feedback ?“ by Malte Ziewitz (Cornell University) and colleagues.

The idea of acting to better evaluate is used by lots of websites, but some initiatives were impressive in their ambition: thus, “How’s my feedback” offers to grade some much used sites including “Amazon” or “Ebay”. However, its implementation was challenging, and raised questions at the intersection of STS, design and engagement. Excitingly, these projects aim to show that becoming an actor is a collective endeavour rather than an actor being a receptor of information available on the Internet.

 

Educational Experiences

A large number of initiatives have also been implemented to create innovative courses or tools that actively engage young people in moving to a more environmentally and socially sustainable future. Using a “public ethics” framework -where ethical issues are prioritised- the “Greening Chemistry” program at UC Berkeley is an opportunity to gather scientists, engineers, designers, business managers, social scientists and environmental health specialists at the graduate level, through a series of courses that interweave STS with practical problem-solving. In the same vein, “Crafting Digital Stories” initiative makes use of short videos to discuss concepts and ways of thinking around sustainability. Through digital storytelling, the Arizona State University and its Biodesign Institute disseminate STS theories and case studies among educators and students.

The Programme as a whole offered concrete tools that sometimes work in tandem with educational projects. These tools aim at democratizing access to information and knowledge. For instance the “Solar Digital Libraries” project (by Laura Hosman) focuses on populations with no electricity or Internet connectivity: a self-powered plug-and play kit (SolarSPELL) was designed to provide access to a digital library over an off-line WiFi spot, with areas struck by natural disasters in mind. “Civic Laboratory: Plastics” is an action-oriented initiative at Memorial University of Newfoundland (Max Liboiron), which aims to create low-cost, open-source methods for monitoring environment and marine plastics. There is a description of do-it-with-others devices on the CLEAR website, which are designed by the people who use them (most of whom are not accredited scientists or engineers) and incorporate politics and values of feminism. This initiative tackles the major problem of oceans and marine pollution in a region (Newfoundland & Labrador) where many scientific protocols don’t work because of the extreme environment.

 

Paperworks, posters, tool kits… More than textbooks in the conference venue concourse. Photograph by Paul Naish
figure 4: Paperworks, posters, tool kits… More than textbooks in the conference venue concourse. Photograph by Marianne Noel

 

Similar issues apply to the context of “The Shore line” (Elizabeth Miller, Concordia University). This project is a series of stories about individuals who are responding to the threats of massive developments, destructive storms, and rising sea levels in coastal communities around the world (Canada, the U.S., Panama, India, Bangladesh and New Zealand). This documentary is more designed as a collection of testimonies than a coordination platform but illustrates a commitment around which citizens are engaged on preservation issues. New forms of more meaningful civic engagement are emerging in these initiatives. The approach is for all actors to be involved, often to overcome the lack of information from the administration or government.

There are many ongoing “political” projects, which challenge the relevant authorities on scientific questions. In Canada, the “Write2Know Project” is a letter-writing campaign launched in response to the Canadian government’s “war on science”. Write2Know offers a platform for people to pose questions to federal scientists and ministers on matters of public and environmental health and safety. The record was quite significant: over 4900 letters were signed by people at the time of the federal election in October 2015 in Canada. The Chilean project “Scientific legislation” moves into the same direction: Martin Perez Comisso and colleagues have developed a learning experience to empower undergraduate students in several disciplines with law creation techniques. Conclusions have been delivered to senators and congressmen.  The creation of laws by citizens is a new practice for Chile, experimented with in the civilian-academic format. Last but not least, Citizen-Led Forensics (Ciencia Forense Ciudadana, CfC) is a remarkable humanitarian project directed by relatives of the disappeared in Mexico. It was created in August 2014 with the task of governing and managing an independent and citizen-led forensic DNA database.

 

A Large Variety of Creative Initiatives

To conclude, we were impressed by the enthusiasm with which diverse and creative initiatives have been embraced by collectives of all types. This summary has covered 15 projects only; we have made choices that are influenced by our interests in specific topics (arts and representation, pedagogy, etc.). Many projects have been completed, which make them easier to describe, but some are still going on. We were surprised that two thirds of the projects came from the North American continent. That has certainly to do with the cost of travelling to Denver. Is there also a link with specific learning methods, STS “styles” or traditions and the availability of funds in countries such as the U.S. or Canada? It is still too early to draw on conclusions.

This report has been jointly written by Julie Le Bot, a bachelor student at the CRI, Université Paris Descartes, where Marianne Noel teaches STS. While Marianne attended the 4S meeting in Denver, Julie was encouraged to review the Making and Doing Programme from Paris, during her short internship at LISIS. She will give a feedback to her classmates during the Spring term. In addition to “traditional” courses based on readings, this will be a way to illustrate how STS insights are applied and implemented in practical processes of production, diffusion and utilisation of science and technology. We hope it will also generate new initiatives!