All posts by Ulrike Felt, Kay Felder & Michael Penkler

Investigating Obesity as a Complex Socio-Medical Phenomenon


“Women in Bronze”, Art museum (Konsthallen), Växjö Its display of one anorectic and one obese woman is a demonstration against modern society's obsession with how we look.
“Women in Bronze”, Art museum (Konsthallen), Växjö
Its display of one anorectic and one obese woman is a demonstration against modern society’s obsession with how we look.


From an STS perspective, obesity is a particularly interesting case to study as it is situated at the cross road of debates around life style issues, cultures of eating and consumption, body ideals, the normalisation and standardization of human bodies as well as broader aspects of biomedicalisation. The shaping of the perceptions and understandings of this phenomenon happens in many different arenas, from everyday life and media, over clinics and research labs to policy-making and prevention programs. We can therefore follow obesity through these different arenas, see the multiple translation processes at work and study the diverse assemblages of “problem-solution packages” and the power relations performed through them.

As a long-term consequence of a participatory project with genomic researchers and Austrian citizens over the ethical and social questions of genomics of fat metabolism disorders (2004-2007), our department started to develop an interest in investigating the phenomenon of obesity in societal, clinical and research contexts. This interest was realized through two major consecutive research projects (the core team consists of Ulrike Felt as PI and Kay Felder and Michael Penkler as project researchers), one of which “From Lab to Intervention and Back: Doing and Undoing Diversity in Obesity Research, Treatment and Prevention“ funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund is still running until mid-2016.

This research was performed on the basis of a mix of qualitative methods, i.e., focus group discussions, interviews with different protagonists, the study of media narratives and policy documents, ethnographic research and the engagement with prevention activities. This allowed us to show how issues of obesity are deeply intertwined with questions of moral orders, appropriate ways of living, and collective life, thus how a problem conceptualised as global gets translated into a specific local context. In doing so we managed to open up innovative dimensions, for example through elaborating on the key role the temporal tissue of contemporary society has for constructing both obesity as a problem, but also to show our (non)capacity to address it in an adequate manner (Felt, Felder, Öhler, & Penkler, 2014). Or we showed how obesity becomes a vehicle to perform moral-political diagnoses of ‘modern’ life and technologized societies and to link them to the biomedical sphere. This in turn grants a specific form of authority to such „diagnostic narratives“ and creates a space in which otherwise contestable moral calls to return to traditional orders can be articulated (Penkler, Felder & Felt, 2015).

More recently questions of classification of human bodies and human diversity in addressing obesity has moved to the core of our interest. We reckoned obesity to be a good case for studying how understandings of biological, cultural, and social differences shape understandings of what relevant forms of diversity are and how they should be best approached in health care and research. There has been a lot of talk about ‘diversity’ in health care and policy in the past decades. Scholars, activists, and policy makers alike have criticized standardized approaches that treat human bodies and lives as essentially the same. Everyone seems to agree that humans have different dispositions and health needs that need to be taken into account. But how best to do so? Should health care approach every patient as a unique individual? Or should it cater to different kinds of groups? How to identify relevant categories and characteristics? These were the questions that guided our research.

To address these questions, we did comprehensive ethnographic research at an obesity outpatient clinic; we investigated a health promotion program for obese clients at a public health centre; we revisited media narratives and we tracked obesity research in Austria, visiting conferences and speaking to scientists and medical doctors from different specialties.

Gaining a comparative perspective, we could not only see how diversity gets performed, but also how it comes to matter in diverging ways in the different sites. Different fields of health care have their own material, semiotic, and social infrastructures for catering to and addressing human differences: E.g., while health promotion is often organized around a perspective that categorizes target populations into distinct groups (for example populations with migration backgrounds), the highly biomedicalized setting of pre- and aftercare in bariatric surgery much more revolves around a technical fix model that addresses human diversity as individual idiosyncrasies that do not substantially affect care outcomes. We also traced how very different politics are attached to diverging ways of addressing differences: While an approach towards diversity in terms of group differences enables to approach questions of injustice and disadvantage, it also carries the danger of reproducing and reifying the stereotypes at the basis of such differences. On the other hand, an approach towards diversity that frames it predominantly as a question of ‘everybody’s different’ threatens to lose its political edge in approaching structural health disparities (Felt, Felder, Penkler, forthcoming).

Health professionals themselves are often quite aware of the difficulties inherent to approaching issues of diversity. For example, the psychologists who conducted the health promotion project for obese clients struggled with how to address the perceived ‘special needs’ of vulnerable groups like members of low-income or migrant communities, being aware that this might re-produce paternalistic approaches towards imagined ‘others.’ They not only operated with multiple and partly divergent normative commitments, but also had to cope with the constraints of the highly projectified and temporalized organization of contemporary Austrian health promotion.

While being sensitive towards diversity is often perceived as an unquestioned good, we further encountered situations in which not all actors perceive it that way. In the obesity outpatient clinic we studied, the health professionals were very keen on approaching individual needs and in delivering personalized care. However, many patients we spoke to appeared to be less intent on receiving this form of diversity-sensitive care. Prior experiences of stigmatization have left them highly invested into a biomedical approach that does not put the responsibility on them. They cherish a highly standardized approach that makes their problem appear purely medical and technical and not an individual shortcoming rooted in their own behaviour (Felder, Felt, & Penkler, 2015).
Finally, we are also investigating broader cultural classificatory practices performed in mass media through the selection of specific sets of anecdotes, i.e. micro-narratives about a personal history, to “illustrate” issues at stake. This research should point at the power of “anecdotal evidence” once they form the narrative infrastructure of contemporary accounts on bodies, their weight and form and the moral economy they are part of.

We thus try to show how the politics of diversity in biomedicine and health care are highly situational, and that there is not one ‘right’ way to approach issues of human differences. An STS approach is especially suited in showing how these issues are co-produced with normative, social, and political orders. We need not to take one approach as best practice, but to stay open and rethink in different situations what a focus on diversity entails, what its dangers are, and what its possible benefits.


Diagram: Obesity & Diversity

A Very Brief Story of the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Vienna University




As   we  know  in  STS,  understanding  a place  of  knowledge  production  requires awareness of its situatedness and history. And STS in Vienna has quite some history.  In  1987,  the  University  of  Vienna established  a  Department  for  the  Theory and Social Studies of Science. Headed by Helga Nowotny, and assembling a rather  diverse group of STSers and philosophers of science (in a rather wide sense), this department was part of a faculty carrying the interesting label “basic and integrative sciences”, and had the liberty to act in ways that seem rather inconceivable in today’s managerial universities. It quite successfully taught courses without a formal relation to specific curricula, and it did not worry  too  much  about  the  fact  that  a  coherent  departmental  profile  integrating  STS  and philosophy  of  science  was  not  precisely  forthcoming.  In STS,  it  did  research  on  the development   of   new   scientific   and   technological   fields such   as   high-temperature superconductivity,  on  the  changing  conceptions  of  time,  on  new  forms  of  knowledge production,  on  contemporary  and  historical  (early  20th  century  Vienna)  forms  of  science communication, and produced an  introduction to STS that became the standard book in the German speaking world in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Already in the 1990s, the Vienna group  was  an  active  part  of  the  international  STS  scene,  and  part  of  several  European research  and  teaching  networks.  International  STS  scholars  such  as  Bettina  Heintz,  Hilary Rose and Judy Wajcman, visited the department as guest professors for a semester or more. Viennese STSers in turn contributed to international STS associations, with Ulrike Felt being first  the  organisational  secretary  on  the  EASST  council  (1995-1999)  and  then  council member of 4S (2002-2004).


Building an international research group – VIRUSSS

In 1997, Helga Nowotny retired from the University of Vienna, and Ulrike Felt, who had been part of the department since 1988, took over the chair for the social studies of science two years later. Also institutionally, change was on the horizon. Internationalization and the acquisition of project funding for research slowly became priorities of the university also in the social sciences. For the STS group in Vienna, the 2000 4S/EASST meeting “worlds in transition”, which gathered more than a thousand STSers in the historical halls of Vienna’s main university building, was a clear statement of its international orientation.

At the same time, Ulrike Felt founded VIRUSSS – the Vienna International Research Unit for the Study of Science and Society – with the agenda of building a highly visible project-funded research group within the existing department. VIRUSSS was more than just a catchy acronym and a template for a logo – a red icosahedron mimicking the basic structure of a virus. It was a programmatic statement of STS’ ability to “infect” others with its ideas, concerns and ways of analysing the technoscientific worlds we live in. For VIRUSSS, this had a double perspective – both to spread STS approaches to policy makers and wider Austrian society and to affect the university as an institution more deeply than a single largely isolated department would usually do. VIRUSSS gathered a group of young researchers, and in its early years mainly studied the rising tide of science communication and public participation events in Austria, as well as the institutional transformation of institutions of research and higher education.


Institutionalisation and the development of a research profile

In 2004, in the wake of a new university law, the University of Vienna radically re-organized its structure, leaving little room for peculiar interdisciplinary constellations like the Department for the Theory and Social Studies of Science. Splitting the department, the philosophers of science moved to the Department of Philosophy, while VIRUSSS became a small Department of Social Studies of Science within the newly established Faculty of Social Sciences.

In the decade after 2004, the new department grew by attracting considerable project funds from national and international funders. In this process, the new department both deepened and extended it research focus to comprise four interlinked areas1:

1. (Techno)sciences and society: communicating and interacting

The department studies how public understandings of and engagements with sciences and technologies are embedded in particular techno-political cultures. So far, projects2 have investigated a variety of issues relating to biomedical knowledge and technologies, the life sciences and nanotechnology (e.g. valuation practices around nano-food). A considerable part of this research focused on citizens’ perspectives, be it on how they deal with knowledge in informed consent practices or on how they perceive their role in public engagement contexts.

2. Governing technoscience and society:

In different projects, department research addresses issues of governance3. It did so in contributions on public participation and its role in wider governance processes, in work on the making and functions of techno-scientific futures in governing societies, in examining specific technologies of surveillance and classification, in analysing processes of individual self-governance and its relation to knowledge, particularly related to health (e.g. also in connection to the internet), and in studying research & innovation policies and their impact on research cultures.

3. Knowledge and technology cultures

The department develops innovative approaches to study ways of knowing and living in research4, both in more traditional academic fields such as the life sciences or sociology, as well as in more hybrid contexts such as trans-disciplinary sustainability research or hybrid spaces between academia and business. In doing so, it aims to empirically contribute to debates on the temporalisation of research, on (e)valuation practices in the sciences, or on the role of new information and communication technologies for knowledge production (e.g. in the dissemination of research results).

4. New Methods

As a fourth focus, department researchers are engaged in developing new methods, including, novel interview methods, methods to evaluate science communication as well participatory engagement settings.

Internationalisation Continued

A number of regular international conferences in the framework of the department’s research projects continued the internationalisation efforts, as did Ulrike Felt’s editorship of ST&HV between 2002 and 2007 and the establishing of an annual summer school for PhD students with international commentators in 2001. While research flourished during this time, the Bologna reforms and the resulting incessant disciplinary closure of curricula threatened the new department’s teaching offer, rendering it harder and harder to spread the “STS virus” in the institution. But the Bologna reforms also opened up new possibilities, in particular for non-strictly disciplinary master programs. As one of the first at the University of Vienna to take up this opportunity, the Department of Social Studies of Sciences launched a master programme in Science-Technology-Society5 in 2009, in English language to attract both an international student audience as well as to be able to include international STS scholars in teaching.

Recently, the department has been renamed Department of Science and Technology Studies, and only the red icosahedron remains as a visual reminder of VIRUSSS and its story and legacy. We remain dedicated to internationality, both through a vibrant international guest professor program and increasingly also as a temporary intellectual home for visiting junior and senior scholars. Ulrike Felt is part of the team of editors responsible for the new STS Handbook aiming at contributing not only to the field as such but to a conversation with newly incoming students and researchers from neighbouring fields. Still rather small and with the spirit of the virus, we keep searching for opportunities to infect our university with STS in ever new ways – be it in a regular STS lecture series, or by proposing new institutional forms to reflect the challenges of responsible research and innovation in research and teaching.

STS Summer School 2015 Department staff and PhD students with international guest commentators Wiebe Bijker and John Law.
STS Summer School 2015
Department staff and PhD students with international guest commentators Wiebe Bijker and John Law.


Interdisciplinarity, internationality and their challenges.  On Vienna STS teaching philosophy and practice

The Department of Science and Technology Studies at Vienna university offers teaching in an STS PhD curriculum, in an English language Science-Technology-Society master programme6, and in an STS minor that can be chosen by students of Vienna university as part of their respective bachelor. In all of these programs, we are committed to attracting an as interdisciplinary audience as possible, and to providing students with knowledge and tools to apply STS insights/perspectives in their own academic and future professional practice.

The Science-Technology-Society master programme is best suited to explain our teaching philosophy and the challenges it faces. Established in 2009 and taught exclusively in English language, the four semester research-oriented program selects a cohort of 25 students each academic year. Owing not least to the attractiveness of Vienna as a city, and possibly also of our teaching program, the program recruits students from all over the world –roughly seventy per cent of our students come from outside Austria, and about one third from outside Europe. In a deliberate policy, we accept students from all disciplinary backgrounds, not just from the social sciences. Each resulting cohort hence brings with it a wealth of heterogeneous cultural and disciplinary experiences, which are an enormous resource. At the same time, this heterogeneity poses considerable challenges in teaching. In a two-year programme, time to create a solid common grounding in STS is short, particularly if this common grounding is to enable students to apply STS approaches and methods in first experiences in doing research.


MA Student group working on one of the case studies “HPV vaccine controversy”
MA Student group working on one of the case studies “HPV vaccine controversy”


Our answer to this challenge is an introductory semester which engages students in intense case-based learning. They receive a lecture introducing them to basic questions in STS and seminars on STS theories, methods and the basics of scientific practice and literature research. Most importantly however, accompanied by senior student tutors, students draw together the knowledge acquired in these classes to work on one four “real-world” STS cases, such as for example the debates about scientific expertise after the L’Aquila earthquake disaster or the controversies around the introduction of the HPV vaccines in different countries. Over the semester, they research information about their case and develop and present an expose for a research project to produce new knowledge about the case. This didactic approach has proven to be surprisingly efficient in allowing students to internalize basic STS tenets and approaches. We are proud to say that this concept also won both the University of Vienna teaching award in 2014 and the Austrian national teaching award “Ars docendi” for the social sciences and humanities in 2015.


National Teaching Award “Ars Docendi” 2015 for the social sciences and humanities. Team from left to right: Maximilian Fochler, Ulrike Felt, Dorothea Born, Anna Pichelstorfer
National Teaching Award “Ars Docendi” 2015 for the social sciences and humanities.
Team from left to right: Maximilian Fochler, Ulrike Felt, Dorothea Born, Anna Pichelstorfer


From the second semester onwards, students are exposed to a new kind of internationality. In choosing two out of three research specialisations (corresponding to the department’s research foci), they take courses largely offered by international guest teachers and professors. In the year 2015, we were excited to welcome Regula Burri, Kim Fortun, Alan Irwin, Hedwig te Molder, Monika Kurath, Sarah de Rijcke, Sergio Sismondo and Brian Wynne as international guest professors. The mix of an international student body and guest professors creates an exciting blend of different academic cultures and a highly interesting intellectual discourse. Of course, aligning different cultural perspectives on academic learning also generates frictions. But these are by far outweighed by the fun of gathering STSers and students from all over the world in a seminar room in Vienna.

Reaching out and reaching in – on the societal and institutional impact of  Vienna University’s STS department

One of the specificities of the department has been its long standing commitment to not only produce STS analysis and insights for the international research community, but also both to reach “out” to audiences beyond academia and to contribute to public and policy debates, as well as to reach “in” to engage other disciplinary audiences and higher education institutions with STS knowledge.

The tradition started with Helga Nowotny who was never solely an academic throughout her career, but always also busy in building institutions across Europe, most recently by being a key actor in bringing to life the European Research Council. In this spirit, expertise of the department was brought into the early phase of Austrian experiments with science-society activities from the 1990s onwards. We were engaged in evaluations of the Austrian Science Weeks and of communication activities in the framework of the Genome Austria initiative. In this, we have more broadly speaking been active as advocates of more participatory approaches in the governance of science and technology, in an environment where the linear model of science communication still looms large. Next to science communication, the reflection of changes in contemporary institutions of research and higher education has been a second core concern, for example in a long-term collaboration (2001 to 2006) with the European University Association on the topic of university autonomy and its impact on practices of research and teaching. The result of this collaboration was a series of workshops for European rectors and a set of publications addressing some issues of this shift.

Internationally Ulrike Felt was very active in the European policy arena. Among other activities she was expert in the Advisory Group of the European Commission for the Science and Society priority of the 6th framework programme (2003-2006), member of the European Research Advisory Board (EURAB; 2006/07), rapporteur of the expert group on Science and Governance and most recently leader of the European Science Foundation team on the future of science in society. This involved also the production of widely ready reports such as “Taking European Knowledge Society Seriously” (20077  and „Science in Society – Caring for our Futures in Turbulent Times“ (see The latter was rewarded with EASST’s John Ziman award for significant innovative cooperation in a venture to promote the public understanding of the social dimensions of science.

»Science in Society: caring for our futures in turbulent times«
»Science in Society: caring for our futures in turbulent times«


Fig 5Fig 5

Since 2015 the department is experimenting with new forms of reaching out and reaching in. On the one hand, it has started a blog called “reflections” ( This blog wants to open up a space to engage with the multiple articulations of contemporary technoscientific and societal developments. Nourished by STS debates, it is meant to be a locus of critical reflection of the technoscientific realities we live in and by. Featuring contributions on department research, but also by guest researchers and students, the blog aims to be a showcase of the liveliness of our wider department community. On the other hand, the department has a leading role in the establishment of a university research platform on “responsible research and innovation in academic practice”, headed by Ulrike Felt in cooperation with several researchers from the life sciences. This platform ties into numerous international debates around practicing responsibility in contemporary research as well as into Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) which has been established as cross cutting theme for the EC Horizon 2020 programme. Building on earlier debates around science-society relations and the ethical, legal and social aspects of research, RRI aims to make research more reactive to societal actors, values and concerns. It stresses the mutual responsibility of science and society in shaping our common future.

As a new concept however, RRI is still very much a buzzword waiting to be filled with concrete meaning. Research so far has concentrated predominantly on the impact of innovation activities on society and how the integration of societal actors might produce new roads to innovation. Less effort has been devoted to looking into more mundane research practices, into the research environments into which these are embedded and what responsibility may mean in them.

This is essential, as the boundary conditions under which research is performed have changed considerably over recent decades, often in ways which may be argued to hinder rather than foster engagements with society, i.e. not offering adequate “responsibility conditions”. Universities are key institutions of the knowledge society, and they should thus take a leading role in giving meaning to the concept of RRI. This however needs to build on knowledge and reflection about the meaning and practices of responsibility in research contexts.

Research platforms at the University of Vienna are funded based on a competitive procedure and have the aim to establish new forms of interdisciplinarity. The proposed platform aims to do so by establishing new forms of collaboration between Science and Technology Studies (STS) and life science researchers. The platform’s central objective will be to gain an understanding of the ways in which contemporary research conditions foster or inhibit different practices of responsibility issues. To do so, it will (1) map which conceptions of responsibility circulate and are practiced in different areas of the life sciences; (2) focus on six key areas of research practices to study where and how responsibility issues gain importance; (3) discuss how practices and conditions could be adapted to better align societal values with cutting-edge research. One of the first events taking place in the framework of the platform in February 2016 will address the growing importance of metrics in academic institutions and in researchers’ lives.


1 For a more detailed presentation, see For an overview of department publications, see

2 For example Ulrike Felt’s „Making Futures Present. On the Co-production of Nano and Society in the Austrian Context“( or „Let‘s talk about GOLD: Analysing the interactions between genome-research(ers) and the public as a learning process“ (

3 For example „Challenges of Biomedicine: Socio-Cultural Contexts, European Governance and Bioethics“ ( or Erik Aarden’s work on the production of the collective benefits through science and technology (

4 For example in Max Fochler’s work on hybrid research spaces between academia and business ( or in Ulrike Felt’s „Transdisciplinarity as Culture & Practice. Analysing Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research Projects in the Program proVISION“ (




STS in Grants and CVs: Dealing with Differences.

Recently, at a meeting of an early career researchers network with an interest in STS in Berlin, we discussed if we want to promote the network at a summer school conducted at a Department for the History of Science. Listening to the discussion, my thoughts moved to the question of how to engage researchers from the field of History of Science in STS scholarship. What would they need to do to become engaged in STS?  I was then reminded of a discussion we had at EASST Review about how to compose a new editorial board (more on this next year). Talking about one potential candidate, we discussed the fact that ‘there isn’t very much STS in this CV’. Certainly, if someone wants to work with EASST Review, showing some STS activities, topics, or approaches were helpful. Yet, only a few of the STS researchers I know hold positions in STS departments. More often they are affiliated with other departments and publish in sociological, philosophical or educational journals. They might even teach courses, write articles, give talks and organize workshops that might not primarily be concerned with STS questions or issues, and seldom apply for grants that promote perspectives exclusively taken by Science and Technology Studies. However, I often feel inspired by their work in the field of STS and ‘not very much STS’ in a CV does not necessarily give information about the researcher’s position towards or in the field of STS. What then would new researchers have to do to become engaged in STS activities? Is there something like a STS comfort zone or even a STS safety zone?



I understand STS as a set of literature, research fields, methodologies/theories, situated material-semiotic practices and networked communication among researchers who travel to and organise conferences. I frame it as a specifically ordered/ordering microworld (Verran 2001, 159) from which generalizations emerge through collective practices. It contributes to academic discourses by pointing to particular research areas, providing certain analytical research tools and providing means to re-enact disciplinary boundaries, particularly in interdisciplinary research. Understanding STS this way, its own boundaries are enacted as fluid and the practices that generate STS scholarship are interconnecting and intertwined with those of other researchers, not only the ones directly engaged in STS. Openness to other broad streams of scholarship and a willingness to engage with their issues, methods, methodologies/theories, research areas and researchers co-constitute STS activities.

In order to engage with this ordered/ordering microworld, emerging STS scholars would have to engage in the material arrangements and collective activities through which STS emerges. This, however, is becoming a major challenge when considering that in the international STS community some scholars hold positions in STS departments and others in a variety of other departments. What researcher can do or cannot do is shaped by the institutionalization of STS in their countries.

One key challenge is related to the politics of research funding and the lack of funding for STS inspired projects. I’ll include one example from Germany, where disciplinary boundaries are rather distinct: the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) had a budget of 2.7 billion euro in 2014 and so is one of the most influential funding bodies in Germany. When revising the criteria for the funding of interdisciplinary research, I noticed that engaging in STS activities might not be sufficient for a successful grant application. Any grant application is reviewed by one of 48 Assessment Review Boards. Each has between two and five board members who are responsible for reviewing, sending out to review and assessing reviewers’ reports. STS is not among the 48 research areas, so researchers from different research areas, who may be aware of STS approaches or not, eventually assess grant applications that promote the scope and the tools provided by STS scholarship.

This has consequences for German researchers who want to engage in the ordered/ordering practices of STS scholarship. When applying at sociological theory, empirical social research or other fields of scholarship, researchers need to link their research to at least one of the 48 the research areas. Researchers who employ STS approaches in grant applications at the DFG enact certainly the openness to other broad streams of scholarship and a willingness to engage with them. Yet, these researchers – and particularly early career researchers with an interest in STS in Germany – might face the challenge of situating themselves in more than one discipline.

When the engagement of possible new researchers in STS requires an interdisciplinary positioning in Germany, and when researchers in other European countries might face different challenges, how then do we deal with the requirements for STS in CVs? One way of responding to this issue is probably by understanding how CVs are situated as well and to acknowledge disruptions and interstices.

Obituary: Prof. Zeng Guoping (1953-2015)

Zeng Guoping

Prof ZENG Guo-Ping, one of the key Chinese scholars in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) field, passed away suddenly on 8 July 2015 when he was carrying out a field study in China. He was director of the Institute of Science, Technology and Society, at Tsinghua University. Since 2001 he was Vice-President of the Chinese Society of Studies in Science of Science and Policy of Science & Technology and Vice General Editor of the leading Chinese STS journal Studies in Science of Science. He contributed to the systematic introduction of STS into China, and nurturing of young academics in the field. He worked closely with STS scholars in the University of Edinburgh, Technical University of Munich, Penn State University, USA, the University of Tokyo and The University of Victoria, B.C., Canada, to establish a long-term cooperation between Chinese STS and STS networks in the world.


Prof. Zeng was born in 1953 and raised in Yinjiang, a less-developed town in western China. He taught himself to pass the first college entrance examination in 1977 after the Cultural Revolution, got his first degree in 1979, and taught at a middle school in his hometown. His hunger for knowledge however, pushed him to study harder and pursue a larger stage. Finally, he obtained a Master in Philosophy degree in 1986 at Beijing Normal University, since when he worked as a university lecturer ever since. In May 1994, he was invited to work for Tsinghua University, and chaired its Institute of Science, Technology and Society from 1995 to 2010. A gifted teacher, he educated his students enthusiastically and trained many STS scholars and practitioners all over the world. Many of the Ph.D. and master students under his supervision, won honours including China National Scholarship and Tsinghua Excellent Dissertation. His scientific work was characterized by his broad horizon and insightful perspectives.

He published several books, “A Self-Organized View of Nature”, “Studies on Chinese Innovation System: Technology, Institution and Knowledge” (with Prof. Li Zhengfeng). For this and many other pieces he was awarded the Beijing Outstanding Social Sciences Publication Prize. The novel concepts he developed, such as “Philosophy of Industry” and “Science for Lives”, continue to receive attention in academia. His recent research included a study of Basic Science in China for the China National Science Foundation and various studies on science communication. His international reputation in STS scholar revolved around his sustained efforts to bridge the Chinese STS community to counterparts in other parts of the world. This included helping establish the East Asian Science, Technology and Society network and securing the first European research (EU FP7) funding for social sciences in Tsinghua with his international colleagues.

Prof. Robin Williams at the ISSTI, University of Edinburgh said, „ZENG Guo Ping worked tirelessly to overcome disciplinary and institutional barriers and build scholarship and collaboration in the area of science and technology studies across China and with the international research community. We are very sorry for the loss of such a great mentor, friend and scholar.“

4S/EASST CONFERENCE BARCELONA – 2016: Science and Technology by Other Means

4SEASST Conference


4S and EASST are now inviting proposals for tracks at its 2016 Joint Meeting, August 31-September 3 in Barcelona. The selected tracks will later be included as part of the formal call for papers. There are no predetermined topics for the tracks but we encourage applicants submitting tracks to engage with the general theme of the conference: „Science and technology by other means: Exploring collectives, spaces and futures”. It refers to the opportunity for both 4S and EASST scholars to meet, share and discuss together how science and technology are increasingly performed, shaped and developed ‘by other means’: in a variety of exploratory activities that include the articulation of collectives that do not fit with the traditional actors and institutions in science and technology, or in ways that problematize the established hegemonies involved in the production of knowledge and technologies.

The purpose of this call for tracks is to stimulate the formation of new networks around topics of interest to the 4S/EASST community. Like any meeting session, a ‘track’ is comprised by one or more paper sessions with a theme and a responsible chairperson(s). The difference is that it is not submitted already filled up with papers. Rather, track themes are subsequently included in the call for papers, and authors nominate their paper for one or more tracks. A track may extend across up to 4 sessions of five papers each (i.e. a total of maximum 20 papers). Proposers of tracks commit to work closely with the program chairs to achieve the final composition of their tracks, and they must be prepared to chair or suggest colleagues who are willing to do so.

4S and EASST boards, however, are open to different types of sessions: traditional ones with standard papers, practitioners’ workshops, open debates concentrated upon specific topics. We therefore encourage the proposal of alternative formats, which may not consist of up-front power-point presentations but instead engage new ways and new media for presenting, sharing, producing and disseminating research projects and outcomes.

Papers and contributions will be invited in International English, as it is most frequently used as a vehicular language of science. However, conversation and debates in other languages will be welcomed too.

To learn more about the conference please go to the conference website at You can email any enquiries to sts2016bcn(at)

You can propose a track online via the website. You will need to enter your name and other details, a session title, and a short (maximum 300 characters) description of the track theme and of the format selected (especially when the presentation style is imaginative and may require special equipment). We also require an extended abstract of up to 250 words. Please try to be clear and concise, to stimulate the broad participation of colleagues.

New Deadline for submissions: 26 October 2015
Communication of accepted and rejected tracks: 13 November 2015
For other key dates please see the website.

Friction Zones and Local Energy Initiatives – an Excerpt from Graz 2015

This May, I was traveling to Graz for the 14th Austrian Annual STS Conference – Critical Issues in Science, Technology and Society Studies (11th-12th May) where, beside the pleasure of having to co-chair a session, I was also eager to listen to the presentations related to Energy, a topic I‘m currently involved with. Before arriving there, as I often do on the plain, I had examined the conference programme for marking the tracks and talks “not to miss” and I realized that, more than in any other conference I had attended, I should have made choices and compromises, because I would have been able to attend only a few of the talks I wished to.

The fact that STS scholars fully embraced the emergence of Energy as key area of inquiry, at least in Europe, was apparent in Torun. The EASST conference Situating Solidarities: social challenges for science and technology studies already included two tracks dedicated to energy-related topics for a total of 21 presentations. In Graz, I had a pleasant validation of this trend, both in terms of attendance to the sessions and the overall presence of energy throughout the conference programme. The two conferences are different and difficult to compare, yet having attended both this has been my feeling. About attendance in Graz, for all energy-related sessions I attended, rooms were packed with 30 to 35 participants, often forcing a small group of attendees to stand and squeeze at the corners. More interestingly, Q&A moments always gave space to engaging confrontations among the participants. About the overall programme, out of the 22 sessions, grouped in six areas, which spanned the two-days of the conference, four sessions (of which two were double sessions) were directly connected to a specific energy-related topic. Basically, a keynote speech, by Harald Rohracher ‘The household junction’: Households as friction zones in infrastructure transitions and a thematic area “Transitions to Sustainability – Energy” framed the role of Energy and its relations to environment and society, in Graz. The range of areas and specific topics touched in this context was thorough. The session “ICT Use, Energy Consumption and the Changing Practices” touched on the complex relationship between ICT use and energy impact with a focus on young generations and their different usage patterns. The double session “Local Innovation Impulses and the Transformation of the Energy System (1 & 2)” touched several issues that are transversal to energy transitions and innovation by focusing on the local level. Finally, the last two sessions tried to capture in more theoretical terms the complexities and entanglements of energy transformations, by focusing on social order and governance theories and epistemics: “Energy, Society and Culture – (Sustainable) Energy Transformations as Transformations of Social Order (1 & 2)” and “Energy Transformations, Energy Epistemics and Governance – the Role of the Social Sciences and Humanities”.

In retrospect, given that the relevance, complexity and impact that transitions of energy paradigms have in shaping contemporary society had already been pointed out more than two decades ago by Hughes (1993), probably, I wonder that I was surprised: nowadays that environmental sustainability, smart grids and sustainable energy systems, only to name a few, have become key societal challenges1 it seemed consistent that STS community kept engaging with them. However, the attention that local contexts and emergent grassroots actors received by the STS community, in contrast to the usual energy companies, institutions and grand socio-technical imaginaries (Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun, 2013), it is what I found resonating the most with my actual work with local energy cooperatives.

During his keynote speech, Rohracher raised many noteworthy points, but central to his argument was the suggestion to frame households as friction zones, in the current energy transition paradigm. By relying on the concepts of social worlds and arenas of development, he showed to what extent households are friction zones and therefore a fruitful nexus to study by spanning through different aspects: from the attempts to configure households in different ways (e.g. economically rational actors, ecologically conscious citizens etc.), to the existence of conflicting socio-material practices (e.g. heating, laundry etc.); from the new interfaces between heterogeneous infrastructures (e.g. ICT, Energy, Transport) with conflicting demands on households, to the ongoing negotiation about the meanings of ‚sustainability‘ at this level. Furthermore, as the developments in the frame of ‚smart everything‘ goes on, households become ‚smart homes‘ and are also at the center of very complex intersections, such as the infrastructuring of new ICT components, the supply of new services for the dwellers, and the configurations of end-users as active energy managers and economically rational actors. After two years spent working with energy cooperatives and households for defining and implementing the objectives of our project‘s intervention, I found Rohracher‘s picture perfectly fitting the complexities of the local contexts we faced, both in terms of interfacing heterogeneous infrastructure and in terms of defining and negotiating the meaning of sustainability and efficiency themselves.

At the same time, a different focus was brought upon local energy cooperatives and grassroots initiatives. I mention here three thought provoking talks. With the presentation “Understanding Conflict Within Renewable Energy Cooperatives” Judith Rognli raised a simple, but spot-on question: How can this democratically-led cooperatives function, given the diverse interests represented by people participating in them? Still at the beginning of the empirical part of the research, Rognli framed the inquiry by combining a sense-making perspective (Weick, 1995) with a conflict analysis. Similarly to Rohracher‘s position on the household level, Rognli too showed that energy cooperatives can be friction zones and are at the center of complex socio-technical struggles. With “Community Based Energy Use – Two Examples of Individual Innovations in the Daily Energy Practice” Petra Wächter theoretically framed two cases of community-based energy use, the first case focused on the demand side and the other one on the supply side.

It clearly showed how individuals‘ organization of their daily life has large impact and relates to the shaping of energy transformations at the level of localized communities. Finally, in “The quest for citizen governance of energy resources”, Tineke van der Schoor used the frame of social movements and ANT to talk about ‚community energy networks‘ as entities that align a diverse range of actors: consumers, prosumers and energy cooperatives. These entities have as main goals the promotion of local sustainable energy production and consumption, the maintenance and growth of local economy, and the promotion of democratic forms of governance for the energy resources. However, these goals imply that such energy networks work to consolidate an identity which is defined in close connection to the local culture (language, mentality, attitude) and tightly anchored to the local, contingent boundaries and both have implications for the scalability and growth of these entities. Here, the idea of friction zones emerge when the local community energy networks are viewed as social movements, which, in Touraine‘s words are “a special type of social conflict” (Touraine, 1985). The issues about the definition and safeguard of their own identities and about the alignment of heterogeneous stakeholders (i.e. individual consumers, prosumers and collective bodies) are those ones that I found particularly prominent in my empirical work and ongoing interactions with local energy cooperatives.

Finally, while the quality and relevance of all talks varied due to the scholars‘ heterogeneous career stages and to the different stages of the research presented in the sessions, I found the overall quality of presentations to be very good and inspiring as well as the discussion sessions, which left me with a clear sense that the STS community can make valuable contributions about ‚energy & society‘ in the forthcoming years.

Colourful, Courageous and Community-Building. Reflections from the Organizer of the 2nd Nordic STS Conference

The interest in STS has been strong and growing in the Nordic countries for a number of years. Two years ago, researchers on this growing Nordic scene introduced an organizational innovation in the form of a biennial Nordic conference. One might think that yet another conference is not exactly what is needed in the already densely populated ecology of STS conferences. But the Nordic conferences, do in fact seem to occupy a vacant spot. Their current participant number (100-150), makes them significantly larger than most national STS conferences, yet still less overwhelming that the 4S or the EASST conferences, not to mention the combination of the two. In addition, the Nordic conferences are conveniently located in odd years, i.e. out of sync with the EASST conferences.

The first Nordic STS conference was held in Trondheim in 2013, the second has recently been held in Copenhagen (May 27-29). The editor of the EASST review, has kindly asked me, as the leading organizer of the recent Copenhagen conference, to offer my account of the conference to the readers of this journal. I happily accept this invitation.

In the following, I will first outline some of the developments and ‘organizing forces’ that made the Copenhagen conference conference possible. Through this I hope to convey an impression of the organisation of STS in and around Denmark. Second, I will attempt to say something about the current state of Nordic STS, and finally I will briefly speculate on where Nordic STS might be going next. It goes without saying that I am speaking from the point of view of the organizer; others might have entirely different interpretations of conference event in Copenhagen on those late days of May.

The organizing forces behind the conference

To give a sense of the people and institutions that came together at the conference, I wouId like to outline some of the ’organizing forces’ that were directly involved. In my book there were 4+1 of these organizing forces.

The first force was a small and informal coordination group with one representative from each of the Nordic contries. This group, which has also occasionally been dubbed the scientific advisory board, was established by the organizers of the first Nordic conference and it has stayed in existence. For me, as a the local organizer, the Nordic group has proven to be an indispensable resssource for quick responses on a variety of issues such as scheduling and channels of communication. The group currently consists of Kristin Asdal, Sampsa Hyysalo, C-F Helgesson and myself.

A second organizing force and local driver of interest in the conference, was the Danish Association for Science and Technology Studies ( DASTS was established in 2005 as a network organisation for Danish STS. It has been successful in stimulating the Danish STS field through a very active homepage, an online journal, and an annual conference. To give an impression of Danish STS scene, it could be mentioned that the number of subscribers to the mailing list of DASTS has now grown to more than 500. This growth of interest in STS has developed in parallel with a considerable institutional embedding of Danish STS since the mid 00’s. In 2006 there was only one organisational unit at a Danish University that explicitly described itself as STS (Centre for STS-studies at Aarhus University). In 2015 there were four additional organisational units with a substantial official dedication to STS research (Technologies in Practice, IT University; Centre for Medical STS, University of Copenhagen; Centre for Design, Innovation and Sustainable Transition, Aalborg University; The Techno-Anthropology Research Group, Aalborg University). It is also noteworthy that STS in Denmark has gained considerable prominence in the thinking and curricula of a number of established disciplines, such as Organisation studies, Ethnology, History & philosophy of science, Design studies, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Educational research and Media studies. In sum, the growing Danish STS scene, in part stimulated and channeled through DASTS, was a part of the momentum that pushed forward the conference. Not least because DASTS has decided to participate in the Nordic conference instead of arranging its own national conference in odd years.

A third important organizing force was the local host, the Techno-Anthropology Research at Aalborg University Copenhagen. I am the leader of this relatively new group, and the task of organizing the Nordic conference was of course a welcome opportunity to place ourselves on the map of Nordic STS. The Techno-Anthropology Research Group in its current form was established at Aalborg University Copenhagen in 2012 in connection with a bachelor and master programme in techno-anthropology. The group now consists of 9 researchers covering a broad range of STS, including feminist STS, innovation studies, studies of expert cultures and public engagement of science. The group has strong interest and commitment to ’mapping controversies’ and the use of digital methods in STS and has recently opened a ’techno-anthropology lab’ as a centre for these activities (

A fourth organizing force that must be mentioned was the local organizing group that handled every practical detail before, during and after the conference. Two techno-anthropology students worked on the conference for the better part of a semester. Invaluable help was also given by local secretaries, a handful of other techno-anthropology students, members of the research group and my head of department, who supported the conference financially.

As I mentioned earlier, I count 4+1 organizing forces. The fifth and final one, was the self-organizing of the conference participants. The conference had no specified theme. It was merely announced as a space for discussion between Nordic STS researchers, and participants were therefore encouraged to submit papers as well as proposals for panels. The final shape of the conference was thus very much in the hands of the 125 participants and in the hands of three extra-nordic keynote speakers who were given a free choice of topic (Steve Woolgar, Estid Sørensen and Fabian Muniesa). In the following, I will use the conference programme as springboard for speculating on the current state of Nordic STS.

The current state of Nordic STS

In contemporary academic life, we are all caught up in the game of making appealing accounts of activities that are somehow beyond our full control or comprehension. We constantly write precise plans for future projects or elegant abstracts of papers that we haven’t been able to write yet. I therefore trust that the reader will be familiar with the genre, when I now present my very neat summary of Nordic STS. My claim is that it can all be boiled down to the three C’s.

Nordic STS is Colourful

The conference programme is a wonderfully rich and broad collection of topics and perspectives. It contains concepts such as noise, love, morality, revelation and empowerment. It engages practices such as elections, education, drug trails, biobanking, male masturbation, peer innovation, and eugenics. And it talks of objects such as digital maps, synthetic biology, electricity grids, nuclear bombs, publics, earthquakes, climate change and calculative devices.

Nordic STS is indeed colourful. Some may even prefer another c-word: carnivalisque. We can think of this colourfulness as a charming feature that makes STS conferences fun and sets us apart from other fields that are tied down by a more narrow scope of interest. But the colourfulness is however also a part of a long trend in Nordic and international STS to move attention beyond the classic sites of knowledge production and technology development. It somehow performs the argument that the seamless web of science-technology-society extends and can be studied everywhere. The creative application of STS styles of analysis to all sorts of phenomena is thus not merely a curious feature but an important part of how Nordic STS collectively constitutes its object of research.

Nordic STS is Courageous!

When glancing through the programme, it strikes me that a good deal of courage is involved in the topics and approaches that are taken on. In fact, the paper titles indicate several different forms of courage. There is the well-know type of ’ethnographic’ or ’anthropological’ courage involved making critical, reflexive or ironic accounts: ‘On the trail of the calculator boys’. There is also the self-reflexive courage involved in constantly rethinking the our own tools: ‘Pixels and Pencils: Improvising Methods for Writing Futures’.

An additional form of courage relates to the collaborative roles that Nordic STS researchers often assume: ‘Make room for emergence when speaking about synthetic biology’. The interest in collaboratory roles is indeed a strong and well-established trend in Nordic STS. Close affiliations between Nordic STS and the Scandinavian participatory design tradition, as well as with various types of democratic public engagement with science experiments, have generated a broad interest in finding ways for STS research to work closely with both designers and users, and scientists and publics.

The commitments to collaboration, or bridging, do of course generate problems of their own. A fourth kind of courage is therefore also needed, namely the courage to rethink our roles as STS researchers. Something, which might be indicated by the following title: ‘Enough of Ethnography? Or: What I learned from being an ad-hoc lab rat in an Internet of things’.

Nordic STS is Community-building.

The participants’ self-organizing forces resulted in the clustering of interest and discussion around a number of topical areas. Some of these topical areas were: Technical Innovation, medical STS, science communication/PES, educational practices, valuography, calculating & documenting technologies, environment, biotech governance, new big science, and eating. In addition to these topical areas, there were also a number of cross-cutting issues or themes, which became the basis for sessions: Intervention, digital methods, technoscience & the social, and empowerment.

The communities and sub-communities in Nordic STS are surely grounded in more enduring practices and instititutional affiliations than a three day conference. I am not able to say exactly what generates these numerous communities. What I can say, however, as a conference organizer, is that there is a good deal of shared commitment to topics and issues in Nordic STS. When we, the organizing group, gathered to work through the pile of submitted abstracts and panels, we found it surprisingly easy to group the papers into meaningful sessions. It was basically a 3-hour job.

Where will Nordic STS go next?

It would be reckless to try to predict where the buzzing scene of Nordic STS will go in the future. But I will nevertheless end with a bit of speculation. My sense is that Nordic STS will remain committed to following and reflecting upon all sorts of new, significant and controversial scientific and technological developments. For this reason alone, we can expect an ongoing renewal of the discipline. My sense is also that STS researchers will turn their attention to grand societal challenges of all kinds, not only because STS researchers are curious and committed people, but also because of the opportunities for significant research funding. The renewal our field may also be driven by methodological developments, such as the current experimentation with digital methods, which has generated entirely new collaborations with media scholars, IT developers and several others. I believe that digital methods will gradually open up significant new opportunities for data gathering and visualization, which will expand or conception of what kinds of research STS can do (Elgaard Jensen et al. 2012; Munk & Elgaard Jensen 2014). Finally, and on a more general level, my hunch is that the increasing maturity of STS as a discipline will lead to an increasing number invitations to participate more directly and more actively in scientific, technological and political projects (Elgaard Jensen 2012; Birkbak et al. 2015). This, I suspect, will engender increasing reflections on our roles, opportunities and responsibilities as STS researchers, and perhaps also increasing tensions and dilemmas within our field.

So where will Nordic STS go next? I can only speculate and encourage others to do the same. But one thing is certain. Nordic STS will go to Sweden, since this is where the next conference will be held in 2017.

Tecnoscienza, Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies – Short-Circuits, Alternative Geographies and New Paths for Scientific Publishing in STS

Tecnoscienza – Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies ( is an independent online peer-reviewed journal, released under the Creative Common license. As we also stated in the opening of the very first issue of the journal, we could define Tecnoscienza as the outcome of an intellectual and academic short-circuit.

From an academic perspective, the short-circuit mainly concerns the process (started in 2005) that led a group of researchers to set up an association and create STS Italia, the Italian Society for Social Studies of Science and Technology. The aim of the journal was to give visibility to a debate as much established and acknowledged at the international level, as it was disregarded at the national one. On the other hand, in the Italian scientific and academic environment, the association has also represented an original form of aggregation able to attract researchers, not exclusively Italian, not only sharing the same areas of interest, but also willing to challenge the current production and circulation of knowledge in academic settings.

Although supported by STS Italia, we never wanted Tecnoscienza to be the journal of the association. The publication of Tecnoscienza is a proof, and the result, of the commitment and energy of an emerging generation of researchers, who have been going through the traditional issues of science and technologies studies, and have also expanded the scope of their own interests by drawing on different areas and research fields.

Since the beginning, the subject areas Tecnoscienza focused on have involved both ‘classic’ STS topics (such as laboratory studies and public communication of science) and more cross-sectional ones (such as postfeminist debates, cultural studies, design and media studies). In fact, we are interested in expanding connections and intersections with areas that are mostly affected by innovations and transformations: economy, organisations, design, art and everyday life. The aim of Tecnoscienza, therefore, is to continue this work by following two parallel research paths. On the one hand, the journal will be contributing to the already existing and today flourishing STS debate. On the other hand, it will be drawing a transversal line across the existing categories and boundaries, by questioning fields, objects and methods, involving a heterogeneous set of knowledge, disciplines and topics.

The sense of having a new STS journal, more than just topics and contents, concerns a reflection on the evolving geography of STS at global level. When referring to the intellectual policy animating the journal, we can say that this policy is especially targeting the wider process of reconfiguration of the cultural geography of STS. Initially started in specific countries (UK, France, Netherlands, US), the STS landscape has been characterised by the raising of newer increasingly international and globally interconnected networks, journals, and research. Today, the presence of STS scholars has expanded in many different countries all over the world. In this scenario, one of the aims of Tecnoscienza is to relocate the geography of the global STS community by giving resonance to the relevance of the local embeddedness of STS perspectives.

Thus, not only Tecnoscienza represents a significant attempt to drawn attention to a relatively new, ‘indigenous’ Italian STS community, but it also supports more generally a revaluation of the role of smaller national communities. This policy is aimed at appreciating in a new way the multiple, locally embedded, alternative STS perspectives, as well as the local trajectories of researchers, communities and countries where STS have in the meantime developed.

This reflection on STS geography can be recognized in some of the actual contents and sections we present in the journal. The section named “Cartography” aims to map histories and current developments of local STS communities: from Croatia to Portugal, from Spain to Germany, from Italy to Norway. Contributions published in this section serve as well as intellectual reflections on STS: while conceptual frameworks are increasingly globalized, actual STS research work and activities still occur in connection with, and in the context of, national academic, intellectual and scientific environments. In the same vein, although the section “Book review” could appear merely as a way to comply with an academic routine, Tecnoscienza has turned it into a further tool to articulate the STS geography, more sensitive toward peripheral (but for this reason not less meaningful) voices. So, our book review editors constantly work to include books written in various European languages (up to now French, Spanish, Danish, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian and Russian), all reviewed in the shared working language of English. The idea is thus to bring light on books and research that otherwise would have not had the chance to be noticed outside their national borders.

Beside the aforementioned “Cartographies” and “Book Reviews”, the journal is constituted of “Essays”, “Conversations”, and “Scenarios”. In the “Essay” section, where theoretical and research articles appear, contributions undergo a blind peer review process, involving three expert scholars. In this section, we encourage authors not necessarily to subscribe to the STS literature, but rather to critically engage with it. “Conversations” intend to represent a field of encounter among different disciplines and perspectives (also involving people from outside the academic community). Finally, “Scenarios” is devoted to address new or controversial issues emerging from the STS debate.

The journal features two issues per year and has been thought to be distributed in the way today most dynamic and accessible: as an online open-access publication. Thanks to open source platforms such as Open Journal System, we have been able to work without a traditional publisher, managing everything by ourselves and taking care of all aspects of the publication process. Such an independent practice and open access policy set Tecnoscienza apart from most of the current STS journals, providing an example of alternative scientific publishing practices away from the existing oligopoly of international academic publishers.

As other journals in the field, we also occasionally publish special issues that can be based on conferences or workshops (as we did with the extended versions of the keynotes’ papers presented at EASST 2010) or, more often, on a specific topic. In the latter case, the special issue includes articles submitted in response to an open call for contributions and is managed by one or more guest editors. Special issue editors write an introductory article that orient the readers, oversee the process of blind peer review and work with the Editorial Board on the whole publication process. The success of the special issues published so far convinced us to maintain this path, accepting new proposals for the next few issues. The special Issues intend to privilege emerging themes from the STS debate and can be proposed by STS scholars who are interested in collaborating with us.

In terms of people involved, the journal consists of an Editorial Coordination,an Editorial Board and an International Advisory Board. The Editorial Coordinationinvolves three members of the Editorial Board who are in charge of the journal management for three years. The Editorial Board is constituted by agroup of 14 Italian STS scholars who share a variety of tasks and duties. This is organized with Section Editors, who are in charge of one of the aforementioned sections, and Editorial Board members, whose role is to advise and support the work of the relevant sections. As for the Editorial Coordination, Section Editors are also in charge for a limited amount of time. Temporary roles allow us to have a flexible organization of the journal that can adapt to academic needs as well as biographical contingencies. The process of reconfiguration of the STS cultural geography, in this case, is represented by the increasing number of members of the Editorial Board who live and work outside Italy. The international dimension of the journal is also fostered by the participation of well-known STS scholars to the Advisory Board. Besides reviewing submitted papers, in fact, the role of the Advisory Board members is acting as ambassadors for the journal within their academic and national contexts.

Finally, given that the distinction between science and art is just a modern invention, we like to invite artists as well to contribute to our journal, by allowing us to publish an image of one of their work as a front cover (see fig. 1). In this way, we hope to offer to our readers and the STS debate suggestions and contributions also from an aesthetic point of view. And to stimulate other short-circuits in the next future of STS.

Figure 1 – Two examples of Tecnoscienza’s covers.
Figure 1 – Two examples of Tecnoscienza’s covers.

The Energy Babble, Part of the Energy and Co-Designing Communities Project: ECDC

Figure 1
Figure 1

The Energy Babble, part of the Energy and Co-Designing Communities project (ECDC)((ECDC was funded by RCUK and led by the EPSRC (project code ES/1007318/1). The project team included Andy Boucher, Bill Gaver, Tobie Kerridge, Mike Michael, Liliana Ovalle and Mathew Plummer-Fernandez.)). This interactive device emerged and operated over the course of the three-year project where design and STS researchers sought to engage with a number of UK based energy communities and bring about provocative enactments of energy-demand reduction mediated by social media and algorithmic forms of elicitation. The project team made thirty six Energy Babble devices in total, which were deployed amongst communities in Cornwall, Devon, London, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire and Sussex over the course of three months. The device took two years to devise, design and fabricate, following an engagement workshop and initial ‘ethnographic’ contact. Whilst being deployed, further ethnographic work was conducted with the communities to gain an understanding their energy-demand reduction practices and how their practices and communities had been shaped through the intervention of the device. So far, accounts of the Energy Babble and the ECDC project have featured in the Sociological Review((Wilkie, Alex, Michael, Mike and Plummer-Fernandez, Mathew. 2015. Speculative Method and Twitter: Bots, Energy and Three Conceptual Characters. The Sociological Review, 63(1), 79–101.)) and the SIGCHI((Gaver, William, Michael, Mike, Kerridge, Tobie, Wilkie, Alex, Boucher, Andy, Ovalle, Liliana and Plummer-Fernandez, Matthew. Energy Babble: Mixing Environmentally-Oriented Internet Content to Engage Community Groups. ed. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2015, 1115-1124.)).

Figure 2
Figure 2

The Energy Babble was the upshot of a lengthy design process, which, as mentioned in the previous caption, included and drew on contact with the research participants. A key part of the design process was the production of a series of design workbooks that bring together empirical observations and insights, a review of related (and sometimes unrelated) existing and emerging technologies, as well as sketched propositions and proposals for devices, systems and other designed artefacts that the team might build as deployable research devices. Sketches are often humorous, absurd and non-sensical as a means to re-think the problems and questions that are being posed by the topic of the research, in this case energy-demand reduction in local-community contexts. During the ECDC project, three design workbooks were made, successively defining, redefining and refining proposals until the brief for the Energy Babble emerged. In other words, until a firm idea of what the team was to design came to fruition.

Figure 3
Figure 3

An energy-community visualisation created during the engagement workshop at the Gefrye Museum, London. The engagement workshop included approximately thirty representatives from the local energy communities that the ECDC project team worked with and consisted of three key activities designed to explore somewhat speculative community make-up and topology, the home as a affective site of energy use and the environmental expectations of community members.

Market-Based Initiatives as Solutions to Techno-Scientific Problems: MISTS

MISTS engages with market based initiatives employed as potential solutions to what Frankel, Ossandón and Pallesen (2015) recently referred to as collective concerns((See: such as environmental or health-related issues. We use ‘market-based initiative’ as a term to cover a range of activities that incorporate a market component (from market creation, through market devices, to drawing on market principles in order to, for example, stake a claim for enhanced competition). The project, which runs from 2013 to 2018 and is funded by the European Research Council, draws together two strands of Science and Technology Studies (STS) research: the theoretical turn to matters of business and markets; and the more policy oriented STS literature on science problems (and solutions). The two strands of STS research are drawn together to explore four sub-projects: attempts to build a market for privacy, a market scheme to incentivise vaccine development, international initiatives to resolve price carbon emissions and a national system that uses market principles to render higher education research competitive.

The rise of market based initiatives from the 1970s and 1980s onwards as solutions to problems can be seen in numerous areas. For example, market based initiatives have been implemented in an attempt to enhance the value for money of public services((See: by introducing competition Daniel Neyland, Sveta Milyaeva & Véra Ehrenstein for increasingly scarce public funds((See: and have been discussed as one aspect of contemporary government austerity drives(( We resist using singular terms such as neoliberalism to convey what is going on in these initiatives to instead consider the way such initiatives are composed through various devices, practices, policies and so on. Perhaps we will end up with a study of neoliberalism in action, but one which questions the nature of the term.

As STS scholars, we are particularly interested in the area of science and technology policy, where markets have been heralded as mechanisms to, amongst other things, stimulate otherwise absent innovation((See:, introduce ethics into new fields((See, for example:, and generate efficiency((See the UK’s new Research Excellence Framework:, efficacy and greater equality((See: In these discussions, market based initiatives are noted as both valuable in their own right and key for attributing and distributing value. Market based initiatives are also understood as providing the means by which scientific, technological, financial, social and policy issues can be corralled and addressed, problems can be made to make sense and resolved. And yet controversy endures regarding for example: claims that in some areas there is no competition and hence there can be no market((See: A. Farlow (2005) ‚The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, Malaria Vaccines, and Purchase Commitments: What is the Fit?’ (Innovation Strategy Today, June 2005: 1-15).)); that assumptions built into market models simplify key areas such as scientific discovery into linear financial models((Overlooking the history of STS research into scientiic ‚discovery’ which questions assumptions of linearity.)); that the insistence on creating a market is expensive and inefficient with regards to the problem to be solved((See for example, criticism of plans to marketise the UK NHS (‚No market for the NHS,’ Guardian newspaper, 14th March, 2011, p.31) )); that on the terms on which they are established many market based initiatives fail((See:; that markets asymmetrically allocate agency and capability at the expense of the most vulnerable and that market prerogatives are not neutral, but shape and constrain the activities and realities of those subject to them((See: History of Human Sciences (1999) ‚Knowledge for What? The Intellectual Consequences of the Research Assessment Exercise’, special issue of History of the Human Sciences 12(4): 111–46.)). Thus despite their widespread deployment, engaging ever more people, resources and devices, market-based initiatives have frequently been associated with questions, concerns, possible failure and/or the generation of further problems. Hence the relationship between problems, solutions and markets is by no means straightforward. This suggests that the very genesis, development, experience and consequence of market-based initiatives require careful consideration.

In our research we have drawn on the move in recent years by STS scholars to pay greater attention towards matters of organisation, organising and business, particularly those that can be said to draw inspiration from Actor-Network Theory (ANT)((A note of caution is advisable here: many early advocates of ANT have over the last 10 to 12 years questioned some of the limitations of ANT, used the label post-ANT or refer in very minimal terms to ANT. See for example Callon, M. (1998) The Laws of the Markets. Oxford: Blackwells; MacKenzie, D., Muniesa, F. and Siu, L. (eds) (2007) Do Economists Make Markets? On the performativity of economics. Oxford: Princeton University Press; Muniesa, F., Milo, Y. and Callon, M. (2007) Market Devices Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell)). For example, Callon (1998) suggests, markets can be treated as assemblages that are continuously made and re-made through the work of economists, models, calculative devices, forms of valuation and experimentation((Callon, M. (1998) The Laws of the Markets. Oxford: Blackwells)). The substantive focus for STS research on markets is broad, engaging global financial markets, arbitrage and price, through to the exchange of strawberries((See for example: MacKenzie, D. (2006) An Engine, Not a Camera (London: MIT Press); Beunza, D. and Hardie, I. and MacKenzie, D. (2006) A price is a social thing: towards a material sociology of arbitrage. Organization studies, 27 (5). pp. 721-745; Garcia-Parpet, M. (2007) The Social Construction of a Perfect Market: The Strawberry Auction at Fontaines-en-Sologne, in D. MacKenzie, F. Muniesa, and L. Siu (eds) Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics. New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, pp. 20-53.)). Market assembly, according to Callon (1998) involves the production of devices and framings, which disentangle entities from their social, cultural and technical obligations, in order to be re-entangled into specific market framings. Such disentangling and re-entangling in market assemblages is said to affirm various demarcations between, for example, relative degrees of value. Further innovative and provocative ideas arise through treating economics and markets as performative((MacKenzie, D. (2006) An Engine, Not a Camera (London: MIT Press) )), questions are posed of what counts as a market actor((Cochoy, F. (2009) Driving a Shopping Cart from STS to Business, and the Other Way Round: On the Introduction of Shopping Carts in American Grocery Stores (1936—1959). Organization. 16: 31-55.)), forms of equivalence and other market metrology are investigated as a practice((Callon, M., C. Meadel, and V. Rabehariosa. (2002) The Economy of Qualities. Economy and Society. 31(2): 194-217.)) and the intersection of market assemblages with broad political systems analysed((Barry, A. (2002) The Anti-Political Economy. Economy and Society. 31(2): 268-84.)).

We have found these ideas useful and challenging for our own thinking. But what of the critiques of market-based interventions? How can we engage with the problematic politics of markets as apparent solutions to collective concerns? Here we have analysed a variety of ideas. For example, we have explored STS thinking on the constitution or legitimacy of solutions, the entangled histories of recursive problem-solution relationships, the notion that problems are frequently re-oriented to it current understandings of the capability and capacity of solutions, and the numerous unintended consequences of solutionism((Woolgar, S. and Pawluch, D. (1985) “Ontological Gerrymandering: The Anatomy of Social Problems Explanations,” Social Problems (32:3), pp. 214-27. Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology (NJ, USA: Prentice-Hall).)). We have also drawn on STS science policy work to start rethinking the status and role of market and economic expertise, the importance of values held by decision makers in seeking solutions to diverse social problems and how these become embodied in political culture((Drawing on the work of, for example: Jasanoff, S. (2007) Designs on Nature (USA: Princeton Press).)). Work on governance has also been useful for helping us to think about the adequacy of methods of public consultation in relation to demands for greater accountability and transparency in market work and the concerns that have been expressed regarding the means by which market-based legislation and regulation, public representation, participation or consultation has been formed((See for example Irwin, A. (1995) Citizen Science (Routledge, London); Kitcher, P. (2001) Science, Democracy and Truth (Oxford University Press, Oxford); Kleinman, D. (2000) (ed) Science, Technology and Democracy (State of New York University Press, Albany NY, USA); Jasanoff, S. (1994) The Fifth Branch: Science Advisers as Policymakers (USA: Harvard University Press); Colebatch, H., Hoppe, R. and Noordegraaf, N. (2010) (eds) Working For Policy (Amsterdam, Netherlands: University of Amsterdam Press); Rip, A. (2003) Constructing Expertise. Social Studies of Science 33(3): 419-34; Collins, H. and Evans, R. (2007) Rethinking Expertise. London: University of Chicago Press; Bozeman, B. and Sarewitz, D. (2007) Public Values and Public Failure in US Science Policy. Science and Public Policy, 32(2): 119-36.)). And we have started to consider the role of us STS researchers in these policy contexts.

Taking on these ideas in our initial sub-projects on markets for privacy and markets for vaccines in low-income countries has been analytically useful. In considering attempts to regulate the proliferation and monetisation of data through the online data industry, what we have found are, for example, start-up firms and community groups trying to invert taken for granted assumptions that the monetization of online data inevitably and straightforwardly harms individuals by, for example, invading their privacy. Instead, various organisations are attempting to rethink privacy in terms of control and the establishment of proxy property rights for users over their data. Through doing so, start-ups seek to establish a form of privacy (through control and a re-specification of property rights) as the future of marketing. We have become interested in how this re-specification work could become part of on-going and recursive problem-solution relationships. Alternatively, in attempts to transform global vaccine markets for low income countries, what we find is not markets in the wild, but pacifying, taming contracts, mutual obligations, and carefully managed supply chains, governed and held to account through international agreements, aid partnerships, diverse forms of expertise (legal, epidemiological, economic, etc.), standards of assessment and evidential delivery mechanisms. Market assemblages, political governance and counter-intuitive results abound. Although superficially we might take this kind of intervention as an example of market-based initiatives being used to civilise otherwise unruly, incalculable exchanges, what we find in practice is an enormous number of mundane, sometimes messy, sometimes unruly practices, devices and people coming together through a number of distinct evaluative situations.

Our on-going research continues to explore long-standing CSISP interests. For example, what counts as a problem or issue appears to be continuously at the forefront of market interventions. Furthermore, the practices and processes of intervention seem key. And a focus on inventive and experimental methods continues to be vital (including our own attempts to subvert the dominant policy-shaping field of experimental economics by carrying out our own breach experiments that disrupt otherwise rational and linear market thinking). Alongside our on-going research activities, we also continue to organise a series of events. In September, we will host ‘Economic Exchanges’ exploring what happens when STS engages with the economic and at the next EASST conference in Barcelona, we hope to put on another stream, this time on Mundane Market Matters.