All posts by Noortje Marres

Center for the Study of Invention and Social Process. Goldsmiths, University of London

The Centre for the Study of Invention of Social Process is an active inter-disciplinary research centre at Goldsmiths, University of London, which was founded more than 10 years ago by Andrew Barry and others. CSISP was opened in 2003 by Bruno Latour with a lecture on the question of “how not to change vehicles” in moving from microto macro- in the social study of” …invention (more on this topic, and choice of label, below).

Institutionally speaking, CSISP has the luxurious if delicate position of being based in the Department of Sociology, while boasting an interdisciplinary membership, with staff and students from across Goldsmiths involved in collaborations and events, including from Design, Art, Anthropology, Visual Cultures and Cultural Studies. CSISP also works with members from beyond Goldsmiths, including Kristin Asdal (Oslo), Carolin Gerlitz (University of Amsterdam) Javier Lezaun (Oxford) Celia Lury (Warwick) Fabian Muniesa (Paris) and Tahani Nadim (Berlin). From the very beginning CSISP has been based in the Warmington Tower on the highest and generally peaceful 12th loor, which a few years ago however was troubled by an asbestos threat, exposed by a leak in the roof. The asbestos fortunately have since been removed, and besides the 12th loor has the benefit of a view of the City of London, which helps us to keep things in perspective, albeit an ensobering one.

Figure 1: The view from Warmington Tower (2012)
Figure 1: The view from Warmington Tower (2012)

Over the years, CSISP has been directed by a variety of Goldmiths sociologists, including Mariam Motamedi Fraser, Mike Michael, Marsha Rosengarten and myself. Michael Guggenheim, Alex Wilkie and Marsha Rosengarten have just become the new Co-Directors of CSISP, as from September I have joined the Centre for Interdicisplinary Methodologies at the University of Warwick. The Centre’s thematic focus has been remarkably enduring over the years. As the official blurb on the CSISP home page has it, the centre centre supports research, projects and events in the broad area of science, technology, society and the environment. This broad and inclusive description echoes the broad substantive focus of our field (at CSISP we like to blame STS for whatever we can); but CSISP makes up for its wide focus through its narrow objective to support and enable – website blurb again – “mutual interventions across disciplines and practices that are concerned with the social: design and social science, computing and sociology, issue advocacy and social methods, biomedicine and social research, the arts and environmental science.”

It does not seem an exaggeration to say that CSISP has developed a distinctive take on interdisciplinary research over the years, which a) explicitly includes creative or ‘generative’ disciplines like design, computing and the arts, b) collaborates with NGOs and activists, including Platform, the International HIV Social Science and Humanities Conference, and the Tactical Technology Collective, and c) has a special focus on enabling practice-based, materially aware, medium-specific forms of methodological innovation that further enables this broad and generative approach to interdisciplinary social research that we and (former) colleagues at Goldsmiths have termed “inventive” (Lury and Wakeford, 2012).

Research projects developed and hosted at CSISP that may help to clarify and exemplify this approach this are:

a) the Pindices installation by Andrew Barry and artist/designer Lucy Kimbell, which consisted of translucent tubes fixed to the wall carrying buttons with accounts of specific acts (e.g. ‘I raised an issue’), and which was part of the Making Things Public exhibition in the ZKM Karlsruhe in 2005.
b) the on-going collaboration between Design and Social Science by Mike Michael, Bill Gaver, Alex Wilkie and others and which produced the RCUK-funded ECDC project in which designers and STS researchers developed an material method and/or prototype device called the Energy Babble, a kind of community-radio which broadcasts digital content relating to energy demand issues and also enables community engagement among the network of its users (via the micropohone) (see the contribution by Alex Wilkie below).
c) Noortje Marres’ ESRC-funded work on Issue mapping online (Figure 2), which brings together STS approaches with digital methods to develop tactics, methods and tools for analysing and visualising public issue formation, including the Associational Proiler, a prototype tool for studying the ‘liveliness of issues’ with Twitter (see www.issuemapping.net and Figure 2 for an early associational proile of #drought from 2012).
d) Jennifer Gabrys ERC project on Environmental Sensing with deploys a variety of sensors and sensing devices to develop materially aware methodologies for the articulation of and engagement with environmental crisis (see www.citizensense.net).
e) the ERC project led by Michael Guggenheim on Organizing Disasters with seeks to analyze the encounter between civil protection organizations and the population and to this end combines field-based, experimental and visual methods (see www.organizingdisaster.net).

Figure 2: Issue proile of #drought on Twitter over time, Noortje Marres, Carolin Gerlitz, Alessandro Brunetti (2012)
Figure 2: Issue proile of #drought on Twitter over time, Noortje Marres, Carolin Gerlitz, Alessandro Brunetti (2012)

The development of social research projects is then key to CSISP – indeed it hosts other ERC projects be sides the two mentioned above, including the project on market problems by Dan Neyland discussed in the next article, and Goldsmiths Sociology also hosts Evelyn Ruppert’s How Data Make a People (www.gold.ac.uk/sociology/research/researchprojects/howdatamakeapeople).

A no less important aspect of CSISP has always been the lively post-graduate culture that it supports, by way the Whitehead Scholarship and the CSISP studentship, and through on-going events such as the CSISP Salon, an informal reading-cum-viewing-and-discussion group, which has been organized by PhD students and post-doctoral researchers over the years (Tahani Nadim, Ann-Christina Lange, Joe Deville, Laurie Waller, Sveta Milyaeva, Vera Ehrenstein, David Moats), and where “members and others meet to debate issues in the field of the social studies of science and technology and beyond,” using an “experimental format that aims to accompany texts with contextual materials in the form of films, news articles, field visits etc..”, as the CSISP Salon webpage puts it.

These and other CSISP events are enlivened by participation of students in Master programmes taught and convened by CSISP members, including in recent years the MAs in Visual and Digital Sociology, as well as by CSISP visiting fellows who join us for a period of a few months to over a year from related, international STS groups and departments, including Anders Koed Madsen (Copenhagen), Nerea Calvillo (Madrid), Priska Gisler (Zurich), Lonneke Van der Velden (Amsterdam), Daniel López and Israel Giralt Rodríguez (Barcelona), Kay Felder (Vienna), Pascale Trompette (Grenoble), Ignacio Farías (Berlin) and Manuel Tironi (Chile).

Events have been very important to the making of CSISP as not only a research centre but also an intellectual place. The last big one was the anniversary symposium Inventing the Social in 2014, which was co-organised by myself, Michael Guggenheim and Alex Wilkie, and brought together speakers to discuss renewed attempts to connect innovation and creativity with sociality, in a range of current fields, from digital media to disaster management and installation art. We are in the process of developing this event into an edited book to be published by Mattering Press, and the poster advertising the event was designed by Alex Wilkie, as most of our many CSISP posters are, and this poster took the form of a long list of events organised in the 10 years of CSISP existence, showing how diverse our topics of interest have been, going from the philosophy of Bergson, open source software, oil and politics, digital societies and so on (www.gold.ac.uk/media/Inventing%20the%20Social.pdf). This broadness could be taken for a lack of specialization, and this would not be wrong, but it also signals the commitment of those who assemble in and around CSISP to work across the registers of theory, research and practice.

Figure 3: Inventing the Social. CSISP anniversary symposium in the Orangery at Goldsmiths, organised by Noortje Marres, Michael Guggenheim and Alex Wilkie, May 2014
Figure 3: Inventing the Social. CSISP anniversary symposium in the Orangery at Goldsmiths, organised by Noortje Marres, Michael Guggenheim and Alex Wilkie, May 2014

Invention, then, is not only an important topic for CSISP but equally presents an important project in which STS researchers and practitioners may engage themselves. Perhaps most importantly, to engage more directly with the ‘invention of the social’ opens up possibilities for broadening our understanding of what it is ‘we’ do: Do we dare experiment with accepted divisions of labour in social research and innovation? Can we include the design and implementation of methodologies for sociality in the social studies recipe book? This is the question that on-going work in CSISP has raised over the least years, and also one that informs the new online, Open Access journal that CSISP will launch the coming year, Demonstrations (www.csisponline.net/2015/03/25/call-for-contributions-for-the-launch-of-demonstrations-journal-for-experiments-in-the-social-studies-of-technology).

STS and Human Drama

Recently I had to give an interview for a university magazine. After some questions about STS, cities and sociology, the interviewer asked me how STS helps us to think about the current refugee crisis. I stumbled and didn’t know how to respond, even though during the last weeks I’ve been shocked by stories and images of unfortunate human fates; angry at the slow and irresponsible reaction of most European governments, particularly at their silence about Europe’s historical responsibility; touched by the commitment of volunteers and private acts of generosity and hospitality; concerned about the ongoing negotiations about EU-wide refugee distribution system; convinced that refugees should be able to apply for visas in third countries; so that they can travel legally and safely to recipient countries, and so on. I certainly wanted to say something about these issues, but it was hard for me to connect them with the theories, questions and problematizations in our field.

This does not mean that while reading the news in recent weeks I haven’t come across many developments and configurations that lend themselves to fascinating STS studies. Think, for example, of the controversies around systems and formulae being devised for asylum-seeker allocation throughout Europe. Or the debate about why for many weeks the online system for refugee registration in Germany was switched of at nights; a decision for which no governmental office took responsibility. Or the controversy about the need to obtain building permissions when it comes to the urgent building of refugee housing and facilities. Or the use of mobile phones and Facebook among asylum-seekers during their trips to Europe. Or how other uses of transportation networks, walking on highways and railways, sleeping in train stations, load these with moral and political capacities.

But as sociotechnically interesting as these topics might be, my sense is that none of them really grasps the fundamental issue at stake, what moves us, concern us and engages us ethically and politically, namely, the drama of fleeing. In traditional political theory, human suffering is imagined to be a universal concern related to a common human nature. From this perspective the real challenge that the refugee crisis poses to Europe is not so much the one related to tolerance and multiculturalism, which assumes the prevalence of cultural difference, but the challenge of cosmopolitism, the challenge of recognizing a common humanity. Such argumentation is, however, at odds with the intellectual project of STS, so greatly invested in decentering if not undoing the idea of a human nature, reimagining the nonhuman as not opposed to the human, and opening a new politico-theoretical space for thinking about the post-human, the more-than-human.

So how to think about the human dramas of fleeing asylum-seekers with STS? Clearly, feminist interventions in STS have for a long time been concerned with issues of sociotechnical exclusion, with making invisible, absent and with suffering: how classifications and standards produce both smoothing of operations and human sufferings; or how conceiving of sociotechnical assemblages as matters of care reveals all type of devalued ordinary labours. This perspective is crucial to critically explore the devalued position of refugees in the various sociotechnical assemblages in which they come to be integrated, but I wonder whether it suffices to grasp the drama of displacement, of fleeing away from home, of leaving it all behind.

A possible starting point can be found in Nigel Clark’s book Inhuman Nature, which addresses the relationship between an ethics of hospitality and natural disasters. Challenging the emphasis in STS on symmetrical entanglements among humans and nonhumans, Clark argues that natural disasters demonstrate a fundamental asymmetry between human existence and a whole realm of natural processes, ranging from bacterial life to tectonics, upon which human existence depends, but which are completely autonomous from our doings and, most importantly, capable of annihilating us. From this perspective, the sense of empathy, compassion, the offer of help and hospitality to those affected by natural disasters would not derive from a recognition of a common human essence, but of a common vulnerability to overwhelming earthly forces.

Somewhat similarly, what the drama associated with fleeing as a liminal process seems to reveal is the asymmetrical dependence upon the various nonhumans that constitute us, to which our identities, memories, skills are attached, upon which we so deeply depend and without which we become nothing but poorly equipped human bodies. What the current situation reveals is not (only) the sophisticated biopolitical production of a ‘nude life’ in refugee camps, to use Agamben’s term from State of Exception, but the painful processes of disassembling and disentangling humans from the sociotechnical assemblages they live by. What we thus seem to recognize, when we are touched by these human dramas and when we feel the urgent need to help, to donate things, to shelter, to teach our language, is perhaps not so much a universal human nature, but a universal right to be sociomaterially entangled, sociotechnically equipped, heterogeneously assembled, that is, to be more-than-human.

Caring for a displacement in meeting formats Report on the 4th meeting of the STS Spanish Network, 4-6 June 2014, Salamanca

1. The #4esCTS meeting: Diaspora and care in an STS network

The 4th meeting of the Spanish STS Network (Red esCTS) took place between June 4th-6th 2014 in Salamanca, hosted by the Institute of Science and Technology Studies((Instituto de Estudios de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, see http://ecyt.usal.es/)) of the University of Salamanca in two beautiful buildings from the 16th century (Colegio Arzobispo Fonseca and the Faculty of Translation and Documentation). The meeting could be seen as a moment of consolidation for the network with an attendance of more than 80 people from very different professional and disciplinary backgrounds, presenting papers, distributed in parallel sessions, on the most diverse topics, ranging from contemporary urban, cultural or health/care issues to the reflection of forms of citizen science and participatory interventions in technoscientific issues((See the final programme and abstracts here: http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/4escts-programa-definitivo-finalprogramme/)).

In a productive and ironic stark contrast with the historicity and solidity of the buildings, the meeting wanted to gather STSers from inside and outside of academia to analyse the outmost contemporary predicaments and frailties affecting knowledge production institutions. Indeed, the call ‘If you love me, go away! Deploying diasporas and activating care from the backroom’ played ironically((The first part of the title is an ironic reference to a popular quote from the 90’s by a Spanish flamenco and copla singer. See the CfP here: http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/iv-annual-meeting-of-the-socialstudies-of-science-and-technology-network-red-escts-call-for-papers/)) not only on the complicated career prospects of young STS academics in Southern European countries but also on the ‘brain drain’ rhetoric (that usually depicts the structural
problems in R&D as one in which ‘the best minds’ are escaping the country). The idea of the call was to build an alternative framework to this construction of a diasporic academia, which sometimes forgets about those who cannot travel, usually neglects those producing relevant knowledge in places different from academia (e.g. health activists, collective architecture networks, cultural producers and artists, etc.), and almost never signals the important forms of backroom care-work that have to be deployed and activated to maintain professional and personal bonds at a distance, or to be able to overcome fear and frustration to produce relevant changes in the present day sociomaterial conditions affecting us.

Building on the idea of ‘diaspora’ and highlighting the necessary care networks put to work to reduce its impact, one of the most important aspects of the programme reflected on how to keep on doing as a decentered and non-structured STS network in post-austerity times. Besides streamlining meetings’ budgets and eliminating fees to grant access–as has been the regular practice of the network in the past four years–, an important strand of organizational worries laid on the modes of governance and free tools available to sustain our horizontal practices. Given the inspiration in and the parallels with other peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, the organizing committee invited Francesca Musiani as a special guest for the opening conference ‘Of dwarfs and giants: The networks of today and their politics of architectural design.’ Francesca kindly agreed to reflect on the prospects of how a P2P scientific network might look like departing from her studies (Musiani, 2013) on the fluid yet stable forms of P2P governance in decentralized digital architectures (dwarves sitting on the shoulders of other dwarves, not giants). A very interesting debate ensued, focusing on whether the use of open-access publishing strategies might be the most important avenue to enable our network’s activities or if other more hybrid and material forms of opensourcing might have to be invented to bring to life such an experimental idea of a P2P scientific network (cf. Corsín Jiménez, 2014), experimenting with its formats and ways of building encounters.

The opening ceremony closed with the video-intervention We, the guinea pigs by the influencing open design community ColaBoraBora((ColaBoraBora have specialized in the reflection and production of creative
and collaborative knowledge practices. “Nosotras las cobayas” http://www.colaborabora.org/2014/05/21/nosotras-las-cobayas/)), portraying explicit scenes of a laboratory rat vivisection with a voiceover of an enraged lab rat denouncing the utilitarian uses of either people or animals by scientists in their empirical work, hence contesting scientific expertise and the institutionalisation of research as well as calling for a more hybrid and co-produced fabric of science, caring for other forms of knowledge production. The first day ended with the presentation of a speed-dating dynamic See no evil, hear no evil ((“No me chilles que no te veo” http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/4escts-formatos-especiales-delencuentro-4-no-me-chilles-que-no-te-veo/)) by ColaBoraBora, searching to frame first encounters between academics and nonacademics present at the meeting.

2. #4esCTS’s special workshops: Towards more hybrid and inventive ‘ways of doing’ STS?

Indeed, many efforts were put in the previous months to deploy and make available in the programme relevant forms of caring for STS((Such as the CareReview process (a peer review process of all presentation proposals submitted to the meeting, seeking to collaboratively enhance the paper), part of the interest of the network’s members to develop more careful ‘recipees’ for the ‘cooking’ of the meetings, see: http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/encuentros-de-la-red-escts-plantillade-cocina/)) and, more especially, to turn its more hybrid and inventive potential futures into a ‘matter or care’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011) for our network. A wide gamut of special workshops were carefully put to test during the meeting. Each workshop challenged ‘ways of doing’ STS, testing alternative discussion and communication formats, as well as inquiring not only what the field ‘is’ but also on how we want it collectively to be.

For the Demo-WHAT? A dramatechnic experiment in democratic productions((“¿DEMO-qué? Un experimento dramatécnico de producciones democráticas” http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/4escts-formatos-especiales-delencuentro-2-demo-que-experimento-drama-tecnico-de-produccionesdemocraticas/)), organized by the GESCIT research group at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, we gathered in a pub downtown –the meeting spaces were challenged too!–. The workshop started with a dramaturgic performance, featuring a voiceover by Democritus of Abdera, in which participants were presented with different figurations of democracy and the roles of experts encountered by the group in their recent research exploring participatory STS methods, such as a year-long consensus conference and diverse focus groups. Paper fragments featuring different ‘voices’ –i.e. anonymous quotations– were distributed to participants divided in groups, and each group was asked to create a dramaturgic representation of what democracy means inspired on them, resulting in one of the most hilarious moments of the whole meeting (with several groups acting on stage, be it representing the everyday democracy through conversations on a bus or proclaiming, without mumbling a word and refusing to speak, a constitution for an inclusive democracy of the shy).

Research accountability and the circulation of knowledge were explored in the Publish like you give a damn, careful experiments in academic publishing((See http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/4escts-formatos-especiales-delencuentro-3-publish-like-you-give-a-damn-careful-experiments-in-publishing/)) workshop, convened by the Mattering Press collective((See http://matteringpress.org/)). Julien McHardy dynamised a discussion about open access publishing formats and different forms of academic writing registers and genres, based on small writing samples that participants had been asked to share. It served as a starting point for the exploration of what care and experimentation in academic publishing could mean. Quoting McHardy’s contribution to the network’s blog a few weeks later((See http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/why-books-matter/)): “Talking to people at the meeting, I gained the impression that being outside institutional accountability is both difficult and what makes esCTS a productive and exciting initiative. Like esCTS, books are not easily accounted for, because they are not easily counted, ranked and evaluated. In addition, according to our workshop discussion, books offer greater freedom compared to the stricter editorial, disciplinary and formal requirements of articles. And even where books count, for tenure for example, they do not register on a scale, but as singular achievements, either published or not (perhaps with the exception of prizes and awards). If books and the esCTS network share that they are not easily accounted for, we can start to consider that books might be valuable because they evade evaluation.” The workshop was also a means to share textual practices to participants with non-textual backgrounds.

For the TEO goes to the kitchen((TEO va a la cocina: http://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/4esctsformatos-especiales-del-encuentro-1-teo-va-a-la-cocina/)) workshop, convened by some of the members of TEO (Taller de Experimentación Objetual, or Objectcentered Experimentation Seminar) in Barcelona, there had been a call for ‘research objects’ (any sort of trace or material from a research endeavour) some people wanted to share and experiment upon. The proposal was for all attendants to take part in the cooking of a taylormade ‘Mediterranean diet’ seminar that might suit very particular research objects: avoiding ‘heavy fat’ conceptual seminars impossible to digest or ‘too messy’ cooking methods, as well as pointing at the crucial aspect of committing to good practices in seminar ’commensality,’ ensuring that all relevant human or nonhuman parties involved in research were sat at the table for dinner. The workshop resulted in a very funny creative marathon where the two seminar proposals were collectively developed.

Last but not least, Diasporic Science((Ciencia Diáspora: http://cienciadiaspora.wordpress.com/)), promoted by Adolfo Estalella and Tomás Sánchez Criado, sought to promote an online call for manifestos, putting forward STSers’ most purposive and imaginative skills to rethink academia and social science through statements. That is, inspired on the proliferation and creativity of both activist and artist manifestos((See http://backspace.com/notes/2009/07/design-manifestos.php)) and thinking from the manifesto as a particular accounting technique (a ship’s log), the idea was to think of possible routes into the future, refiguring diaspora into a movement of displacement of our very institutions and knowledge practices. The call resulted in proposals addressing the need for more collaboration with research counterparts or the transformation of our knowledge production through the use of other media (e.g. architecture, industrial design and illustration), or the vindication and exploration of non-hegemonic forms of research and knowing.

Collage: Publishing workshop in the Colegio Arzobispo Fonseca, by Julien McHardy.
Collage: Publishing workshop in the Colegio Arzobispo Fonseca, by Julien McHardy.

3. Caring for a displacement in STS meeting formats?

To conclude, we would like to highlight that despite their rather ‘entertaining’ features these different workshops and formats should not be seen as side aspects of the programme in Salamanca. Rather, they were nuclear moments where all the network’s participants gathered to think together. Indeed, they could be seen as interesting forms of producing a slight displacement of conventional formats, seeking to expand their prospects, their scope and to broaden their publics. Indeed, we believe that here lies the most interesting aspect of this 4th Spanish STS Network meeting: besides ‘investing’ (to borrow the figure from Thévenot, 2009) in more or less standardized and readymade conference forms, this meeting has signalled an interest in the promotion and exploration of alternative and more inventive methods (Lury & Wakeford, 2012) for the encounter of academics and non-academics, formats that might be helping us to experiment with other forms of meeting not only addressed at sharing papers, but also at stimulating or testing projects and ideas. Inventive formats that might be useful for the expansion of more caring forms addressing knowledge politics in STS, and which might be projecting a different meeting landscape for STS gatherings for the years to come…

Many of these things remain yet unexplored and will certainly define the experimental agenda of the forthcoming 5th meeting–which will take place, as decided in the network’s assembly, in Madrid next June 2015 – to keep challenging diasporas and encountering new displacements on the way.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Adolfo Estalella, Antonio Montero, Carmen Romero, Daniel López, Guillem Palà, José Carlos Loredo, Liliana Oliveira, Lucía Liste, María G. Aguado, Pablo Santoro, Rubén Gómez Soriano, Santiago López García, Rebeca Ibáñez, and Vincenzo Pavone for taking care of our networked things preparing the call or organizing the meeting and its spaces, as well as commenting and making suggestions in the writing of this report. We would also like to thank Ignacio Farías for his careful help and comments in the process of drafting it.

Early Career Scholars’ Expectations and Obstacles in Doing STS – Within Academia and Beyond

“Doing STS – within academia and beyond” was the theme of the preconference doctoral workshop at this year’s EASST conference. While the issue definitely matters to early career scholars, as they try to find their own way of doing STS as scholars within academia, it also matters to them as scholars interacting with the world beyond academia and as future professionals working outside of academia.

In this article I offer some reflections on the workshop, but will begin by approaching the workshop theme from selected theoretical perspectives on doing STS, as they provide inspiration for (early career) scholars to reflect on their ambitions and visions of how to do STS. Such ideals implicitly and explicitly floated in the discussions during the workshop. However, this doctoral event brought together more heterogeneous expectations, as well as rich experiences of participants and discussants. The second section focuses on some of the concerns and obstacles raised by participants about doing STS, offering insights into how early career scholars are affected and perceive the particular challenges of doing STS beyond academia. The article ends with examples of engaging STS in the particular ways of publishing and communicating research as good practices in order to encourage experimentation with the yet “unspeakable” in John Laws’ sense.

1. Doing STS beyond academia: perspectives from theory

Key figures in STS have already articulated their visions of how STS can matter or contribute beyond academia and derived suggestions on how STS should be done. Let us recall some of these ideas. Wiebe Bijker (2001) suggested two strategies of doing STS when he argued for the reinvention of the “public intellectual”. One strategy is acting as a critical observer and making “political interventions” by offering a mirror to scientific and technological cultures and the actors involved:

“doing case studies is a way for individual STS researchers to conduct political interventions. […] Another metaphor to describe this kind of intervention via a case study could be “the STS mirror”: STS studies present mirrors in which actors see their cultures and actions in new ways. And again, seeing themselves in these new ways may lead to self-conscious changes in behaviour.” (Bijker 2001: 446).

Another is to act as a social engineer:

“STS research needs to reestablish close collaboration with the science and engineering communities. […] I argue that STSers can contribute to making things, to changing the world. In doing so, they inevitably will dirty their hands, for there is no free ride here.” (Bijker 2001: 446)

Obviously, both strategies can potentially conflict with each other. For example some scholars feel uncomfortable with the latter because they fear losing their critical distance or becoming instrumentalised for the wrong ends.

The way scholars interact with their empirical field, but also with the public and policy makers links up with what John Law (2004) wrote about how STS can matter and how he defines particular modes of contribution. Instead of giving an appropriate summary of his six modes, I recommend a full reading of his paper and here only selectively pick out some points of inspiration. He suggests “interference” as one mode which offers an explanation as to why it is rather challenging and demanding to make contributions as an STS scholar beyond academia:

“[…] interference is a mode of matter-ing that is awkward, rough, and broken. […] It does not generalise. It does not smooth out. It does not offer general calculative possibilities. In short it is specific, a form of located practice. Mattering in interference is something that is re-done, re-enacted, instance by instance. […] Its contributions are local. So there is no overview. Instead there are specific problems and specific constellations, and specific possibilities. All in specific places.” (Law 2004: 7).

While such lofty ideals were aired here and there in our discussions, the overall approach of the doctoral workshop was hands-on and rooted in participants’ own practical experiences. The aim was to learn from exchanges on ambivalent experiences about how to turn ideals, such as “using the STS mirror” or “interference”, into practice. Yet ideals remained implicit.

2. Doing STS beyond academia: concerns of early career scholars

The objectives for the workshop were promising. The organizer Marton Fabok, student representative in the EASST council, had drafted a call inviting to “critically engage with what STS researchers practically do” and “to address how STS can be used in the context of practitioners, policy-makers, activists or even business consultants” ((EASST Website: http://www.easst.umk.pl/easst-pre-conference-doctoralworkshop-torun/, accessed on 25th of November 2014.)). In retrospect, the key question addressed involved the obstacles and visions of EASST’s early career scholars about doing STS. Before addressing some of the concerns raised during the workshop, I would like to note that since I’m writing based on my subjective experience of selective discussions, these reflections are eclectic and self-evidently do not necessarily represent the perspectives of other participants.

Starting with the range of obstacles, one issue raised was the challenge to communicate and make research understandable beyond STS insiders. A participant described his interest in the workshop based on:

“experiences on how I previously have found it quite difficult to discuss my research with people outside academia not familiar with STS concepts. So far they have found it too theoretical to actually be useful for implementation. […] Another experience is that I have found that STS theories very often focus on finding problems rather than solutions, and this is also something which makes it troublesome when trying to reach a broader audience and actually achieve a change.” (participant A) ((Participant A, B, C, D, E: quotations from statements of motivation letters for the workshop (anonymized) ))

Other participants were interested in discussing the challenges of how STS engages with the public and politics. Therefore they wanted “to hear if and how others succeeded in communicating their research to actors involved in the policy process or to ‘the public’” (participant B) and “to engage in conversations about using STS doings and knowings in political ways and with political goals” (participant C).

Another area of interest was how to interact with the empirical field. Bijker’s notion of “political interventions” by the researcher turns out to be a rather complicated and difficult endeavour in practice. As one participant described it:

“The company had little experience with the anthropological approach and it was therefore a challenge to communicate my findings to the designers and programmers at the company in a useful way. Not only did I try to make the programmers and designers interact with the ethnographic field site in new ways. In doing so I constantly had to challenge the normal ways of knowledge transfer in the company.” (participant D).

A recurrent theme pointed to the issue of how to make STS ‘useful’ – for practitioners, for policy makers, for engineers, but also for their own careers (in order to be competitive with others on the job market). Depending on the country around 20 to 75% percent of PhD candidates will leave academia after they have finished their thesis (Auriol 2010: 15)((These numbers reflect PhD candidates across all disciplines. Since STS scholars can be found across diverse disciplines it is difficult to specify how they are affected by that.)). It is common for various scholars to see their future contribution in other working areas beyond academia. Furthermore, the younger generation of STS researchers is in many countries confronted with increasingly precarious working situations within academia, which makes them increasingly concerned about what they can contribute outside of academia. Due to massive and complex changes (linked with a trend in the marginalization of social sciences in some countries and increased competition for constantly limited resources in academia) the future prospects for PhD candidates in Europe (especially but not only in East and South Europe) are under pressure (Cyranoski et al. 2011). This could be a driver for increasing demand from early career scholars in STS for more reflection on what kind of skills STS researchers gain and how these are unique qualifications demanded on the job market outside of academia and enrich the employability of young researchers:

“When it comes to STS as a profile that qualifies you to get a job in business or public sector, I have little clue what important aspects are that make you look qualified. I hope to gain knowledge about whether there are specific methods or knowledge bases that are significant for the STS-approach and that can be translated to applied problem-solving competencies. Are there actually companies that look for the STS-competencies?” (participant E).

This points to a dilemma regarding controversial expectations in STS. A legitimate demand articulated by young scholars is to clarify the particular skills and competences of STS in order to use STS as a unique selling point when they compete with others on the job market. However, requests and competences deriving from STS scholarship might be different and even contradictory to what is demanded by the worlds beyond academia. Or put differently: challenging traditions of thinking might be welcomed or at least heard in some niches and under certain conditions – and in others not. STS scholars will continue struggling to find a balance between these requests, but should explore further which are these niches and conditions, in order to make a better impact with their interventions and ways of doing STS. If they succeed, they will become more and more demanded beyond academia. To me, this includes developing reflection skills, collecting experiences of how to intervene in a critical but responsible way, and learning how to deal with the ambiguities of getting our hands dirty while still keeping a critical distance in order to avoid becoming instruments for the wrong ends.

3. Doing STS beyond academia: examples of good practices

The workshop approached the theme of what STS researchers practically do by addressing the actual work practices of STS researchers: how they publish and engage with the publishing industry, how they communicate their research, how they work with practitioners, but also if and what kind of impact STS research has beyond academia.

Doctoral candidates and selected senior researchers (who acted as facilitators and discussants) discussed their views and experiences in doing STS in working groups. Small group discussions addressed the issues of “social media” facilitated by Jan-Hendrik Passoth and Nicholas Rowland; “open access publishing” supported by Endre Dányi; “working with practitioners” facilitated by Ingmar Lippert; “academic careers” assisted by Jan-Hendrik Passoth and Nicholas Rowland; “science communication” facilitated by Sarah Rachel Davies, “digital interventions” helped by Paolo Magaudda and an ad hoc small group on “working with policy makers” facilitated by Marton Fabok. Les Levidow was originally scheduled to facilitate two workshops on “co-operative research” and “academic journals”, but had to cancel due to external circumstances.

Inspiration was derived from “good practices” of enacting STS in publishing and communication platforms, which can be also seen as materialized visions of doing STS. One example is based on the idea that the process of writing and publishing can be addressed by alternative forms of engaging with how texts are produced and distributed. The initiative taken by the young publishers Mattering Press is motivated by the belief that the way in which this takes place matters((Mattering Press Website: http://www.matteringpress.org/, accessed on 25th of November 2014.)) Founded by a collective of formerly early career scholars in STS, they have now started to produce high quality, peer reviewed, open access books featuring relational research on science, technology and society and based on a collaborative and mutual supporting basis. The ambition is to experiment with the ways of producing academic books that break with the often asymmetrical relationships between publishers, authors, readers and networks of distribution. Instead, as Endre Danyi (co-general-editor of mattering press) explained, taking care of the publishing process and caring for all involved is the key to a different and STS inspired approach of publishing.

An example of how to experiment with communicating STS is the blog “installingorder.org”. Founders Jan-Hendrik Passoth and Nicholas J. Rowland shared their blogging experiences with participants. Their blog provides a public platform for discussing STS themes and is realized by a core group of bloggers and guest bloggers, but is open for participation. Additionally, it offers recommendations of literature to read and of lessons to teach (including teaching material). Discussions focused on what kind of writing style reaches out to specific audiences (such as either the wider public or STS scholars). Participants shared the motif of mobilizing alternative forms and pushing the limits of communicating, presenting and exchanging STS thoughts.

A source of inspiration for stimulating experiments in enacting STS can be found in what Law calls “avant-garde” – another ideal so heroic yet so difficult to enact in practice:

“Avant-garde works by undoing taken for granted assumptions […] it also tries to undo the groundings for policymaking, criticism, and puzzle-solving, and to show that these are not really foundations. That means that it proposes the unthinkable, or at least the unspeakable. […] Avant-garde never fits with established enactments of the real world. This means that it is inconsistent with the apparatuses of discipline with its journals, its institutions, and its funding bodies. […] But avant-garde, that loose cannon, must be protected. It matters in ways that start out by being unthinkable – and then, at least sometimes, come to matter in quite other, transportable ways.” (Law 2004: 8, 9, 11)

Relevant themes and related issues have been raised, but there will need to be more spaces to reflect on early career scholars’ contributions mediating between STS visions and external constraints. Therefore I hope the workshop is the beginning of discussion rather than an isolated event among early career scholars and across the scholarly generations in EASST.

Square Pegs and Round Holes: Research Funding and Disciplinary Legitimacy in STS

The subplenary of Pierre Benoit Joly, Maja Horst, Robin Williams and Fred Steward as chair presented their perspectives and invited the audience to discuss the challenges and opportunities for STS scholars in seeking successful engagement with Horizon 2020, the new European Commission funding framework for 2014-15.

The call for bids is framed as an appeal for responses to societal challenges, of which it was suggested that challenge 6, “Europe in a changing world – inclusive, innovative and reflective societies” is a likely target for the STS community. This observation came out of the Vilnius conference “Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities” earlier in the month (for which Fred Steward’s report is on the EASST website), which outlines the strategic goals for integrating social sciences and humanities research with those of Horizon 2020.

The plenary opened with the broad question about how EASST can influence these programmes. It spoke strongly to the conference theme of “Situating Solidarities: social challenges for science and technology studies”, echoing the challenge of tackling the tensions that arise from the identity and legitimacy issues in STS whilst exploiting the community’s interdisciplinary strengths.

Horizon 2020 recognizes that new modes of research and knowledge creation associated with scientific and technological innovation must include interdisciplinary research. This gives EASST members a unique advantage in the sense that they may be ‘pushing an open door’ where the experience of the STS community in handling epistemic diversity, and the multi-domain expertise of members can be a source of value.

It was noted by Pierre Benoit Joly that there is a predictable tension arising from the perceived dominance of economically driven research agendas in the European Commission – seen as influencing the success of funding bids. Competing on this basis creates a requirement to fit within these frames of reference. It was enlightening as an early career researcher to hear Robin Williams speak about the harsh realities of chasing research funding in that there is evidently significant work involved in bridging the gap between stated and ‘real’ success criteria for projects the European Commission is willing to fund. He observes a need to be able to interpret the bid criteria around this implicit agenda and to identify the people in the Commission who can support this.

Accessing the expertise of advisory groups is easier than in the past, with opportunities to get involved with the public consultation exercises in some strands, and it was suggested that having more reviewers in the system would improve understanding of how the system works among the EASST community.

Overall, bidding demands engagement with a complex policy network and pro-active management of the process, requiring that we as a community establish and expand our footholds in the Commission in order to focus our efforts effectively. Suggested strategies include sharing the costs of engagement activity as a means of supporting collective action, and accounting for bid development costs within bids. In this respect standalone projects are vulnerable and there is a need for capacity building in STS so that projects can be turned into a stream to build sustainability.

Maja Horst highlighted a perception among STS researchers of a lack of understanding outside the community about what STS is, and in relation to bidding this is manifested in the challenge of communicating how the community can add value. There is a sense among STS scholars that it is hard to find collaborators for bids and that STS is seen as ‘PR’ for other people’s projects.

Investing time in building informal links with other departments in our own universities is one approach to raising our profile in terms of engaging with research communities with whom we could potentially collaborate.

Much of the discussion centred on the double-edged sword of STS researchers’ interdisciplinary expertise, noting that the STS community, unlike natural science, can be seen as somewhat fragmented, with researchers coming from backgrounds as diverse as history and environmental science, and this discontinuity might undermine our ability to influence. There is therefore a need to integrate the community to provide ‘strength in numbers’, with the potential for EASST to act as a hub in coordinating members’ responses to Horizon 2020. There is a need to target areas to invest efforts and we must be wary of losing opportunities to contribute by neglecting less obvious strands.

Whilst this kind of integration is more challenging for some STS scholars than others depending on our disciplinary allegiances, we are of course not isolated in the sense that they are part of research communities within our universities, and might fruitfully frame our potential contributions as providing the ‘missing ingredient’ in bids in other disciplines. We might, for example, smuggle STS into research agendas in other guises and expand ‘shadow’ research projects.

It is also important to build relationships with those in university administration who support bids. This means not only to valuing those who write papers but also individuals involved with the project development, bidding and project management ecosystem that supports successful bidding and delivery of projects.

Finally, there is a need for EASST to support pathways for those at the start of academic careers to get access to and involved with EC fundingbids, by facilitating networking and strengthening the ability of EASST members to collaborate. We need to be clear in communicating the STS research agenda and understand the market for our research interests, and in this respect presenting a strong sense of disciplinary identity can be a vehicle for generating more widespread understanding of STS. In approaching Horizon 2020 this demands critical assessment within the community with respect to what we do, and ‘getting our hands dirty’ in taking up opportunities to demonstrate our value.

Situating Agencies and Solidarities in Environmental Sustainability. Reporting from EASST14 in Toruń, Poland

On Tuesday September 16, which in Copenhagen was a beautiful early autumn day, I left towards Poland, to discover for me yet unknown geographical and intellectual territories. I was travelling to the medieval town of Toruń to participate in the biannual conference of EASST for the first time.

As I stepped out of the airplane in Warsaw, my paper “Purification: Engineering water and producing expert knowledge in Arequipa, Peru” was almost ready, yet a little too long, which often seems to be a problem when preparing for 15-minutes presentations. After a few hours in the Polish capital, another three hours in a train packed with Polish teenagers, I arrived in Toruń, where Nicholas Copernicus was born (so I learnt from the conference materials) and where the conference was set, (I later learnt that the location was carefully selected with the objective of decentring STS from Northwestern Europe). Since it was my first time to attend an EASST conference, I was rather blank on what to expect – would it be like mega-conferences I attended earlier – AAA Meetings or LASA?

My paper and I were to participate in a track called “Situated agency in environmental sustainability”; L2 was its orderly affix in the conference program. It took place in room AB 3.10, on the third floor of the recently built humanities building of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.

There were about 15 of us in the room when the first session of the track started, on September 17 at 10.30 a.m. The two conveners, Brit Winthereik and Ingmar Lippert, both STS scholars from the IT University of Copenhagen, welcomed us to what they qualified as a first step of some yet unknown collaborative work of theirs. We would have four sessions of each 90 minutes; 12 papers that all responded to the call for papers engaging “how people participate in reconfiguring environments”. Responding to the overall conference theme, Situated Solidarities, the two conveners asked us to, throughout the sessions, think about and discuss “to whom we offer what kind of solidarities?”

How do we practice solidarity as (STS) scholars? And where do we situate it? Solidarity with different practices? With different entities…?

The welcome had an open, explorative, positive tone. In contrast to other larger conferences, where sessions are short, time is utterly compressed and collective thoughts are most often cut off as session participants walk out of the room where the papers are given, I felt a relief knowing that I would be able to think continuous thoughts with which to engage in a continuous dialogue and discussion.

Throughout the four sessions a path was paved through a variety of empirical settings; we travelled through corporate carbon accounting, a Chilean copper mine, Swedish corporate care for sustainability, naturemaking through coast protection in New Zealand, Greek river expertise, responsible climate adaptation in Denmark, optimization in environmental management in an international NGO, wastewater management in Peru, design and ontology of noise in England, buildings as nature-machines in Norway and Swedish smart grids. The papers were weaved together by the physical setting where they were presented – a teaching aula at a Polish University; curtains, electronically interconnected with the projector, cut the daylight from entering the room, and an air-conditioning system prevented us from feeling the pleasant autumn temperatures in the outside world. We were crafting an academic conference by aligning the material practices with those going on in other rooms next to ours, and by gathering our thoughts and reflections around each other’s papers.

Throughout the path along these many ethnographic sites, a rich landscape of concepts and possible analyses was drawn out for us to tumble and play in: ontic achievements, erroneous environments, making STS travel, care as practice, multiple sustainabilities, infrastructures – and infrastructuring, politics of expertise, governance of natural commons, infraconceptual critique, creative redefinitions, overflows, assemblages and holistic vagueness…

Solidarity was played out as a concept and a notion that shifts the engagement and relation we as analysts / scholars practice in the realities we engage with when we do our work. It may mean shifting the level of commitment towards a less distant form of analysis towards one that is closer to the idea of collective world-making. In the final session, our visionary and realist conveners made us go together in groups and discuss what we had learned from the sessions.

Some of the questions that circulated along the track, and in the final discussions:

– Does reality-making need people who think of reality-making?
– Is there a difference between ontic solidarity and ontological solidarity?
– What comes after being troubled?
– Where is solidarity located? How can we invite people to make social analysis?
– What actually qualifies as critique?
– What kind of treasons are we afraid of?
– What are the connections and disconnects between care – solidarity – critiques? Can we think of scholarly practices in which we shift between these?
– How can design be used as ethnographic method when engaging with environmental controversies; a way to build new relations, physically?
– Can we (scholars) work towards daring to risk or de-stabilize our own position?

Finally, we opened the curtains, let light in, changed the way of seating and got together in small groups that after a while gathered in one, to summarize the discussions and make the reflections collective. Instead of summing up the contents of the discussion, I leave you a glimpse of the notes I took of our collective reflections:

review_33_4_14

Coffee breaks, two-hour lunches, plenary sessions, and a spectacular social event in the Toruń fort made our conference track cross those of other participants, and weaved the EASST experience together as a dense meshwork of presentations, discussions, sharing and reflections. I appreciated these spaces, which made the conference a place where it was possible to meet and connect with new and already known people.

When returning to Denmark, by train, with my papers full of notes and ideas, track convener Ingmar Lippert – a passionate STS scholar and activist – was sitting in front of me, clearly satisfied with the EASST experience: “this is the third time I come to this conference feeling genuinely at home, it is like my community”. I understood why, and thought that I look forward to my path crossing that of others at future EASST conferences.

Situating Shifts. Reflecting on the Presentation of Change

I had been looking forward to the conference in Toruń for a long time. Having completed a Ph.D. in STS in Australia in 2013, this was my first Science and Technology Studies conference in Europe. I had already decided to attend at least two tracks completely, one related to the research I am doing now, ‘Epistemic issues in the play of governance’, with Ger Wackers and Rolf Andreas Markussen as convenors, and another related to a future project that Estrid Sørensen and I are working on at the moment, ‘Technologies of care and participation: Shifting the distribution of expertise and responsibilities’ (with Hilde Thygesen and Ingunn Moser as the convenors; Ger Wackers jumped in as host of the panel for most of the sessions).

Although the presented talks covered very different issues, I noticed that many of them dealt with changes, which were called ‘shifts’. Far from defining ‘shift’ as a buzzword, I became curious about the different shifting objects, the different ways of framing shifts in research projects and the different ways of approaching them. Being back on my desk in Germany, I now follow up on my curiosity and write about these different shifts. I will share my memories, draw on the notes that I meticulously scribbled down at the conference and on information of the EASST conference web presentation. By making this explicit, I hope to clarify from the outset that my textual presentation of the enactment of shifts is anything but representative.

The shifts multiple

Vicky Singleton was the first to evoke my curiosity about shifts. She had curly hair and looked smaller than I had expected and for some reasons both surprised me. Her kind appearance and her elucidated clarity impressed me. I remember many details of her presentation about a shift in health policy by promoting common values in compassionate care. These common values had been written into the National Health Service Constitution.

How did Singleton approach the shift? She examined the discourses around the promotion of common values, investigated the values considered to be common and the consequences of their promotion for caring practices and patients. Drawing on her ethnographic research on the care of patients with Alcoholic Liver Disease, Singleton argued that two of the promoted values, respect and dignity, assumed patients with aspirations. These patients were believed not only to be interested in living a healthy lifestyle and taking responsibility for their lives, they were also imagined to strive for it. However, based on her research she claimed that not all patients had aspirations and instead of taking care of themselves, some actually needed to be taken care of. The situations, in which caring professionals worked, were thus more complex than assumed by policy makers and a fixed set of values wasn’t necessarily of much help. It is important to emphasize that the lack of care Singleton could observe was not necessarily caused by a lack of values among caring professionals, but rather an effect of the socio-material arrangements that did not support a caring practice.

Singleton described that shifting the expertise for care from the professionals to the patients occurred together with a shift in the responsibility for care. Through this shift in responsibility, however, the relationality of situated caring was lost. Being realized in compassionate care, Singleton situated the enactment of this shift in health policy. Yet, policy makers did not understand the promotion of these values as situated and enacted as they did deny that putting common values in action was a collective achievement. However, understanding the implementation of common values as collective achievement is crucial for taking responsibility for it. Singleton warned that the promotion of common values in compassionate care might result in a denial of the collective responsibility to alleviate suffering and in reduced capacities for care.

Singleton pointed to three shifts, all intrinsically entangled with each other: a shift in health policy, a shift in expertise and a shift in responsibility. I remember my enthusiasm when hearing about different shifting objects, a variety of different practices that caused the shifts and also about different results of these shifts, while Singleton made clear that they were all related to and dependent on each other. Attending my first European STS conference, I noticed that I witnessed the enactment of more than one, but less than many shifts.

Enacting shifts at the EASST conference in Toruń

There were other researchers who talked about shifts and enacted them through their talks. Listening to some of them I got enthusiastic again, but only a few presenters enacted a multiple shift. Yet, my interest in shifts was evoked. How were the shifts enacted? What did they do and what resulted from them? I tried to find out more by focusing on the shifting objects, the things that were happening together with the shifts and the orderings resulting from shifts.

The shifts described at the panels ‘Epistemic issues in the play of governance’ and ‘Technologies of care and participation: Shifting the distribution of expertise and responsibilities’ covered a huge range of fields: shifts from an epistemic culture of teaching medical students based on medical concepts to another, based on educational concepts (Wallenburg et al.), shifts in handling nanoparticles caused by new legal regulations and ‘quasi-governmental guidelines’ (Pfersdorf), shifts in standards in research assessment (Rushforth et al.), shifts of Dutch society (Mundbjerg Gjodsbøl and Nordahl Svendsen) and in the meaning of Dutch citizenship from entitlement to obligations and responsibilities (van Hees et al.), and recurrent shifts among patients/elderly people from being taken care of to having aspirations or practicing autonomy (Singleton, Wackers, Aune, Lassen).

As much as the objects of shifts varied, the actors doing the shifts did not. Guidelines and policies (Singleton, Wackers, Markussen, Jerak- Zuiderent, Zuiderent-Jerak, Lawaetz, Wimmelmann), including legal regulations (Pfersdorf, Gellert et al.), were the actors mentioned most often. Handbooks and technologies (Niezen, Lucivero, Broderson, Lindegaard) were also considered to enact shifts.

Often, the shifts presented in the papers carried a critical argument. The criticism was directed to policies and discourses, employed regulations, guidelines and big claims. Sometimes the shifts were accompanied by suggestions on what to do differently to act in a more effective way. Rarely, the shifts were the stars of the presentation, as the shifts contained all kinds of values and criticism, actors, and socio-material arrangements, which were analysed and discussed in more detail. Rather than highlighting the shifts, they were described as situated processes or results of different actors coming together, acting in a particular way.

The speakers at the Toruń conferences enacted shifts with specific features. Some of them are listed below:

– Being attributed to a vast amount of objects
– Being enacted by guidelines, policies, legal regulations, handbooks, technologies
– Carrying and/or containing criticism, actors, values, and sociomaterial arrangements
– Being a continuous process or a stabilized result of practices observed in specific empirical fields
– Appearing sometimes as more than one, but less than many, and at other times as singularized

Conclusion

I definitely do not claim that my situating of shifts is a representation of the conference reality. Rather I chose and defined the shifts, their enactors and characteristics according to my interpretation of the conference reality, in order to describe knowledge as enacted. Other ways of analysing the described presentations would have been possible. I was also fascinated by the discussions of the methodological issues and by the ontological politics of the presented papers. For the purpose of this paper, however, I have decided to write about the situated enactments of shifts at the biannual EASST conference in Toruń, Poland. I am grateful that I had the chance for both attending and reflecting on the conference and I want to express my gratitude to the EASST who made this possible by organizing the conference and by providing funding for the conference fee. Thank you.

On the Intertwinements of Care and Temporalities. Shared Reflections on Some of the Conference Themes

This reflection piece on the conference is the product of a dialogue between the two of us at the EASST 2014 that was continued at lunchtime and coffee breaks. We are both currently working in projects led by Ulrike Felt at the Department of Science and Technology Studies in Vienna and went to the conference excited to present our projects, looking forward to getting some inspiration from the different conference talks and themes. While both of us work at the same department in Vienna, on a first glance our research is situated in quite different fields. Susanne just recently started her PhD in which she investigates how – in the case of Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) technologies – the collective good for aging societies is being negotiated in local research and development practices. Kay on the other hand is already in a well-advanced stage of her PhD in the area of health, biomedicine and public understanding of science. She worked with focus groups from the larger project “Perceptions and Imaginations of Obesity as a Socio-scientific Problem in the Austrian Context“ (led by Ulrike Felt between 2009 and 2012) and analyzed the role time – in forms of temporal narratives – plays in the ways people understand and perceive obesity and body-weight as matters of (non-)concern in their own lives as well as society.

While our topics do not seem to be related on a surface level, the conference inspired us to think about analytical similarities as well as certain kinds of sensibilities that are connected to both our topics. In Kay’s project, the ways people “care” and reflect on their and others’ bodies and lives, as well as how they understand things to be matters of concern is intrinsically connected to how people imagine pasts, futures and present temporalities to align. In preparation for the panel “Nonconcerns about science and technology and within STS“ Kay tried to push her reflection further in order to think about what this might mean for how temporalities and matters of concern are connected on a more general level. Reflecting through and with time was something that also Susanne felt is very much present in the ways Ambient Assisted Living is conceptualized and worked on. Similar to dominant ways of thinking about obesity, in her case too imaginations of a collective and endangered future give shape and meaning to the ways people think about solutions, problems and concerns. Thus we became interested in how similar analytical sensibilities in relation to time as “an integral part of the deep structure of taken-for-granted, unquestioned assumptions” (Adam 2003:60) take form in other themes and talks at the conference. This piece grew out of our dialogue, since we observed that care and temporalities were two notions being taken up and worked with throughout the conference.

When we attended the plenary discussion on Horizon 2020 we encountered a continuation of our own reflections in the ways the framework was discussed. Time and society are explicitly linked in Horizon 2020, since its key structural approach to research is challengeled: The outlined challenges are expected to be tackled proactively, which implies the normative demand to act now in order to care for the future. By linking our reflections to STS work on the performative role of time, we want to point out that within the Horizon 2020 framework the anticipated near-future of 2020 becomes not only imagined and discursively constructed but also “creates material trajectories of life” (Adams et al. 2009:248). Thus, the future-oriented ways in which we think about societal concerns strongly shapes our present and also how we can conceptualize our future as well as potentially affected collectives and individuals. Engaging with the challenges proposed in the Horizon 2020 framework in relation to our reflections on time, we want to point to the ways in which past, present and future always are linked and align in specific assemblages. We further argue that this can be understood as a process of not only formulating and constructing the matters we care about, but also how we want to take care of them and who we care about.

Thinking about these questions and inspired by the Horizon 2020 plenary, we started wondering what these considerations could mean for the concrete local contexts these challenges and frameworks might affect. How do these big promises get translated into local practice? How might this framework influence for example funding structures? How are understandings and conceptualizations of what we care about shaped by such frameworks and in what ways?

AAL is funded in Horizon 2020 under the Societal Challenge theme “Health, demographic change and wellbeing”. In addition to producing material artefacts, in AAL the exploration and production of future users and markets is linked through the establishment of project consortia that consist of research institutions, user organizations and business partners. User participation normatively is seen as key for the development of good systems for a well aging society. In practice, user participation has its own temporalities, since there are good and bad times for their involvement, and participation can lead to precarious results. What happens, if the users say at the end, that the initial project idea that has further been developed over the course of the project is not relevant for the future they care about? Can bad results be good results in this framework and can they feed into a ‘logic of care’ (Mol 2008) for the future common good?

One particular location, where temporalities of participation and diverse articulations of care became visible, was the remarkable presentation by Laura Navne in the panel “Practices of participation: Temporal alignments in life-and-death decisions in neonatology”. She presented one case of (parental) participation in decision-making in a neonatology intensive care unit in Denmark. Drawing on rich material from an ethnographic field study, she highlighted the distributed work of aligning different temporalities which are at stake in these life-and-death decisions and how they shape understandings of what good care means.

Questions of concerns and of care usually relate to things we find important, things we hold dear, and caring is especially related to finding ways to keep living things living (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011). Sometimes, though, some actors may find that at some point in time good care can mean quite the opposite. Good care can have a multiplicity of articulations, one of which might involve ensuring a good death (Law 2010). In Navne’s case, while the parents’ participation in caring for their terminally ill babies was for the longest time seen as essential, there was a point where the doctors felt the need to try and push the participation out in order to ensure a good death for the child. They moved from “getting the parents on board” to “hurry up slowly”, indicating, that they have to be brought on board in a different way, to redefine what it means to care well. So also here, depending on the timing, good participation (of parents) can become bad participation, from something enabling and valued to something disabling and hindering.

What it can mean to provide good care was also prominently taken up in the panel “Technological innovations in caring communities: New solidarities”. In her presentation “Networks of memory as caring devices for people with dementia” Lorena Ruiz explored networks of memory consisting of heterogeneous actors and materials and the role they play for good care for people with dementia and for holding their identity in place. Good care, here, meant to be made and remade by others which brings up the question of how (well) they hold us and the materials that too make us, and of what it means to find good ways of enacting the subjectivity of ‘the other’.

Dick Willems’ contribution “A caring community for things: Loving 404s together” sparked a heated debate. Willems read caring as a form of knowing and applied this to old collectors’ cars. One of his critics protested against the – from his point of view problematic – use of the notion of care that Willems was mobilizing or ‘caring for’. He was accused of sentimental and preservationist motives which, according to the critic, was starkly contrasted by the dense, moving account the previous speaker provided the audience with. Yet, this differentiation between the carer’s “giving memory to keep identity in place” and the practices of a collector of 404s, who cares to hold the car together, has one striking resemblance (the great apparent difference between a person in need of assistance and a car and one’s moral obligations notwithstanding): In both cases an identity, a configuration or an assemblage of materialities is held in place, in order to hold together, align and navigate the past, the present and, if possible, a future.

Coming back to our collective reflection on the conference themes and topics, we were reminded how human capacities to care and to imagine are deeply intertwined. In our piece we thus wanted to reflect on the conference against the background of “how questions of time and temporalities play an important role for understanding phenomena and for acting upon them in late modern societies” (Felt et al. 2014: 661). Tracing these intertwinements throughout the conference and the various presentations we saw was an inspiring exercise.

STS and Politics: New Encounters

As its title made apparent, the last EASST conference in Toruń Situating solidarities proposed to focus on political issues. Being a political scientist who went astray and tumbled into STS, I was impatient to see how this major theme would translate into papers, and I was not disappointed. While many tracks did, to some extent, make connections with politics, in two of them politics was in the spotlight.

STS and “the state”

This track aimed to shed some light on the role of the state for the coproduction of science, technology and society. But interestingly this concern was overshadowed by a more fundamental question – what/who is the state? There is no consensus. The very concept of the state, it seems, is additionally challenged by ever accelerating technological developments, and has to be de-constructed and re-constructed in order to become relevant and operationally useful for STS studies. This important issue was further explored by questioning STS perspectives on the concept of state, the transformation of traditional role(s) of the state in the face of changing socio-technical environments, and the changing relationships between “the state” and “the people”.

In a paper entitled ‘Is the state an actor or not?’, Jeffrey A. Knapp and Sarp Yanki Kalfa challenged the view of the state as a plexus of “multiple discrete connected together in complex ways” (Carroll 2006: 4). Instead, their research of the press coverage of 1974 “Cyprus Dispute” shows that, at least in the view of the press, the state is conceived as an actor. Approaching a similar topic from a different perspective, Nicholas Rowland and Jan-Hendrik Passoth, continuing their previous work, focused on the proliferation of “states” in state theory, concluding that “the state” remains a sort of black box in political science. Their investigation of the multiplicity of “the state” was complemented by the Matt Spaniol’s paper ‘The future state: When the future multiple and the state multiple meet’.

Papers presented by Astrid Mager (‘Absence and presence of “the state” in sociotechnical imaginaries of search engines’) and Daniela Schuh (‘Reproducing citizenship: Challenges of cross-border surrogacy to the nation state’) questioned the regulatory role of the state in a world dominated by transnational developments. Both papers shared a common theoretical framework based on the notion of “sociotechnical imaginaries” (Jasanoff & Kim 2009), and used it to investigate how states cope with new challenges, be it universal search engines or transnational surrogacy. Focusing on the issues of governance and lawmaking, these two papers tried to untangle the difficult relationships between the national and international levels, as well as between technological, political and social actors.

Another two papers, interestingly, clearly posited “the state” as something distinct from, or even opposed to, “the people”. From this perspective, “the state” is an alienated entity that acts according to its own particular interests instead of the interests of the people who, presumably, comprise it. Andrzej Wojciech Nowak’s presentation ‘Situating de-solidarities: State as a container and container settlements as an “exception state”’ addressed this very directly. His analysis of the Polish state acting not as the protector of the poor, but as something to be protected from the poor offered a very powerful image. Nowak discussed, for example, how instead of building social housing, state resources were rather utilized to build container settlements heavily under surveillance and certainly more expensive. Keith Guzik’s paper ‘Ni con cola: How agencies give state surveillance the slip in Mexico’ demonstrated that state programmes, even when well-intended, mostly fail as a consequence of not taking into account citizens’ attitudes, institutional arrangements and the various materialities involved. Another interesting question that stems from this paper is whether corporations can succeed where the state cannot. It seems possible that people would trust corporate entities more than government or, at least, that we need to conceptualize these kinds of trust differently. The presentation ‘The center of election – bureaucratic practices at Danish municipal election’ by Anne Kathrine Pihl Vadgaard showed, on the other hand, how, at least in one instance, the people and the state actually do become one. Drawing on Latour’s (1987) concepts of centres of calculation and acting at distance, her paper investigates the emergence of democracy through technical and bureaucratic tools.

Practising politics online

This track was very compact, with papers nicely complementing each other. Compliments are due to the conference organizers, since the track was composed from the papers originally submitted to the Open track section.

Three out of four papers focused on the same issue: how groups and social movements are using online tools to debate, organize, disseminate information, make political statements, and, in short, promote their political goals. Marcial García, Pablo Cortés-Gonzáles and Alfonso Cortés-Gonzáles’ ‘Communication, education, and social movements online: New imaginaries, old utopias’, Vasilis Galis and Christina Neumayer’s ‘The reclaiming of online media by civil society: Greece & Sweden’ focused on social movements using Internet to build on their offline activities: protests like in Greece and Sweden or self-organized networks providing services government no longer provides in Spain. Characterized as attempts to control the narrative by reclaiming social media and to find adequate pedagogical tool for organization, debate, broadcast and social mobilization, this online presence was understood as embedded in the totality of movements’ functioning, or as an extension of its offline activities into cyberspace. A key question discussed was the relative efficiency of online activism compared to offline, “real” activism. Ivana Damnjanović’s ‘Hacktivism in Serbia: from patriotic hacking to social media (ab)use’ showed, however, a different course of action; one that starts in cyberspace, and, despite occasional efforts to spill over to offline politics, stays confined to it. In terms of publicity, political influence and overall impact in society, the latter does not seem as a very effective strategy. Inevitably, Morozov’s (2011) notion of “slacktivism” was mentioned and, to some extent, challenged.

The fourth paper ‘Inside digital music distribution: Changing dynamic and paradoxes of the music industry’ by Hyojung Sun showed that political concerns, such as state laws on intellectual property and stances on piracy, played a role in the development of various distribution models.

Final remarks

Building upon the general theme of the Toruń conference, the papers presented at these two tracks showed that STS approaches can be very useful for study of politics in a very broad sense, and that even political science itself can be a viable subject of study for STS. In a sense, these papers demonstrated that STS can indeed be used as political theory (Thorpe 2008). Unfortunately, there seems to be little interest from political scientists to explore opportunities that STS approaches present, since most authors in the field still usually adopt positions of instrumentalism or technological determinism.

Technology and Academic Virtues in Ukraine: Escaping the Soviet Path Dependency

More than twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union there still remain a lot of gaps in understanding how the societal transformation towards a postsocialist society occurred and what contributed to this process. Some aspects of this change were discussed during the EASST Plenary session on the relevance of the postsocialist condition for STS. While Ivan Tchalakov provided retrospective analysis of the science politics in the Soviet Union and explained how its unintended consequences assisted socialist modernization, Marija Vukovic looked into youth academic migration as inspiring re-evaluation of science foundation in Croatia and Susanne Bauer elaborated how Soviet nuclear ecologies unfolded environmental changes. The speakers and audience purported that such a complex process as a/the transition to a postsocialist society cannot be fully captured by political and economic reforms. Society had to gradually adjust (and is still adjusting) to a more open and democratic way of life, something that can only be achieved by the bottom-up rationale, as witnessed by the speakers’ presentations. In this short essay I want to build on the results of the Plenary session and continue reflection on the postsocialist transition drawing from the fields of STS and Philosophy of Technology.

I shall argue that in order to achieve a better picture of the societal transition to a postsocialist culture it is necessary to trace a change in the landscape of human beliefs, values and norms. In the speeches of all presenters, technology was always involved as a direct or indirect factor of change, enabling new ideas and reflection on dominant values. The concept of techno-moral change (Swierstra et al., 2009) can be a useful theoretical tool to reflect on the postsocialist transition period as a gradual process of review and reconceptualization of societal values and norms, accompanied by technological innovation. I would like to particularly inquire how the introduction of ICT challenged the moral landscape in the sphere of education in Ukraine. I chose to concentrate on education because this sector is especially relevant in the context of postsocialist transition, being entitled to produce critical reflective individuals whose actions will shape the future of the country. Since the aim of this essay is a preliminary reflection on postsocialist conditions, I will draw on existing academic scholarship and my own experience as I have obtained full higher education in Ukraine. Building on the methodology of techno-moral change, I will first explore the promises and assumptions regarding the education sphere that new technologies bring with them. Then I will sketch the educational practice in Ukraine prior to introduction of ICT and outline some of the dominant values in the field. Finally, I will analyse how ICT played out in Ukrainian educational and moral context and what it signified for a postsocialist transition.

It has been widely accorded in STS that technology can inspire and coshape societal change and progress. New information and communication technologies (ICT) started to penetrate Western world already in the 60s-70s, gaining access to Easter Europe mostly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. Following Osborne and Hennessy (2003), the introduction of Internet, computers and in the following decade of smartphones echoed the utilitarian “everybody-willbenefit” idea. Firstly, new technologies promised to expand and enhance educational practice, offering a cheap, fast and effective access to information and new educational tools. Secondly, they also carried a promise of forming a new generation of motivated and self-regulated students, who would promote responsible and honest learning and research practices in the age of cross-cultural connectivity and knowledge exchange. Therefore, the introduction of ICT led to expect a drastic change in the knowledge production practices.

Despite of the optimistic nature of promises that accompanied the introduction of ICT, it took more than a decade for such technologies as personal computers to become ubiquitous in Ukraine and be included in the everyday practices. The educators, however, still struggle to incorporate new technologies in their work, constrained by formal and practical factors, such as lack of regulatory framework, skills to operate technology and time to obtain those skills as well as hesitance to change their routine practices. However, the young generations are eager to use the promoted benefits of ICT and have embraced new technologies quickly. Notwithstanding numerous obstacles that constrain the effective implementation of ICT in the domain of education, teachers have to take ICT into account when designing learning material and assessing the work of students. According to Swierstra (2009), promises carry certain conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to be realized. This technomoral change principle can be illustrated by the case of the ICT introduction in Ukraine.

On top of practical and formal conditions, also the moral landscape inhibits an effective integration of ICT into the educational sphere. As mentioned earlier, ICT are said to promote productive learning and the practices of academic honesty. However, it is assumed that such norms and values are ubiquitous and desirable everywhere. As we shall see further, the Ukrainian educational context is somewhat different. Academic integrity was often a matter of concern in the Soviet Union, when practices of plagiarism would be referred to not as borrowing and cheating but as a noble act of helping your comrade (De Witt, 1961). Ethical beliefs regarding academic dishonesty in independent Ukraine have not changed much since the Soviet times. Recent surveys report a high rate of academic misconduct among Ukrainian undergraduate students who mostly find it morally justifiable (Yukhymenko-Lescroart, 2014). These results are supported by Western educators teaching in Ukraine, who say that cheating in Ukrainian high-schools and universities is considered to be a part of collective battle for the better grade and a form of caring for your groupmates. The dominant reproductive model of education indirectly supports such behaviours and teachers often tolerate academic misconduct (Earich, 2008; Brand and Rist, 2013, p.51). Therefore, a moral landscape in the sphere of education in Ukraine, still tightly correlated with the Soviet principles of collectivity, does not directly fit with the values promoted by ICT.

However, there is a need for further reflection. On the one side, a famous STS claim that users often appropriate technology in other ways than foreseen by the designers proves to be fruitful in regard to ICT and education in Ukraine. ICT do provide novel ways to access and generate information, but Ukrainian students often use them to blindly copy reports and whole dissertations from the Internet. Looking for such “academic agencies” online, I was amazed by their number, range of services and flexible payment options, ranging from standard to overnight tariffs. On the other hand, the co-shaping of the educational sphere and ICT also generated positive changes in the mindset of students and educators. For instance, in the early 2000s some Ukrainian universities started using software to detect and discourage students and staff from plagiarism as an attempt to address numerous complaints on the quality of education in Ukraine and to better assess academic content. When I was submitting a master’s thesis in Ukraine some years later, department staff demanded that all works be screened by university’s anti-plagiarism software. Academic work would be accepted only if the software detected less than 30% match with other sources. Consequently, some students had to re-submit their work. Not being a legal condition, anti-plagiarism technology became a de facto widely accepted voluntary practice in educational institutions, inviting students to review their ethical beliefs. This initiative was recognized by the newly elected minister of education Serhiy Kvit (a former president of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, a national university that is rendered as the least corrupt in the country), who promised to stimulate and support best local and estern practices regarding academic integrity on the national level (Onyshchenko, 2014). However, as witnessed earlier by Yukhymenko- Lescroart (2014), students who have been nurtured in the academic culture of cheating will not easily accept the new moral framework. Thus, dishonest academic practices still pertain. But the sole fact of questioning dominant norms is already a promising development in the gradual and contingent process of change in academia. Therefore, introduction of ICT in the sphere of education in Ukraine not only highlighted the dominant ethical beliefs of the scholars but also contributed to their reflection and re-evaluation, assisting the bottom-up gradual change in Ukrainian academic sector.

Inspired by participation in the EASST Panel on postsocialist condition, with this essay I tried to show that postsocialist transition, just like techno-moral change, is always a process, never linear and subject to renegotiation. Looking into the sphere of education in Ukraine as influenced by introduction of ICT offers many insights into society in transition and challenges it faces along the way. STS and Philosophy of Technology can be useful frameworks to further enhance existing knowledge on postsocialist transition and generate new one as to how this change can be facilitated.

Before turning it in, this essay was screened for plagiarism with 0% match result.