Category Archives: easst review

Conferences and upcoming elections

On the first day of our EASST 2022 conference in Madrid, I had a very joyful experience. I walked through the large hall, from one end to the other and back. Everywhere I looked, I saw colleagues greeting and talking with each other – with much laughter and smiles. After the long Covid break, it was clear that we all enjoyed seeing each other again, sharing thoughts and experiences, and simply coming together as a community. That moment was magic and I was so happy and grateful that we managed to make it happen. 

Of course, the entire conference was wonderful. I listened to interesting talks. I spoke with PhD students, who were near the end of their studies and had never before participated in a physical conference. I re-united with old friends and made new ones. Thank you to all who were there and made it such a great conference.

That said, I promised in the members meeting at the conference to re-iterate what I wrote in an earlier edition of the EASST Review. In the EASST Council, we know the conference fee for Madrid was high. When we originally had to decide on a venue, we basically had no choice. There were no universities, which would let us book their venues and there were no other venues, which could host a conference that size with possible Covid restrictions. So at that moment our choice was between the expensive IFEMA – or no conference. Thanks to the fact that so many of you managed to come, we expect that the final accounts will end very close to a balance. And I should probably add that EASST activities are not entirely covered by our membership subscription fees, so a small surplus from conferences is generally necessary to continue as we do at the moment.

While we are still enjoying the afterthoughts of the Madrid conference, Council is already working on deciding the next venue for the conference joint with 4S in 2024. We expect to make a decision this autumn. As part of this, we will also consider the future of STS conferences. One option is to make hybrid conferences, another idea is to host EASST conference every year, so it is always possible to travel to an annual STS conference by train (see also the excellent piece on conference travel in this issue). We would like to develop a system so that we reduce our carbon footprint, but we also think physical meetings are important. 

Council has also been working with the editors of our house journal Science and Technology Studies to find a new coordinating editor. The new editor will be announced soon. Finally, I want to emphasize that we have elections for Council coming up, with the deadline for nominations 1 October. I hope many of you will consider running for Council. It is a nice collective to be part of – and if you have opinions on conferences, the future publication landscape of STS, or other important topics, this is the place to engage.

Maja Horst, President of EASST

Traveling through the past and into the future of Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR): Midpoint report on the 2022 STIR Seminar Series

In a recently published special issue on “RRI Futures,” van Oudheusden and Shelley-Egan (2021) emphasize that the reflexive questioning of science and technology has become ever more urgent. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change debates, and the emergence of ‘post-truth’ politics, STS scholars following responsible research and innovation (RRI) agendas need to reinforce their efforts to open up reflexive spaces where the social shaping of science, technology, and innovation becomes an object of collaborative inquiry and critical reflection. Although more than a decade of research under the label ‘RRI’ has been invested in such efforts, reflexive spaces in science and technology development have remained rather small and marginal. Institutional path dependencies separating the ‘two cultures’ (McCormick et al. 2012; Viseu 2015), resilient norms that posit the social beyond scientists’ and engineers’ spheres of responsibility (Cech 2014), and managerial reforms of the university system expected to increase output and efficiency through auditing and ranking structures (Fochler 2016; Shore 2008) are among the reasons why time, space, and resources for reflection are curtailed across technoscientific disciplines and professions (Felt 2017).

These developments have urged us to take stock of the accomplishments and shortcomings in opening up and preserving reflexive spaces in Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR). STIR is a collaborative research method that studies the role of scientists and engineers in the social shaping of science, technology, and innovation (Fisher 2007; Fisher and Schuurbiers 2013). For this purpose, STIR commonly embeds a researcher from the social sciences or humanities into a laboratory space to stimulate reflections among technoscientific experts on the societal dimensions of their decision-making. The primary aim of the collaborative process is to understand the nature and limitations of expert capacities to participate in the normative governance of research and innovation in society. A secondary effect of collaborative inquiries across socio-technical divides is the expansion of such capacities. This effect has been documented in multiple scientific articles that resulted from more than 80 STIR studies conducted in over 20 countries on four continents. To initiate a discussion on the successes and failures of a selection of these studies, we launched the STIR Seminar Series in January 2022.

Map of STIR studies conducted between 2006 and 2022 ©Lyric Peate

 

STIR seminars and practice lab

The STIR Seminar Series comprises 12 talks by experienced STIR scholars who present and discuss studies circulated in advance among seminar participants. The talks take place online every last Friday of the month in 2022. Social scholars, policy makers, and professionals who are interested in STIR are welcome to join. The aim of the seminar series is to provide opportunities for learning, connecting, and growing a diverse STIR community worldwide. To facilitate hands-on learning, the seminar series is complemented with a practice lab for STIR researchers. The term ‘practice lab’ puts emphasis on two features of space. On the one hand, it accentuates that social researchers, just like natural scientists, require a space (if only digital) where they can identify as part of a research group and repackage individual scholarly activities as team work (cf. Ku and Zehr 2022). On the other hand, it acknowledges that social researchers need to actively create reflexive spaces for themselves where they can practice, refine, and rethink their own methods. In this spirit, the practice lab offers opportunities to gain practical experience in using the decision protocol, a methodological core component of STIR that helps structure and map decision-making processes in real-time. 

Digital STIR decision protocol grids completed collaboratively during a practice lab session

While the practice lab helps train a future generation of STIR researchers, the seminar series is meant to provide a historical look at how STIR has evolved over time. Seminal STIR studies that laid the foundations of the method, expanded its scope of application, and contributed to its conceptual repertoire are presented during the seminar series. By delving into previous STIR activities, shedding light on their strengths and pitfalls, we seek to illuminate possible pathways for its future development. 

 

Tracing the history of a method

In the first half of the STIR seminar series, five presentations reconstructed the history of STIR since the method’s development in the early 2000s. The first pilot study (Fisher 2007) was presented by Erik Fisher, the developer of STIR and the moderator of the seminar series. In the early days of refining the conceptual and methodological approach of STIR, Fisher worked together with Daan Schuurbiers. During a seminar, Schuurbiers shared his experiences of conducting one of the earliest comparative STIR studies (Schuurbiers 2011). He was part of a group of 20 doctoral students, 10 of whom each carried out two paired STIR studies while the other 10 students each conducted one STIR study (for a total of 30 STIR studies), thanks to a National Science Foundation award that Erik Fisher and Dave Guston received for this purpose. The paired STIR studies sought to assess and compare the varying pressures on technoscientific experts as well as their capacities to integrate broader societal considerations into their work. Among the students conducting these studies were Steven Flipse and Shannon Conley whose seminar presentations traced how STIR became introduced into wider fields of application, including industry (Flipse et al. 2013) and pedagogy (Conley and Fisher 2019). Lastly, Mareike Smolka presented a recent STIR study (Smolka et al. 2021), which sheds light on one of the blind spots in prior integrative research: the role of the body and affective labor. In what follows, the aforementioned seminar presentations and audience discussions will be summarized in more detail. 

Erik Fisher’s seminar presentation recounted the origin story of STIR as a response to the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (US Congress 2003), which required that “research on societal concerns” was “integrated with nanotechnology research and development” (p. 117). As the idea of integration across socio-technical boundaries had historically been contested, Fisher operationalized the concept in the 12-week STIR program which allowed researchers who might have disagreed on the exact nature of integration to work together in an open-ended, collaborative manner. He developed the program from within the Thermal and Nanotechnology Laboratory at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he had conducted participant observation, interviews, and archival research for three years until he tested STIR with three graduate engineers in 2006. In his seminar talk, he emphasized how the effects of the pilot study hit him by surprise. Although he had designed STIR as a method of assessment, it “miraculously turned out to be a tool for intervention” for it helped align the material practices of one of the graduate engineers with broader environmental concerns. As Fisher solely asked probing questions, refraining from any “value advocacy” (cf. Shilton 2014), the introduction of environmental concerns appeared “miraculous.” The “miracle” was interrogated in the seminar discussion: which aspects of STIR create practical collaborative effects – the decision protocol, the characteristics of the STIR researchers, or the maieutic interplay of questions and answers in STIR dialogues? To answer this question, discussants suggested, future research could examine the micro-dynamics and interpersonal relations that function as carriers of STIR interactions, although some of the unintended effects of STIR can perhaps never be fully understood.

Whereas Fisher framed STIR as a method for research and assessment with practical “side effects,” Daan Schuurbiers’ interest was sparked primarily by these effects. His PhD research at Delft University in the Netherlands from 2005 to 2010 sought to “empower scientists in their social responsibility.” He decided that STIR could be a suitable means for this end after meeting Fisher on a train in the Netherlands. In the aftermath of this train ride, Fisher invited Schuurbiers to Arizona State University in the United States to conduct a STIR study in the School of Life Sciences, which Schuurbiers compared to a second STIR study carried out at the Department of Biotechnology at Delft University. Understanding himself somewhere in-between on a spectrum that has a critical social scientist on one end and an intervention-oriented action researcher on the other, Schuurbiers later decided to transfer his knowledge on STIR into consultancy work. He described this transition as follows: “I love the rigor of science, but I do not like that academic careers are determined by the papers we write . . . I rather want to make practical effects possible and ‘STIR’ as much as I can to enhance social responsibility in research and innovation.” A few years after completing his PhD, he founded De Proeffabriek, a consultancy for responsible innovation, where he has further leveraged the potential of STIR and other interventionist methods to change the research system (www.proeffabriek.nl). 

As a “first-generation” STIR researcher who had learned the method from Fisher, Schuurbiers became involved in training the “second generation,” including Steven Flipse. Flipse completed his PhD research from 2009 to 2013 in Delft where he introduced STIR to industry – a context which had received little attention by STIR researchers at the time. His STIR study in a multi-national biotechnology company indicates that industrial actors became increasingly interested in STIR as soon as they perceived that the method offered “added value” for the company in terms of efficiency and revenue. Flipse revealed during the seminar that, as a result of his STIR intervention, the company saved money because they decided to stop a specific line of research and reallocated the budget to other projects. According to Schuurbiers (2011), if STIR advances the (scientific or economic) agendas of participants, they are likely to show more willingness to critically reflect on societal considerations and public interests. Such observations stimulated discussions in the audience about whether STIR stabilizes contemporary technoscientific paradigms and socioeconomic systems or whether it can subtly disrupt hegemonic structures from within. 

Opening of the STIR Seminar Series with a presentation by Steven Flipse

Shannon Conley engaged in STIR research at roughly the same time as Flipse. While her initial STIR studies took place in reproductive genetics laboratories in Canada and the UK, her research focus on competence development and learning helped introduce STIR into educational contexts later on in her academic career (York and Conley 2018). She is convinced that students can benefit from approaches that deconstruct disciplinary silos, develop capacities for critical thinking, and competences for interdisciplinary collaboration. This conviction partly results from her own experience as a learner in laboratories where her STIR collaborators taught her material practices and linguistic skills characterizing their epistemic culture. By acknowledging her own disciplinary blind spots and by actively participating in laboratory bench work, Conley transitioned from being an ‘outsider’ to eventually mentoring student biologists in material lab practices. In contrast to the majority of STIR studies conducted thus far, Conley pays specific attention to how her shifting positionalities shaped the collaborative research process. In her presentation, she pointed out that her collaborators initially suspected that she had journalistic interests and jokingly called her a “lab psychologist.” She only became a valued lab team member after she had overcome their initial wariness by building a relationship of trust and mutual support through ongoing STIR interactions. 

Experiences of wariness, ambivalence, insecurity, and other affective disturbances are the starting point of Mareike Smolka’s STIR research. In a co-authored article, Smolka, Fisher, and Hausstein (2021) analyze how attending to affective disturbances, more specifically disconcertment (Verran 2001), became a resource for interdisciplinary knowledge production in three independent STIR studies. In the seminar presentation, Smolka focused on her experiences of disconcertment when conducting STIR research in a clinical trial on mindfulness meditation in the French Normandy. By engaging in affective labor to recognize, amplify, and minimize disconcertment, Smolka navigated her liminal position as insider/outsider in several modalities of STIR: regular cross-disciplinary dialogues, a group discussion, and a reflexive seminar session. In each modality, working with and through disconcertment stimulated reflexivity about taken-for-granted disciplinary norms, latent socio-ethical considerations, and more socially responsive courses of action. Whereas seminar participants were interested in systematic strategies for detecting and engaging with disconcertment in integrative research, Smolka pointed out that working with affect depended on interpersonal, embodied sensibilities which could be cultivated but not formalized. Moreover, in response to a question about emotional bias, Smolka emphasized that she did not consider affect as a superior source of knowledge. Instead, she argued, that drawing on multiple forms of knowledge could help develop a more holistic and socially informed view on technical decisions, especially in academic contexts where bodies tend to be ignored or disciplined for the sake of ‘objective’ reasoning.  

Future seminars

Between Smolka et al.’s research on the affective substrates of STIR collaborations and Fisher’s initial pilot study, 15 years passed. In the remainder of the 2022 seminar series, we will fill this timespan with a mix of presentations on earlier and more recent STIR studies. Paul Ellwood will share experiences of his doctoral research within the aforementioned coordinated set of paired STIR studies that took place more than 10 years ago. Anthony Levenda will introduce the STIR Cities project, which received a National Science Foundation award in 2015 to bring STIR from the laboratory to the city to help key stakeholders imagine alternative forms of social and technological order in constructing smart energy systems. Robert Pronk, a “third-generation” STIR researcher trained by Flipse, will illuminate several characteristics of the communication between STIR researcher and participants. While Pronk will zoom into the communicative underpinnings of the STIR process, the presentations by Lukovics as well as by Puga Gonzales and Garcia will discuss how cross-disciplinary communication unfolds in different national contexts: Lukovics will draw lessons from STIR research in post-socialist innovation environments; Puga Gonzales and Garcia will elaborate on the cultural as well as structural challenges they faced when ‘STIRring’ research groups in Mexico. On yet another continent, Bastien Miorin will talk about how his STIR training has shaped his career as a risk manager in Melbourne, Australia, and how it helped him integrate discussions on societal dimensions of innovation in large-scale infrastructure projects and complex organizations. Lastly, François Thoreau will offer a critical perspective on STIR, calling for greater reflexivity not only among technoscientific experts but also among STIR researchers about the tacit assumptions informing their research practices.

Flyer of STIR seminar series ©Lyric Peate

To sign up for upcoming seminars, access video recordings of previous seminars, and find more information about the STIR practice lab, please visit the website stir-sessions.card.co. 

Acknowledgements

We highly appreciate the contributions from all the seminar speakers (see overview on the flyer above). We are also  grateful to our co-organizers who have advertised the seminar series within their scholarly as well as professional networks. Many thanks go to Antonia Bierwirth, Steven Flipse, Alexandra Hausstein, Miklós Lucovics, Michiel van Oudheusden, Mone Spindler, Peter Stegmaier, and Alan Tkaczyk (alphabetical order). Finally, we thank EASST for supporting the STIR seminar series with the EASST Fund 2021–22 as well as the National Science Foundation whose awards (#0849101 and #1535120) supported some of the studies presented during the seminar series. 

 

 

References

Cech, Erin A. 2014. “Culture of disengagement in engineering education?” Science, Technology, & Human Values 39(1): 42–72.

Conley, Shannon N., and Erik Fisher. 2019. “Developing a Theoretical Scaffolding for Interactional Competence: A Conceptual and Empirical Investigation into Competence Versus Expertise. In The Third Wave in Science and Technology Studies, edited by David S. Caudill, Shannon N. Conley, Michael E. Gorman, and Martin Weinel, 235–253, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Felt, Ulrike. 2017. “‘Response-able Practices’ or ‘New Bureaucracies of Virtue’: The Challenges of Making RRI Work in Academic Environments.” In Responsible Innovation 3, edited by Lotte Asveld, Rietje van Dam-Mieras, Tsjalling Swierstra, Saskia Lavrijssen, Kees Linse, and Jeroen van den Hoeven, 49–68. London: Springer International Publishing.

Fisher, Erik. 2007. “Ethnographic Invention: Probing the Capacity of Laboratory Decisions.” NanoEthics 1(2): 155–165.

Fisher, Erik, and Daan Schuurbiers. 2013. “Socio-technical integration research: collaborative inquiry at the midstream of research and development.” In Early engagement and new technologies: opening up the laboratory, edited by Neelke Doorn, Daan Schuurbiers, Ibo van de Poel, and Michael E. Gorman, 97–110. Dordrecht: Springer.

Flipse, Steven M., Maarten C. A. van der Sanden, and Patricia Osseweijer. 2013. “Midstream Modulation in Biotechnology Industry: Redefining What is ‘Part of the Job’ of Researchers in Industry.” Science and Engineering Ethics 19: 1141–1164.

Fochler, Maximilian. 2016. “Variants of Epistemic Capitalism: Knowledge Production and the Accumulation of Worth in Commercial Biotechnology and the Academic Life Sciences.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 41(5): 922–948.

Ku, Sharon Tsai-hsuan, and Stephen Zehr. 2022. “Disciplining interdisciplinarity: Infrastructure, identity, and interdisciplinary practice in nanoELSI research.” Science and Public Policy. https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scac025.

McCormick, Jennifer Blair, Angie M. Boyce, Jennifer M. Ladd, and Mildred Cho. 2012. “Barriers to considering ethical and societal implications of research: perceptions of life scientists.” AJOB Primary Research 3(3): 40–50.

Schuurbiers, Daan. 2011. “What happens in the Lab: Applying Midstream Modulation to Enhance Critical Reflection in the Laboratory.” Science and Engineering Ethics 17: 769–788.

Shilton, Katie. 2014. “This is an Intervention: Foregrounding and Operationalizing Ethics during Technology Design.” In Emerging Pervasive Information and Communication Technologies, edited by Kenneth D. Pimple, 177–192. Dordrecht: Springer.

Shore, Cris. 2008. “Audit culture and Illiberal governance: Universities and the politics of accountability.” Anthropological Theory 8(3): 278–298.

Smolka, Mareike, Erik Fisher, and Alexandra Hausstein. 2021. “From Affect to Actions: Choices in Attending to Disconcertment in Interdisciplinary Collaborations.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 46(5): 1076–1103.

US Congress. 2003. “21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act.” 108th Congress Public Law, pp. 108–153. 

van Oudheusden, Michiel, and Clare Shelley-Egan. 2021. “RRI Futures: learning from a diversity of voices and visions.” Journal of Responsible Innovation 8(2): 139–147.

Verran, Helen. 2001. Science and an African Logic. Chicago: Chicago University Press. 

Viseu, Ana. 2015. “Caring for Nanotechnology? Being an Integrated Social Scientist.” Social Studies of Science 45(5): 642–664.

York, Emily, and Shannon N. Conley. 2019. “Critical Imagination at the Intersection of STS Pedagogy and Research.” Platypus. The CASTAC Blog. Accessed on June 10, 2022. https://blog.castac.org/2019/11/critical-imagination-at-the-intersection-of-sts-pedagogy-and-research/.

The President

Honourable Mention – Short Story – Judith Igelsböck

Monday 7am. The president is walking through the corridor on her way to the office as she witnesses how, in a nearby room, some of her closest colleagues are sitting in front of a screen, laughing their asses off. Are they laughing about me? she wonders. She recognizes her voice and also her image while silently approaching the screen. As her colleagues notice that she has entered the room, they quickly turn off the video and immediately start apologizing. 

Sorry, one of the colleagues says, we should not have even watched this. It is just yet another ‘deep fake’ somebody found yesterday. Don’t even think about it. Forget that it exists. You do not need to worry about that at all. 

But what is it about? the president asks. What is the fake me saying?

Nothing, a colleague replies. It is just pure crap.

Would you send me the link to this video or, even better, could you download it for me, please? the president insists, I need to attend a meeting now. 

Monday 9pm. The president returns home. She briefly lets her team know that she does not need anything anymore and takes a shower. She has cancelled her evening yoga session with her personal trainer. Better tomorrow. She picks up a beer from the fridge, lights a cigarette and jumps into her bed. Again, she skims through her mail. Nothing extremely urgent, she happily notices. She clicks on the email with the subject matter ‘Deep fake from the morning’. She knows that this is probably not a good idea, but she cannot leave it. Dear Marta, the email says, please find enclosed the link to the downloaded deep fake from the morning. I understand that you are curious, but I would not recommend watching it. It is not pornographic or anything but, still, we do not know who is behind it yet. It did not create much public attention, in any case. Nevertheless, you should better think of yourself and your actual life. We will take care of the rest. Have a nice evening, Mitzi.  

Now the president got even more curious. She picks up another small beer and starts watching the video on big screen in her bedroom. It is incredible, she notices. Of course, she would not have believed for a second that this was really her. But she is surprised that the video doesn’t give her the creeps at all. She is even intrigued. The video is a sort of dark comedy of her current presidency. Somebody has taken a lot of time and effort to deconstruct the politics she is pursuing. Who is behind this, she wonders? Who takes the time to create such content? Political opponents? Students in computer science? A frustrated citizen who spends the whole day in front of the TV? Activists? Is it just one person or a whole team? Is it a professional campaign against her or the past time of some wannabe politician? She has a hard time falling asleep. 

Tuesday 7:30am. The president is late for her meeting. Her assistant brings her an extra cup of coffee. Mitzi, the president asks, have you figured out who is behind this deep fake video? Are you still thinking about this? Mitzi replies, we are working on it. You do not need to worry about it at all. Hardly anybody seemed to be interested in the video. Deep fakes have become such a common thing. Nobody takes them seriously anymore. And all eyes are on the outbreak of the volcano. Speaking of which, the plan is that you will leave at 2pm to meet the local authorities. I will assemble a proper outfit for you and join you on the trip. I will provide you with an update of the latest developments later. Have a good morning.   

Tuesday 9:30pm. The president is in the car staring out of the window. She is tired from this trip and got a headache on the plane. She sends a message to the yoga teacher who is waiting for her: I’ll be there soon, sorry for the delay. 

The yoga makes her feel a little better. She closes her eyes to enjoy the final pose, Shavasana, and breathes deeply. The purpose of this exercise is not to think of anything, she knows. But the image of herself who is not herself does not move out of her head. 

Wednesday 7am. The president is on her way to the office. Skimming through her emails. Good news, Mitzi writes, we believe that we have an idea where the video is coming from. It just seems to be a ‘lay deep-faker’. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to find the person so fast. We will keep doing more research, but from what it seems, there is no reason to be worried, as we suspected. Happy to hear, the president replies, have you contacted the person? 

Wednesday 12am. The president is returning to the office from a reception in a nearby town. Her colleagues have picked up lunch for all. Regarding the deep-fake, Mitzi says, as she enters her office with an espresso and the idea to briefly go through the afternoon schedule with her, what do you mean by contacting the person? It is not really how we are working. We are trying to understand whether this was more of a joke or a sort of ‘attack.’ It has all the looks of being more of a project out of boredom or something of the like. Most probably, there is no reason to be worried. The president lowers the voice when she replies: Mitzi, do you have the contact information? I would really appreciate to be informed about all of the details, not only about what you think is relevant for me. Of course, Mitzi replies, I will send you all we have. 

Wednesday 5pm. Two more events. The president thinks about how much she would love to cancel and just take two days off. Today she is not in the mood at all. She knows that it looks unprofessional but she is checking the inbox while waiting for her turn to speak. Mitzi has sent a 10-page report containing all of the information they have found on the alleged deep-faker, including three email addresses and a telephone number. Deep Fake: Confidential and unconfirmed, it says in the subject matter. She is surprised to learn that apparently a 56 years old woman has published the video. She has been working as a mathematics teacher for the last 30 years, has two kids who are both studying at different universities, and divorced from her husband 6 years ago. She is living in the countryside, more than 1000 kilometres away from here. She has an absolutely clean slate. The president knows that this is what Mitzi wanted to avoid, when she chooses one of her non-official email addresses that she has kept for newsletters from online-shops and other kind of spam and starts typing: Dear ‘Ms. President’, I have watched this recent video of yours (or should I say of mine) in which you criticize my work. I was wondering whether you could also impersonate the president you would wish for? What is it that you would like me to do? Is there the possibility of producing a constructive deep-fake?
If yes, I would like to get in conversation.
Kind regards, The President. 

Thursday 5:15am. The president wakes up before the alarm rings. She has a bad feeling. What was she doing? Why would she get in contact with a person who is deep-faking her? She has no idea about her intentions and also not whether it was really her or not. She checks the mail. No reply. She has a hard time going back to sleep and finally decides to take a shower and start the day early. 

Thursday 9pm. Still no reply. Maybe there won’t be any, the president thinks. She meets with a friend in her favourite bar. They are sitting in a booth that allows them to watch other guests, while they cannot be seen. The president loves listening to her friend’s stories. She lives the life of a 20-year-old student, always dating three people at the same time. Together they are usually debating about who she should meet again and who maybe not. When was the last date I had? the president wonders. Must be more than two years ago. And it was such a disaster, she remembers.   

Friday 7am. The president wakes up with a slight headache. She cancels the first meeting and takes a stroll with her dog in the nearby woods. She is not happy that upon return she immediately checks the mail. Nothing. She is looking in the spam folder. And there it is: ‘Happy to talk’, it says. The reply came from another email address, none of the ones mentioned in the report. There is an invitation to a video-call. Subject matter: ‘President meets President.’ The president can feel her heart beating fast. Time: Saturday October 30, 2021 08:00 PM Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna. She decides to ignore the mail for now and jumps into the shower. 

Friday 10pm. The email kept distracting her during the whole day. What should she do? Can she join such a meeting? Is it going to be a trap? Would that cost her the presidency in the end? Is she going to get known for being the most stupid president ever – inviting her enemies? Should she involve Mitzi? She has not taken any action throughout the whole day and now –sitting on the couch with a beer and a pizza– she is staring at the email. And then she suddenly replies: Great. Let’s talk! See you tomorrow. And to her own surprise she presses the send button. 

Saturday 9am. The president has slept wonderfully. She feels revived and for the first time in a while, full of power. Of course, she also has to attend a few events today, but this will be done in a couple of hours. A funeral, an opening of a festival, and a birthday celebration. She takes the dog outside. It is a beautifully sunny day. 

Saturday 7:45pm. The president cools her nerves with a strong drink. Just do not join the call, she tells herself. She does not remember when was the last time she was that nervous. Why not, she now hears herself thinking, what can go wrong? What else is there to do this evening? She imagines the meeting being aired live in one of these horrifying private television channels, or going viral on diverse social media. But then, curiosity prevails. At exactly 8pm she joins the meeting. And as soon as the connection is established, she looks into her own face. Good evening, the fake her says in her voice. Good evening, she replies…

The short story ‘The President’ is inspired by a homonymous and semi-documentary novel written by Clemens Berger (2020) in which the author takes us to the moment in Jay Immer’s life in which he (with immigrant parents and having worked as policeman his entire life) is hired as body-double for then president Ronald Reagan. While at first Jay Immer enjoys the excitement and privilege that comes with this position, he continuously finds himself parting away from Reagan’s political agenda, specifically with regards to labour rights and environmental sustainability. Gradually, Jay Immer turns from being a dutiful impersonator into an ‘evil twin.’ 

In the short story, ‘The President’ gets transferred into an imaginary present-day nation in Europe. It is playing with the very same issues, namely: impersonators and doubles, yet in the ‘digital age’. While the ‘original’ novel narrates from a body-double going rogue, in the digital version of ‘The President’ what is usually considered to be a variety of an ‘evil twin’ of unclear intentions and origins (the deep fake) turns out to be a potential ‘twin stranger’, creating the possibility for a lonely president to reconnect with the world. 

Writing digital twin fiction –such as the short story ‘The President’– is part of an ongoing project1 that revolves around the metaphor of the ‘digital twin’: a current hyped-up expression of intelligent digital representation and simulation. By now, digital twins have mostly been deployed in industrial production (e.g., for predictive maintenance) and urban development (e.g., for the simulation of future mobility solutions), but digital twins are also imagined to be useful as medical applications, as for instance in preventive tele-care (see e.g., Apte & Spanes 2021, Bruynseels et al. 2018, Lattanzi et al. 2021). In the promissory discourse, the digital twin gets depicted as an intelligent replica of a ‘real world’ entity, which –due to continuous technological advancement and increasing availability of ‘real-time’ data– continuously progresses with the ‘original’. 

The social sciences have highlighted in various ways, however, that digital worlds are not solely representational spaces but integral parts of our reality – with performative, and accordingly, transformational powers. Despite the reductionist deployment of the metaphor of the digital twin, the project does not argue for dismissing it all along. In contrast, it seeks to explore potential ways of dealing with digital representation and data ‘about us’ and ‘our worlds’ through the metaphor of the twin. Concretely, the discourse on digital twins is confronted with a variety of twin types and twin-relations human twin studies and twin fiction have been generating (such as the twin stranger, the evil twin, the parasitical twin, see e.g., Sullivan 2004, Viney 2021). Narrating digital twin relations creatively gives space to those facets the promoters of digital twin technologies implicitly capitalize on (such as our fascination with twins) or those dimensions that tend to get silenced (such as matters of ownership, algorithmic injustice, privacy, transparency, or artificial unintelligence, see e.g., Broussard 2018, Katsh & Rabinovich-Einy 2017). 

To give an example: Following the logics of Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’, a consumer of a medical digital twin application for preventive care could be fed with somebody else’s data, which in turn could positively or negatively influence on her well-being. In another story, the very same application could suddenly be unavailable due to the bankruptcy of the software company, leaving our protagonist with the feeling of having left a part of her body, and confronting her with the challenge of either needing to redevelop a sense for her body or finding a way to recreate the digital twin in some way (just like in the heart-breaking graphic novel ‘The Phantom Twin’ by Brown 2020). 

Fiction allows the exploration of a multiplicity of possible digital twin relations without the need of having to think too much about technical accuracy or the question of whether a digital twin technology is or will be existing in this exact way or not. At the same time, writing digital twin fiction opens up for a critical expansion of the current digital twin discourse, which is presenting the digital twin as ‘ready-to-use’, fully unproblematic, and politically neutral ‘product.’ Parting away from that narrow vision, digital twin fiction seeks to encourage a critical yet techno-optimistic engagement with emerging technologies, and wanting to share the impression that –just like human twin relations– digital twin relations can be manifold and that we have a stake in defining and shaping what they will become.

 

1  https://www.mcts.tum.de/en/research/der-digitale-zwilling-viel-mehr-als-ein-abbild/

 

Literature

Apte, P. P., & Spanos, C. J. (2021). The Digital Twin Opportunity. MIT Sloan Management Review. 63(1), 15-17. 

Berger, C. (2020). Der Präsident. Salzburg: Residenz Verlag. 

Broussard, M. (2018). Artificial unintelligence: How computers misunderstand the world. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Brown, L. (2020). Phantom Twin. New York City: First Second. 

Bruynseels, K., Santoni de Sio, F., & van den Hoven, J. (2018). Digital twins in health care: ethical implications of an emerging engineering paradigm. Frontiers in genetics, 9(31).

Hacking, I. (1983). Representing and intervening: Introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Katsh, M. E., & Rabinovich-Einy, O. (2017). Digital justice: technology and the internet of disputes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lattanzi, L., Raffaeli, R., Peruzzini, M., & Pellicciari, M. (2021). Digital twin for smart manufacturing: a review of concepts towards a practical industrial implementation.  International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 34(6), 1-31. 

Sullivan, B. (2004). Your evil twin: Behind the identity theft epidemic. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Viney, W. (2021). Twins: Superstitions and Marvels, Fantasies and Experiments. London: Reaktion Books.

Skylark

Winner – Short Story – Steven Gonzalez Monserrate

Silence. Every morning I wake to silence. Sometimes at dawn, I go out to greet it, to look up at the sun-drenched sky, tinged red with the blood of what calamity claimed. Above, the canvas of the heavens is parched, naked. I hear nothing but wind as it combs through the desert, longing to remember the songs of skylarks. There isn’t even a whisper of birds anymore. This world is quiet. Empty. Like the blank, barren sky, bereft of those formless flocks of white that now only live in memory. But this is our reality now, our penance for not heeding Nature’s signals, or the warnings of indigenous shamans or the politically incompetent outrage of scientists who tried to stop it. They cried out in terror, their voices tapering as they echoed in the nothingness that is this wilderness after clouds. For the clouds have gone the way of the skylark; extinct. They are but dreams now, for those of us left who remember how to dream of them, for those us fortunate enough to be born before they departed.

Some of us tried to stop them from leaving. Perhaps we were naive. Perhaps we were vain. But we believed we understood them. Their signs. The clues they left behind for us hidden in choreographies of vapor. I still remember what it was like to see them teeming in puffy flocks, their great sails thick enough to cast shadows on the mortals below. The children always shudder when I tell them of cloud shadows by the hearth fires in the dead of night. They want to hear Uncle Nimbus tell them about the clouds that were. So I tell them my story. I recount the wonder of a world of clouds as they stare at me, eager to absorb every detail, some of them turning their gaze to the curling smoke from the red blaze, the closest thing to clouds they might ever see.

I never begin the story the same way. Perhaps I am in denial that the past is immutable, that what I did or failed to do is irrelevant in the face of the simple fact that cloudkind is extinct. Perhaps I feel remorse for these children, the only ones left standing who can judge me for my actions. Whatever the reason, the last time I started my story, I began the story in the days of my youth. There I was, eyes twinkling with promise and wonder, a freshly minted Dr. Esteban Bisumn, computational meterologist, a student of the skies and the hidden calculus of their ever-shifting constellations. It was the year that the cumulus cloud was declared an endangered species. I was admitted to a global team of researchers in those last hours of civilization, when the United Nations Parliament invested heavily in attempting to reverse the slow burning of our world. While most of the research teams were devoted to developing geo-engineering fixes to undo the catastrophe of global heating (terraforming algorithms, atmospheric chemistry modifications, etc.), we were part of a limited research group charged with the welfare of clouds. 

Why clouds? Why not devote my efforts and skillset to stopping global heating? Well, it turns out, clouds were something of an enigma. They eluded our climate models and terraforming algorithms. They seemed to defy our predictive capabilities, and we couldn’t understand why. Careful study of cloud morphology and behaviors revealed that something profound was missing from our understanding of their shifting nature.. No matter how we refined our calculations or how much additional data we collected to feed our algorithms and expand our databases, the enigma persisted. Clouds, those ever-shifting dreams of vapor, appeared to defy conventional scientific wisdom and the laws of Nature that were said to govern all things. Clouds exceeded. They exceeded our epistemologies, or lexicon of ideas about the natural world. So rather than continue to capture them in the language of science, of albedo effects and water cycles, we took a different, more controversial approach.

Following the counsel of indigenous communities in the Amazon, the Malay peninsula, and the Caribbean, we started to take seriously the possibility that clouds were…alive. Cloud sapience might be the only explanation for the persistent deviations we were observing in cloud behavior. This led us to our second conclusion; if clouds were indeed intelligent as the Zuni and Yanomami nations had long suggested, then perhaps the clouds were capable of communication. Perhaps we could send a message, no – a plea – for the clouds to stay rather than depart. Over the years, there were weeks when our errand felt hopeless. And then there were days filled with the wonder and joy of discovery as we inched closer and closer to the day of first contact. The sky was bright and blue in the morning when we gathered on the rooftop of our meteorological station at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where an unusual cloud convergence was occurring. There I stood with my collaborators, a motley crew of scientists and humanists now dubbed Anthronephologists. Today was the day we would activate our machine, the nephosemiosis engine, the culmination of tedious years of meticulous research, cataloging the various behaviors, patterns, and species of cloud as they manifested in all corners of the globe. Using the finest cloud of computers that MIT could conjure, we excavated nephosemes, the secret language of the heavens. Puffy patterns of inchoate moisture that were units of meaning. In those phase-changing molecular arrays of noble gasses and vapors, we found ideas and words; Flying elephants. The faces of the Gods. Pillows. Continents – whatever shapes human eyes imposed upon the fickle geometries as they waltzed and deliquesced in our bright skies. But the signals were now clear. Computation clarified the mist. The dense tangle of ether could now be deciphered. With our rosetta stone in hand, a message could finally be crafted and sent back. To communicate with the clouds, we had to fashion some of our own.

The wind picked up as we primed the machine. Dr. Rydra Usratt, veteran expert on hydrology, helped me initiate the calibration sequence, her long black hair flapping in the wind.

“What do you think they’ll say?” She said, nearly shouting to be heard above the crosswinds.

Dr. Marina Suculum, a former Anthropologist from Brazil broke in with an answer of her own, “This isn’t first contact, remember? The Yanomani have been in communication with them for thousands of years.”

“True,” I said, “but this time is different. We have science on our side..”

“I hope so, “ Marina said warily, her dark eyes narrowing.

“Well, here goes,” Rydra said through clenched teeth, “initiate calibration.”

I glance at the infrared scanner to verify proper condensation, “Nephosemese are cued up properly.”

“All looks good here,” Rydra says, her face brightening, “condensation underway.”

The message had been pre-written. After hours of debate and deliberation, the team agreed upon a message that was as direct as possible. After all, our linguistic facility with the Cloud language was at best provisional, at worst theoretical. The simpler the message, the better.

“Here goes!” I shouted, giddily. Marina and I stepped back from the steaming apparatus as it churned and belched vapors. Like a balloon unfurling, a long tunnel of buoyant plastichrome heaved upward into the troposphere. We watched as white steam billowed and crystallized in the shaft, bobbing as it sailed toward the firmament nearly 5 kilometers above them.

Rydra studied the sky, watching closely as the clotted bales of cloud subtly parted.

Was their message already being interpreted? How fast or how slow would they take to respond? We were riveted to the sky, our curiosity and urgency bursting from our pores. If clouds were endangered species, then perhaps this machine might be the key to their salvation, if not the preservation of their memory, their culture, their histories. In that moment we felt like the Anthropologists of old, the last hope for documenting cultures and languages that were swiftly vanishing.

How might they reply to our message? We had puzzled over hypothetical replies and mapped potential conversations on chalkboards and whiteboards and virtual breakout rooms. But some of us feared that all of our scenario modeling might turn out to be futile. If clouds were alive, how could we possibly anticipate their reply? They were so unlike us in so many ways and yet like them we are mostly water. We hoped our hydraulic kinship would be enough to bridge our differences. 

Why are you leaving?

The message was simple, perhaps too simple, but it was a step toward negotiation, dialogue, or diplomacy with a great empyrean civilization. All possibilities were too exciting. Perhaps the thrill of discovery and the wonder our subjects inspired had clouded our judgment. For hours, we gaped up at the void, watching in terror as the bilious tendrils of the cloud convergence dissipated, revealing the blank, azure canvas of sky, like seafoam dissolving into a hungry surf.  We stared and waited and stared and waited.

“Maybe we miscalibrated,” Rydra proposed, after a long silence. Hope was a desperate, crazed glimmer in her eyes. But I recognized her fear, her denial, because I felt it too.

“We failed,” Dr. Marina said, after another hour, throwing up her arms. “Science can’t save them, or us it seems.”

Failure was hard to accept. We had simulated this precise moment countless times. We had mapped and anticipated every possible outcome and scenario. We knew the clouds. We could understand them. Our machine was perfect. Everything worked on paper, in theory, but how, why, was it failing?

“I don’t understand, all the diagnostics indicate that everything is functioning properly,” Rydra frowned, puzzling over the data streams on the console.

“There is one possibility,” I said slowly, my throat parched, “one scenario we never considered in our naivety.”

Marina rest her hands on our shoulders. Of course, somehow she already knew what we failed to consider, what we refused to believe.

“They hear us,” Marina gestured to the sky, “but they refuse to listen.”

I nodded, numb and in a delirium of exhaustion and frustration, “They refuse to listen, just as we refused to listen to them until it was too late.”

“They have no reply,” Rydra said, choked with emotion, “maybe we’re unworthy.”

Marina turned to her colleagues, “or maybe we are not even at the cusp of understanding their complexity, their brilliance.”

I stood there with them, defeated. I stood there and wept. I wept for our hubris. I wept for the future, for a world without clouds, and I wept knowing that such a wonder might forever elude human comprehension. Or maybe as Marina said, perhaps the select few scientists who burned the world with one hand and proposed to fix it with the other were unworthy of communication. Perhaps, the indigenous elders had been right all along.

And so, shortly after our failed attempt at contact, the clouds vanished and the world was forever deprived of their pearlescent beauty. For years, I tinkered with computers, trying to understand where went wrong. But no matter how I shifted the variables or refined the data, I always reached the same conclusion. The clouds ignored us. They heard but did not reply. And now, years after the Cloud of computer networks have evaporated, I can no longer torture myself with answering the unanswerable. 

Instead, I try to be useful. I wander the yesterlakes and arid wrecklands in search of dew. I etch my maths on paper, trying to pinpoint where moisture might fall, so that our roving band of survivors, my new family, can survive. At night, I tell stories of rain and thunder and clouds that were alive to youngsters so that they might rekindle them in their dreams. I tell them of the bone-white cumulus, of the undulating gray nimbus, and the gossamer strands of cirrus that once painted the oceanic void above us. I tell stories so that posterity will remember the lesson we failed to learn, so that if the clouds ever return we are ready to hear them, we are ready to listen, and then perhaps, one day, they might be inclined to listen to us.

Dam Visions

Honourable Mention – Flash Fiction – Kathrin Eitel

What Kasio saw was impressive. Ngo had become really adept at visualizing stories and songs she had recorded that were full of hopes and fears for the future. He put in his VR contact lenses and clicked through different characters. In each scenario, he saw the dam he had built to keep the floods away from the city.

There was a little boy with green eyes that reminded him of a lagoon. He showed him his family, and the hand-woven fishing baskets that were empty and remained so. As the boy grew older, he moved across the dam to the city. Uprooted from his traditions and the footsteps he once should have followed, he stumbled through the noisy life of the big city, which crushed him with a hiss. When he returned to his village one day, he found nothing left but the bamboo poles of his parents’ house and the old altar, on the sides of which the remains of the once engraved fishes were still visible. Their gods and mediators.

Kasio shivered as he took off his lenses. 

It was known to them that the fish population would be drastically reduced by the construction of the dam since the natural waterways would be blocked by it. They had also already developed solutions. But they had not considered that whole customs and identities could be disconnected. At least, it had not been so apparent to him.

“Alright”, he said to Ngo. “I want to know what you propose.”

Sobriety in a time of planetary crisis

Winner – Flash Fiction – Stephanie Lavau

I’m regretting the metallic puffer jacket. Futuristic fashion of the 1990s; nostalgic fashion in the 2020s; innov-chic now, in the 2050s. A sheen of retro-futuro-techno-optimism, worn to mask my true self. It shimmers under the streetlights as I approach the building, illuminating my shame. 

Inside, I follow a sign to the appointed room. Self-conscious, I take an empty seat and cast a quick glance around at those already in the circle. Recognition. The dark rings under the eyes. The hands that tremble, as if unable to contain a message. AA: a fellowship of people who have lost control. 

A newcomer, I’m invited to introduce myself, my vice and my misfortune. Scientist that I am, I follow the formula. “Hello, my name is Stephanie, and I’m an…” Awkward pause at the moment of truth. Truth, a fickle companion in this time of planetary crisis. “I’m an academic. I’ve lost control of my thinking.” Academic. The word brims with rebuke.

Sympathetic nods as my dreadful secrets tumble out. “It takes me weeks to develop an idea. I can’t meet my performance targets of posts and likes. I’m scared I’m going to lose my job as a thought leader.” More nodding as I stream on. “I ask peers to review my thinking before I post. I crave evidence.” Deep breath. “I know my job is optimism-isation, but I just want to be sober.” I lower my eyes in shame and rub my elbows nervously, longing for leather patches on corduroy.

Poetical Science (for Ada Lovelace)

Winner – Poetry – Eva Hilberg

 

To think that form makes the poem

Is like

Thinking that science is about numbers

Is like

Looking at a machine and seeing pegs

Is like

Seeing an equation and reading only letters

Is like

Thinking a computer to be an oversized calculator 

Is like

Looking at the history of computing as an exercise of accountancy 

Is like

Calling invention a feat of engineering

Is like

Saying Charles Babbage without saying Ada Lovelace 

Is like

Thinking ideas will leap from any pen

Is like

Thinking that programming is not writing

Is like

Thinking that words and numbers are so very different 

Is like

Inventing an analytical engine to do sums

Is like

Saying Lovelace without saying Byron

Is like

Thinking creativity comes from order

Is like

Thinking genius is about recall

Is like

Thinking truth the result of arithmetic

Is like

Thinking you have to know where you are going to make a start

First-ever poetry, flash fiction and short story competition… introducing the winners

Methods, forms and norms

Techno-science fictional

Gazing at the stars

 

We had the honour and pleasure of being entrusted with organising a sub-plenary session for the 2022 EASST Conference. The official title of the session was ‘Techno-science fictional futures: Methods, forms, norms’, but this can also be formulated as a haiku (see above). The aim of the sub-plenary was to stimulate the individual and collective imagination of STS scholars through paying attention to and engaging with poetic, literary, and artistic renderings of techno-scientific futures. Our invited guests – Katja Mayer (University of Vienna), Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (University of Westminster) and Laura Watts (University of Edinburgh) – certainly succeeded in realising that aim with their spectacular performances.

We know that scientific and speculative fictions (SSF) are a source of visions and imaginaries for scientists, engineers and others. Many STS students are avid readers and watchers of science fiction. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as SSF is a way of imagining other worlds, of representing alternative engagements with technoscience, and of expressing different ontological orderings. All of these are matters of concern for the STS community. SSF, especially when written as creative non-fiction, can also be a method and device for STS scholars to engage with interlocutors during fieldwork and with wider audiences, including people in their roles as citizens, workers, patients, artists or policy makers. (See, for example, Maguire, Watts & Ross Winthereik, 2021; Shaviro, 2021; Woolgar, Vogel, Moats & Helgesson, 2021.)

EASST members are very creative, so as part of the session, we also decided to hold a competition, inviting those planning to attend the conference to send us their poems, flash fictions and short stories. It was a real joy to read the material that people submitted. Those who did emphasised the pleasure they had in this creative writing and in participating in this experimental competition. This was all very gratifying for us as organisers, but it was also rather worrying because it raises questions about the state of academic publishing. Luckily, STS journals and book publishers are more tolerant than much of academia. However, there is evidence that articles in the leading STS journals have become more homogenous in form (including length, numbers of references) over the past years, perhaps due to the rise of quantified assessment practices (Kaltenbrunner, Birch, van Leeuwen & Amuchastegui, 2022). STS has had its more adventurous moments such as when it experimented with the literary turn, radical reflexivity and experimenting with form (see, for example, Ashmore, 1989; Mol, 2003; Rappert, 2009; Woolgar, 1988). 

The sub-plenary and the competition were ways to celebrate the creativity of our community and its desire to communicate, and to remind ourselves that writing poetry and short stories, as fiction or creative non-fiction, always helps us to write better traditional academic texts and to think otherwise. Other forms of writing and representation open up new possibilities for research, representation, collaboration, and maybe even better worlds. 

We are very grateful to the EASST Council for supporting this experiment, and hope they will find ways to continue to support similar initiatives in the future. We are also grateful to Andreas, Katja and Laura for helping us to judge the entries and declare the winners. Bristol University Press, Goldsmiths Press and Mattering Press generously provided some of their own creative books as prizes. Most of all, we would like to thank everyone who participated for their boldness and creativity. 

It is our pleasure to present the full texts of the winning entries and the honourable mentions in this issue of EASST Review. We hope you enjoy reading them.

 

 

 

References 

Ashmore, Malcolm (1989) The Reflexive Thesis. Wrighting Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. University of Chicago Press.

Kaltenbrunner, Wolfgang, Kean Birch, Thed van Leeuwen, and Maria Amuchastegu (2022, 28 July) Changing Publication Practices and the Typification of the Journal Article in Science and Technology Studies. Social Studies of Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/03063127221110623.

Maguire, James, Watts, Laura & Ross Winthereik, Brit (eds) (2021) Energy Worlds in Experiment. Mattering Press. 

Mol, Annemarie (2003) The Body Multiple. Ontology in Medical Practice. Duke University Press.

Rappert, Brian (2009) Experimental Secrets. International Security, Codes, and the Future of Research. University Press of America.

Shaviro, Steven (2021) Extreme Fabulations. Science Fictions of Life. Goldsmiths Press.

Woolgar, Steve, Vogel, Else, Moats, David & Helgesson, Claes-Fredrik (eds) (2021) The Imposter as Social Theory. Thinking with Gatecrashers, Cheats and Charlatans. Bristol University Press.

Woolgar, Steve, ed. (1988) Knowledge and Reflexivity. SAGE.

Rethinking Multiple Ontologies and Ecologies: A review

This article focuses on the panel titled “Interspecies Agencies: Controversies, Ontologies and New Forms of Cohabitation”, presented on the 8th and 9th of July, 2022, at the EASST “Politics of Technoscientific Futures Conference” held in Madrid. The aim of the panel was to observe the interspecies bond that is manifested in various dimensions, including human-animal cooperation, public health, interspecies contagion through close contact with microorganisms, and issues related to nature and wildlife conservations. The panel included presentations that lie at the intersections of interspecies agencies and socially controversial aspects. The presentations also focused on multiple modes of scientific knowledge about animals, mushrooms, and microorganisms. New discussions and perspectives about multiple ontologies were initiated, and there was also a strong focus on theories and concepts related to ‘beyond the human’.

Fig. 1. Kristen Livera presenting on “Attuning to Trans-species Pidgin Articulations: Pigeon Racing as a Creolization of Interspecies Subjectives”. Source: Jaya Sarkar, 8th July, 2022, Madrid.

Humans and animals are brought together to the same scene by active participants in a set of socio-technical networks that includes different agents under diverse conditions and various possibilities. The primary focus of all the presentations was on the set of possibilities available for living with the animal, and their co-existence will evoke a new interspecies regime. In the panel, the presentation titled “Attuning to Trans-species Pidgin Articulations: Pigeon Racing as a Creolization of Interspecies Subjectives”, Kristen Livera uses the actor network theory to describe her anthropological inquiries into the re-inscribation and re-articulation of racing pigeons and their fanciers in the world. Using this theory, she demonstrates how the pigeons “aren’t bound by the subjective limits of a world of beliefs and fantasies, but cohabit a common vital world” (Ferreira, 2019: 275). Her presentation highlighted how the various actants are dragged into the politics of pigeon racing and have created “uneven topographies” (Bennett, 2010: 25). These uneven topographies (Fig. 1) include wind, fog, cow herding, radio turbines, and global warming. Such a diverse array of actants are found to be heterogeneously diffused across the topographies. Livera focuses on how her research seeks different ways of co-constructing the reality and re-articulating the bodies to be represented differently within a space of third-subjectivities (Despret, 2004). 

In the presentation titled “De-extinction and the Role of Animal Charisma in Forging New Human-Animal Relations”, the panelists focus on how scientists are currently working towards the resurrection of extinct species using synthetic biology. This process of resurrection is known as de-extinction (Seddon et al., 2014). The presentation treats de-extinction as a method of nature conservation. They also bring into conversation the debates regarding the ethical implications of de-extinction (Sandler, 2017) and how the effectiveness of this method has been constantly interrogated. De-extinction contributes to the redefining of the human-animal relationships and gives rise to a new interspecies bond where the animals are also active participants in the existing complicated socio-technical networks. The presenters demonstrated that the selection of de-extinction species depends on the animal’s charisma. Using theories of priority setting in research (Ciarli and Rafols, 2019; Dalrymple, 2006), it is argued that the charisma of the animals exerts such a strong influence that it outweighs even conservation benefits.. Further, the charisma of the animals is associated with the relationships shared between the researchers and their sponsors, users, and the public in general. 

Fig.2. Koen Beumer presenting on “De-extinction and the Role of Animal Charisma in Forging New Human-Animal Relations”. Source: Jaya Sarkar, 8th July, 2022, Madrid.

The next presentation, titled “Disciplining Fungi Growth: Plantationocene in Post/Socialist Ruins”, focuses on plantation production, which is analyzed under the lens of disciplination of crops and workers (Tsing, Mathews and Bubandt, 2019). Further, plantation production is analyzed within the genealogy of market economy and capitalist production. The presentation discussed the production and the economy of the cultivated  Shiitake mushrooms in the Czech Republic. The state socialist regime was responsible for transforming mushroom cultivation from a public business to a private business. After the change in regime, mushroom cultivation began in abandoned spaces such as pigsties, cowsheds, and military areas. When the Czech Republic became a part of the European Union in 2004, mushroom cultivation was upscaled and became a part of large-scale trade. The presentation demonstrated the ecologies, infrastructures and commercial strategies that were adopted for the growth of the Plantiationocene in areas of post/socialist ruins. It highlights the method used by the growers of the shiitake mushrooms in order to engage in global markets with their commodities. 

These three presentations highlighted three different tents of the panel titled “Interspecies Agencies: Controversies, Ontologies and New Forms of Cohabitation”. The humans shown alongside the pigeons, the animals, and the mushrooms exist within an interspecies agency, and a transformative space is created where the social constructions and entanglements between humans and non-humans are re-constructed. The kind of materialism that the pigeon fanciers or the mushroom cultivators embody expresses a vitalist force of life and prioritizes ethical values which centralize life itself. The embodied and embedded beings sustain each other to overcome the different levels of complexities. The interspecies agencies acknowledge the sense of attachment to multiple ecologies of human and non-human relations. By paying attention to the actual world-making practices of other entities, an interspecies worlding framework arises. These presentations highlight how the new forms of cohabitation become a shared, plural, hopeful concept that is rigid and understandable.

 

 

 

References

Bennett J (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ferreira AAL (2019) How to study the construction of subjectivity with ANT? In: Blok A, Farías I and Roberts C (eds) The Routledge Companion to Actor-Network Theory. London: Taylor & Francis, pp. 273-282.

Ciarli T and Ràfols I (2019) The relation between research priorities and societal demands: The case of rice. Research Policy 48(4): 949-967.

Dalrymple DG (2006) Setting the agenda for science and technology in the public sector: the case of international agricultural research. Science and Public Policy 33(4): 277-290.

Despret V (2004) The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis. Body & Society 10(2/3): 111–134.

Sandler R (2017) De‐extinction and Conservation Genetics in the Anthropocene. Hastings Center Report 47: S43-S47.

Seddon PJ et al. (2014) Reversing defaunation: restoring species in a changing world. Science 345(6195): 406-412.

Tsing AL, Mathews AS and Bubandt N (2019) Patchy Anthropocene: landscape structure, multispecies history, and the retooling of anthropology: an introduction to supplement 20. Current Anthropology 60(S20): S186-S197.