Category Archives: easst review

The unbearable lightness of billionaires in space

During the Summer of 2021, on our multitude of screens, we were invited to pay witness to billionaires flying to or near the arbitrary Karman line, to watch both their personal pleasures and to be persuaded by the feasibility and desirability of a new elite experience called ‘space tourism’. With their safe return, much was then written in op-eds, blogs, and tweets about those flights and their contested significance. One aspect that drew my attention was how, for Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, the sensations of weightlessness loomed large in the accounts they gave of their experiences. While the poetry addresses the transfigurative potential of the ‘overview effect’, video from within the cabins show that spinning around, laughing, floating, pushing objects to each other appeared to be the real highlight of the trip for those who went. After his flight, Branson tweeted: ‘So joyful I still felt weightless’, and Bezos opined in the post-launch event that being in that state of weightlessness ‘felt so normal, it felt as if humans had evolved to be in that environment [ …] it felt peaceful, serene, very pleasurable’ (see: https://www.blueorigin.com/news/first-human-flight-updates).  

I’m confident that it’s an awesome feeling. As the editorial in the Chicago Tribune (2021) commented: ‘who does not crave the chance to float around like the great astronauts of our childhood dreams, Earth’s gravitational pull falling away with our quotidian worries?’ In this paper I wish to explore this claim seriously and to consider how the fantasy and desire to experience weightlessness comes to signify another kind of weightlessness as a strategy to escape the urgencies and pull of today’s world. 

For STS, weightlessness is an interesting topic. In the early days of developing human spaceflight capabilities, weightlessness was the source of some consternation and was not necessarily an experience to be craved. One leader in the field of what became known as space medicine – Heinz Haber who worked for the Luftwaffe Institute for Aviation Medicine in World War II and was later taken to the US through Operation Paperclip – drew attention to what he called the ‘human factor’ of spaceflight. Writing in 1951 he ventured that: 

From his conquered home-planet man has begun to look expectantly toward new worlds in the heavens. The Moon and the neighbouring planets, Venus and Mars, irresistibly challenge his fancy with the same spell that the seven seas once cast over their explorers. Like the pioneers who first ventured to sea in sailing ships, we are preparing to launch our first frail craft in the vast ocean of space. (Haber 1951: x) 

However, he argued that the success of space exploration lay not only with rocket design but also with managing the effects of spaceflight on the human body (and, in particular, on the male body assumed to be the only viable astronaut body at the time). In particular, the field of space medicine was engaged in efforts to better understand what would be involved in weightlessness. Haber speculated that ‘a man liberated from the shackles of gravity would most probably be in a constant state of physiological and psychological tension (1951: 18). As alluded to above, during World War II, Haber and other scientists, including Otto Gauer (another beneficiary of Operation Paperclip) had speculated on the possible effects of weightlessness. They had a paper included in the US Air Force’s compendium of aeromedical research conducted in Germany during the war, in which they expressed the concern that weightlessness could have dire consequences for the person experiencing it, rendering them with ‘an absolute incapacity to act’ (Gauer and Haber 1949). In the 1950s, to develop more of an understanding, US scientists turned to using non-human animals, strapping them into the nose cones of sounding rockets and blasting them up into the atmosphere, where eventually some survived their landing and were assessed, showing no ill-effects of being weightless (Swenson et al 1989). 

As the quote from Haber’s 1950 paper shows, the concern with the effects of weightlessness on the human body was bound up with the colonial ambitions that he and others envisaged for humans in outer space. As many scholars working within historical and social studies of outer space have shown, advocates of spaceflight often frame this endeavour in such colonial terms and view ‘the space frontier as a site of renewal, a place where we can resolve the domestic and global battles that have paralyzed our progress on Earth” (Kilgore 2003: 1-2). For Cosmists in the early twentieth century, for example, it was linked to how humans would overcome death and attain immortality by escaping gravity, travelling through space and establishing life in the cosmos (Groys, 2018). Weightlessness would be a desirable state of being, signifying the escape from Earth and death. 

In our times, the pursuit of weightlessness by very wealthy men is troubling, because these momentary, experiential states of weightlessness are connected to other practices and strategies of ‘social weightlessness’ – to adopt the term that feminist scholar Lois McNay (2014) discusses in her work. The title of this paper is a riff on one of the chapters in her 2014 book The Misguided Search for the Political (‘The unbearable lightness of theory’, which is in turn of course a play on Milan Kundera’s novel). Drawing on the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, McNay (2014: 40) uses ‘social weightlessness’ to describe a mode of thought that is ‘far removed from the practical mundanities and urgencies of the world’. She relates how Bourdieu shows that elites act to establish a ‘“magical boundary” between themselves and the mundane world. This apartness from the everyday world is both a liberatory break and a potentially crippling separation’ (McNay 2014: 41).

For McNay (2014: 39), her concern with ‘social weightlessness’ is directed at certain academic theories and their tendency to ‘rarefaction’. But in this paper I read the flights of these billionaires and the space tourism they prefigure as an expression of another mode of ‘social weightlessness’. Flying high into the atmosphere, reaching or exceeding the Karman Line to escape gravity becomes then a ‘magical boundary’, which indeed achieves a ‘liberatory break’ for those privileged to experience it. It is a few minutes in which a fantasy of freedom can be celebrated, freed as the Chicago Tribune suggests, of our ‘quotidian worries’. But in fact, rather than this being an experience a great many ordinary people will experience, access to space tourism – to the weightlessness of space – is one to be enjoyed by those who already enjoy a good degree of ‘social weightlessness’. Aside from a few  lottery winners, few will experience what is otherwise closed to anyone who is not a millionaire. 

Yet this pursuit of weightlessness both seeks justification from and is fatally entangled with the urgencies of the world. Bezos proposes that development of new space vehicles is a step towards ensuring that ​​’our children can build the future’. He believes with apparent passion and conviction that human expansion in the solar system will produce a better future for humanity. While acknowledging that there are immediate social problems that need addressing – pollution, homelessness, poverty – Bezos prefers to think long term. Faced with the prospect that capitalist economies will eventually be unable to meet their energy demands, Bezos proposes that to avoid a society characterized by ‘stasis and rationing’. We must pursue one of dynamism and growth that comes from expanding into the solar system, where there are unlimited resources. These resources would support a human civilization of a ‘trillion humans [..] which means we’d have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. This would be an incredible civilization’, Bezos concludes.   

Outer space then is Bezos’ imagined new ‘Great Frontier’ (Moore 2021) for capitalism.  Moore (2021: 3) argues that ‘capitalism emerged through a prodigiously generative nexus of Cheap Labor, imperial power, and the unpaid work/energy of previously uncapitalized soils, forests, streams, and all manner of indigenous flora and fauna’. In Bezos’ vision, the ‘uncapitalized’ entities are moons, asteroids, and planets in the cosmos. And science fiction has long imagined who would be the ‘Cheap Labour’ (see for example, The Expanse, a series financed and shown by Amazon Prime!).  

In the here and now, however, the entire existence of Blue Origin – Bezos’ aerospace company – is dependent on Amazon and its multi-billion dollar profit margins. Bezos explicitly acknowledged this relationship in the post-launch press event, going so far as to extend his thanks ‘to every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this’ (see: https://www.blueorigin.com/news/first-human-flight-updates).  

After Branson’s flight, Virgin ran an ad to celebrate both his achievement and to promote its various businesses in travel, finance and media (see: https://www.virgin.com/about-virgin/latest/if-we-can-do-this-imagine-what-else-we-can-do). The ad asked ‘if we can do this… imagine what you can do’, ‘if we can feel this .. imagine what you can feel free’, with scenes of ordinary people living with their ‘practical mundanities and urgencies’ (McNay 2014: 40) striving to overcome adversity, to escape the weight of their worlds. The promise is that they too can attain a state of weightlessness. The privileged experience of a select few inspiring everyone else to throw off their shackles. 

In this short paper, I have explored weightlessness, as a valorized embodied experience of space tourism that is also an expression of another kind of weightlessness – a ‘social weightlessness’ pursued by the extremely wealthy to escape the attraction of mundane realities and pressing social problems. Further, it is a cruel promise directed at those struggling with adversity that a simple escape is possible, as exemplified by the pleasures of billionaires as they fly to the edge of space. 

 

 

 

References

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board (2021) ‘We don’t begrudge billionaires chasing the zero gravity of space. But can they spell ‘murraya’?’, Chicago Tribune, 12 July 2021. Available at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/editorials/ct-editorial-richard-branson-space-zaila-avant-garde-20210712-x3pkhlwle5gxdnihcwrj6m74aq-story.html

Gauer, O and H. Haber (1949), ‘Man under Gravity-Free Conditions,’ in German Aviation Medicine, World War II, I, 641-643.

Groys, B. (ed.) (2018) Russian Cosmism, Cambridge MA: MIT Press 

Haber, H. (1951) ‘The human body in space’, Scientific American, 184 (1): 16-19
https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-4201/ch2-3.htm#source10

Kilgore, De Witt D. (2003) Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

McNay, L. (2014) The Misguided Search for the Political, Cambridge: Polity 

Moore, J. (2021) Climate, Class & the Great Frontier From Primitive Accumulation to the Great Implosion,  unpublished paper, World-Ecology Research Group, Binghamton University. Available at: https://jasonwmoore.com/academicpapers/

Swenson, L.; J. Grinwood and C. Alexander (1989) ‘This new ocean: a history of Project Mercury’, NASA History Division. Available at: https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/ch2-3.htm

Outer Space in the Museum Shop

You’ve seen the rockets. Marvelled at the moon rock, lit up like in the nave of a church. Ogled the astronaut suits. Wondered at the taste of the food in those silvery packages. Make sure you haven’t forgotten anything along the way – a loved toy that had to make the trip too – and start heading out via the shop. Just a look, just a look perhaps. Pick up and twirl around one or two of the items. Don’t forget to by something branded so people know. Or something fun to continue learning at home. Or a postcard of your favourite thing so that you can stick it up on the wall and remember it until the blu-tak fails and it falls down the back of the sofa. 

 

Exit and Gift Shop

Scholarship about science museums and science centres focuses on gallery and exhibition content, databases, social media and websites, and hands-on science centres meaning there is engagement with the content that is housed in these spaces and what is shown to publics. By contrast, relatively little has been written about commercialisation in science museums, particularly their shops: what they sell, and if and how these materials are connected with informal science learning. Where there are case studies in the museum shop literature, they are dominated by shops in arts and socio-cultural museums. But science museum shop is likewise a site of constructing knowledge and demonstrating cultural power, and it too should be interrogated. Attending to the shop can help theorise who the museum is trying to reach and in what ways. Furthermore, the selection and sale of particular items at museum shops as take-home continuations of the museum experience can be a context in which to address tropes that are embedded and reinforced in cultural narratives about science. 

While museums are framed as having their roots in Enlightenment knowledge impulses to collect and catalogue the world in European Wunderkammer museum shops find their origin in the twentieth-century rise of western consumerism. From the 1940s, museums in the USA started selling mementos related to their collections. Kovach (2014) argues that over the course of the 1900s, US museum shops shifted from being small stalls that sold postcards to become elaborate collaborative design collections, offering items unique to the museum. Unsurprisingly, prestigious art and design museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art had the greatest success with such collections. Rising consumption patterns and declining national funding pots for museums have dove-tailed to see the rise of what Booth and Powell (2016, p.131) describe as the “future of the museum as a ‘cultural shop’, implying a growing organisational orientation towards income generation.” The objects for sale are aimed at consumers in the hope that they will purchase something that has been stocked specifically to entice them. The visitors who attend science museum shops are understood not within the context of in the galleries, but as capitalist subjects (ie. consumers of knowledge and products, not participants in culture and the sharing of knowledge). This delineation is messy, however. Kent’s (2009) research on the UK’s Imperial War Museum shop shows how visitors themselves frame purchases from the shop as a supplement to the education from the museum and a way of carrying it with them back into their day-to-day lives. 

The boundaries of purpose are blurred on ethics of reproduction too. During their podcast Cursed Objects (2022); hosts Tee, Hancox and Procter have given critical attention to how the choices of what is being sold in museums have included capitalising on mental health crisis (an “Earaser” at a van Gogh exhibition), genocide (selling red diaries at the Anne Frank Museum), colonial theft and plundering (Tipu’s Tiger Christmas gift at the Victoria and Albert Museum or Egyptian mummy pencil cases), with questions about whether it is right to make money from such content.  These objects trivialise and commercialise events and conditions that should be treated responsibly by institutions such as museums that ostensibly are teaching visitors how to understand the world around. 

How do shops know what to stock? Rationalised within a corporate version of the museum, visitors are segmented based on their ‘types of intent’ for visiting the museum, which might include interest in cultural participation, ‘out-of-school’ learning for the family, school trips,  dates, and going for a coffee. Many museums collect their own data on their visitors to inform this segmentation. This understanding of the visitor draws on the theorists Falk and Dirking (e.g. 2016), who argued that the visit to the museum is motivated by a visitor’s ‘personal context’ (interests, attitudes, needs, beliefs), their ‘sociocultural context’ (including customs, values, language all shared within subgroups of a larger society), and their ‘physical context’ (architecture, location, ambiance). Critics argue this encourages institutions to focus on those who already attend museums, and to shape the experience around them. Using this approach favours the most privileged groups in society (particularly those privileged through their racialisation, education, wealth, ability, and class) who actively participate in science museum visits, allowing their cultural biases and norms to continue to dominate what is available at museums. This in turn perpetuates structurally unequal access to these spaces, and shapes the stories they tell. 

Purchasing an item from the shop at a science museum will make that object part of the visitor’s everyday science learning, both at the time of purchase and after the museum visit. These items, then, are part of what Emily Dawson’s (2019) characterises as everyday science learning, the broadest definition of experiences between science and publics. In this instance, the item comes home from the museum with the visitor, bringing science learning into a different sphere of a visitors’ life, and arguably allowing the item to influence secondary communities, such as family members and larger school groups. Science (and by extension, everyday science learning) never happen in a vacuum, but instead reflect and magnify broader social and political issues in the society in which the museum sits. 

 

This way to Gift Shop and Boutique

I am going to think through the delivery of some of these everyday science narratives related to outer space, using specific examples from museums around the world. Outer space represents a particularly salient case study, given that it is highly popular among visitors and is widely merchandised both in and outside of museums. One thing that can be found across museum shops is a focus on NASA and the American flag. One NASA postcard, t-shirt, or baseball cap looks much like another, so I won’t fill this article with them, but know they are out there by the bucket load in London, in New York, in Stockholm. Instead, as an exemplar of this category, the London Design Museum’s Moving to Mars exhibition shop, that gave patrons the opportunity to buy a Christmas tree bauble of an astronaut planting a US flag. In the context of sitting directly outside an exhibition that discussed a move to the Mars as being ‘for all humankind’, a reification of a white, American cis-man as being the representation of who ‘humankind’ is limits any broadening of this idea that has taken place elsewhere in the exhibition.

Elsewhere, I have demonstrated that displays of space in museums in Western Europe and Canada frequently align themselves with the US space programme (see Armstrong 2020). NASA’s branding spills over into popular culture far more significantly than that of any other space agency – onto catwalk clothes, pop-culture-trendy bags, riffs in movies, and music videos. This popularity of NASA, which is a branch of the US government, continues the circulation of the popular justifications behind the US space programme through culture. Invocations of ‘manifest destiny’ – the divine right of the USA to lead in outer space as it did in the colonising the American West, by violently displacing Indigenous peoples for resource extraction and wealth amalgamation – is thus propagated in popular culture. This capitalist practice and selling of Americana nationalism around the world teaches those participating in everyday science learning to relate to and think about science as a practice that is dominated by US-centric, and capitalist, narratives. 

The second theme to draw attention to is the construction of gender within science practices. In many contexts this is the selling of ‘pink’ versions of items (space suits, NASA caps, socks etc) that are the same as the ‘blue’ ones (or other neutral colours: white, orange, black) – a pinkification of girls’ participation. Pinkification constructs items for girls as ‘other’: for instance a ball can be any colour, but a pink ball is a girls’ ball.  Sometimes, this pinkification goes further than simply being the same items in pink. At the Space Center Houston pink jackets are sold that are specifically about ‘women’s’ roles in of the space and aviation history (e.g. the Women Airforce Service Pilots) whereas blue jackets show projects that involved people of multiple genders (e.g. the badges of the space shuttle programme). Elsewhere in the shop gendered narratives about how children or adults should participate in science are constructed. Pink t-shirts read “Girls rule the galaxy”; “How do you get a baby astronaut to sleep? You rocket”; or “I love you to the moon and back”. Reinforcing tropes of Girl-Bosses, needing girls as being subdued and passive, or preparing girls for care work and reproductive labour, the messages of these objects build gendered expectations for girls that discourage them from equal participation in science. This contrasts to the blue shirts that have detailed rocket-plans reproduced on them, images of rockets going to space or slogans such as “It’s not rocket science. Oh wait, yes it is”. Museums also sell “girlie” versions of hegemonically ‘masculine’ toys such as the ‘Women of Space’ lego set; or science versions of “girlie” toys, such as Astronaut Barbie (or generic similar looking dolls) with lunar dig sets and space helmets. 

These items reinforce a gendering of science space. Where considerable effort and critical scholarship has tackled pluralising gendered representation in science museum exhibitions, museum databases, and science museums’ advertising aimed at young people, this is often not seen in the very same institutions’ own shops. This makes the contrast between what is available for purchase at science museums and the aims of progressive science research particularly stark. 

 

Don’t forget to visit the gift shop on your way out! 

The examples I’ve provided in this brief text are not exhaustive. They show how nationalist narratives dominate over and above the transnational collaborative practice that takes place in the research of space science. These objects construct and communicate binarised gender-specific roles for people in space science. This separation of ‘pink’ clothing items with descriptions characterises the young people wearing them as having a different relationship to space than being properly part of the scientific work. Such discrepancies point to a disconnect between the practices of space science and the ways that it is being circulated in traditional everyday science learning spaces and beyond. This disconnect is not unique to space science, and can be seen elsewhere in the commercialisation of science learning. This should push us as theorists in the social studies of science to examine why this occurs, which narratives are being perpetuated in these practices, and how this micro-commercialisation is perhaps linked to the larger scale privatisation of space (for a longer discussion of this please see Armstrong & Bimm, forthcoming).  

Some museums do make special efforts to reject this gendering. The shop at the Science Museum in London has moved away from pink and blue items – a step which is particularly visible in their whole floor dedicated to space merchandising. This distinct choice to only sell ‘neutral’ colours (orange/white), I was told in informal conversation, was specifically motivated by queer inclusion in science education. This is not only helpful for bringing the shop in line with other efforts across the museum, but is also an inclusive practice that rejects binarized gendering and pluralises the possible (scientific) futures that are available for owners of such items. To my knowledge, the pluralisation of space agencies is not common, but more research would explore this further. As museum workers, pushing for change internally, alongside building interdepartmental bridges to share experiences, will be key to seeing change in stocking practices. 

So as a visitor, or a researcher, what can be done? Certainly drawing attention to these practices is important. The grassroots campaign Let clothes be clothes1 tackled a 2014 collaboration between UK retailer Marks and Spencer and the Natural History Museum that produced a dinosaur-oriented clothing range exclusively marketed at boys. A 5,000 strong petition and support from UK members of parliament has resulted in both organisations now producing a unisex line of science themed clothes. Participating in such actions are possible, and Let clothes be clothes have template letters for giving retailers feedback that could be adapted to tackle gendered, racialised or ableist science museum shop items. Researchers thinking of everyday science learning could consider the impacts of commercialisation on science narratives. Already, scholarship in the field pays attention to the cost of participating in science museum learning (e.g. travel, entry, and time-off-work costs) and who this includes or excludes (see Dawson 2019), so further consideration of how commercialisation shapes access is worth attention – especially as the brands and museums that have been the focus of this text are but a small set of all museum shops that sell science-related items. 

 

Exit through the gift shop

 

 

1 See  https://www.letclothesbeclothes.co.uk/

 

 

References

Booth E., & Powell R. 2016. Museums: From Cabinets of Curiosity to Cultural Shopping Experiences. In: Katsoni V., Stratigea A. (eds) Tourism and Culture in the Age of Innovation. Springer Proceedings in Business and Economics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-27528-4_9.

Cursed Objects (2022) Van Gogh “Earaser” – ft. Alice Procter. [Podcast]. 3 March. Available from: https://open.spotify.com/episode/3yEpZ2R51uANGSXzbTsds9?si=41dc4a2ee11a4d33&nd=1 [accessed 21 March]

Dawson, E., 2019. Equity, exclusion and everyday science learning: the experiences of minoritised groups. Routledge.

Falk, J.H. & Dierking, L.D. 2012, The Museum Experience Revisited, Taylor & Francis Group, Walnut Creek. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [21 February 2022].

Kent, T. 2009. The role of the museum shop in extending the visitor experience
Journal of Philanthropy and Marketing. https://doi.org/10.1002/nvsm.368.

Kovach, D. S. 2014. Developing the Museum Experience: Retailing in American Museums 1945–91, Museum History Journal, 7(1), pp.103-121, DOI: 10.1179/1936981613Z.00000000024.

Celebrating our former EASST president Prof. Ulrike Felt

Unfortunately, the last EASST council meeting organised and chaired by Ulrike Felt which was supposed to take place in Vienna last December, took place online instead due to the reinstatement of travel measures. To make sure to not just let this moment go by unnoticed, we want to mark the occasion by some words of thanks. We asked some witnesses for reflections on the important work Uli did for EASST as an association, both as its president and during earlier years including the organisation of the EASST meeting in Vienna. We hope you will join us in thanking her in person during the EASST meeting in Madrid.  

 

Message from the EASST Council: 

The EASST Council would like to thank prof. Ulrike Felt for having acted as President from 2017 to 2021. Thanks to her proactive thrust, organizational skills and contagious enthusiasm, Ulrike has shepherded the Council and the broader Association towards a new degree of professionalization. We will remember the warm welcomes at Council meetings where she never run off cakes or (when online) amusing jokes. While her Presidency has coincided with a difficult moment for EASST, the academic community and global health, she has managed to make the voice of the EASST community been heard amidst the pandemic turmoil. 

Thanks and good luck with your next adventures, Uli!

Screenshot from Uli’s last council meeting online

 

Message from Ignacio Farías, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
(former EASST council member and former editor of the EASST Review):

When Uli enters into a room, there is no way you can’t notice. There she comes, full of energy, ideas, positions, visions, jokes, and no matter how comfortable or tired or cozy or bored you were, doing whatever it was you were doing, you react, get activated, start to think with, along, otherwise – it doesn’t matter how exactly, what matters is the energizing momentum, the activation.

If this is what happens when she enters into a room, then imagine what happens when she takes over the direction of something: a journal, a department, a professional association like EASST. Things change and gain momentum. I’ve been lucky enough to be in such rooms with her and see things unfolding with my very own eyes.

During her tenure as a president of EASST, Uli put an incredible amount energy and enthusiasm in advancing the professionalization of our beloved EASST, but always finding the balance to maintain it as the infrastructure of intellectual friendship that it is. Squaring that circle has been a major accomplishment. As a former editor of the EASST Review, I’d like to thank her for all the support and trust, especially when it came to ensuring the necessary funding for the Review and opening up spaces for imagining its future.

On the funny side, perhaps EASST members should know that there was a time during her presidency, when Uli would regularly write emails to EASST council members urgently asking for money. You can imagine what happened. Yes, someone hacked the email account of the EASST presidency and, of course, how could it be different, it took ages to make it work again.

Dear Uli, I am looking forward to meeting and thanking you for all these years, when we all meet in Madrid, and I am especially curious to hear about your plans for continuing supporting the institutionalization of STS in Europe and abroad.

 

Message from Sally Wyatt, University of Maastricht (former EASST President): 

Night train to Vienna

I first met Ulrike during the EASST-4S conference in Vienna in 2000. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do remember that meeting Ulrike contributed to my general feeling of being completely overwhelmed by the numbers of people, variety of panels and presentations. It was the first time I attended a joint meeting of the associations, and it may well have been my first trip to Vienna. 

I found the university itself overwhelming, and I couldn’t navigate the space. So I picked a meeting room that was near the entrance, toilets and coffee, and waited to be educated, informed and sometimes entertained by a variety of STS colleagues on a huge range of topics. I still do this sometimes at a big conference. It’s not a bad strategy. I am rarely disappointed by what I hear, and certainly not more than I would be if I had deeply studied the programme.
Maybe I just looked very lost, but somewhere in that first day, I bumped into Ulrike. She must have been completely up to her eyes in mislaid registrations, disgruntled participants, double-booked rooms, coffee that arrived in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her energy was palpable, and she was completely unflappable. She made me feel as if the most important thing in the world to her at that moment was that I was having an interesting time, and that eventually I would dare to leave my comfortable meeting room near the entrance to find where my own presentation was to be held.
Since then, I have had the enormous honour and pleasure to work with Ulrike on a couple of research projects, teach in the STS group, take part in the Raach writing retreat, and contribute to the STS Handbook 4th Edition. Once we were both part of a EU Commission advisory group, and for me it was the first time. Again, Ulrike helped me to navigate that strange bureaucratic process. The breadth of Ulrike’s knowledge, her sense of humour, and her apparently limitless energy made her an excellent EASST president, including during a couple of difficult corona years.

 

Message from Alan Irwin, Copenhagen Business School:

’no hay camino, se hace camino al andar’ (Antonio Machado)
‘there is no path, the path is made by walking’

I won’t pretend that Spanish poetry is my area of expertise. But I do like this quotation. And it’s a rather good characterization of Uli Felt. Whether as EASST President, the head of a major European STS centre, producing influential European reports or organising the famous Vienna 4S/EASST conference, Uli keeps walking and she keeps making new paths. 

At times, the STS community has asked whether we really need a European space for our activities. Aren’t we all global these days? For me, Uli is the positive embodiment of a European intellectual spirit: alert to our differences as well as similarities; working to make European institutions open to our contributions; recognizing that there are strands of European culture and European history which can caution, challenge, provoke and inspire us. 

With Uli also comes conviviality and a sense of mischief – plus the irrepressible urge to laugh out loud. I have learnt that it can be disruptive, even dangerous, to sit next to her in the conference room. Of course, I do it anyway.

All this means that Uli was the perfect choice to serve as EASST President. And now we thank her for encouraging us to walk forward and for reminding us about what, despite everything, we have in common. Let Uli and EASST keep making that path.

 

Message from Rob Hagendijk, University of Amsterdam:

Uli’s EASST

I’ve known Uli since she invited me for a workshop on ‘public understanding of science’ she organized in Vienna. The workshop was exciting, Vienna was wonderful and Uli deeply impressed me with her unique and joyful combination of intellectual ambition, organizational abilities and – above all- her excellent sense of humor, sharp eye for people and her unmatched ability for infectious laughter. In the margin of the meeting I also started to grasp her taste for good food, nose for enjoyable wineries and biergartens, and also her love for chats about stuff to read, items to pursue and authors to follow. Somebody to stay in touch with and to meet more often. EASST became a defining element for that. Starting when we met again as members of the EASST council under Aant Elzinga’s leadership. 

Late 2021 she stepped down as EASST’s ninth president and after twenty-five years serving EASST. A remarkable accomplishment, as the society exists only forty years. Alongside her involvement in EASST, Uli also managed to establish her own department, served as a Dean in her university, was an advisor to the EU science policy process, editor of STHV and of the fourth edition of the 4S Handbook. She attended an endless number of meetings, preferably in attractive locations and associated possibilities to enjoy cultural and other interesting events. And, in between, she of course supported her steady growing flock of PhD students, helping her PhDs forward with the work to be done and more. The steady flow of reports and articles to be published continues to flow out of her computer.

EASST and 4S have amply profited from her ability to handle ‘fun’ and  ‘trouble’ of all sorts. A major proof of her mettle became the 4S/EASST Conference in Vienna in 2000. Uli was the chair of the local organizing and of the program committee. She had already started to raise funds, reserved hotel space and meeting rooms. And then, Austria tumbled into a deep political crisis. Jörg Haider’s  extreme right-wing party won the elections and became a defining element of the new government coalition. It reminded many of the Nazification of Austria in the 1930’s. Protests erupted and the Ring in front of the main university building became the venue where activists met and marched. International scientific societies, professional associations and others started to cancel meetings. Members of 4S and EASST questioned whether we should not do the same in support of the protests.  

Uli, politically savvy as always, was shocked and in splits over what to do.  She contacted us, that is Sheila Jasanoff, the acting president of 4S, and me as the EASST president, for consultation. Together we agreed on a plan. If consultation of the members of both societies would show sufficient backing Uli c.s. would press forward with a conference at which support for the progressive and democratic forces in Austria would be a major constitutive element. And so it happened. Uli’s presence, leadership, efforts, secure hands and cool mind were key in that. 

So, both societies owe her – and her family!- hugely. Unfortunately, thanking her in person  was not possible at the EASST/4S conference in Prague, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s hope we’ll have a chance to do that in Madrid, in Uli’s signature style.

 

Message from Martina Erlemann, Freie Universität Berlin:

I thought over the 4S/EASST in Vienna in 2000 where I have been involved in the organisation as a then doctoral student but cannot recall some details of the conference organisation. But one for me personally remarkable challenge of that conference which Uli fabulously mastered was how she navigated the upcoming conference against the background of the change of government in Austria. The political change with the right-wing populist party as coalition partner in the beginning 2000 apparently produced some worries within the STS community if Vienna would really be a suitable location for the upcoming 4S/EASST. Here Uli argued in the spirit of “now more than ever” that Vienna would be the right place for an STS conference, since it is precisely the approaches of STS that enable a critique and scrutiny of technoscientific worlds and their entanglements with politics. And finally the conference has been a huge success.

 

Message from Mike Michael, University of Exeter:

I can’t really write in detail about Uli’s many contributions to EASST other than to say that she has been central to the society’s development from strength to strength over the past several years. 

However, I can offer a more impressionistic account of her presence at conferences. At the EASST and EASST/4S conferences, she seems always to be in motion – a whirlwind of greetings, welcomes, encouragements, and slyly humourous asides. In my mind’s eye she is always surrounded by a group of people to whom she dispenses wisdom, inspiration, praise and critique. And all this is wrapped up with deep humanity, and a dose of scepticism to remind us of the challenges posed by our institutional and political worlds. In these respects, she shares her immense energy with the delegates, not least early career colleagues: at base, her presence adds immeasurably to the collegial and intellectual atmosphere of a conference. 

However, there is also a dark side: the fear she generates in the panel sessions. There she sits in the audience, silent and attentive, biding her time. At the end of the talk, her hand goes up – perhaps a little too quickly – and she asks the most outrageously pithy and pitiless question, needlessly laced with erudition and critical insight. It goes without saying that I’m not speaking from experience, and I’ve certainly not had to re-think an entire paper on the basis of her intervention that I never received. What so many of us witness in these terrible moments is Uli’s brilliance as a scholar, and her spectacular ability to cut to the core of a presentation and usefully – and with copious amounts of care, of course – reframe its matters of concern. For all these things (and many others), thank you Uli!

IN MEMORIAM – Trevor Pinch (1952-2021)

Trevor Pinch has been immensely important to the field of science and technology studies, and way beyond. Not just by his impressive range and quality of publications, but because Trevor was life itself. Such a creative mind and lucid writer, his emails were always sparkling with energy, full of humour and exclamation marks. Evenings with Trevor, at dinners in the margins of workshops and conferences, were cheerful as the colourful stories he had to tell. His scholarship was genuinely collaborative. It was about enthusiastically sharing ideas, books, music and links, and a seemingly endless stream of ideas he found inspiring. To us, Trevor embodied the ideal colleague. 

Trevor Pinch was distinguished Goldwin Smith Professor of Science & Technology Studies and Professor of Sociology at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. He has been especially known for his prominent roles in establishing the scholarly fields of social studies of technology and sound studies. But he did much more. He started his science studies career with Harry Collins in Bath, UK, with studies of parapsychology and neutrino detection (Collins and Pinch 1982, Pinch 1986).1 His anthropological study of market traders was sold in airport bookshops (Clark and Pinch 1995). And an even larger readership he reached with the book series The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science, Technology and Medicine, written together with Harry Collins (Collins and Pinch 1993 (1998), Collins and Pinch 1998, Collins and Pinch 2005). This 3-volume series has been translated into 12 other languages. And then he played a self-built analogue synthesizer in the Electric Golem band, which earned him yet another audience in clubs in Ithaca and New York and on Spotify. 

In 1981, Trevor attended the very first EASST conference in the Burg Deutschlandsberg, near Graz in Austria. He presented his work on the detection of solar neutrino’s, resulting from his PhD research in Bath. That PhD project was almost finished, and Trevor would soon be on the job market. Wiebe Bijker was at the same conference to present his first paper on “The Social Construction of Technology”. They met over dinner and in the bar, trying the local Schilcherfrizzante. At the end of this pink-champagne drinking, Trevor accepted a one-year postdoc position at Twente University, The Netherlands, where he started on January 4th, 1982. That collaboration between Trevor and Wiebe resulted in the paper “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other”, first presented in a Paris workshop in Autumn 1982, then at the annual 4S conference in 1983, and finally published in 1984 (Pinch and Bijker 1984). The acronym SCOT for the proposed new approach of a ‘social construction of technology’ was coined by David Edge, the Edinburgh-based editor of Social Studies of Science. 

The presentations of this paper and the ensuing discussions made Trevor and Wiebe realize that there was a dormant interest within the science studies community to start investigating technologies. Hence, they decided to organize a workshop in Twente in 1983, to which, following Donald MacKenzie’s suggestion, they also invited historians of technology such as Thomas Hughes, Ruth Schwartz Cowan and Ed Constant. This resulted in an edited volume that among American students came to be called ‘the school bus book’, because of its yellow-black cover (Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch 2012 [1987]). That book spurred MIT Press to invite Trevor and Wiebe to start the book series ‘Inside Technology’, now counting almost 90 titles. Only 4 weeks before his death, Trevor wrote his last emails as editor of this series.2

After his postdoc at Twente University, Trevor became lecturer in sociology at the University of York. His interest in economic questions was spurred by the collaboration on the Health and Efficiency book with Malcolm Ashmore and Michael Mulkay (Ashmore, Mulkay, and Pinch 1989). Later, in 2008, he followed this interest in developing an economic sociology cum STS perspective in his collaboration with Richard Svedberg (Pinch and Svedberg 2008). In 1990, Trevor moved to Cornell University, where he joined Sheila Jasanoff and helped to create the Department of Science and Technology Studies. Trevor became a full professor in 1994. He served as chair of that Department for eight years. Among his many contributions to STS in those and the following years was the widely cited volume How Users Matter: The Co-construction of Users and Technology, co-edited with Nelly Oudshoorn (Oudshoorn and Pinch 2003). 

Trevor’s pioneering role in sound studies resulted from his combined love for building a synthesizer, playing it and doing science and technology studies. His first presentations about music and technology focused on the early days of the synthesizer and culminated in the wonderfully written Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog synthesizer (Pinch and Trocco 2002). Some of his earlier interests, like that in markets, returned in his examination of the sales techniques—and the boundary shifting between the world of engineering and music involved—that Bob Moog used to pitch his synthesizers as musical instruments to wide audiences. Yet Trevor also showed how the synthesizer’s sound tuned in with the psychedelic technologies of light shows and drugs in the spirit of the 1960s. Analog Days became a Harvard UP bestseller. Yet what Trevor seemed to appreciate most in the success of the book was how it brought him new contacts in the music world that otherwise would probably not have been available to him. 

While finalizing Analog Days, Trevor began preparing the special issue “Sound Studies” for Social Studies of Science with Karin Bijsterveld, arguing that the dramatic socio-technical shifts in the production and consumption of music since the 1950s, and the emerging reflection on how machines, soundscapes and listening practices intersected, made sound and listening matter for STS (Bijsterveld and Pinch 2004). Ever since, sound definitely mattered to him, leading up to the publication of the Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies, again with Karin (Pinch and Bijsterveld 2012). It was very “Trevorish” that he was only prepared to accept the invitation for that Handbook if the book would be allowed to be more than just stocktaking. After all, Trevor always kept reading the newest ‘stuff.’ Instead of summarizing existing sound studies’ work, he aimed at making a volume that would show the newest directions in the field. To him, unsurprisingly perhaps, many of these new directions closely aligned with science and technology studies. 

Trevor Pinch was a prolific writer, authoring and editing 16 books and more than 80 scholarly articles, to which we can do no full justice here. He has been visiting professor to more than 10 universities, from Denmark to Korea and including Maastricht. He has also fulfilled all possible roles of intellectual leadership in the international scientific community. On top of doing his work for the MIT series, he acted as one of the co-editors of the first edition of the STS Handbook (Jasanoff et al. 1995), and served as 4S president (2012-2013).

He genuinely loved teaching. No matter how many prizes and distinctions he was awarded—such as that of honorary doctor at Maastricht University (2013) or the 4S John Desmond Bernal Prize for distinguished contributions to the social studies of science (2018)—he never turned into the type of senior that has ‘been there, done that.’ In 1992, Trevor returned from a conference in Germany and excitedly reported that someone had come up to him to inquire whether “this paper is from your PhD project? When will you be finished?” — for Trevor, no bigger compliment for his research than being compared with a young PhD student. He remained curious to hear which new topics students examined, which technologies they used, and which musical subcultures they co-constructed. In that sense, he kept surrounding himself with the social life that constituted science, technology and sound—and he kept teaching about this until well into the Fall of 2021. 

Trevor Pinch is survived by his longtime partner, Christine Leuenberger, senior lecturer in STS, and his daughters, Benika and Annika. 

 

 

 

1 For more details about Trevor’s work in Bath, see Collins (Collins 2022)

 2 For more details about the workshop, the first edited volume and the book series, see the introductions to the anniversary edition (Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch 2012 [1987]).

 

 

References

Ashmore, Malcolm, Michael Mulkay, and Trevor Pinch. 1989. Health and Efficiency. A Sociology of Health Economics. Milton Keynes/Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Bijker, Wiebe E., Thomas P. Hughes, and T. J. Pinch, eds. 2012 [1987]. The Social Construction of Technological Systems : New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology. Anniversary ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Bijsterveld, Karin, and Trevor Pinch. 2004. “Sound Studies: New Technologies and Music (special issue).”  Social  Studies of Science 34 (5):635-817.

Clark, Colin, and Trevor Pinch. 1995. The Hard Sell. The Language and Lessons of Street-wise Marketing. London: Harper Collins.

Collins, H.M., and T.J. Pinch. 1982. Frames of Meaning. The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Collins, H.M., and T.J. Pinch. 1993 (1998). The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Reprint, 2nd.

Collins, H.M., and T.J. Pinch. 2005. Dr. Golem : how to think about medicine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Collins, Harry. 2022. “In memoriam Trevor Pinch (1 January 1952–16 December 2021).”  Social Studies of Science 52 (1):144-146.

Collins, Harry, and Trevor Pinch. 1998. The golem at large: what you should know about technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jasanoff, Sheila, Gerald E. Markle, James C. Petersen, and Trevor Pinch, eds. 1995. Handbook of science and technology studies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Oudshoorn, Nelly, and T. J. Pinch. 2003. How users matter: the co-construction of users and technologies, Inside technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Pinch, T. J., and Frank Trocco. 2002. Analog days : the invention and impact of the Moog synthesizer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pinch, Trevor. 1986. Confronting Nature. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Pinch, Trevor, and Karin Bijsterveld, eds. 2012. The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pinch, Trevor J., and Wiebe E. Bijker. 1984. “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other.”  Social Studies of Science 14 (3):399-441.

Pinch, Trevor, and Richard Svedberg, eds. 2008. Living in a Material World. Economic Sociology Meets Science and Technology Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Neutrinos, Jet Fuel, Endings and Beginnings

History does not move in a linear, unidirectional, or constant manner. If anything, it moves in fits and starts, suddenly rushing ahead, only to stop suddenly and meander about, or change direction altogether. The seemingly blinding pace of global crises and shocks that have characterized the past two decades have been a testament to that. As we seem to exit the era of COVID-19 and the unprecedented public health measures used to control it, we become preoccupied with concerns over the war in Ukraine and the renewed potential of nuclear war, alongside the existing climate crises, the fragility of the global economy, and threats to the cohesion of the European Union, which have hovered in the background throughout the public health crisis. This issue of the EASST Review reflects on science and technology in these current times, and the evolution of our field within it. 

Most importantly, we are deeply saddened by the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine and our hearts go out to all victims, and especially to our colleagues and friends in Ukraine and Russia, alongside the STS communities in these countries. We laud the efforts (especially on behalf of the Polish community and everyone else involved in Central and Eastern Europe) to welcome refugees from Ukraine, and we hope that such a welcoming stance is extended toward all other refugees. Europeans need no reminder of the cruelty and violence that results from limiting the scope of one’s sympathies. We all agree that STS is political, but it is not always clear what that means. We are especially grateful for the various academic initiatives to welcome refugees, and during the conference in Madrid and future editions of the Review, we invite an open dialogue about the responsibility our community has in the face of such tragedies, as also indicated by our President Maja Horst in the section News of the Council. This edition of the Review offers a start in STS Events, with Ivan Tchalakov’s account of the panel The war in Ukraine and European (dis) integration: possible axes of change, organised by his STS centre at the University of Plovdiv in Bulgaria on March 22. In addition, Translations is offering broader reflections on the concept of internationalisation, inviting us to rethink our engagement with a process that is significant, both in our analysis and our working environments.  

For this edition, we had already invited a number of contributions on the political dimensions of outer space research and exploration for STS Live. Richard Tutton’s piece reflects on the social weightlessness of billionaires’ private space flights and attends to the limits of escapism. Eleanor Armstrong explores the ways that science museum gift shops reinforce limited – and sometimes explicitly sexist and nationalist – understandings of who can conduct space research and exploration. Finally, the piece by Matjaz Vidmar and Saskia Vermeylen shows how science museums can offer alternative, more inclusive visions of space science. Things can always be otherwise, and this paper offers visions for such alternative futures.

This is in line with the upcoming EASST conference in Madrid, (increasingly) appropriately named “The Politics of Technoscientific Futures” which will offer a look into the future of STS, science, and technology. Vincenzo Pavone has written an update, highlighting the immense work of the local committee in organizing a conference in times of war and pandemic. The meeting is now open to register and will feature an impressive number of contributions and promising plenaries (see the last EASST Review and conference website for more information). 

As always there will be an event for early career researchers, this time organized by Rose Bieszczad (EASST Council), Andrea Núñez Casal, and James Besse, offering a space for a new generation of STS researchers to reflect upon what they see as the future of the field. It is our first in-person meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we look forward to meeting STS colleagues and friends, new and old. 

Unfortunately, our community lost another valued member and friend: Trevor Pinch sadly passed away at the end of last year. In addition to the many tributes to him, Wiebe Bijker and Karin Bijsterveld jointly wrote an obituary for our Review. Our sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. STS, and all of us personally, owe a debt of gratitude to Trevor for his long career of research, teaching, and relentless advancement of our field in both Europe and the US. Among many other memories and things, countless much-loved copies of The Golem and the inclusion of sounds and synthesizers in STS are what Trevor leaves behind. 

In this issue we also take the opportunity to reflect on the important work of Ulrike Felt as EASST Council President, who handed over to our new president Maja Horst. This ceremony unfortunately took place online due to reinstated travel measures, but we want to make sure to mark the occasion. A heartfelt thanks to Uli, for all the important work you did for EASST and we look forward to thank you in person during the meeting in Madrid. As the Vienna STS department has already featured in STS Multiple, we thought it was fitting to highlight the development of STS Austria to provide a local context to Uli’s boundaryless work. 

We would also like to warmly congratulate Sheila Jasanoff for receiving the prestigious Holberg Prize 2022 granted by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research at the University of Bergen. This prize reflects her indispensable research and theoretical contributions to STS, contributions that have an immense impact in and beyond STS. Hilde Reinertsen, Tone Druglitrø and Ana Delgado write on this achievement in the STS Events section. 

Finally, as we already told you in the last edition, our editorial assistant Sabine Biedermann is now succeeded by James Besse. We want to take the opportunity to thank Sabine again for all of her contributions and we definitely missed her knowledge in putting these last issues together. You will be able to meet James in Madrid, but in the meantime a brief introduction to the new member of our team. He is a doctoral candidate in STS at the University of Edinburgh, working on identity and access management and its applications in the public sector. James’ research is engaged with ongoing political and legal discussions, especially related to Freedom of Movement. In addition to his PhD research and his involvement in EASST, James is currently working on building networks between STS research groups working on the study of information infrastructures. Together with Léa Stiefel (STS Laboratory, University of Lausanne), he recently organized a workshop bringing together more than 30 STS researchers from across Europe for a workshop in Lausanne, Switzerland, questioning the politics and governance of sociotechnical infrastructures. James is also involved in discussions of methodology in STS, especially mixed-methods research, alongside teaching computer programming and statistical methods to social scientists. As such, he is certainly the right candidate to help us develop the EASST Review as a shared publication infrastructure. And if you want to know more about the University of Edinburgh, you can explore the Curious Edinburgh project in Cherish not Perish. 

The next issue will be dedicated to summaries and impressions of the Madrid event, and we welcome everyone’s contribution via review@easst.net. 

In the meantime, take good care of yourself and each other, 

James, Niki, Sarah and Vincenzo (the editorial team)

Previewing the 2022 EASST Meeting in Madrid: a travel guide

When we started thinking about the content of this EASST Review, we were living in a world that slowly seemed to be opening up again. We thought it would be a good idea to connect to this spirit and present you a preview of the Madrid conference and a special issue about STS in Spain. While at the moment we seem to be getting back into lockdowns across Europe and the state of uncertainty continues over winter, we are still glad that we can provide you with a preview of what awaits us in Madrid in summer. We genuinely hope that this edition will spark some enthusiasm for what EASST has in store for 2022 and that this adds some sunshine and intellectual joy to the festive period. 

One person we will all very much miss during the next conference and as part of the EASST community is our dear colleague and friend Andrew Webster who passed away this Autumn. It seems only fitting that the new section Remembering is dedicated to him this time and SATSU is welcoming any additional thoughts about Andrew on their website: https://www.york.ac.uk/satsu/inmemoryofprofessorandrewwebster/. 

Before diving further into the content of this issue, we would like to warmly welcome Andrea Núñez Casal as guest editor for this issue. With her knowledge of STS in the Spanish context she has been pivotal in the making of this edition. She temporarily took over the place of Sarah Schönbauer, who we want to congratulate with the birth of her son: very happy news! Another important change in the team behind the EASST Review is the shift in editorial assistant. Sabine Biedermann has taken care of the publication for a long time, first working alongside Ignacio Farías and over the past year helping us to understand what it takes to produce a Review. We want to thank her for all she has done for EASST, and the Review and we are hoping to say thank you in person soon. We are very glad that James Besse is taking over Sabine’s work and looking forward to collaborating with him over the years to come. James is doing his PhD at Science, Technology, and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh, studying the design and implementation challenges of the EU Settlement Scheme in the context of Brexit. As such the connection between the UK and Europe is close to his heart and he is keen to contribute to EASST. 

This EASST Review is about the upcoming EASST 2022 Meeting in Madrid (now July 6-9, 2022) and STS in Spain. First, Vincenzo and Tess Doezema, will give an update about the conference preparations, including announcement of date change, followed by a special focus on the plenary sessions awaiting us from post-growth to science fiction. As place matters in research, and it is always better to get to see a place through the eyes of locals, we envisioned this volume of the Review as an ‘STS travel guide’, a modest intellectual and experiential guide to reflect on our upcoming meeting. With tourism being a key sector of the Spanish economy, we hope that our proposition of conceiving the present volume of Review as a ´travel guide´ becomes a playful invitation to ruminate about, practice, and experience other forms of tourism in Spain, beyond stereotypes of sun, fiestas and siestas. As such, the Review maps the heterogenous and pluralistic ways in which STS is practiced in Spain. STS multiple is dedicated to Spanish research groups relevant to STS and Cherish not Perish highlights the Spanish journals Arbor and Dynamis. We have invited contributions of groups and journals broadly and we still welcome additional contributions which we will publish in the upcoming months on the conference website. 

Our intention in the preparation of this review was driven by our aim to show the diverse ways in which STS in practised in the host country of our forthcoming 2022 Meeting. STS multiple embodies those divergences, similarities, and idiosyncrasies of STS by including research groups from Vigo, Valencia, Ciudad Real, Madrid, and Barcelona. This section of the Review will show the interplay between an STS drawing on (critical) innovation studies, techno(bio)politics, technofeminism and disability studies among others, and an STS shaped and reshaped by the deep-rooted intellectual tradition in the History and Philosophy of Science, Medicine, and Technology in the country.  An example of this transformations is the pioneering research field of Science, Gender, and Technology initiated in the past century by colleagues from the Science, Technology and Society Department of the Institute of Philosophy (CCHS, CSIC). The work of these colleagues has built, for decades, inclusive onto-epistemologies (see Alcalá, Pérez Sedeño y Santesmases, 2007), for instance highlighting the crucial role that women played throughout the history of Spanish science (see Santesmases, 2018). 

Travel guides are about places. Likewise, tangentially, we believe that the work of our colleagues that these pages showcase, offer a rich opportunity through which to approach and experience Spain in its multiple and plural configurations: its rich, confronted cultures and (at times brutal) histories; its wounded silences; its jovial, joyful, and hopeful differences; its pluralistic ways of enacting and being in these diverse composites of lands or “territories of difference(s)” (Escobar, 2008). These territories of differences that compose more-than-one Spain, are indissociable from its imperial and colonial past and, consequently, from the ongoing historical responsibility and debt of Spain with Latin America. This fact brings us to the question of language and ‘translations’. As you will see, this Review does not include the section Translations yet it embodies it by reflecting on shifts in meanings of STS in Spain and its concepts across borders, languages, and times. Spanish language, argues philosopher Reyes Mate, is “the language of an empire that ends up being spoken by conquerors and conquered” (2021, p. 14). Simultaneously, thinking in Spanish implies to be challenged by the «experiential richness of language”; it means to discover the “vocation of the South” (ibid) by which knowing and experiencing are one. 

Os deseamos un muy buen descanso vacacional y un buen comienzo del año nuevo. ¡Nos vemos en 2022! As always, we welcome contributions to our next Review coming out in Spring.

The EASST Review editors, 

Andrea, Niki and Vincenzo 

News from the Council

Dear members of EASST

Warm greetings to you all. We would like to update you on the latest developments regarding EASST. At our Council meeting in June we discussed several issues of great importance.

First of all, we are working towards holding a physical conference in 2022. We have decided that this will take place in Madrid. We are currently negotiating with a potential venue and setting up a local conference committee to be expertly chaired by Vincenzo Pavone.

Previously, we have run our conferences in a university setting. However, that will not be possible in 2022. Our conference has outgrown the capacity of most European universities. And many universities find themselves unable to commit to holding a conference next year given that we do not exactly know how the pandemic will develop.

Nevertheless, Council has decided to take a leap of faith and trust that we can have a physical conference next year. In particular, we really, really miss the face-to-face interaction and fun of our past conferences. However, the fact that we are opting for a professional venue means that organizing costs will increase. Our registration fees will therefore be higher compared to the Lancaster venue (20-30%). We regret this, but can see no other way to proceed. Once we have an overview of the entire budget we will consider support measures to keep the event as inclusive as possible. We hope that you, our community, will accept this and join us in making the Madrid conference next year a huge success.

Secondly, Council members had a good initial discussion about our responsibility as a scholarly community to support open science and the creation of FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) data around our scholarly activities – for instance our conference and publication work. We will not be able to lift this agenda singlehandedly, but we will try to collaborate with other actors who share in our beliefs about the importance of open availability of our (meta)data and publications (rather than having ownership reside with big publishing companies that are not working according to the same principles). We have formed a working group that will work with this theme and suggest ways forward.

We also discussed forming a group that will review our EASST awards (Amsterdamska, Freeman & Ziman awards) and the process by which these are decided. We would like to hear from you, our community, about this. What is it that you believe we should award as a community and how you think we should celebrate our scholarly achievements? If you have views, comments and questions regarding this, please send an email to Maja using majho(at)dtu.dk.

Finally, we discussed how to proceed with identifying a conference venue for what we hope will be a joint conference with 4S in 2024 (they seem as keen as we are). We also discussed how to manage our EASST fund for extra-conference activities, our prize committees and our own budget and admin.

We hope you all have/had a very happy Summer and a well-deserved holiday break.
On behalf of EASST Council,

Ulrike Felt and Maja Horst
President and President elect of EASST

Genomics in Context

The joys of research and writing – of pursuing a line of inquiry, finding an exciting vignette – can too often turn to frustration. However pleased you are with that carefully crafted couple of paragraphs, they just have to be removed. They really do not advance the argument enough to stay in, given the word count and the additional suggestions of the reviewers. As a result, it gets cut, and maybe lives on dormant in a document located somewhere in a labyrinthine file system.

So, when historian of biology Michel Morange suggested as a spin-off of the European Research Council funded ‘TRANSGENE: Medical translation in the history of modern genomics’ project that we develop a web resource showcasing our research, I immediately grasped its potential. Such a resource could make use of the research and writing that does not make it into a paper. It could allow us to develop these elements, or other research findings that cannot achieve full bloom in the cramped confines of a peer-reviewed article. It could also provide us with the platform to summarise our research for non-specialist audiences. I felt this was needed, as public resources specifically on genomics that are deeply informed by humanities and social science scholarship tend to be scattered, when present at all.

The idea was born for ‘Genomics in Context’. A successful application for a Beltane Public Engagement Fellowship gave me the room and impetus to explore this idea. I discussed it with colleagues with experience in public engagement, other academics teaching genomics to undergraduates, and professional writers. The website – www.genomicsincontext.com – includes articles of three to five-thousand words, with an accompanying blog for shorter pieces. The intention ultimately is to use blog posts as seeds for longer articles. For now, it serves as a valued venue to allow selected students on courses here in the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies subject group to develop high quality assignments into public posts, with my guidance as editor.

For the articles, upon advice I have shaped a review process that provides a rigour to ensure high-quality outcomes worthy of inclusion on a CV, while making it as painless and constructive for contributors as possible. A small group of researchers here at the University of Edinburgh have participated, attending review meetings at which we discussed draft articles, with the author present if they wished to be. An assigned lead reviewer was tasked with collating and synthesising the views discussed in the meeting, and producing a report for the author to aid them in their revising ahead of publication. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, I have been less able to secure new writers and the review process has necessarily become more virtual and distant. Soon, I hope to be able to be out there securing commitments and holding review meetings similar to the pre-pandemic model.

The resource is intended to be a long-term project, with articles and blog posts steadily added, and additional resources for further exploration included and contextualised. I have plans to add some video content, and also to include an ‘ontology’, an information resource modelled on ontologies in the natural sciences, in which entities – such as individuals, institutions and projects – and the relations between them, can be accessed by users. This would be useful as a reference, as well as a research tool for discerning connections and patterns across genomic research.

Feedback, suggestions for content (including new kinds of content) and submissions of draft blog posts and articles are always welcome. Please fill out the contact form on the website to do this.

 

Staying with the troubles of infrastructuring stsing: between assemblage and “Verein”

How could it take four years? When the first general assembly of stsing will take place on 10 September 2021, four years will have passed since the first ideas of (re)organising STS in Germany emerged over two cappuccinos and an Americano. Covid-19 is a good excuse, as is German bureaucracy. But they are not the only reasons. Once, when one of us first told him about STS, a math professor and research-collaborator exclaimed “you seem to complexify things; isn’t science about making problems simple and easy to solve”? He had gotten a good sense of STS.

The STS community in Germany does not make it easy for itself to create an association. As is often the case in STS, we seem not just to want to provide innovative results; we also want to intervene into the mode of producing results. In Germany, a part of the STS community wants to organise itself differently from how academic societies traditionally organise. It wants more of a dynamic platform that empowers young scholars and less of a society safeguarded by established colleagues. It desires more facilitation of new ideas and less emphasis on tradition. It urges for more decentralized and unpredictable activities and less ceremonial events. It seeks to embrace linguistic cosmopolitanism while also supporting local forms of communication. It wishes to be inclusive while also having norms about how (not) to treat each other. It aspires for co-laboration with non-academics, while sticking to high intellectual standards. It is critical of scholastic conventions but insists on engaging with the socio-material constraints of universities as workplaces.

Plans

In view of these ambitious intentions the device chosen for infrastructuring the community may seem hopelessly antiquated: the “Verein” organisational form. This German association entails among others a statute, clearly defined (non-)members, general assemblies with fixed agendas, and a board. The task at hand was to mobilise these rigid structures for our visions of fluid, caring, and co-laborative processes. We (obviously many more than the authors of this text) studied how activist organisations had solved this problem before us, and agreed on the observation that the flexibility and care we sought to nurture would flourish best in smaller autonomous groups. We envisioned independent workgroups to be the core organs of the associations: project groups sharing research on particular topics, event groups planning conferences or workshops, interest groups discussing STS teaching, peer-support groups helping each other with research applications and publications, etc.

However, such a decentralized structure is likely at risk of fragmentation, and thus integrative devices had to be invented. Four devices were conceived that should provide this:

  1. a shared communication platform, which would allow all members a window into what happened in the other workgroups, and also ease access for newcomers,
  2. a reporting system which would require of workgroups to regularly sum up and inform about their activities,
  3. an organ that would collect the workgroups’ reports and communicate them back to the community and to external observers, and
  4. informal regional groups in which members across the specialised workgroups would meet and mingle.

Members of the workgroups would be likely to come from all over the country (and probably from abroad as well), and maybe even primarily meet online. This could make it difficult for newcomers to join and it could easily end up formalising interaction, which was thought to likely obstruct creativity, and indeed care. The regional groups should enable members to meet up across the workgroup and to exchange their activities, experiences and ideas more informally than through reporting.

Each of the four devices turned out to be controversial. Very much so the question of the collectors workgroup reports. These were originally thought of a foresters or caretakers who should consider themselves as servants of the workgroups rather than their editors or regulators. The formal organ that was available for this task in the “Verein” organisational form was the board. Voices critiqued naming the board “foresters” or “caretakers”, as this would conceal the power granted to them. What a dilemma! How do you redefine, and disempower a formally powerful organ, when renaming it at the same time conceals its power? How strong or how weak is the performativity of a name? The question will have to be answered in another context, since we reacted to the critique by refraining from renaming the board.

Situated action

This infrastructure was a “Kopfgeburt” (head birth) that still is in the process of being turned into real bodies, relations and events. On 27 October 2020 ten people gathered in the central Berlin part Tiergarten to found the association; with distance and outside to avoid Sars-Cov2 contagion. A board of seven people was elected, and the work of turning the conceived infrastructure into lived reality began. A seemingly endless number of trivial formal decisions were to be made, which in the interaction among STS scholars all become political: from the question of which data to collect on the membership form to how to store membership data securely, which lawyer to choose for the registering of the association, whether and in what form to add an anti-discrimination statement in the statute, how to address workgroups in order to perform the desired role of the board, how to secure that not only men are working on the technical infrastructure, etc., etc.

Miro Board from Board meeting

Parallel to the board busy infrastructing stsing, another group is working on the inaugural conference, which due to the SARS-Cov2 pandemic had to be postponed and hopefully will take place on 20-21 May 2022 in Paderborn, with and exciting experimental programme. Yet other people have taken contact to the German Research Foundation to initiate a discussion of how STS research applications are best handled in a highly disciplinary funding landscape. Some scholars gather to develop a concept of how to ensure stsing engagements to be anti-discriminative. Other colleagues organise the technical infrastructure and the online elections for the next board, etc.

STS beyond stsing

While stsing is currently quite occupied with its own internal infrastructuring, its founding has also had effects on the larger landscape of STS in Germany. The Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung (GWTF) has existed since the EASST conference in Bielefeld in 1987, just as many other organisations and networks exist that are concerned with technology assessment, politics of technology, philosophy of science and philosophy of technology, the needs of young STS scholars, etc. Due to the abundance and well-established scholarly organisations in Germany dealing with science and technology, voices arose inquiring if what we need is really yet another association? This led to intense debates, but the shared wish to embrace diversity and abundance of STS in Germany has resulted in an initiative to bring all these heterogeneous networks and organisations together, many of whom had prior not been aware of each other’s existence. Both in 2019 and in 2020 meetings were organised for all the STS groups in Germany, and at the moment a group is organising a larger joint conference in the autumn of 2022 for all the German STS networks.

Nicely troubling

Writing this short report, we realize that a lot has happened over the past four years. Much has unfolded in smaller groups, such as the board convening online every other week. With the view to the upcoming first general assembly on 10 September, we expect stsing activities to be more publicly visible and engaging. The first general assembly will have public online keynotes and take place as a distributed event in smaller local “hubs” all over the country. We are looking forward to seeing STS colleagues gathering locally while sharing this collective event. It is exciting to be part of organising a community that does not shy away from neither complexity nor trouble and where there always seems to be someone, who has yet a better idea, or who point to yet another problematic implication of the latest decision. We feel confident that by cultivating response-ability to these many voices, stsing will indeed keep mobilising the German STS community in a lively, productive and nicely troubling way.

Anyone is warmly invited to join the infrastructuring endeavour; the discussions, complications, transformations, and indeed the celebrations that make stsing happen. Membership is open to all. It starts here: https://stsing.org/

Stsing.org webpage

The Cosmology of stsing

Every society needs a cosmology to explain itself to itself. Where do we come from? What are we all about? Where are we going? Without such a foundational narrative, socioecological cohesion cannot be achieved, purpose cannot be agreed upon, decisions cannot be made.

“Doing STS in and through Germany” – or stsing for short – is not really a people in an anthropological sense, nor is it a society in a sociological or institutional sense. More an emergent community of practice, perhaps. Yet, communities of practice also need a cosmology. So, here is one version of a founding myth: It is the 4th of October 2017, early afternoon. Picture a grey overcast coldish day in Berlin. Typical autumn weather. In a small bustling café on Friedrichstraße, three still young(ish) scholars from three different German universities huddle in a quiet corner around a small table drinking cappuccinos and an Americano. I’d like to think the scene and the mood were conspirative, but, realistically, no-one in the café that day could have cared less about what the three were concocting in their corner. The three are seriously overworked and mainly glad to share a coffee with long-time friends before heading back to work. All three of them consider themselves scholars in/of/with science and technology studies and over the years have had their conversations about the state of this weird inter-discipline worldwide and in the German academic landscape that is still so strongly shaped by disciplines – for better or worse.

That autumn afternoon, the conversation once more turns to STS in Germany. The three agree that a lot has been happening lately: new posts, new centres and new people; mainly in places where you wouldn’t expect it, rarely connected to the established landscape of philosophy, sociology and history of science. Interesting. What seems to be missing, though, is a sense of shared ownership of STS, is an institutional base, and are possibilities to get together as STSers, and to systematically contribute our expertise to society, and learn from societal actors. It’s not too bad in Berlin, because there is always already lots of everything in Berlin so you find your people, have coffee and engage in exciting discussions. Yet in many other cities and at many other universities, many STS-minded scholars – especially early career scholars – are sitting in disciplined departments and struggle to find interlocutors for those matters of concern that exceed the established thought styles that surround them.

Is this not the right time, the three surmise trying to ignore the hissing of the coffee machine, to set up some sort of society for STS scholars in Germany? The idea sits on the table like a joke or at least matter out of place. Yet, the ideas flourish: A platform for societal actors meeting up with STS scholars, discuss current issues, learn from each other and share their expertise, create connections across disciplines and across the boundaries of academia. Make STS a visible actor in German academia society. They have emptied their coffee. How would that work? No tenure, no future, no idea where to even start. Then there is the intellectual issue: Is the spirit of STS not diametrically opposed to the idea of a ‘society’ – board meetings, rules of procedure, membership fees…? And then there is the institutional issue: Germany already has a Society for the Study of Science and Technology, the GWTF, with its small but beautiful annual meetings of largely sociologists of science and technology.

In all its absurdity, the idea still seems right. Maybe ‘society’ is not the right framing. Maybe it needs something more rhizomatic, something more platform-like. Not in the start-up economy, exploitative sense, but in the sense of providing a platform to early career scholars to network, to develop collective formats of learning, to generate new ideas. Also: Representation is an issue. STS is institutionally weak and underrepresented in the core funding agencies. For a moment, there is a sense of something exciting coming together. Diffuse yet and too big to grasp. But time is up and the three need to return to work. Two things are agreed: It is worth a try. They need help.

A few months later, help has arrived: Tanja Bogusz, Endre Dányi, Jörg Niewöhner, Martin Reinhart, Martina Schlünder, Estrid Sørensen and Tahani Nadim gather in Berlin to prepare a lunchtime meeting at the EASST conference in Lancaster in 2018 of what has now received the working title: STS Germany. The purpose is clear: Get a sense of numbers and interest for STS in Germany. Bring the existing organisational forms together. Listen. Network. Plan. A rough sketch for the meeting is quickly drawn up, Estrid is elected frontwoman for the day, post-its and white boards are organised. Ready to go.

What if we have STS Germany and no-one shows up? Preparing the room that day in amazingly sunny and warm Lancaster on the university campus, there is doubt in the air. So much STS, so many brilliant sessions: Who were we to think that STS needs another grouping in Europe? Then its lunchtime and they come: More than 110 people cram into the room listening to Estrid’s kick off, to representatives from GWTF, the Science & Democracy Network run in Germany by MCTS in Munich, and INSIST – the young scholars network organised out of Bielefeld. Who would have thought? The group is heterogeneous, dominated by early career scholars, and it is enthusiastic. All sorts of things are suggested but agreement is reached on the following:

  • None of the existing networks represent a significant majority of the people who attend the meeting.
  • The majority of people who speak articulate the need for exchange, cooperation and support within this emerging community.
  • The relationship of a potential new body with existing networks needs to be clarified. In any case, anything new needs to respect and work together with existing forms.
  • Most people favour a decentralised, rhizomatic structure (network) strongly building on and caring for early career scholars from MA/Sc students to senior research associates.
  • The network ought to support knowledge, mentoring and exchange on the inside, function as a port of call for people abroad, over time represent STS in Germany to the outside world, and improve STS’s standing with funders.
  • The network should facilitate online collaborative support, for instance through an online platform/database (projects, people, degrees, syllabi …), foster possibilities to link and exchange, organise meetings and prepare joint grant applications.
  • Modes of co(l)laboration among academic STS scholars and experts developing, governing, administrating and using science and technology should be developed.
  • An annual meeting and smaller workshops (e.g. around methods) seemed desirable. Perhaps a new journal?

 

2019 stsing Workshop in Kassel
2019 stsing Workshop in Kassel

What a frenzy. The meeting is over quickly and the crowd disperses into further sessions. What remains is a newsletter to sign up for and a strong sense of enthusiasm and possibility. Not much to go on, but it is enough for people to start meeting in the following weeks and months in groups to specify tasks in organisation, communication, infrastructure and administration. A follow-up meeting in Kassel begins to emerge with a much more specific agenda focused on how this can actually be done: when, by whom and in what way so as to respect the interests of everyone involved. The momentum carries.

 

There is a foundational myth for you. As if STS could ever handle a singular cosmology.