Tag Archives: EASST Activities

Views from the Edge: Prototyping “Rapid” Ethnography in Madeira

In May 2018, three scholars met on the Portuguese island of Madeira to discuss the perspectives we bring to our work in STS and adjacent fields. Intending to undertake 10 days of exploratory “rapid” research in this particular field site, relying on “walkshops” and ethnographic participant observation, we instead emerged having shot two 360-degree “immersive” documentary films and attempted the aerial mapping of a key site with a kit provided by a citizen science non-profit.

Coming from different fields—contemporary art and curating (Michelle Kasprzak, University of Porto/Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute), journalism and digital media (António Baía Reis, University of Porto), ethnography and innovation studies (Justin Pickard, University of Sussex)—we three authors were united by an interest in what rapid, collaborative, and experimental research approaches could bring to an interrogation of questions around landscape, inclusion, digital technology, and imagined futures. In this, the “edge” of the title denotes Cabo Girão, a set of cliffs on Maderia’s southern coast looking out over the Atlantic, and, by extension, the island’s peripheral status. While our time in the field was limited, we found ourselves focusing on how these thematic concerns—questions which have animated our research elsewhere—are inflected by Madeira’s location on the outermost edge of Europe, an autonomous region of Portugal, but with a common colonial maritime history.

Fig. 1: Bay of Câmara de Lobos, 9 May 2018.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

This experiment took place in the interstices of Kasprzak and Baía Reis’s respective doctoral research projects. Kasprzak’s work was already well underway, working with at-risk youths in Malvinas, a bairro in the fishing community of Câmara de Lobos, on Madeira’s south coast. Involving these young people in practices of art-making, and working in close collaboration with a Madeira-born artist, her research looked at the role of curation in helping articulate local sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff and Kim, 2009)—the visuals, symbols, shared understandings that influence the behaviour and decisions of members of this particular community. With Kasprzak’s research as a backdrop, Baía Reis was using a multi-lens Vuze camera to capture 360-degree video footage, material for a couple of short “immersive documentary” films that would be experienced online or through wearable virtual reality headsets. In pursuing this goal, his overriding concern was with the kind of narratives that would be best suited to this emerging visual medium, arriving prepared with some ideas and “leads” regarding what to shoot in mind.

With this coincidence of individuals and research projects, and inspired by a list of provocative prompts on “experimental” ethnography from media anthropologist Gabriele de Seta (2017)—variously relaxing, reworking, or breaching the conventions of ethnography as method and genre—saw an opportunity for some wider methodological experimentation. Where much established STS ethnography would stretch for longer durations, often relying on the efforts of a single researcher, we asked what it could mean to work rapidly, at speed, drawing on the observations and products of three people. Writing on short-term ethnography as a research practice characterised by its “intensity”, Pink and Morgan (2013) borrow from design, corporate ethnography, and applied research to discuss how researchers can use more “interventional as well as observational methods”, working in ways that could be too intrusive to sustain over longer time frames. In our work in Madeira, much of this intensity came from being able to join in media res.

In this, early plans for a “walkshop”, described as a “workshop conducted through walking” (Wickson et al., 2015: 243), fall by the wayside, as, lacking social capital and a neat description of our aims, we prove incapable of convening sufficient participants beyond ourselves. Instead, our explorations unfold through person-to-person and small group interactions, visiting people in their own pre-existing milieus, and participating in situations linked to work already in progress. Seizing on plans already underway, we join the artist and members of the Malvinas youth centre for a three-hour boat trip aboard a replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria, originally built to represent Madeira wine at the 1998 Lisbon World Expo, since repurposed a tourist attraction with a tethered macaw, ship’s dog, and bar serving rum and cokes. We attend a Catholic mass, a wine-tasting, and a foreign academic’s Eurovision Party. We travel by cable car, walk the coastline, and explore the graves and ornamental masonry of the British Cemetery of Funchal—taking photos of Communist Party paste-ups, museum exhibits, EU-funded wifi infrastructure, and a government department’s appeal to return “octopuses weighing less than 750g … to the sea to continue to grow normally.”

Fig. 2: One of many signs inviting users—in Portuguese and English—to connect to free wifi available in Câmara de Lobos. Installation of the service and creation of the application cost roughly €31,000, with five initial access points targeting areas with the greatest footfall.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

As a second set of departure points, we also drew from existing work on collaborative and event ethnography, forms of research that have relied on larger research teams to tackle time-limited or otherwise ephemeral sites—conferences (Brosius and Campbell, 2010), trade shows, state fairs (Paulson, 2009), and, in one case, a day-long taping of British television series The Antiques Roadshow (Weston and Djohari, 2018). While time in Madeira was limited, our field site was less clearly bounded, our group much smaller, more mixed, and less bound by hierarchy or institution. As a result of our self-consciously experimental orientation, there was little sense of what might constitute “success.” We had goodwill, but less common ground—something anthropologist Kirsten Hastrup (2018) discusses as part of reflections on her interactions with a group of biologists and archaeologists as part of a research voyage in northwest Greenland. With no common lexicon and fewer shared assumptions, Hastrup stresses the extent to which cross-disciplinary collaboration relies on those moments in which “the implicated disciplines become visible as human practices, embodied, and emplaced.” (Hastrup, 2018: 317) In such undertakings, the field site itself becomes that which is shared, an anchor and reference point. By opting to meet in the field, “the shared bodily experience of appropriating a landscape together” allows “a drifting of ideas” (Hastrup, 2018: 318), unsettling old certainties.

In Madeira, assisting Baía Reis in his 360-degree video work, work which opens “interesting scenarios in the interconnection of image making and emplacement” (Gómez Cruz, 2017: 28), seeing his criteria for suitable material foregrounds some key distinctions between journalistic storytelling and ethnography; between the deliberate, conscious orchestration of meetings and cultivation of story leads, a logic driven by time constraints and the practical difficulties of maneuvering bulky equipment between sites, and a more open-ended, explicitly opportunistic mode of research. Shooting footage, a aggregation of material captured by the camera’s multiple lenses, “stitched” together by software later, we also encounter a tension between the evident expense of the recording equipment and the filmmaker’s desire not to “break” audience immersion by appearing in the shot. Such calculations lead to some awkward scrambling as we attempt to maintain a direct line of sight on the equipment while ourselves remaining concealed behind rocks or landscape features. In Câmara de Lobos, we meet with “Bailinha”, a master boat builder resident in Malvinas. Having retired from the shipyard, he now works on other wooden products, primarily for tourists, while making attempts to train a younger generation in carpentry skills. At the time of our meeting, he is threatened with eviction from his workshop in a disused government on the seafront, a space granted to him by a former council leader, to make way for the ongoing development of the bay. Interviewing Bailinha, we then visit his workshop, where Baía Reis sets up a camera to obtain 360-degree footage of the interior, making sure to capture the craftsman in action, using the relevant tools and equipment. WIth the shot level, he closes the door, and steps outside. The audio from the interview will play over this footage, anchoring the story in a particular interior space.

Fig. 3: Inside Bailinha’s studio, prior to his eviction. The model boat’s name, Espada Preta, translates as ‘black scabbardfish’, a regional delicacy.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

As part of our more explicitly ethnographic observations, we visit La Vie Funchal, a four-storey shopping mall in the centre of Funchal, described by one local as a place people go when they want to “escape the island”. Seemingly unconcerned with history or identity, and with little linking it to its immediate surroundings, it is easy to imagine it having been copied and pasted from somewhere else—though, in fact, the architect was Ricardo Bofill, designer of Catalonia’s iconic 1975 public housing project, Walden 7. At the time of our visit, the mall is hosting a temporary exhibition of the island’s first Captain-Majors: João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira, and Bartolomeu Perestrello. Intended to “acknowledge the men who led the colonization process of these Atlantic islands”, marking and commemorating “Madeira’s 600 years by reviving and reinforcing the connection of community to heritage and its past”; the organising frame has onlookers declare themselves to be the heirs of these men, with cut-out hole pictures, reproductions of exploration instruments including a sextant and armillary sphere, and a model caravel, one of the small sailing ships developed to explore the Atlantic and West African coasts. The setting is jarring in its incongruity, with the trappings of Portuguese colonial expansion displayed against a backdrop of escalators, potted palms, and bureaux de change.

Fig. 4: Exhibition commemorating the first Captain Majors of Madeira, at La Vie Funchal, part of celebrations marking 600 years since the discovery of Madeira and Porto Santo by the Portuguese.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

Led by Kasprzak, we attempt an aerial mapping of the Malvinas housing projects, using a balloon mapping kit produced by Public Lab, a Boston-based nonprofit group. First devised as part of a response to the information blackout surrounding the 2010 BP Oil DIsaster in the Gulf of Mexico, capturing hundreds of thousands of digital photos that could be “stitched” together and uploaded to Google Earth, the kit would usually comprise string, protective gloves, rubber bands, zip ties, a carabiner, and 5.5ft weather balloon. Kasprzak’s institution provide a digital camera modified to enable continuous shooting, but we have to supply our own helium balloons—obtained from a Funchal party supplies store, then quickly bundled into the back of a taxi. With official maps and floorplans of Malvinas difficult to come by, but required as a base for the next stage of the art collaboration, our intent is to replace this information with digital aerial photography. Following a YouTube tutorial from a local youth centre’s internet cafe, we assemble a harness and cradle for the camera, sawing through a plastic drinks bottle with a knife. Ultimately, the balloons lack the required buoyancy; with inclement weather and insufficient height, our attempts to guide the barely-airborne device through the neighbourhood is little more than a curiosity for the neighbourhood’s residents.

Fig. 5: Balloon mapping in Malvinas.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

With the “edge” of Cabo Girão as our backdrop, this research prototype certainly succeeded in achieving the experiential “intensity” of encounter recognised by Pink and Morgan (2013). We may not have realised been able to sustain a single collectively-held perspective on this fragmented network of field sites (see Burrell, 2009), but the shared experience of encountering and striving to make sense of a particular landscape helped us to engage substantively with each others’ divergent, often unfamiliar practices of research. Though the organisation of “walkshops”—as an original stated aim—may have proved unworkable, we made the most of the readymade situations and spaces of encounter to which we could most easily gain access. Our limited time in the field was a generative constraint, enabling us to sustain an intensity of engagement that would have otherwise been impossible. Visual material and outputs also had a particularly important role, with Baía Reis’ “immersive” video footage and Kasprzak’s bricoleur assembly of an apparatus capable of producing aerial photography both providing an effective external scaffold and accessible entry point for participation and informant engagement.



Baía Reis, A., Coelho, A. F. V. C., 2018. Virtual Reality and journalism. Digital Journalism, ahead of press, 1-11.

Brosius, J.P., Campbell, L., M., 2010. Collaborative Event Ethnography: Conservation and development trade-offs at the fourth world conservation congress. Conservation and Society, 8 (4), 245-255.

Burrell, J. 2009. The field site as a network: a strategy for locating ethnographic research. Field Methods 21 (2): 181-199.

de Seta, G., 2017. Experimental ethnography: 31 prompts. http://paranom.asia/2017/09/experimental-ethnography-31-prompts/

Gómez Cruz E., 2017. Immersive reflexivity: using 360° cameras in ethnographic fieldwork. In: Gómez Cruz E., Sumartojo S., Pink S. (Eds.), Refiguring Techniques in Digital Visual Research, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 25-38.

Hastrup, K., 2018. Collaborative moments: Expanding the anthropological field through cross-disciplinary practice. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 83 (2): 316-334.

Jasanoff, S., Kim, S.-H., 2009. S.-H. Kim (2009). Containing the Atom: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and Nuclear Power in the United States and South Korea. Minerva, 47: 119-146.

Paulson, K.E., 2009. Ethnography of the ephemeral: studying temporary scenes through individual and collective approaches. Social Identities 15 (4), 509-524.

Pink, S., Morgan, J., 2013. Short-term ethnography: intense routes to knowing. Symbolic Interaction, 36 (3), 351-361.

Weston, G. and Djohari, N., 2018. Student/staff ‘Collaborative Event Ethnography’ at the Antiques Roadshow. Journal Of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, 4(1): 1-7.

Wickson, F., Strand, R., Kjølberg, K.L., 2015. The walkshop approach to science and technology ethics. Science and Engineering Ethics 21, 241-264.


“Doing Data”: Methodography in and of STS

How does STS ethnography meet what it researches? Not prescriptive methodology – we were interested in methodography, describing and problematising how methods shape data. 2018 saw three research events that focused on data infrastructures and practices in participant observation and in collaborating with other actants in & around the field. With this focus, we turned back and looked at our own research practices. This meant exploring what kind of performative relations arise between STS and our topics of research and how these relations were materially and otherwise shaped.

Amidst today’s conversations about what data (big or small) might be, or could do, a reflexive moment has arisen within STS. Whilst STS scholars have been foundationally studying research practices – data handling and processing, translations, semiotic and material practices, epistemic and ontological shifts – these have been almost exclusively in fields of scholarship outside of STS. We have studied knowledge practices across the sciences, in spaces of engineering, technology, from laboratories to fields, governance practices to evidence regimes. But what happens when we turn back and look at our own research practices? In the take-up of ethnography within STS, what kind of performative relations arise between STS and its topics of research? 

The Spring and Summer of 2018 saw three interrelated research events on these questions. They took form as a series of conversations in Berlin and Lancaster, organised by Ingmar Lippert, Rachel Douglas-Jones, Tahani Nadim, Jörg Niewöhner as well as Julie Sascia Mewes (and supported by Göde Both).[1]


Fig 1: Workshop introduction (left: John Law; center: Ingmar Lippert)
Source: Ildikó Plájás

Critique of method is not without precedence, and a series of important moments from different eras informed our discussions. In 1975, Paul Feyerabend wrote Against Method, setting the tone for the questioning to come. His rallying cry opposed the strict constraints that methods can impose, which Feyerabend considered weakening epistemological openness. Down the decades, John Law’s 2004 After Method speculated on the practices of analysis and writing in the wake of methods deconstruction, questioning stereotypical UK social science methods training. Inventive Methods by Lury and Wakeford (2012) is an inheritor to these questions, turning to specific devices in the doing of epistemic work. Their range of method devices ran from tape recorders to the conceptual work of “configuration”, elaborated by Lucy Suchman. Even though these texts were very much about the relation between methods and the making of worlds, the collection did not focus on narratives of how certain kinds of method assemblages, used in specific places at specific times, produced researchers’ own particular accounts.

The term methodography arises in the work of STS ethnomethodologists Christian Greiffenhagen, Michael Mair and Wes Sharrock (2011) which contemplates the difference between methodologies that are prescriptive and studies that allow for the problematisation of qualitative research method within the account given. At that point, STS and its methods did not arise as an empirical field for their questions – something that arose as a point of discussion at the EASST/4S Roundtable ‘Does STS have problems?’, organised by Noortje Marres and Endre Dányi in 2016[2] . Yet typically texts that question STS methods waver between a prescriptive-normative take and a descriptive problematisation (e.g. Hyysalo, Pollock and Williams, forthcoming; Lippert 2014). 

Focussing on descriptive problematisation of STS methods-in-action, Lippert and Verran’s (2018) special issue in the EASST Journal Science & Technologies Studies highlights how different modalities of performing an analytics produce different accounts. Such contemporary scholarship increasingly calls for more detailed engagement with how STS researchers do and interpret specific methods, research designs and analytics. 

Answering this call, the three events of 2018 wove conversations across twenty authors, six commenting contributors, a roundtable with five scholars, [3] a keynote by John Law and a writing methodography session chaired by Rachel Douglas-Jones and Estrid Sørensen.


Fig 2: Lively discussion within Humboldt University STS Lab’s meeting space
Source: Alexandra Endaltseva

Devices and Collaborations

Papers at these events ranged vastly in terms of their empirical focus. From archives to borders, policing to residential care, Internet of Things device use at home to public environmental agencies, call centers to tourism, the contributions all attended to how methods shaped the STS analyst’s epistemic practices.

Themes that arose in discussion were those that discussions of ethnography often produce: the responsibilities of researchers, anxieties about interventions, the work of description, and the politics of collaboration. But in the ‘graphic’ component of methodography, participants sought not introspective accounts of method but extrospective ones, resulting in ethnographic accounts of what researchers actually do in the field. Method came to be a defamiliarization technique, allowing for (amongst other things) attention to performativity and materiality.

Inspired by Farías (2016), and by the EASST2018 theme of meetings, collaboration arose as a focusing term. It was also a contested term. In research, researcher and researched meet, and participants were encouraged to consider meetings of humans and nonhumans, their concerns, voices, material or immaterial presences or absences. In research, devices are met and employed, though these might be unruly, too. Discussion ranged from the implied positivity of collaboration (“do-gooder consensuality”) versus its potential to allow friction within forms of collective that do not need or presume “common ground”. We discussed differing degrees of togetherness, with other researchers and those participating in the field, including those with whom we might write.

Several papers highlighted the configuration and shaping of roles in the network of socio-material relations between researcher, artefacts, devices, human interlocutors. This resonated well with method devices, found in Lury and Wakeford’s book, which include invitations to engage material, tangible entities like photo-images, cameras, lists, screens but also categories, research protocols and modes of relating. In discussions, participants speculated that STS, which has honed its attention on the politics of classification, categories and ordering, may need to think differently about the ethnographic openness, embodied learning, and knowledges of others that are brought together in moments of analysis. Several papers found spaces to describe the openness they had sought through methods, whether in “pausing” (Melina Antonakaki) or in “experiment” (Ryanne Bleumink, Lisette Jong and Ildikó Plájás), as students set the knowledge practices that they were studying against the knowledge practices they were using in their analyses. 

Material devices were also foregrounded to tell and explicate methodography. Stefan Laube, for example, turned to clothing and costumes as participants in material practices that configured his ethnographic presence. A range of papers engaged with how rooms and scapes took part in configuring epistemic work, such as the location of a cab (Alexandra Endaltseva), snowy landscape (Eva Kotaskova) or a room at a home (Christine Hine). The papers showed how materiality – in both the seemingly well controllable research devices like a shirt or a camera as well as the rooms and landscapes encountered or tactically employed – was taking on multiple roles, such as of affordance and of obstacle. 

Fig 3: Round of introductions between junior and senior STS researchers
Source: Ingmar Lippert

Those with a background in anthropology brought a range of references to the table, from explicit reflections in that discipline on how ethnographers produce knowledge, and the legacies of Writing Culture. However, participants agreed that it was worth considering the specifics of STS ethnographic practices, from the kinds of situations where researchers do their work, to those where they are in co-presence with those they study, while then producing material about it. Along these lines, John Law’s workshop keynote illustrated how being ethnographic about ethnography permits descriptions of research practices. He argued that what we do in the field interferes in field spaces, and working with others in the field allows us to attend to how different peoples’ sensibilities inform the making of the work that emerges. Using stories of fieldwork with Marianne Lien in Norwegian Salmon fisheries, Law’s paper highlighted his interest in ontological politics, the differences that are important to different people. Is it possible, he asked, to generate practices that are open to the possibility of going on well together in difference in particular contexts. Can we observe and write small stories, grounded in practices, that do not aim to bring differences ‘together’? Not resolve ‘away’ ontological divergences, but work with the power and limitation of words to make evident differences that may operate outside of language.   

The Berlin workshop closed with a practical writing activity called Writing Methodography, which involved writing and re-writing texts prepared for the workshop. The conveners, Douglas-Jones and Sørensen, acknowledged the challenge for junior scholars, whose initial writing task of bringing forth research and fieldwork, is reflexively compounded by the task of producing text that brings both the field and method’s research effects into being simultaneously. From discussions of what ethnographies of observation look like to close readings of section of ethnographic texts and a ‘walk and talk’ around Berlin’s Deutsche Dom, the workshop focused on what students had brought with them to the workshop. Post-walk exercises practiced the use of words in making worlds, holding the capacity to bring forward both field and methods together in description. 

A fascinating thread in the closing discussions questioned what a focus on writing about method in an analytically descriptive rather than prescriptive sense does for STS. Scholars contemplated the potential for greater accountability through explicitness (Nadim), or voiced the desire for greater formalisation of STS’s methods in a time of ‘alt’ facts and post-truths (Niewöhner). What it means to do ethnography in STS settings, and as reflexive STS scholars is not a topic that offers simple answers. It taps the basic questions that fascinate STS scholars – ‘how do we know’ and returns the ‘we’ to a disciplinary conversation.

Join the methodography conversation and exploration!

We invite public conversation on the theme via Twitter’s #STSethnography hashtag and we expect a Call for Papers in spring 2019 for a special issue on ‘Ethnographic data generation in STS collaboration’ in Science & Technology Studies. [4] This SI is going to zoom in on STS scholars who engage in collaborative research, as groups of STS scholars as well as in collaborations with colleagues in other fields or non-academics. So we invite contributions on how ethnographic data is generated and transformed for and in STS analysis across a range of such collaborative contexts. The SI aims to lead beyond reflexivity accounts of positionality in STS ethnography and to establish a benchmark for the STS ethnographic study of how ethnographic collaboration configures its data. Julie Sascia Mewes joins Ingmar Lippert as co-editor and we gladly contribute to strengthening the journal’s trajectory of exploring STS methods and analytical devices.


[1]    The conversations extended across a half-day workshop Speculative Instruments meet Ethnographic Data, hosted by Humboldt University’s Media & Digital Anthropology Lab (MeDiA Lab) on 12/4/18, continued with the workshop Participant Observation and Collaboration in STS Ethnography: Generating Methodographic Sensibilities for Science & Technology Studies at the same university’s Science and Technology Studies Lab (13-14/4/18) and became more public as an EASST2018 conference panel Methodography of data practices in STS’s ethnographic collaboration and participant observation (26/7/18). The first two events were financed by EASST, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and the IT University of Copenhagen’s ETHOS Lab and their Data as Relation project.

[2]    https://stsproblems.wordpress.com/

[3]    Including Charles Hahn, Sarah Inman, David Ribes, Stephen Slota, Andrew Hoffman, Cornelius Schubert, Judith Willkomm, Alexandra Endaltseva, Eva Kotaskova, Sofia Bento, Raquel Carvalheira, Catharina Lüder, Jonas Müller, Ryanne Bleumink, Lisette Jong, Ildikó Plájás, Leyla Safta-Zecheria, Stefan Laube, Christine Hine, Christoph Bareither, Hilde Thygesen and Tomás Criado.

[4]    See https://www.researchgate.net/project/Methodography-of-STS-ethnography for updates



Farías I (2016) A collaborative turn in STS?. EASST Review 35(1).

Feyerabend P (1975) Against Method. Brooklyn and London: Verso.

Greiffenhagen C, Mair M and Sharrock W (2011) From Methodology to Methodography: A Study of Qualitative and Quantitative Reasoning in Practice. Methodological Innovations Online 6(3):93-107.

Hyysalo S, Pollock N and Williams R (forthcoming) Method Matters in the Social Study of Technology: Investigating the Biographies of Artifacts and Practices.  Science & Technology Studies.

Law J (2004) After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge.

Lippert I (2014) Studying Reconfigurations of Discourse: Tracing the Stability and Materiality of ‘Sustainability/Carbon’. Journal for Discourse Studies 2(1): 32–54.

Lippert I and Verran H (2018) After Numbers? Innovations in Science and Technology Studies’ Analytics of Numbers and Numbering. Science & Technology Studies 31(4): 2–12. 

Lury C and Wakeford N (2012) Inventive methods: The Happening of the Social. London: Routledge. 

Facing the elephant: STS inspired reflections on the political crisis associated with migrants

In September 2018 the Centre for Social Studies (CES), University of Coimbra, Portugal held a workshop entitled ‘How can STS help to reflect on the political crisis associated with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers?’ An international group of scholars from STS, migration and border studies met to explore the benefits and limitations of using the analytical and methodological repertoire of STS to understand the ongoing political and social migration crises. Here, the organizers and participants write together and argue that it is necessary to tap into the full potential of STS as science and intervention to contribute to engaging with the sociotechnical and epistemic aspects of forced migration and displacement, resettlement, (re)integration, inclusion and related debates and practices.

Since at least 2015 and the so-called ‘summer of migration’, the term ‘crisis’ in combination with ‘migration’ has been the political and social hot potato. It has received a lot of scholarly interest from different areas of the social sciences, but surprisingly little from STS. In 2018 workshop organizers and participants of a workshop on ‘How can STS help to reflect on the political crisis associated with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers’ faced the elephant in the STS room and discovered that all the ingredients are in place to do interesting and scholarly and politically relevant research inspired by STS accounts.

The workshop was motivated by a desire to gather together scholars interested in exchanging and articulating suitable research questions and conceptual/methodological STS approaches in order to generate new insights. Considering the multi/interdisciplinary research on the topic already available – most prominently in migration studies or border studies – a driving question was what interesting partnerships could be made between STS and other research traditions, such as urban studies and postcolonial and decolonial studies.

Figure 1: Group Picture

Beginning by highlighting some of the most obvious connections, migration management establishes technologies and infrastructures that invite critical study through an STS lenses. As a substantial example of what infrastructures, and what implicit politics entangled with them, are at stake here, Martina Tazzioli reflected in her key note talk on the data infrastructures and data circuits associated with the implementation of debit cards in refugee camps, and explored the ways in which refugees’ subjectivities have been shaped by this peculiar articulation between financial tools and ‘humanitarian’ rationales. Dealing with the processes of the financialization of refugee governmentality, Tazzioli focused on the Greek context, where the European Union (EU) has implemented the first refugee Cash Assistance Programme in Europe in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She explored how financial tools, together with digital technologies, have been used to control and govern would-be refugees. In a significant concluding interpretation she questioned the nexus between identity and data that humanitarian actors try to establish through the spreading notion of ‘digital identity’, presented as something that both protects and controls refugees at the same time.

Figure 2: Martina Tazzioli

Two rather broad technological categories – Biometric Identification Technologies and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) – appear particularly relevant in (dis)enablement of migrants to exercise their right to move. Technologies are key instruments allowing simultaneously for political, social and cultural change, as well as new forms of social control. Martin Lemberg-Pedersen and Eman Haioty’s contribution explored the element of social control being exercised with the help of biometric technologies. Based on their case study into the UNHCR´s practice of iris-enrolling refugees, they discussed the ‘humanitarian experimentation’ of technologies on refugee populations. The authors explored some of the consequences of iris-data transformative capacity – such as becoming a suspicious (and a surveillable) body in a digital age and biometrics’ dynamics of racialization – through the concept of the quasi-object (Serres, Latour). Furthermore, the authors argued that biometric technology acts as a tool for neoliberalized displacement governance, by considering refugees as traceable units of credit (of potential labor, consumption, aid delivery) and credit-nodes for an Information Technology (IT) market (security, consultancy and humanitarian actors).

The ambiguities linked to ICTs were addressed in several presentations. Luciana Sotero, Maria Dias and Joana Sousa Ribeiro prompted us to ask whether we were not jumping too fast to the conclusion that ICTs are necessarily beneficial to migrants’ integration. They argued that ICTs might help migrants deal with the negative experiences associated with the breakdown of, what are known in psychology as, personal social networks. However, they also pointed out, ICTs are far from being a panacea: among other issues, they suggested that the fact that migrants now find it relatively easy to stay in touch with their families thanks to ICTs also has the effect of making the creation of new social connections less urgent, raising questions about ICT’s complex relation to social (re)settlement and forced assimilation. Going further, the authors also made a second and, perhaps, more provocative question when they encouraged us to reflect on what meaning of ‘integration’ is being embedded in the ICTs being promoted as part of the EU’s digital inclusion strategy. STS can help by offering concepts and paradigmatic cases on how to unpack normative assumptions built into these EU-funded ICT’s.

In another case study on the role of ICTs, Vasilis Galis and Vasiliki Makrygianni addressed what they call ‘the digital resistance in the Greek territory’ and portrayed the strategies and practices of survival, resistance and counter-movement promoted by migrants living in a state of ‘subversive mobility’ (Cohen et. al. 2017). The speakers argued that the use of ICTs paves the path for collective ‘unbordering practices’ as it creates digital spaces of autonomy and empowerment. ‘Escaping from domination’ practices occur both when migrants communicate among themselves and with people in solidarity. Furthermore, the use of such digital technologies subverts the European hegemonic system, as it [co-]reconfigures migration practices by enacting emancipatory patterns of use, and vice versa. Against this backdrop, the authors analyzed the multidimensional role of ICTs in migratory routes and digital border technologies as persecutory instruments of the border regime.

The two examples on the complex roles of ICTs in the context of migration and border regimes clearly demonstrated the multiple human–non-human relationships at work, and focused on making visible the empowering and disempowering effects of ICTs on migrants. 

Like the examples above, other contributions to the workshop also differed with regards to their implicit preferences enacting different versions of the ‘the state’, ‘state borders’ and ‘migrants’.. Their different approaches reflected the various positions in an ongoing discussion in migration studies on so-called ‘methodological nationalism’ (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2003). Migration research continues to produce a lot of – sometimes critical – work on how migration is governed by states and their technologies, but little work exists on how migrants exert their autonomy as moving subjects and how they claim rights without necessarily depending on representational politics and practices. Critics have problematized the dominance of approaches that take the nation state and nation state borders for granted and thereby contribute to their further naturalization. Taking heed of this criticism, scholars have been putting together a new vocabulary to study migration ‘from below’. The concepts of ‘autonomy’ (Papadopulous and Tsianos 2013) and ‘acts of citizenship’ (Isin and Saward 2010) are important ones coined in this spirit. The discussion on methodological nationalism can be understood as an invitation to reflect on each scholar’s account of migration with an eye to what such a perspective allowed them to see, but also what did it not allow them to see, where such blind spots derive from and, finally, how to overcome these limits.

Yet, taking into account that STS-inspired approaches also produce their own blind spots, overlook some developments and overemphasize others – which likewise should be subject of reflection – such approaches may help to expand and diversify the methodological and analytical repertoire (including that of methodological nationalism) available to study the blind spots of forced migration regimes and border technologies. As an example, we portray here the work of Fredy Mora-Gámez, which opened a rather promising line of inquiry on the intersection between studies on solidarity and STS work around the notion of care in practice (even though he did not himself use the word ‘care’ in portraying his research). Mora-Gámez’s research introduces the notion of infrastructures of solidarity to the study of the everyday struggles of migrants and the role of actor-networks of care. His interest lies in particularly in the material textures and the work that goes into repurposing a rather symbolic piece of material, the life vest. His study looks at the voluntary action of a migrant, Ivan, who repurposes life jackets that are distributed to migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Repurposing vests is represented by the author as transgressive work that allows Ivan to reclaim agency and, while working in the ‘oficina’, to establish ‘social networks’. STS helps Mora-Gámez’s to study the voices usually neglected due to methodological nationalism. Learning to sew – as Ivan did to repurpose the life jackets – is connected to specific abilities of doing and particular networks of care, and these might help those interested in migrant solidarity understand how migrants reconstruct affective relations. Rather than treating the issue as a purely conceptual puzzle to be dealt with by the theoretician, Mora-Gámez encourages us to learn about the different meanings and modes of solidarity from migrants themselves. He does so in line with STS’s calls for generalizing symmetry so as to extend agency to objects and other textures of matter.

Inspired by the workshop contributions, we conclude that STS may contribute in interesting ways to the study of migration and the many related political and social crises discursively associated with it, by:

  • Addressing research problems that benefit most from unpacking and problematizing the naturalization processes entangled with migration regimes through classification and infra-structuring processes and ‘de-scribing’ the norms they embed, the ways they ‘configure’ for instance migrants and border practitioners, and the relations of authority they sustain.
  • Diversifying the viewpoints of research subjects and including those voices usually silenced and marginalized by the socio-technical and epistemic practices of migration regimes and border technologies. STS calls for experimentation and greater reflexivity in writing that may contribute to the necessary revision of the epistemic and political premises guiding the study of how migration regimes are shaped and impact migrants’ subjectivities.
  • Diversifying methodological-conceptual repertoires, for instance, by encouraging researchers to follow actants through chains of translation, or by prompting them to attend to the ordinary methods used to accomplish ‘practical closure’ or the ‘singularization’ of multiple and potentially contradictory assignments of meanings.

In spite of nuances, there is a widely shared understanding in critical migration and border studies that more research is needed on how, in their encounters with border regimes, migrants create new forms of living and disrupt entrenched notions of what it means to be political, and of course on how they resist and appropriate governmental attempts to curb their right to move. STS seems to have lots to contribute here. 

The workshop organizers – Nina Amelung, Cristiano Gianolla, Gaia Giuliani, Joana Sousa Ribeiro, Olga Solovova  – not only aimed to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, experiences and views inside academia, but also beyond it. In a science café, Mounir Affaki (a refugee and volunteer for the Global Platform for Syrian Students), Cyntia de Paula (Casa do Brasil de Lisboa) and Susana Gouveia (Portuguese Red Cross) discussed questions on what science and technology do to empower migrants and refugees in Portugal, but also what could and should science and technology be doing to empower migrants and refugees in Portugal? 

Figure 3: Science café

Taking the gathering during the workshop as a first step in building an international community of scholars at the intersection of STS/migration and border studies, several participants indicated that they would be interested in contributing to further capacity building, for instance, by hosting similar events. The workshop organizers will facilitate a joint publication initiative in 2019, as the first follow-up activity.


*This work has received funding from the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology, the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement N.º [648608]), within the project “EXCHANGE – Forensic geneticists and the transnational exchange of DNA data in the EU: Engaging science with social control, citizenship and democracy” led by Helena Machado and hosted at the Communication and Society Research Centre, Institute for Social Sciences of University of Minho (Portugal). Furthermore, it received funding from received funding from FEDER – Fundo Europeu de Desenvolvimento Regional funds through the COMPETE 2020 – Operacional Programme for Competitiveness and Internationalisation (POCI), and by Portuguese funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (grant agreement number N. ° POCI-01-0145-FEDER-029997), within the project “(De)OTHERING – Deconstructing Risk and Otherness:hegemonic scripts and counter-narratives on migrants/refugees and ‘internal Others’ in Portuguese and European mediascapes”.



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Isin EF and Saward M (eds) (2013) Enacting European Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

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Serres M (1982) Theory of the Quasi-object. In: Schehr LR (eds) The Parasite, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, pp. 224- 234.

Wimmer A and Glick Schiller N (2003) ‘Methodological Nationalism, the Social Sciences and the Study of Migration: An Essay in Historical Epistemology’, International Migration Review, 37 (3):576–610.

Papadopoulos D and Tsianos VS (2013). After citizenship: autonomy of migration, organisational ontology and mobile commons. Citizenship Studies, 17(2):178–196.


STS Interventions into Green Futures. A report on the EASST funded workshop organized in Poznań, Poland

The workshop Making Futures: Green alternatives and STS Interventions”, which took place on 24th and 25th November 2017 in at the Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań, Poland, was the result of an exchange of ideas between senior and junior scholars in STS, both from Western and Eastern Europe. This exchange happened via e-mails between Luigi Pellizzoni’s (University of Trieste), Les Levidow’s (Open University, London), Ingmar Lippert (IT University of Copenhagen) and Aleksandra Lis (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań) in the autumn of 2016. The four researchers did meet before at a number of conferences and events so they knew each other’s interests and publications. They have all worked on issues related to the environment, climate change and innovations, taking on various perspectives, examining different cases and using different methodological tools. However, in one way or another, they all position themselves in the field of STS. The particular questions about “what is green?” and “what kind of socio-technical realities are brought about by various green visions?” came from Luigi and Les. Ingmar and Aleksandra added a new challenge to it and asked whether STS has methodological and theoretical tools on offer to address them. 

The decision to hold the workshop in Poznań, Poland, was motivated by the will to enable an exchange of ideas between Western and Eastern European scholars in STS. In Poland, it is difficult to speak of an STS field as such. There are several scholars doing research on socio-technical systems, controversies, and science who are scattered across different universities. There is a group of philosophers and sociologists from the Nicholas Copernicus University in Toruń who identify themselves with STS – mainly theoretically. Krzysztof Abriszewski from Toruń was the first Polish scholar to introduce actor-network tradition in a thorough and reflexive way to the Polish academic community in social sciences and humanities. In 2014, the EASST Conference was organized in Toruń, which clearly showed the raising ambitions of that centre. Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań is another place were philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists are inspired by STS concepts. Both Toruń and Poznań reach out to other places, for example Warsaw, for fruitful collaborations. One of the successful examples is the cooperation between Aleksandra Lis from the Mickiewicz University in Poznań with Agata Stasik from the Koźmiński University in Warsaw on controversies around fracking. There is also a growing number of STS-friendly scholars, mainly sociologists and anthropologists, who do research on environment, climate change and health. The application for the EASST fund to organize the workshop was seen by the Polish STS academics as a chance to engage in interesting discussions, to meet scholars from outside as well as inside of Poland.  

The workshop organizing team found it important to discuss the following issues: (1) various visions of ‘green future’ and alternative socio-technical realities which could be enacted in these visions, (2) uncertainty that is inherent in any kind of future-making practice and (3) the potential of STS interventions for building, stabilizing, imagining, and operationalizing futures. Politically, the objective was to question the predominance of techno- and market-fixes as solutions proposed to address environmental challenges mainly by the Western/Northern experts, policy makers and business actors. One of the recent manifestations of this mainstream type of thinking is eco-modernism articulated well in the Breakthrough Institute’s Ecomodernist Manifesto (Adafu-Adjaje et al., 2015). The document was written as a response to the challenges of the Anthropocene – the new geological era distinguished from the Holocene by acknowledging the role of human beings as a geological force. The solution advocated in that document is to stabilize climate change with the use of social, economic and technological powers to maintain economic modernization while protecting the environment. Two other reports written in a similar spirit are the Accelerationist Manifesto (2013) and Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (2015). While the former sees capitalist ‘acceleration’ as a way to get out of environmental problems, the latter proposes to intensify development of technologies to ‘free us from biological and environmental constraints’, as well as from conventional work. All the abovementioned perspectives assume the possibility to de-couple economic growth from environmental degradation and see techno-science as one of the main remedies. The workshop in Poznań was meant to become a space for critiquing such assumptions, deconstructing them and reflecting on other possible options, like community-based innovation, non-action or solutions that are based on other types of cosmologies, often seen as non-scientific or non-rational from the Western/Northern perspective.   

Twelve abstracts were accepted but in the end, only nine papers were presented. They were ordered into three sessions: (1) scales and scale-making, (2) promises and temporalities, and (3) infrastructures and their actors. As each paper had an assigned reviewer, all participants benefited from detailed feedback. Additionally, Ingmar Lippert delivered a keynote speech on conceptual and methodological perspectives for studying how environmental assessments rely on practices of defining baseline conditions. The talk was titled: “Dispositifs of green futures: certainty and tactics in baselining environments”. Ingmar proposed to reflect on the ways in which green futures are prefigured in baseline accounts in environmental monitoring and assessment infrastructures. The Foucauldian notion of the dispositif was used by Ingmar to help him explore both the simultaneously semiotic and material problematization and configuration in such environmental accountability infrastructures. In the first part of his talk, he explored recent discursive dynamics about greening economies, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ecosystem services and natural capital, green infrastructures and capitalist acceleration. He concluded that one of the requirements for knowing presences and pasts are environmental baselines. In the second part, he turned to participant observation and his informal interview-based engagement with agents who are tasked to account for the greenness of recent pasts to ground claims about the greenness of futures both in the present as well as in an imagined future. His work was to analyze mundane environmental data practices in such accountability work as well as tactical and reflexive engagement by these practitioners of environmental accounting, monitoring and assessment.   

The workshop closed with a presentation of two local artist photographers who are experimenting with visual representations of humans’ future outside of the Planet Earth. They showed short films comprised of various visions of the outer-space shelter, food, mobility and agriculture from the popular culture. Their own work is an attempt to artistically communicate research on extra-terrestrial technologies carried out in Poland. Surprising to themselves, this kind of research projects are often messy and resemble more a home-based tinkering than a high-tech work in hyper-modern labs. They related their observations to the workshop’s questions and tried to reconstruct visions of the future life that the humans may lead outside of the planet Earth – the possibilities and limitations of making human lifestyles look the way we know them now. The implied visions brought about many further questions: whose visions are they? To what extent are the material conditions for life outside the Earth known and to what extent are they imagined? Who produces knowledge about them and who imagines them? Whose cultural values are embedded in these visions? The presentation of two photographers also provoked questions about differences and similarities between STS and artistic fields. It was interesting to observe how some participants tried to fit the artists’ narrative into their scholarly perspective – by taking the artists as objects of STS research or by encouraging them to adopt a more critical perspective on techno-scientific development.  

The critical perspective underlined in the call for abstracts dominated workshop conversations as the participants kept on questioning various techno-scientific fixes proposed by business, policy-makers or experts. The optimism of technological modernization was put into doubt – both in the participant’s presentations as well as in the discussants’ comments and questions raised by the public. One of the workshop goals was to foreground alternative visions of the future and solutions to environmental challenges and that has been accomplished by several speakers. The workshop was a very pleasant event both intellectually and socially. Thanks to the EASST funding, the participants were offered food and accommodation as well as a partial allowance for travel (upon request). This made it easier for junior scholars to come over to Poznań. In the evening of the first workshop day, everybody joined a dinner at a local restaurant. The food, wine and conversations were good and the day ended at the main Christmas market in the city.  


 In his presentation, Les Levidow critically scrutinized the concept of green economy, the idea coming from 1980s which tried to reconcile sustainable development and economic growth. Based on the comparative analysis of Green Economy Initiatives by UNEP and the World Bank, or Green Economy Coalition promoted by i.e. nature-conservation groups and Environmental Justice Movement linked to other social movements, Les traced how specific policy initiatives differently co-construct the “green” and the “economy”, but also the “nature” and the “society”, and, as a result, build different stances toward contestation or accommodation of power by actors dominating the current system.     

The paper by Kostas Latoufis from the National Technical University of Athens and Aristotle Tympas from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens dealt with the Wind Empowerment Movement that emerged inspired by Hugh Piggott’s small wind turbine design manuals and the practical hands-on construction courses offered by Hugh Piggott. Kostas and Aristotle not only showed how the design travelled through the manuals but also considered the mid-70s development of small wind turbines in Scotland to be a key episode in the development of modern small scale electricity producing wind turbines.  

Adam Choryński’s paper focused on other aspect of community-based actions connected to climate change and energy choices. He analyzed the factors influencing resilience of small towns and local municipalities in the Western Poland in face of the more and more common extreme weather events caused by the changing climate. The research was based both on the analysis of official data as well as in-depth interviews. In his presentation, Adam focused on theoretical tools he wants to apply to understand this phenomenon. He discussed the policy arrangements approach (Arts et al. 2006; Liefferink 2006), different modes of governance, and various understandings of innovation in adaptive strategies, focusing especially the role of knowledge for building resilience. Discussants of Adam’s paper were very helpful in proposing ways in which STS perspectives could be applied to his work, in particular in order to understand the processes through which various concepts, such as, for example, resilience are historically constructed by institutions. 

A wonderful theoretical paper on the alternatives to techno-scientific visions of the future was given by Luigi Pellizzoni who proposed to discuss several concepts, such as “pre-emption”, “messianic time” and “socio-material entanglements”. In an inspiring talk, Luigi share his reflection on a new research agenda for STS which could articulate and address pre-emptive politics as a politics of time that prevents any actual change. Finally, he asked whether the idea of ‘inoperosity’ could underpin a research agenda for STS aimed at articulating the possibility of a different science and technology at large. As Luigi explained: “Inoperosity does not mean contemplation or resignation, but a non-purposeful, non-instrumental mode of living and acting, capable for this reason of suspending the apparatuses of domination and exploitation.” A lively discussion followed, where participants questioned the concept of inoperosity on the basis of that in the modern societies actors are socialized to operate with the concept of efficiency and to create visions, goals and instruments with short-term goals.   

A big question mark was put by Aleksandra Lis from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and Agata Stasik from the Koźmiński University in Warsaw with regard to the future vision that stands behind development of an electric vehicle (EV) in Poland. In the conditions of Poland’s electricity production heavily depending on coal, greening of the transport system with EVs seems to be at least an ambivalent project. The new object, which at the moment is still at a design stage, can thus be classified both as “green” and “black”, and its ultimate quality and status will depend on the capability of various actors to stabilize a desired vision. The two STS researchers from Poland critically examined the government’s discourse on electromobility as well as the first steps to construct a Polish EV for a wider public.  

Roberto Cantoni’s paper scrutinized another energy project as a case of technopolitcs. The Moroccan megaproject of solar energy, Desertec, was presented by Roberto as a process of downscaling solar energy from transnational to national contexts. He analyzed how technological choices regarding energy technologies contain multiple rationales: scientific, economic, political, social, and environmental. Drawing on the contribution of Gabrielle Hecht, he stressed that preferences for megaprojects over microprojects are rooted in political visions of Moroccan techno-political elite’s and discussed the uncertain future of the “solar diplomacy”.  

Workshop participants (from the letft): Agata Stasik, Piotr Matczak, Les Levidow, Adam Choryński, Ingmar Lippert. 

 Other theoretically minded contributions came from Jeroen Oomen on the “Holistic ecomodernism and resistant reality” and from Siddharth Sareen and Stefan Bouzarovski on “Bridging concepts: Applying a geography of energy transition to the empirics of urban solar uptake”. Jeroan focused on the question of environmental degradation and its relation to scale. While environmental problems usually arise locally, solutions are sought for at larger scales. According to Jeroen, it is within this tension, the tension between the large and the small, between the dominant narratives and the lives of the marginalised – whoever and wherever they may be – that STS may be used to unearth some of the deeper assumptions underlying the ecomodernist plight.  

 Sid and Stefan asked about the possible contribution of geography to the study of solar power uptake. By focussing on (de-)territorialisation and Haarstad’s and Wanvik’s (2016) work to analyze assemblages of unstable energy landscapes as possibilities, the authors proposed to attend to constituent empirically-researchable elements. Unpacking such elements produces a relational understanding of power inequities determining energy transitions. Animating the dialectic of (de)territorialisation with bridging tools like institutional assemblages and networks, accountability relations, and shifts in materiality, helps to arrive at empirically-embedded accounts of the stakes for key actors involved and the political nature of the legal and built environments that modulate energy transitions. 

Andrzej W. Nowak discussed the consequences of the concept of the Anthropocene for the existing knowledge structures. His gloomy, apocalyptic vision of a disaster which looms on the horizon was received with a mixture of outrage and surprise by the workshop participants. However, despite the pessimism, the main question asked by Andrzej was how the contemporary societies can create knowledge structures outside of the capitalist system and how can the non-capitalist archives be mobilized to create new social orders in a post-apocalyptic context. This philosophical reflection preceded the presentation of the local artists which, by contrast, provoked the participants to brightly look into the post-Earth future.  

To sum up, most of the presentations and following discussions touched upon the topics of eco-modernism and the stabilization of new technologies as part of technopolitcs. The critical approach dominated all discussions. Even though, no new concepts were coined, it seems that the workshop gave the participants the best that STS has on offer – the attitude to re-construct the underlying assumptions behind green visions and to de-construct them by asking whose visions those are and whether the solutions proposed by particular actors can really make them come true. Apart from the critique, the workshop also provided the participants with examples of alternatives to the mainstream techno-scientific development. The most inspiring alternative vision was the one of community-based power production and the analysis of it, which showed that alternative designs do not need big capital in order to survive throughout time and space changes. The diversity of participants, in terms of their theoretical perspectives, experience and nationalities as well as the analyzed cases created a lively space for exchange of ideas and intense discussions. The workshop was also an important source of inspiration for the growing STS community in Poland.