Tag Archives: Editorial

EASST 2022: looking forward from yesterday

Yesterday, just two months after our Madrid conference, I finally made it to the storage room. I actually just landed back in Madrid… two months after I left my city, the day after the end of the conference. But, somehow, I was too busy settling and, in a way, I was also unprepared to take a look back. In that storage room, dozens of conference bags, a few t-shirts and some lanyards: all of them with the logo of EASST 2022. 

As I entered the room, I realized that, indeed, it had happened. We did meet, hundreds of us, in Madrid at the beginning of this now fading summer. We met again; we hugged each other, sat down, looked at each other, frowned upon the nerves of standing up and present our papers in a packed room. We marveled at this opportunity, we complained about the heat and the costs, we raised our full glasses, we stormed the city at night, and we danced together. But most importantly, we shared our knowledge, our doubts, our aspirations, our questions and, why not, our hopes that we would make it forward. We inspired each other, got feedbacks, pushed forward our boundaries and our epistemic communities, small and big ones alike. 

It was like before but, at the same time, it was not. Something had changed: we were immensely happy to be back together face to face, but we learned a lesson that made us realize that things could no longer be exactly the same. And this change requires now more than just our acknowledgement. The planet is burning fast, and this has been the driest summer in the past 500 years. We did not know it yet in Madrid, but we feared it could be… and it was. A wider reflection on how we should rethink our conferences in this new scenario was always behind the curtains, and often on the front stage. The pandemic is not over, as it is still harvesting thousands of deaths across the world. The war is still going on, forcing thousands of people in Ukraine to live under permanent threat, facing violence and horror every day, but also leaving shocked and outraged thousands of silent and scared Russians, who disagree with the way the situation has been handled and has evolved. People in Europe are also increasingly vulnerable and poor, with several countries marching fast towards a new economic crisis. 

Pictures of the last plenary conference at the EASST 2022

These concerns, along with other important ones on artificial intelligence, biomedical data, political participation and science communication, were all discussed at length in a wide variety of panels or semi-plenary sessions throughout the three days of the conference. Some of these concerns are now discussed at length by contributions in this issue. The future of techno-politics, interspecies cohabitation, the role of STS in the study of democracy and the trajectory of STS studies in science communication are but some of them. Though very different in their focus, approach and topic, all these contributions share a concern for what we live and act today as “politics”, for the complex interplay between science and democracy, and for what all these dynamics of change imply for the future of our planet, including our species. They hint at the need to rethink collectively our studies, our tools, our participation in society and, last but not least, our responsibility towards the planet which we inhabit and the political system in which we live and operate. 

The last plenary in the conference was quite explicit about this, and it gave voice to a general discomfort with current participation dynamics in our democratic life, as you may also read in the contribution by Sarah Rose Bieszczad and James Besse on the Early Career Researchers meeting. It encouraged us not only to include these as central topics in our studies but also to take a more active stance in our social engagement and to rethink collectively how to make existing institutions less hostile and more welcoming to the variety of voices and proposals that are blossoming outside the palaces of power. We collectively agreed, or so it seemed, that STS also holds a potential to contribute to the study, maintenance and care of the political institutions that do not seem to work as effectively as they were used to, often high-jacked by powerful minorities who have no interest in the common good. 

Yet, we seemed also to agree that Madrid has been the first face-to-face conference post-pandemic (if we can say that), but possibly also the last one. Surely, nobody argued that we should not meet again face-to-face, as it was widely recognized that it is crucial for junior and senior scholars alike to have this opportunity. Whilst it was clear that the traditional model of conference is no longer sustainable, not only for the costs, but also for the significant CO2 impact, it was also clear that existing alternatives, ranging from on-line conference to hybrid events, are also plagued with their own difficulties. In a lunch session organized by the local committee a small but motivated group had a chance to discuss these issues at length, setting the basis for a debate that is likely to last, within and outside the EASST community, for the years to come. You will indeed find more refreshing insights on this topic written by council member Richard Tutton and colleagues in this EASST Review issue.

New forms of meeting each other in order to still have a chance to share time, space, knowledge, doubts and fun together, have become necessary. It is still unclear how they will emerge and consolidate, but it is clear that our scholarly community is actively looking into this. We are honored to have had a chance to give these reflections space and support in Madrid and we are very much looking forward to the next EASST conference for novelties and surprises!

Surely, conference memories should not remain a mere nostalgic exercise. EASST 2022 was a forward-looking conference, which encouraged all of us to think the interplay of science, politics and technology not only as future-generating combination but often also a powerful conservative device that tends to uphold dominant arrangements of our political present, sidelining or obscuring even alternative visions and processes of future generation. After this summer break, the return to our academic life and jobs bears an additional responsibility, which compels us to keep this in mind as we move forward. 

Faithful to this spirit, it is also time for the somewhat fragmented STS community in the Spanish state to gather and mobilize once again. The organization of EASST 2022 has been a marvelous, though no doubt demanding, opportunity for many of us to gather and work side by side again. Our hope is that what we shared along the road that took us to IFEMA last July would become a source of energy for a new journey as a thriving STS association. 

Vincenzo Pavone
On behalf of the editorial team


POSTSCRIPT: When finalising this EASST Review which looks back on the Madrid EASST Conference, we received the very sad news of Bruno Latour’s passing. Our colleagues and friends from École des Mines in Paris have written an In Memoriam for this issue. We thank them for this collective contribution and welcome any other memories and contributions to honour his life and work for the next edition which will appear in December. Chapeau, Professeur Latour! Vous resterez dans nos pensées, dans notre enseignement, nos écrits et nos discussions, en Europe et dans le reste du monde.

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)

The EASST Review has COVID-19

It’s been roughly a year now of living with COVID-19. Seemingly nothing has been left untouched or unaffected in many countries on earth. To put it in the words of the EASST council in April 2020: “we have been catapulted into a different world”. Yet how different it has actually become will keep us all busy for a long time. It has been a year of changing lives, changing routines, changing work practices, changing relationships, changing mobility patterns, etc. These changes go along with new forms of co-living with microbes; international and national containment policies configuring potential new forms of nationalism; debates no health infrastructures and their economic/social/political/cultural embedding; diverging public health approaches and national risk discourses; public negotiations of scientific expertise; and scientific production processes gaining increasing attention. The COVID-19 pandemic also demands us to ask about disparities in the work place and educational sector, in health measures and health care and – related to that –social and environmental justice. 

Since the pandemic has gained momentum, scientific work has also changed along with it: academic labour has shifted into home settings, reshaping boundaries between work and private life; teaching takes place in online formats and so do our meetings, workshops and conferences; empirical work is most often suspended or translated into virtual work e.g. virtual ethnography; the short-term format of third-party funded academics has unveiled its precarious side-effects; the necessity of mobility in and for academic work and careers has been given a different twist.

Along all such interventions into our lives and ways of living, one could say that COVID-19 opens up major tensions of postmodern times. Yet this global state of emergency also makes one thing strikingly clear: the importance and need for STS research. This research is not only essential in and for current social and political developments but will stay important in the aftermath of this current pandemic and for potential pre-waves of new pandemics to come. Hence, we find it of utmost importance to continuously reflect on and channel STS voices on how the COVID-19 pandemic infects our work, and our thinking on presents and futures. Consequently, this issue presents our ‘STS Live’ section on COVID-19, containing reflections on its impact on early career research, on research agenda’s and new ways of doing STS research. The various contributions share a call to action, from an embodied STS to sowing our thinking in and across societies. 

We also present a new section to you called ‘Translations’. This came out of longer discussions on the need to pay attention to the multiple languages in which our work is performed, with valuable meanings and understandings getting lost in English translations, and vice versa, some books or articles not reaching those who do not understand the language they are published in. In addition, we hope that this section can host some articles on the impact of STS work, showing translation from academia to society. Our new section wants to give a platform on which we can show and reflect on shifts in meanings of STS and its concepts across borders, languages and times. The inauguration of this section pays attention to ‘socio-technical’ translations in Latin America and expands the meaning of ‘solidarity’ through engagement with Austrian healthcare for refugees. 

As always, we are grateful for our authors and contributors to the EASST Review, to the above sections as well as our other standing sections, including ‘STS Multiple’ featuring the Techno-Anthropology (TANT) group at Aalborg University in Denmark, ‘Cherish not Perish’ on the new Manchester University Press STS book series ‘Inscriptions’, and ‘STS events’ with a report on the webinar “Back to Normal? Social Justice & DOHaD in the COVID Era” hosted by the MCTS (TU Munich) and the university of Southampton. Especially in these pandemic times which often leave no time to volunteer additional time to our STS community, the efforts of those who can contribute are very much appreciated. This also allows us to give a heartfelt thank you to the EASST council members who are leaving us and who have devoted their time to EASST over the past years. And we congratulate our incoming members and new president Maja Horst who has written a welcoming statement in our ‘news from the council’ section. We are looking forward to work with the new council in the upcoming years!

Finally, we would like to call on all of you to keep contributing to the Review. All thoughts and ideas for the sections above are welcome. We also are aware that the STS live section on COVID is only giving a glimpse of all COVID related research and challenges, so if you would like to react or contribute, there will be a place for that in the next Review.

Wishing you all the very best and take good care,

the editorial team  

Neither one nor two: presenting our new editorial team

In this editorial from the new EASST review editorial team…Okay, that sounds a bit too classic… perhaps démodé…Let us start again. It is our pleasure to…even worse.  What if we cut this quick and collectively thank Ignacio Farias for the terrific job transforming the EASST Review over the past years? He has made it a much more central and contemporary communication platform for EASST and a great source for European STS info, including the new STS Live section to discuss contemporary issues. And of course also many thanks to Sabine Biederman and Anna Gonchar for their important work behind the scenes creating the reviews distinct style, and to the international editorial board members for their diverse contributions over the past years. 

That was the right start! Surely it is difficult to replace Ignacio, we know that and, thus… we have decided a transition towards an editorial team consisting of Sarah Schönbauer (Munich Center for Technology in Society, Technical University of Munich), Vincenzo Pavone (Instituto de Políticas y Bienes Públicos of the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid) and Niki Vermeulen (Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh). Niki was already part of the editorial board and as such it is very much our plan to continue and consolidate the current path of the EASST Review, but with some new faces and perspectives and with a special emphasis on the importance of collaboration in academia. 

In our view, the EASST Review is occupying an important space, in between the research articles in our STS journals and the activities of our local STS hubs, connecting the STS community on a European level. The section STS multiple is showcasing local groups and their programmes, and we would also like to use this section to showcase the various national STS associations and their activities. Cherish not perish is set-up to tell about new journals and alternative publication platforms relevant for STS but we aim to broaden this further and go beyond publications platforms. We also want to shine a light on the great variety of experiences and impact that STS scholars are having as part of their work as consultants, in political activities, among civil society organizations, in non-academic educational settings and elsewhere. 

STS Live is dedicated to developing contemporary themes and discussing current issues, whereby we invite a variety of scholars to contribute their work and thoughts. In our next issue (coming out in February) we will focus (surprise, surprise) on the impact of COVID on our scholarship and community, but for later issues we already have topics such as environmental pollution and toxicity, experiences and challenges of early career scholars, and the meaning of open science in STS in mind. But we also know that YOU have great ideas on themes and contributions and we welcome ideas and reflections from all EASST members to shape the future of the review. It is OUR Review, after all, and this is what it is all about. We want the EASST Review to be the journal you look out for and the place where you first send an idea or contribution when it pops up in your mind. Thereby we also hope to find new collective ways to expand our EASST online platform, facilitating the flow of information and posting about events, ideas, and contributions in a more immediate way and creating exciting interactions.

This current EASST Review is – as it is every two years – completely dedicated to our conference which took place in August, this time together with 4S. We enjoyed seeing many of you there on the various online platforms and of course we would like to thank the organising team again, as they worked wonders, transitioning from preparing a physical meeting in Prague to the hosting of an online version of Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and agency of STS in emerging worlds. The theme of the conference became even more relevant, creating an alternative conference format which allowed us to still gather in Prague, albeit virPrague. As such it might not be a coincidence that one of the organisers Filip Vostal suggested Kafka’s Runner (1907-8) for this issues cover illustration. For an account of his experience as conference organiser, please see his contribution which is accompanied by reflections of conference participants on topics or sessions from the conference. The first Vir_Conference has generated and shared much more than a huge amount of terabytes in videos, slideshows and image captures. This issue is showcasing some conference innovations, such as comics, podcasts and spin-off meetings, as well as crucial reflections on the effects of current times on academic labour, e.g. on how the digital conference experience can be combined with care. This latter contribution connects to our upcoming issue which hopes to take reflections on academic work in times of COVID further.   

Finally, we want to emphasise the importance of the roles that the EASST president and council members are fulfilling in our European STS community. We have therefore dedicated some space to the announcement of the upcoming EASST members meeting and the call for a new president and council members and would encourage all to consider putting themselves forward. We are looking forward to work with Ulrike Felt and the new EASST president, the EASST council and EASST members, and would welcome all your ideas and contributions to the review. You can reach us at: review@easst.net and we are looking forward to hear from you, as the EASST Review consists of contributions from the community. Next contribution could, indeed, be yours.  

Parting words, returning things

This has been quite a run. My tenure as the editor of the EASST Review began shortly after the EASST conference in Torun, basically with me asking Isaac Marrero to publish one of his photos of the fireworks (remember the fireworks?) on the cover of the following issue. It culminates here. After a fundamentally different, but equally successful conference – without fireworks, but with four times as much attendance and, yes, with productive questions about the role of STS in a fundamentally different world. 

When I look back at these six years, I first and foremost see the faces of two friends and colleagues, who have done most of the invisible work: Sabine Biedermann, who became editorial assistant of the EASST Review in 2018 and Anna Gonchar, who’s been its graphic designer since 2014. It’s great to know that you will outlive me in the Review team! 

A very special and wholeheartedly recognition and my gratitude goes also to Josefine Raasch, who co-edited the Review with me during the first year and then became part of the extremely generous Editorial Board we put together. Let me also thank each one of the members of the editorial board: Vicky Singleton, Tomás Sánchez Criado, Andrey Kutzenov, Liliana Doganova, Michaela Spencer and, of course, Niki Vermeulen, who will be part of the editorial collective taking over from now on – and which is completed by Sarah Schonbauer and Vincenzo Pavone. I am very excited to know the Review is in such good hands. 

I was also lucky to enjoy the unrestricted support and blind trust of two different presidents (many many thanks for that Fred Stewart/Sonia Liff and Ulrike Felt!) and two councils (thank you all of you! You’ll understand you are too many to be named here ϑ). In Salla Sariola, editor of our journal Science & Technology Studies, I found a partner in crime and so much inspiration in thinking about what the Review could aspire to be.

I should probably now write something about our accomplishments during these six years, give you some numbers, for example, or things like that. I won’t. In that line, I will just mention the thing I am happiest with, namely, the section ‘STS Multiple’. I think this is a true treasure. So long live STS Multiple. I would rather use this tribune to speak about the things not yet accomplished.

One major set of concerns throughout the last six years has involved the materiality of the Review as a digital object. I started out with the clear idea that the future of the Review could not be in a PDF-document sent out per email to EASST members. The first step, which we managed to accomplish, was to stop the embargo on the PDF and make it available to the whole STS community. But evolving from a PDF to another material and/or digital form was a cause I stopped to fight for, especially as so many people seemed to be so happy with receiving the PDF in their mailboxes. Be that as it may, the challenge seems still to be to device a better digital presence for the Review.

A second set of ideas and ambitions that only partially came to fruition was to transform the EASST Review into a space for experimentation with and reflection about modes of writing in STS. We had many inventive contributions that went in different ways beyond the minute-like reports of STS events and EASST conferences, and we managed to articulate lively conversations about current issues, such as ‘alternative facts’ and #metoo. But I always struggled with how to convince you, readers of the EASST Review, that this is the place to go with your experimental, inventive, speculative, overtly political pieces of writing. 

Finally, one idea we discussed many times over the years was the dictionary of untranslatable terms and conceptual equivocations. The question was how to account and reflect about the linguistic multiplicity of doing STS and the idea was to ask the national associations to create their contributions to such a dictionary. I leave it out there for whoever might want to make it his or her own. It’d be such a wonderful and interesting resource to expose and reflect about the politics of difference and translation in and through language. 

Be as it might: thanks for these wonderful years. Long live the EASST Review!

STS as participant in policy worlds

Fig. 1: People-place/policy landscape, Santa Teresa, Central Australia. Photo by Michaela Spencer

What happens when STS scholars become active participants in the emergence of policy worlds?

This question seems a natural corollary to the topic discussed in the last EASST Review editorial, where Andreas Kuznetsov (2019) suggested that there might be much that STS could offer when engaging with both science and social scientific research practices. It is also a question with which me and other STS colleagues working in a small regional university in northern Australia are frequently confronted with. This question worries in three directions. We worry about what happens to research and our responsibility to the academy, about what happens to policy and our responsibilities to members of government departments that we work with, and about what happens in the communities that the policies of those departments impact upon.

In our small regional university, research is intimately entangled with governance contexts. Much of our research funding is generated in partnerships with government and non-government organisations. It is also implicated in the policy challenges and problems that emerge when practices of Western governance and decision-making intersect with the vibrant and diverse sets of epistemic practices mobilised by Indigenous Australians, who are our close collaborators in urban and remote Indigenous communities. 

In this aspect at least our situation seems to differ starkly from European contexts. But does it? Perhaps considering the situation of STS in policy worlds in places that grapple with the aftermath of several hundred years of European colonising on a day-to-day basis might be useful for Europeans struggling to recognise and do difference in European policy worlds.

When science was the focus of inquiry in the emerging field of science and technology studies, focusing on the embedded participation of scientific researchers helped to query standard stories of representation (Latour and Woogar, 1986; Haraway, 1997). Associated with this shift, there was an implied call for scientists to become more overt about their complex and difficult work, admitting their participation in the emergence of knowledge claims and their complex hinterlands. Working as policy researchers, the implicated positioning we inhabit seems both similar and interestingly different. 

Recently, in the collaborative work negotiating how to evaluate government engagement in remote Aboriginal communities, we found subtle but significant controversies beginning to arise around the status of ‘evidence’ in our evidence-based policy research. We were involved with evaluating government policy practices around how government staff should engage cross-culturally (and in quite different epistemic conditions) in Aboriginal communities; places where Indigenous groups are collective landowners, and Indigenous forms of governance are recognised in Australian law. Our research contract assumed we would assess government engagement activities against processes and goals already identified as significant. However, the Indigenous co-researchers we were working with resisted this formation. They insisted instead, that it was the effective doing of engagment as partnership which itself evidences good engagement practices, and that it is this form of evidentiary practice that was approprate for policy reseach and evaluation. 

Around such seeming inconsistencies around what knowledge or evidence is, the whirring of gears around government policy implementation and evaluation seem to suddenly start to grind and slow, and even halt. If there is no representational gap between policy making and policy practice, or policy implementation and policy evaluation, how might we proceed? Here the particular and unique sensitivities of STS, and its attention to differences in epistemic practices, seem crucial if social science research and policy practices are to accommodate more-than-singular worlds (de la Cadena and Blaser, 2018), and the accountabilites of government departments are not to obscure other accountabiliites that are significant on the ground and in Indigenous communites. 

‘Back-then’ when STS spoke to narratives of scientific objectivity, there was a generalised sphere of understanding and practice to which this work was directed. If STS researchers are currently involved as social scientists entangled in policy worlds in the making – where our work involves discerning difference and ontological tensions – perhaps our interventions need to be more specific. Working at nodes of seeming disconnection, where epistemic practices meet and abrade (even though difficult to discern), attending to our responsibilities in the academy, as well as to funders and within community life may involve finding ways to recognise and work generatively with these impasses. In such work, there is also a commitment to maintaining and even magnifying the multiplicities revealed within the doing of resarch practices, as an outcome of engaged ontological work—making difference more discernable. This is to insist on valuing multiplicity as a policy good, and on finding ways for STS to participate and intervene in good, and less bad, policy practices (Verran, 2016).




de la Cadena, M., & Blaser, M. (Eds.). (2018) A World of Many Worlds. Duke University Press.

Kuznetsov, A. (2019) Changed but Undescribed? What STS Could Say on the Research Practices of Social Sciences. EASST Review, 38 (1).

Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Knowledge. Princeton University Press.

Haraway, D. (1997) Modest_Witness@Second Millennium_FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouseTM, Routledge.

Verran, H. (2016) Researching Policy Goods for Australia’s Northern Regions, People.Policy.Place Seminar Series, Charles Darwin University, 17 February, 2016. https://vimeo.com/156517454 Accessed on 17 April, 2019.

Changed but Undescribed? What STS Could Say on the Research Practices of Social Sciences

It’s amazing how much STS has to offer to say about contemporary social sciences. STS began as a vigorous and dynamic substantive field focused on the natural sciences and technology development and then expanded its scope to a variety of phenomena. Now it is considered not just as a subfield centered on some particular subject matter but a method providing a whole new approach to the ‘hybrid collectifs’ we used to call societies. STS has considerably changed not only the agenda but also the very practices of the social sciences. And, yet, isn’t it surprising that STS has invested so little effort in describing and understanding the practices of the social sciences? 

We barely have studies of social scientific knowledge production comparable to now ‘classical’ in-depth laboratory ethnographies like the ones of Lynch, Knorr Cetina, and Latour or the analyses of controversies and consensus formation in natural sciences by Collins, and Pinch. Where are the books, we could ask, that trace multitudes of actors and crucial practicalities behind social sciences big theories, research projects and historical diagnoses in a mode equivalent to Leviathan and the Air-Pump, The Pasteurization of France and other outstanding works that did this for the natural sciences?

In the early 2000s STS shifted their focus from ‘hard’ sciences to ‘softer’ forms of knowledge in medicine, finance, and economics. For some, economics counts as the ‘hardest’ and the most formalized of the social sciences. But what about sociology, anthropology, political science, and/or psychology? And what about knowledge practices in humanities? Sure enough, there are some individual research efforts (Lamont, 2009; Law, 2009; Maynard, Schaeffer, 2000). Yet a brief look at two flagship journals (Social Studies of Science, Science Technology & Human Values) and the last two STS handbooks (Hackett et al., 2008; Felt et al. 2017) suggests there is nothing like “social science studies” that could be recognized as a subfield within STS. Although already in the late 1980s Latour suggested that “social sciences are part of the problem, not of the solution” (Latour, 1988: 161) to understanding the contemporary world of science and technology, it seems that STS still hasn’t taken this part of the problem into account seriously enough. Perhaps genuine ‘social science studies’ do actually exist and it is my fault to overlook them. Perhaps a subfield like this should not exist in order not to reproduce inside STS the notorious bifurcation between ‘natural’ and ‘social’ sciences. But if it does make sense to talk about relative neglect of social sciences and humanities in STS as objects of research, then I would seize the opportunity to speculate on why it is so. Let me take my mother-discipline of sociology as an example. 

It may well be that the lack of STS research on the production of sociological knowledge is an expression of a particular politics of knowledge in which we are engaged willingly or unwillingly. Perhaps, we are following the lead of the powerful elites of the Euro-American world in their ambition to first control and govern resource-intensive ‘hard’ sciences and technologies and, more recently, manage risks intertwined with ecology, biomedicine, and digitalization. In this context, sociological knowledge production does not put much at stake for the management of science and technology. The discipline is not as demanding for money as physics and not as ‘risky’ as biotechnology. Indeed, unlike the natural sciences, sociology is considered a far less powerful tool for shaping the world. Sociologists do not produce weapons, pharmaceuticals, or gadgets. But what do social sciences actually produce or perform? Ideologies? Facts? Critique? Socio-professional categories? Self-descriptions of societies? Societies themselves? The question we need to pose is how do these ‘sociological entities’ circulate and hold us together. For this question we still have few empirical answers. 

Let me add that sociology is not just ignored in the contemporary apparatus of science and technology. In many parts of the world, sociology is at least since the 1970s recurrently under attack. These attacks are going from other parts of academia, from outside academia, as well as from within sociology itself. So, sociology as many other social sciences and humanities are not only ‘soft’, but also weak, ‘vulnerable’, and sometimes endangered sciences. To study its ‘mode of existence’ is to be engaged in a political epistemology that could have profound political implications for STS. It may go hand in hand with our reflections on new forms of interventions, and inventions in our field. 

Engagement with ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ sciences would definitely bring new conceptual challenges for STS. For a long time, both positivist and anti-positivist sociologists used a distorted image of natural sciences to define a self-conception of their discipline. Anti-positivist sociologists thought that sociology is special because unlike natural sciences it deals with interpretation, rhetoric, discourse, normativity, situatedness, as well as cultural and political contexts. But STS found all this at the very heart of the natural sciences. So how then to explain the seemingly obvious difference between social and natural sciences when previously held distinctions evaporate? And in what sense are our own studies ‘science’? Or are they not? But then again what is the difference? 

It seems then that until now STS has ‘only’ changed social sciences, in various ways. The point, however, is to describe them also. 




Felt, U., Fouché R., Miller C.A., Smith-Doerr L. 2017. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. The MIT Press. MIT Press.

Hackett, E., Amsterdamska O., Lynch M., Wacjman J. 2008. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. MIT Press.

Lamont, M. 2009. How Professors Think. Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. 1988. The Politics of Explanation: An Alternative in Woolgar, S. (Ed.) Knowledge and Reflexivity: New Frontiers in the Sociology of Knowledge. Sage, 1988. Pp. 155–176.

Law, J. 2009. “Seeing Like a Survey.” Cultural Sociology 3 (2): 239–56.

Maynard, D., Schaeffer N.C. 2000. “Toward a Sociology of Social Scientific Knowledge: Survey Research and Ethnomethodology’s Asymmetric Alternates.” Social Studies of Science 30 (3): 323–70.

Sites of intervention: Getting down and dirty

What is a conference for? We asked that question more than once when, as the Local Organizing Committee, we came together to plan for the 20th EASST conference that took place in July at Lancaster University. We met in a space away from the University campus where we imagined EASST 2018 as crafting, discussing and troubling ‘meetings’. This became our conference theme – a deliberately ambiguous and broad one. The theme captured our sense that often we see meetings as tedious, as encounters we would rather avoid than engage in. We wanted our European STS community to reimagine meetings, and to curate meetings of different kinds – between people, between things and people, between things and things, between those who identify as STS and those who don’t, and between different kinds of STS. We wanted EASST2018 to reclaim meetings as stimulating, productive interventions, which also take place in particular situations. We were acutely aware of the possibilities that meetings afford, given the long association of Lancaster with the Quaker movement, and given the tumultuous political times in which we find ourselves in Europe.

Reflecting on those four sunny July days in Lancaster, we think that we mostly succeeded in what we set out to do: around 950 delegates gathered in the sunshine and also in lecture theatres, seminar rooms, a grand Victorian hall, and a huge tent, for varied encounters. And, although it was the largest EASST conference to date, there was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere as delegates involved themselves in the academic, cultural and social programmes.

Two years ago, at the joint 4S/EASST conference in Barcelona, we heard about Politics by other Means. At Lancaster we found ourselves discussing the business of ‘getting down and dirty’. Throughout the conference we were to return, again and again, to questions of how we do research and politics in technoscientific imaginaries and materialisations of making and taking life. First, through reflection on 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then with soil itself, then with the efforts to actively resist fracking, and finally in relation to STS itself: who are STS researchers prepared to meet? How comfortable are we with moving from critique to normativity? How far are we prepared to go?

Working to make a conference of this kind was sometimes hard, sometimes fun and threw up all sorts of unexpected issues. The Local Organizing Committee often employed concepts from STS to describe what we were doing: we were involved in a sociotechnical assemblage of people and things, or perhaps we were performing a sociotechnical imaginary, and we engaged in our own sociology of expectations as we wrote scripts for our future delegates, and sought to bring into being our desired future. At the same time, we anticipated futures full of risk and ruin and wondered how we could build resilience or take pre-emptive action to avoid the worst happening. In the end, we came to appreciate that what we were doing first and foremost was a form of taking care: this was about making something for, and together with, our STS communities.

Alongside the academic programme, we were fortunate to partner with our colleagues at the University to arrange lunchtime activities, visiting the EcoHub, the wind turbine, and the IsoLab in the Department of Physics. Each morning also started with Tai Chi in the Square outside the LICA Building where conference registration took place. The Friday night social event featured the indomitable Paddy Steer, the Groovecutters and a wonderful display of European STS dancing.

And, as is often the case now, the life of the conference is not only found in the face-to-face interactions and encounters, but also online. More than 800 people followed the official Twitter handle for the conference and contributed an impressive array of duck photos and commentary on papers and events throughout the conference. As STS scholars, perhaps we should have anticipated the important role the ducks would play in the life of the conference, but we hadn’t, and we here formally appreciate that their participation enhanced the relaxed and inclusive atmosphere.

“A world can only be stopped by another world”

As some of you might already be aware, in the last weeks one of STS main disciplines, anthropology–or at least its English-speaking versions–imploded in a social media earthquake of giant proportions. The trigger for this have been a number of allegations of systematic exploitation and power abuse regarding HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory’s Editor in Chief. But the turmoil went way beyond this case, and quickly opened up a series of debates: both on the generic problems of academic institutions to deal with these issues, and a series of other reflections on the Open Access publication ecology (since another of the issues regarding HAU is its alleged transformation into a pay-walled journal after signing an agreement with Chicago University Press).

Interestingly, what came to be called in the social networks #hautalk unfolded into what could be called ‘a fractal socio-technical controversy,’ exploding exponentially in all directions, and opening up all kinds of academic issues:[1] Gendered and racialized power structures undergirding academic relations of prestige and credibility; precarious infrastructures of scholarly societies and work practices; the fragility of the ecology of open-access journals; or the problematic appropriation of indigenous knowledges in the journal’s naming and branding. In sum, a true event revealing in a cascade of reflections many problems of our academic ways of being in the world. Not for nothing, some have been addressing it as the #metoo moment in the discipline. However, following it, I was aware that this was not just a matter for anthropology but for many other social sciences, including STS, across the world. In fact, I was constantly reminded of these powerful words by Sara Ahmed, also written very recently:

“What was hard was the complicity, the silence. The institutional response to harassment – don’t talk about it, turn away from it, protect our reputation whatever the cost – was how the harassment was enabled in the first place. To be silent was to be part of the institutional silence.” [2]

In that blog post, Sara Ahmed, now an independent feminist scholar and former Professor in Gender Studies at Goldsmiths’, goes back to why she resigned from her position: “in protest at the failure of my college to address sexual harassment as an institutional problem.” Since then, intervening in those spaces has been turned into her primary concern, discussing in her blog and publications at length the issues and problems of how institutions deal with complaints of sexual harassment–together with other violent conditions deriving from gendered and racialized power structures. As she has forcefully put it, our academic environments, because of the role of hierarchy, prestige and power structures are extremely ill-equipped to deal with situations like these.

What can we in STS do about them? These are the main series of concerns that our contributors to a new installment of STS Live are addressing and raising: In this issue, different pieces chart out the impact that recent activist phenomena such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter in the English-speaking-sphere, or #niunamenos and #vivaslasqueremos in the Spanish-speaking one might be having in our discipline and our modes of accounting or describing it. From essays containing ethical proposals and reflections to concrete approaches to intervention[3] the corollary of the works here contained is, as I see it, that “a world can only be stopped by another world.”[4] That is, that beyond merely engaging in these matters in our everyday life, or as our STS topics, our discipline and scholarly networks should be involved in creating the conditions for such a world to start happening in the here and now of our departments, meetings and journals.

Shall we? Yes, #wetoo.


[1] You can find a summary of the events here. Also, the AllegraLab and Anthrodendum blogs have been publishing a series of essays on the topic, discussing (1) open-access infrastructures –such as Ilana Gershon’s ‘The Pyramid Scheme’ or Marcel LaFlamme, Dominic Boyer, Kirsten Bell, Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Christopher Kelty, and John Willinsky’s ‘Let’s Do This Together: A Cooperative Vision for Open Access’–, discussing issues of power abuse–such as in Emily Yates-Doerr’s ‘Open Secrets: On Power and Publication’–, or addressing the colonial remnants of the discipline–such as in Zoe Todd’s ‘The Decolonial Turn 2.0: The reckoning’..

[2] S. Ahmed (2018). ‘The Time of Complaint’.

[3] In line with resourceful projects such as USVreact (Universities Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence: Training for Sustainable Services).

[4] ‘Un mundo sólo se para con otro mundo’ a sentence written by Spanish poet María Salgado, and compiled in Hacía un ruido. Madrid: Contrabando (2016). The translation into English was done by Luís Moreno-Caballud, who dwells on the poem in his book Cultures of Anyone (2015, Liverpool UP).

Creating spaces for debate and action

This editorial is written in the middle of a strike in UK academia. I sincerely hope that by the time this appears, a satisfactory solution will have been found, but at the moment I am rather sceptical. The strike seems to be the culmination of a series of political events that have deep influence on academic life, and although the formal reason for strike is the proposed changes to pensions of UK academic staff, these pensions also represent broader problems in contemporary academia and its financing system. Next to pension problems sit vast increases in student fees and huge salaries for vice-chancellors (see also https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/mar/11/university-vice-chancellors-are-paid-far-more-than-public-sector-peers?CMP=share_btn_tw). This of course is all interlinked with forms of metric based governance, expressed in rankings, indexes and evaluation systems, including REF and TEF. These problems are specific to the UK while to some extent mirrored in other countries too.

Here is an important question that arose for me and my colleagues: How can we as academics effectively protest and change the ways in which universities are governed? Is disrupting teaching the most effective way to give a message to the management, or are there other ways to disrupt administration? In any case, with cancelled classes and supportive students, the reactions of university managers were often absent or remarkably slow. Some sense of urgency came only weeks into the announcement and the actual strike, but without any satisfactory solution so far. This is especially disconcerting since the university management is largely composed of academics and as such reflects some deep problems in our own community which already have been excellently addressed in recent Manifestos by colleagues from Aberdeen (https://reclaimingouruniversity.wordpress.com) and the Netherlands (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11024-015-9270-9).

In the UK action and debates took place in various spaces: on the picket line, through empty lecture halls and offices, during teach-outs, through the occupation of buildings, and on twitter. The strike was occupying the digital space too. Twitter was actually the best source of information on the strike, providing a value that is often unclear (see for many examples #ucu on twitter).

As an STS-er in another country, one is always somewhat of an outsider, while trained in ethnographic methods too, and as such I spent some time trying to understand the UK system in strike mode. My early field notes are full of surprise. Especially concerning the amount of rules and regulations that different parties stipulate. I will not go into detail here, but it certainly comes across as a very disciplined strike, in which different strike levels can be subscribed to, requiring careful registration. To me, this seems a bit against the idea of rebellion and unruliness that goes with striking, and I think I would prefer a simple strike: no work – none whatsoever! – till a solution is found.

Twitter was a means to check what actually happened. Here I could find information about motivations and actions, about the different organisations involved, about the ways in which my own university handled the situation, and what was taking place at other universities. These tweets are brilliant research material (who takes this up?), and show the emotional engagement – including anger, frustration, and hope – covered with some good sense of British humour. And even the negotiations were at one point arranged through a twitter exchange (see below), perhaps in line with contemporary politics but I could not believe my eyes.

negotiations through twitter exchange

The importance of (virtual) spaces for debates and actions also became a main discussion point during the meeting ‘Science, Technology and Public Value: Beyond responsible innovation?’ organised by the Biotechnology and Society Research Group at King’s College Department of Global Health & Social Medicine. In a wonderful meeting space called ‘Wallacespace’ in the heart of London, we gathered around tables to search for positive ways forward based on experiences with RRI type of research. We reflected on the importance of space for interaction, and how the spatial design can enhance both formal and informal exchanges. This connects to my own work on the Francis Crick Institute which is especially designed to enhance collaboration, and it is of course also relevant when thinking about interactions between (social)scientists, stakeholders and publics. What would be the way forward here?Do we need to complement common time with common space, or is it about inviting each other in our own familiar space, or creating a new common home? Another important discussion evolved around the occupation of epistemic spaces, and how the process of priority setting is an important place to analyse and influence (see colleagues Ismael Ràfols and Jack Stilgoe on priorities in biomedical research: https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2018/mar/16/who-benefits-from-biomedical-science).

Within our own academic community spaces for debate and discussion are crucial too. We need to, for instance, pay attention to the identity of scientists, and the education of new generations of researchers within transforming academic environments. The relations between community and identity in contemporary techno-science was on the agenda in workshop in Vienna last year, supported by EASST funds and reported on in this issue by organiser Karen Kastenhofer of the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) and the Austrian STS network (see also http://www.sts-austria.org/events/). One of its key members, the STS department of the University of Vienna is celebrating its 30th birthday with an academic party: congratulations Helga, Uli, Max and all colleagues!

Within a community that studies the interaction between science and society, it is no surprise that political and social developments are permeating academia. However, recent events such as the science marches (see colleague Bart Penders on this topic: https://doi.org/10.15252/embr.201744935), the UK strike and the effects of brexit do not only require action but also analysis and reflections. Thereby it seems important to have an academic platform outside of twitter, where discussions and debates on these developments can take place.

The British strike action fell together with what has been named, the ‘big freeze’, or the ‘beast from the east’ which added to disruptions in life, but at the moment the last snow is melting under the sunshine and we are awaiting Spring. Here is hoping for some positive (green)energy in the months to come!