Thoughts on Future STS

by Jarita Holbrook

Introduction – EASST Review has been the place to give voice to emerging STS disciplinary foci such as, for example, including ‘methodography’ (Ingmar Lippert and Rachel Douglas-Jones 2019) transplanetary ecologies (Matjaz Vidmar 2020), decolonizing STS (Sarah Rose Bieszczad 2022), and looking at the specifics regional differences in STS (Sarah R Davies et al. 2022). The reflexive aspects of these last two contributions, point to the much needed study of STS as a discipline (Erik Aarden 2016) using STS methods and theories. Given the recent foregrounding of bullying, studying ourselves is imperative including heeding Davies’ (et al. 2022) call to study care within STS. 

An earlier call to decolonize STS, pointed out the deliberate silencing of Indigenous science and Indigenous voices in STS work, poor engagement with Intersectionality opting instead for the male/female binary along with the lack of racial and ethnic diversity within EASST (Sophie Toupin 2018) perhaps indicating an unwelcoming environment. In some ways, Terra Nullius has been replaced with Intellectual or Science Nullius where Indigenous lands are considered places where science, innovation and domestication do not and have not occurred. I want to echo the call to include studies of Indigenous science and scientists and the circulation of Indigenous science, as well as creating a welcoming environment for marginalized voices and minoritized people. In addition to including Indigenous voice and Indigenous Science, what follows are directions that STS should embrace in the future: Intersectionality, Forced Modesty, Curated Spaces, COVID lives, and Afrofuturism. 

Intersectionality – Intersectionality offers a means of broadening our analysis beyond the male/female binary to include race, ethnicity, class, nationality, visible and invisible disabilities, sexuality among other identities. In some circumstances, discussion and questions of economic class are considered taboo subjects, which we have to skillfully navigate as we do our data collection. There are further challenges using an Intersectional lens while doing multi-site research as each aspect of identity has to be recalibrated and redefined for the local context, as well as capturing the nuances of the identities of the scientists that migrate and emigrate for work. My current project studying the careers of astrophysicists made me aware of two identities that I had not considered: those that are adopted (not raised by their birth parents) and those that have been stalked (for definition and a list of stalking behaviors see I am letting these two groups teach me about how these parts of their identities inform how they navigate their careers in astrophysics. Additionally, I have learned about astrophysics environments where scientists feel safe to be fully themselves (expressing all aspects of their Intersectional identities) and those where they cannot. For example, departments where they do not feel comfortable sharing that they are married to someone of the same sex. 

Forced Modesty – Quantitative studies of publications, grants, invited talks and awards are used to tease out biases in favour of men scientists. For example, men scientists are not expected to volunteer to do academic housekeeping, do not have to spend time and energy demonstrating expertise during every interaction, and are not viewed unfavorably if they are not the primary caregivers of their dependents. When making suggestions, it has been posited that men use more exciting and sensational language and that women should adopt the same practice. However, no one has studied how women have been censured by journal editors, peer-reviewers and well-meaning colleagues to remove such language forcing them to make more modest claims. Female scientists have spoken of being told by even their department chairs to change their promotion materials towards using more modest language (they resisted!). Exploring forced modesty may shift our understanding of and interpretations of those quantitative studies showing bias. 

Curated Spaces – Moving online has invited us into the offices, home offices and living spaces that serve as backgrounds during meetings. With the option of having an artificial background rather than a live background indicates that spaces have been cleaned and at some level curated if they are made visible. That curation may mean displays of accomplishments such as diploma’s, expertise such as conference posters or books on display and displays of profession such as a telescope or a skeleton, etc. How are such displays gendered and related to Intersectional identities? What do the scientists identify as objects of power in their spaces? 

COVID Lives – COVID changed the ASTROMOVES project and provided a rich dataset of interviews about the lives of astrophysicists during COVID. I have crafted some of these interviews into a documentary film “ASTROMOVES: Astrophysicists and COVID”. After screenings, I’m often asked if there is anything unique about how the astrophysicists responded to COVID compared to other disciplines? The answer is: I don’t know, since there have been very few publications on the topic as of yet. For example, there have been reports on the differential impact of the Pandemic on women, but similar to how some disciplines have more or less women, were women more negatively impacted depending upon the discipline? 

Afrofuturism – Science Fiction in STS has been studied as futuristic visions of new science, new technologies and new societies among other things. I would like to see deeper STS engagement with Afrofuturism. I find it fascinating how Afrofuturism is part of music in a way that science fiction is not. In Afrofuturism, I see parallels between the negative experiences that scientists experience within their discipline, yet still have to work and live with their abusers, to those Afrofuturistic stories of Black protagonists grappling with their European/oppressor blood (e.g. Okorafor 2018). 

Summarizing, I want the future STS to be more reflective about ourselves as a scientific discipline and as scientists, to engage with Indigenous science and their communities, to move beyond male/female to Intersectionality, to explore Forced Modesty, to bring curated online spaces into the analysis of the performative aspects of scientists, to study the lives of scientists with COVID and during the COVID restrictions, and more studies including Afrofuturism. 

Jarita Holbrook (they/them/their) is currently in the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation at the University of Edinburgh and Physics & Astronomy, University of the Western Cape. Their Project ASTROMOVES focuses on the career decision-making and mobility of astrophysicists, and spans the COVID Pandemic. They are an award-winning documentary filmmaker and the lead author of African Cultural Astronomy. Their research often explores idealized bodies, Intersectionality, professional identity and the practices of inclusion and exclusion in communities that use the sky. 


Erik Aarden. 2016. ‘Tracing Sociomaterial Practices in Technoscientific Worlds. Stakes and Directions for STS’. EASST Review 35 (1).

Ingmar Lippert and Rachel Douglas-Jones. 2019. ‘“Doing Data”: Methodography in and of STS’. EASST Review 38 (1).

Matjaz Vidmar. 2020. ‘Transplanetary Ecologies: A New Chapter in Social Studies of Outer Space?’ EASST Review 39 (2).

Okorafor, Nnedi. 2018. Who Fears Death / Nnedi Okorafor. London: Harper Voyager.

Sarah R Davies, Tereza Stöckelová, Fredy Mora Gámez, Roos Hopman, Patrick Bieler, and Workshop Participants. 2022. ‘STS in Context: Provincialising STS from Central Europe’. EASST Review 41 (3).

Sarah Rose Bieszczad. 2022. ‘Reflections and Suggestions for the Future of European STS: An Early Career Workshop Report’. EASST Review 41 (2).

Sophie Toupin. 2018. ‘Decolonial and Intersectional Feminist Afterthoughts’. 
EASST Review 37 (4).

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