Cities, Infrastructures, Networks

A short report of the First STS Italia Summer School

STS Italia Summer School “Cities, Infrastructures, Networks” took place in Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) from June 28th to July 1st 2011. It was the first summer school in Italy on Science and Technology Studies, organized by STS Italia – the Italian Society for the Study of Science and Technology (www.stsitalia.org) – in collaboration with the Faculty of Political Sciences and the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Sassari. EASST supported the school by funding 3 full scholarships (covering both registration fees and accommodation) and STS Italia funded a further 4 partial scholarships (covering registration fees).

Conceived as a challenge to mobilize interest in urban issues among young STS scholars (PhDs and post-docs), the summer school engaged an international group of students in unfolding the socio-technical discourse about the city. The school program focused on stimulating a sensitivity among students for the complexity of urban phenomena. Within an STS analytical framework, the school introduced students to research experiences, approaches, methods, and techniques in order to explore the distributed and hybrid nature of cities.

After the call for participation we selected 32 from the 64 applications received on the basis of applicants’ curriculum, motivation, geographical belonging and equal opportunities criteria. Their backgrounds ranged from sociology, anthropology, media studies and economics to geography, urban planning, architecture and environmental studies. They were mainly (but not exclusively) familiar with STS and, more importantly, the majority of them had a relevant background and displayed a high level of motivation in participating.

To be honest, we did not expect such a success (in fact, we decided to extend the original planned number of participants from 25 to 32) and we must admit it was hard and painful work having to select only one from every two applicants. At the same time the high quality of applicants gave us (as organizers) the opportunity to compose a heterogeneous and multidisciplinary learning environment.

The summer school involved lectures, workshops and one trip into a relevant urban area during the four days of activity. For the lectures, which focused on theoretical and methodological issues, we invited internationally known scholars with a transdisciplinary background in Urban Studies and Science and Technology Studies.

The first day’s lectures were devoted to “Mapping Heterogeneous Spaces”. Here, Ola Söderström, from University of Neuchâtel, explored the concept of travelling injunctions, and the way urban practices are disciplined through mobile built forms. Attila Bruni, from the University of Trento, framed the major issues connected with doing fieldwork in heterogeneous spaces, concentrating in particular on some of the challenges ethnography faces today: scattered times and spaces, relational materialism, the increasing importance of infrastructures and virtual environments.

The theme of the second day was “The city between the crisis and the everyday”, paying attention to the intertwined aspects of lived urban experience and breakdowns. Barbara Allen, from Virginia Tech at Washington DC, presented her own research on NGO networks and emergent laboratories in the post-disaster city, talking about post-Katrina New Orleans and different models of neighbourhood involvement in reconstruction.

The topic of the third day was “Re-shaping cities”, with lectures by Michael Guggenheim, from Goldsmiths College in London, and by Bibo Cecchini and Monica Johansson, from the University of Sassari. Guggenheim explored the relation between law, architecture and changes in private and public spaces, whereas Cecchini and Johansson looked at the restless appropriation of the city by urban movement and citizens. Finally, the fourth and last day had “Re-presenting the urban” as its focus, with a lecture by Claudio Coletta, Francesco Gabbi and Giovanna Sonda from the Penelope Research Group (Trento, IT), unfolding the concept of “urban plots” and the relation between organizational processes, city landscapes and technological devices.

Workshops (where students worked in small groups of 5-6 people) engaged participants in active discussions around themes and lecture topics, under the supervision of Italian scholars belonging to STS Italia. During the first two days, in particular, they facilitated discussions about the ongoing development of the students’ research projects drawing on the insights and suggestions from the morning lectures. In contrast, the last workshop was devoted to the preparation of group presentations for the closing session, drawing on the observations collected during the visit to “Polimeri Europa” Oil Plant.

The visit to Polimeri Europa was probably one ‘added value’ of the summer school and certainly a unique occasion in terms of ‘sightseeing’ and framing the territory as the result of never ending sociotechnical processes. Polimeri Europa is part of an historical oil plant based in Porto Torres, a small town near to Alghero. The territorial relevance of the plant in terms of extension of the area, industrial production and people employed, led us to use the visit as a micro-fieldwork where students could practice and challenge the theoretical and methodological tool box suggested during the lectures.

On arrival at the plant, the whole group toured the huge industrial area, by coach collecting notes and pictures, supported by the management of the plant. Back in the main building, the group gathered in the conference room for additional lectures on the rise and fall of Porto Torres Oil Plants and the transformations of work and territory, with recent actions by workers on redundancy payments inventing original forms of demonstration that merged social media, class action, and public imaginary of a territory.

The very engaging day had a happy and relaxing ending at NaturaBio Agritour, with a tasteful immersion into Sardinian food … which brings us to the ‘summer’ side of the summer school. Indeed, Alghero and its surroundings could not offer a better location for relaxation and sociability, infusing the summer school with a nice and ‘serendipical’ atmosphere. But the principal merit for this probably goes to the participants and invited lecturers who, with their enthusiasm and willingness to discuss, made the greatest contribution to this first STS Italia Summer School being a productive, as well as vivid and enjoyable, event.

A call for papers for a Special Issue of Tecnoscienza – Italian Journal of Science and Technology Studies on “Cities, Infrastructures and Networks” will soon be announced so … look out for updates on the website (www.tecnoscienza.net)!

 

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