Tag Archives: EASST

News from EASST Council

The new EASST Council met towards the end of May in Lancaster UK. This was the official handover to our new President Ulrike Felt. There has been a large turnover of Council members so this was also an opportunity for council members to get to know each other, to review what EASST has been doing in recent years and to decide which areas of responsibility to take on.

A main part of the agenda related to our forthcoming EASST conference in 2018. Council had the opportunity to view the extensive facilities and to discuss with the local team their ideas for both the organisation of the event and for the theme and approach. Council were impressed with the level of commitment and enthusiasm for this important conference. Further details and an initial call will be available very soon. Check the EASST website and Eurograd posts for further details.

The EASST fund has now been launched for events taking place in 2018. Council will meet again at the beginning of November and will take forward a range of other issues including the next round of EASST awards for collaborative activity which will be awarded at the conference.

 

Elsewhere: a reflection on responsibility in and of the Anthropocene

A few days before the opening plenary of the 4S 2016, on the 29th August, the 35-strong International Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’ submitted their recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, proposing that there was enough evidence for this new geological epoch to be officially declared. Their recommendation still needs to be approved and ratified, a process which will take several more years and three other academic bodies. It has already taken the working group 7 years of deliberation to reach this point.1

Nevertheless, to judge by the topics at the 4S this year, in STS it seems like the initial hubbub around the notion of the Anthropocene is quietening down. There was only one panel devoted to it (which was sceptical of the term’s usefulness), and a handful of presentations that mentioned the term – including a roundtable presentation by Rebekah Cupitt entitled ‘Time to Get Antianthropocene’.

Cristóbal Bonelli2 and I presented a paper this year at the single 4S panel devoted to (critiquing) the idea, despite the fact that we are not ‘Anthropocene’ scholars. But that is perhaps one of the reasons behind the controversial success the idea has had in anthropology and STS: whatever your specialism, it is easy to feel simultaneously implicated in, and eclipsed by, its brazen anthropocentrism, its grand narrative currents and swells, its apocalyptic overtones, and the universalising politics it seems to sanction.3 The speed with which the term appeared to colonise – and polarise – conversations about environmental issues within anthropology and STS seems at odds with the fact that the geological working group has taken 7 years in order to make a recommendation, yet to be ratified, as to its scientific plausibility. At the same time, witnessing (from the sidelines) the iterations of deconstruction that the Anthropocene has subsequently suffered – for its neo-colonial implications, its biocapitalistic echoes, its anthropocentrism, for example (cf Haraway et al 2016) – it feels like the Anthropocene is almost over before it has even begun. In fact, there are already several other neologisms waiting in the wings to take its place, from Jason Moore’s and Andeas Malm’s Capitalocene (cf Haraway 2015), to Natasha Myers’ Planthropocene (2016), to Donna Haraway’s Chthulucene (2015), to name only the most commonly cited. And perhaps, as Haraway suggests, that is the point – to make it as short an ‘epoch’ as possible (2015: 160).

 

Fig. 1: Allée des Baobabs near Morondava, Madagascar. https://www.flickr.com/photos/42244964@N03/4315987006
Courtesy of Frank Vassen.

 

The panel at which Cristóbal and I presented, “Stoking the Anthropocene”, posed the question of whether we (academics), have a responsibility not to ‘stoke’ the flames that the discourse around the Anthropocene has lit in various sectors of academic practice. Rather than just “taking stock” of the debates, it asked us to consider the concrete implications of propagating such discourses, especially for those who are not involved in that privileged propagating machinery (and of course, the panel must count itself as part of that machinery, in one way or another). As with Amelia Moore’s notion of ‘Anthropocene anthropology’, in which she asks us to resist the solidification of the ‘obvious’ (2015: 28), such provocations urge STS to be attuned to the “politics and poetics” of the material interventions made in the name of global change” (Moore 2015: 36) and to take the Anthropocene as itself an anthropological object, that brings forth particular social, ecological and political configurations. Moore sees the Anthropocene as a polysemic socio-materialisation that can flow along transnational circuits of capital and create new markets, or galvanise new forms of scientized political action that frame particular spaces as fragile or endangered; and so she urges us to think of an anthropology ‘of’ and not just ‘in’ the Anthropocene (ibid: 28).

The call to take responsibility for the terms we use and the discourses we marshall is an important one. And the appeal of trying to bring the Anthropocene back down to earth (as Bruno Latour might have it) was perhaps why the panel attracted such a diverse selection of papers, ranging around anthropology, STS, philosophy and policy and environmental governance. During the discussion, many of the issues raised turned on what that responsibility might entail. Implicit in this debate is the feeling that anthropology or STS needs to pull its weight, and get serious about what it can contribute that is concrete or practical: sensible solutions that will make a real difference, not just more speculative theorising that goes no-where. And lurking behind that is the injunction to ‘act’, not just ‘think’.

But, as Donna Haraway often says, paraphrasing Marilyn Strathern, it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas with. So what ideas do we have to think the ‘Anthropocene’, as an anthropological object, differently? Swanson and colleagues have argued that the Anthropocene can be thought of as a “science fiction concept, that is, a concept that pulls us out of familiar space and time to view our predicaments as if they belonged to a distant land” (2015: 149). Science fiction has in fact long been a resource for anthropological thought, and vice versa. From Raymond Williams’ 1956 characterisation of science fiction as “Space Anthropology” (in Collins 2003: 182) to Haraway’s self-acknowledged debt to Ursula Le Guin, there has always been an intimate, if sometimes implicit, traffic between the two. Swanson and colleagues draw on this shared history to make the point that, like science fiction, the Anthropocene thus does not so much predict the future, but presents us with a ‘thought experiment about the present’ (2015: 149). As Cristóbal and I argued in our presentation, “we understand this as the potential of the present, or the real, to hold within it its own alternatives, it’s own capacity for self-differentiation. Heeding the session’s abstract, one modest responsibility we might imagine for ourselves…is therefore to draw out this tension that constitutes the anthropocenic imaginary read as science fiction, which somehow holds together both the here-and-now and the elsewhere…which locates and dislocates, identifies and makes strange, simultaneously”.

From this perspective, one possibility that the diversity of the papers at the panel point to is that the Anthropocene, as an emergent, inchoate field of knowledge, can bring forth new ways of doing and knowing, and particularly, new spaces for trans-disciplinary knowledge; and this is indeed what Swanson and colleagues argue concerning the power of thinking through science fiction (Swanson et al 2015). But I now wonder to what extent the opposite might also be important: that the Anthropocene confronts us with unknowability, excessiveness and the disjunctions and failures in our knowledge practices. In its incarnation as an object of anthropological scrutiny, the Anthropocene may not lend itself to easy revelation or deconstruction, in the same way that in its scientized form, the Anthropocene as a recursive concatenation of socio-ecological forces and feedbacks, toxic excesses and loops, extinction events and population explosions, is also characterised by something that outstrips western scientific or policy-related understandings. Is there space for other forms of responsibility – alongside concrete, practical action – to emerge?

There was another announcement a week or so before the 4S – the winners of the 2016 Hugo awards, the most prominent prizes awarded for science fiction. The winner for best novel this year was N. K Jemisin, for her novel The Fifth Season. The first book of a trilogy, it’s about the end of the world, or a ‘Fifth Season’: a cataclysmic tectonic event that happens unexpectedly if periodically – an enormous volcanic eruption that blocks out the sun, for example, or the emission of gases that change the atmospheric conditions, causing acid rain and widespread famines. People feel themselves to be at the mercy of “Father Earth”4, as the world is in almost endless tectonic upheaval of one sort or another; and people live in a constant state of readiness for another Season that they may or may not survive. Every so often, civilisations are wiped out, continents crack, thousands die and those that survive do so at great cost. It takes the enormous power of the orogones, who can control seismic energy, to keep Father Earth subdued as much as possible, and for that, they are reviled and enslaved, taken when young to be trained and ruthlessly disciplined, and killed if they show any sign of revolt. Yet, as one orogone in the book points out, the orogones can never be fully controlled, just as the Earth cannot. They will break free; the world must change. Jemisin deftly weaves together a world in which the power of the oppressed and colonised, and the power of the Earth, are entwined – both containing within them the same potential to shatter the control that has been so painstakingly, and brutally, constructed by the majority. As Jemisin says in an interview with The Guardian, “As a black woman, I have no particular interest in maintaining the status quo. Why should I? The status quo is harmful, the status quo is significantly racist and sexist and a whole bunch of other things that I think need to change. With epic fantasy there is a tendency for it to be quintessentially conservative, in that its job is to restore what is perceived to be out of whack.”5

Jemisin was the first black woman to win the Hugo award for a novel. And she won despite the efforts of the now infamous right-wing voting group within the science fiction community known as the Sad Puppies and its more radical faction, the Rabid Puppies, which were formed as a reaction against what was perceived as the appropriation and perversion of science fiction by what the founder of Rabid Puppies, Vox Day, calls “Social Justice Warriors”. As Amy Wallace writes in Wired: “in recent years, as sci-fi has expanded to include storytellers who are women, gays and lesbians, and people of color, the Hugos have changed, too. At the presentation each August, the Gods with the rockets in their hands have been joined by Goddesses and those of other ethnicities and genders and sexual orientations, many of whom want to tell stories about more than just spaceships”.6 Angered by these shifts, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies try every year to fill the available nominee slots with authors they have sanctioned, that tell the sort of fantasy stories they want to hear: “a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds” or “a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women” rather than a “story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation with interplanetary or interstellar trappings” or “about gay and transgender issues”.7

In this context, it would be hard to see how Jemisin’s speculative, amazing (and indeed epic) books that are all about the complexities of exploitation can not themselves be read as a very concrete triumph over forces that want to determine and control, oppress and subjugate. Her books complicate exactly the idea of ‘distance’ – both in terms of the sort of escapism science fiction permits its readers and the sort of abstraction that speculative academic theories are meant to imply – by writing ‘the way things could be’ into ‘the way that things they are’. It matters very much, very concretely, what stories we tell and think. The way the world already contains within it the potential to be other-than what we have made of it, is perhaps one of those stories.

 

1 http://phys.org/news/2016-08-anthropocene-scientists.html Accessed 4th November 2016

2 It should be noted however that the views expressed in this piece are only mine, and not Cristóbal’s.

3 Not to mention, as Bruno Latour has pointed out, the fact that it also seems to confirm “final rejection of the separation between Nature and Human that has paralysed politics and science since the dawn of modernism.” (2013b:2)

4 “Listen, listen, listen well.

There was an age before the Seasons, when life and Earth, its father, thrived alike. (Life had a mother too. Something terrible happened to Her.)…The people became what Father Earth needed, and then more than He needed. Then we turned on Him, and he has burned with hatred for us ever since.” (Jemisin 2015: 115)

5 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/27/nk-jemisin-interview-fantasy-science-fiction-writing-racism-sexism. Accessed November 4th 2016.

6 https://www.wired.com/2015/08/won-science-fictions-hugo-awards-matters/. Accessed November 4th 2016.

7 Taken from the blog post by Sad Puppies co-founder, Brad Torgersen: https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/sad-puppies-3-the-unraveling-of-an-unreliable-field/. Accessed November 4th 2016.

Call for Applications for the Annual EASST Fund (2017)

EASST Council is pleased to announce that we have redesigned our EASST Fund scheme in response to a steady increase of interest. We now launch an annual call for applications with a €1000 per successful application (in contrast to our previous biennial – non-conference year – scheme).

The scheme aims to promote national and cross-national community building within EASST, advance new questions, topics and perspectives in science and technology studies, as well as enable collaboration with non-academic actors publicly engaged in science and technology. EASST wishes to support a range of activities such as the organisation of conferences, network meetings, seminars, workshops, etc.

We welcome Network and Community-building activities organised by, or leading to, the creation of national and regional academic associations or other academic and non-academic initiatives committed to the promotion of scholarly and public engagements with science and technology in the European region. Examples of activities supported in previous rounds: STS Austria launch event in Vienna, Spanish STS network (esCTS) annual meetings, Technosciences of Post/Socialism conference in Budapest, Mattering Press open-access STS publishing initiative.

We similarly encourage the organisation of Workshops and Small conferences within Europe with the potential of making significant theoretical and/or empirical contributions to the field. Examples of supported activities from previous rounds: STS Perspectives on Energy conference in Lisbon, Does History Matter? Techno-sciences and their historically informed policies conference in Athens, STS and Development workshop in Amsterdam

Activities should start between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017.

EASST especially invites applications from parts of Europe where EASST activities and membership are under-represented (Southern and Eastern Europe). There is a total budget of €5000 for this call. By default we offer €1000 for successful applicants, but we also accept applications for smaller sums. The proposed activities can be fully or partially funded by EASST. There are no quotas for the announced support categories.

 

How to apply?

  • Applications can be submitted only by EASST members.
  • Applications should specify the category they apply for and include a description of the proposed activity, addressing the criteria below. They should also include the proposed venue, date, organisers and expected number and profile of participants (when applicable) along with a budget specifying how the funds requested will be allocated.
  • Applications should be on our application form which can be downloaded here: https://easst.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Application-Form-for-EASST-Fund-2017.doc and submitted to admin@easst.net no later than 31 October 2016.

 

Assessment of applications

  • The key considerations in assessing the applications are the following:
  • Community building on the national and cross-national level, and reaching to a European audience. Particular emphasis is given to novel network initiatives, especially in countries under-represented in EASST (Southern and Eastern Europe).
  • Novel academic questions, new collaborations, and reaching beyond academia.
  • Innovative initiatives in academia (e.g., open access publishing) and public engagement in science and technology.
  • Open activities accessible for a wide array of participants and reaching a broad audience.

Feasibility and value-for-money. We particularly welcome initiatives with limited access to other potential sources of funding.

Communication of award is expected by 30 November 2016. Recipients should notify the Council their acceptance of award within 15 days after the awards communication.

 

Funding requirements

  • Since only a small number of EASST members will benefit directly from the activities supported, an approx. 2,000 words report will be required from those receiving awards which will be considered for publication in EASST Review. Beyond this, EASST also encourages applicants to pursue further strategies to address or involve the EASST membership more widely (such as a video from the activity which can appear on the EASST web-site or an online discussion or a web-exhibition, Twitter hashtag #EASST).
  • EASST support should be recognised in the public dissemination of the funded activity. This could involve the use of the EASST logo or a short statement on publicity or event materials.
  • The awarded amount will be transferred against invoices after the event. In exceptional cases, full or partial pre-funding can be provided.

 

For further information please contact Marton Fabok at marton.fabok@liverpool.ac.uk or EASST administrator Sonia Liff at admin@easst.net.

EASST – Achievements & Opportunities

As I come towards the end of 8 years as EASST President I want to reflect on developments over the past period of 2009-2016: the recent issues that are facing our community, what EASST Council has done to respond to these challenges and what future opportunities I see for a new president and council who will be elected shortly.

 

Challenges

Growth of sts and related fields

Our field continues to grow both in terms of individual scholars, research groups, and new areas of study. Our concepts have been taken up by other disciplines and now have wide influence for those studying contemporary society. As such, STS has a high profile in the wider academic community.

Diversity of institutional settings

Partly as a consequence of this growth of academic influence STS scholars are increasingly found in a variety of institutional settings. Dedicated STS departments and research groups have had mixed experiences across Europe. In some countries new centres have opened and there has been institutional support for the growth of the subject area. In other countries longstanding centres have been closed or restructured. Many STS scholars also find themselves outside such focused settings, and instead work within a wide range of departments including sociology, cultural studies, urban studies and business schools.

Internal risks of fragmentation

With the growth of a field comes the increased likelihood that there will be a sufficient critical mass of scholars within specialised sub-areas to allow for the development of new conferences, journals or networks around particular subject areas, issues or approaches. This is a welcome development but does carry with it the risk that the sense of what we share as STS scholars more broadly, and our commitment to the overall field as a whole is diminished. If this happens we risk reducing the influence that the growth of the field could be expected to lead to.

External threats in the new competitive academic marketplace

STS scholars are also subject to pressures from developments in the wider academic system which has become subject to more formal measurement and competitive pressures. There has been a retrenchment of traditional established disciplines which may put pressure on STS scholars to prioritise non-STS conferences and journals. This is likely to be an issue particularly for those who are in a minority position in large, non-STS departments. This poses challenges for the development of STS conferences and journals as well as for individual scholars.

New opportunities for policy and social influence mixed with system inertia

In the wider policy world recognition grows of the salience of the issues with which we are familiar. Partly this addresses the societal significance of science & technology. But increasingly it also engages with the contested nature of knowledge and the challenge of public interaction with professional communities. The contemporary discourses around societal challenges, responsible innovation and open science are all expressions of this. Our community is well positioned to engage with this process and we have a highly relevant and distinctive contribution to make. Yet the inertia in the system still often relies on conventional epistemic communities who have far less to offer. As a comparatively young field created in an era of political engagement this remains a challenge for us.

My assessment, and that of the EASST Council, has been that these challenges all reinforce the need for an umbrella body such as EASST to champion STS in Europe and to represent the STS community. In order to achieve this, we concluded that EASST needed to develop to as organised and as effective voice for our community as we could make it.

 

A durable and flexible organisation

Towards this end, over the past 8 years, we have made a number of changes to EASST as an organisation, and to the way it operates, to make it more sustainable and effective. These developments include:

Council meetings – more frequent & regular (6 monthly)

Council used to meet only at biennial conferences. We now meet twice a year in person, hosted sequentially in the workplace of different council members for a full day meeting. In between times we have regular email and other contact. This has allowed us to get to know each other better, work through differences and develop shared positions. It has also allowed us to develop a range of new initiatives and move from an organisation that was primarily involved in organising a conference every two years to one which regularly communicates with members and offers them a range of opportunities and support. This has required the allocation of funds to support council members’ attendance at meetings but we feel that this has been more than justified by what Council has been able to achieve.

Administrative office created

In the past Council members received no administrative support and the President had to organise their own support on an ad hoc basis, and deal with many routine issues themselves. I felt that EASST needed to have on-going, professional support for a President and Council who are all highly active academics with a range of commitments to their own institutions and research areas. The establishment of an office has allowed more communications with members, more initiatives to be developed and pursued, stronger financial management, and so on. Again this has required resources but we feel it has had important benefits, particularly in ensuring that the enthusiasm that Council members bring to our discussions at meetings can be built on when we all return to our other demands.

Constitution updated

We have also reviewed and updated the constitution to ensure that it is in line with our current practices and serves our needs.

Membership – Futurepay system introduced

EASST is a membership organisation. It exists to represent and support its members, and its membership provide a large part of EASST’s legitimacy to be speaking on behalf of the STS community. As such we have sought to make those in the STS community aware of our existence, encouraged them to become members, put themselves forward for election, vote and in other ways make their concerns known. In the past, membership levels have fluctuated considerably – peaking in the run up to our conference (once every two years) and dropping back sharply in between. This was problematic both for legitimacy and for the resources on which EASST depends in order to pursue initiatives.

We have tried to address this both by providing more reasons for people to stay members through increasing activities between conferences and by administrative changes which encourage continuing membership. The latter has involved a more systematic membership renewal process combined with the introduction of the ‘Futurepay’ system whereby members sign up for future renewals. The office aims to keep members informed of their future commitments and provide the opportunity for them to cancel should they want to so we hope most members are happy with the way this operates. For EASST it has had the dual benefit of significantly reducing the decline in membership we saw previously in non-conference years, and reducing the administrative burden of multiple reminders to encourage members to renew.

Website – makeover with new IT support company, a new logo, and a rebrand of EASST-Eurograd

Early on we changed our website and IT provider. This included updating our image and look and introducing a new logo. At the same time EASST took formal ownership / responsibility for Eurograd, a well-used email announcement list for the STS community in Europe.

The website now incorporates a membership directory which supports networking and allows members to update their own data. NomadIT have also provided us with a conference management system which we used in Torun and again in Barcelona (with 4S). Having conference and membership management in linked systems makes things more efficient for both administrators and members. We are in the process of making further changes to make the website more ‘mobile / tablet compatible’ and to incorporate better new EASST initiatives.

Legal status – registered in NL as not for profit organisation 

From the start EASST has had a formal constitution but until recently it had no formal legal status. We felt it was important to address this for a range of reasons including to ensure we made best use of resources and to provide some protection for council members from individual liability. It also establishes our credibility as an organisation when we deal with other institutions and could provide a route to being able to apply for grants. We explored a range options in different countries, with a priority to be located in a Euro country to simplify and reduce the cost of financial transactions.

We are now registered as a Vereniging (not for profit, membership organisation) in the Netherlands. We continue to assess the demands and benefits of this set up in terms of reporting and tax.

Division of responsibilities in Council

In the last couple of years Council has sought to decentralise responsibility and through this to reduce demands on the President and to provide better support for, and interaction with, the office – as well as ensuring that initiatives are pursued effectively. Rather than all issues being discussed by the whole council and many decisions and communications relying on the President, we have identified a number of areas of activity and asked a council member to take primary responsibility for it. These areas include publications (EASST Review, Science & Technology Studies, and the website), conferences, and awards and EASST Fund as well as finances, secretarial issues and strategic linkages. The Council member involved is expected to lead discussions on the issue at council meetings and to progress developments with the office between meetings. It is not intended to restrict the involvement of the whole Council in decisions – rather to ensure that discussions are led effectively and decisions put into practice.

Closer working relationship with 4S – links between Presidents & officers and administrators

From early on EASST and 4S have been holding joint conferences in Europe every four years. We have been working to make the organisation and image of these conferences shared and to promote issues of particular concern to EASST. For the recent Barcelona conference, the presidents and officers have worked more closely together than on previous occasions. Issues that EASST have been particularly concerned to pursue have included a less formal, more inclusive social event than the traditional banquet and a new approach to the award ceremony. This conference year, at the initiative of the 4S President, we have supported a discount for those wanting to be members of both associations, further strengthening ties.

Promoting our community

Over the past 8 years we developed and initiated a number of schemes and projects which promote the STS community and provide benefits to our members. These include:

EASST journal – Science and Technology Studies

EASST launched a new peer-reviewed, online house journal, Science & Technology Studies, four years ago at the Copenhagen conference. This built on the previous Finnish journal Science Studies and it successful track record. To become the EASST journal its positioning was broadened with a name change and a wider editorial board. Becoming the EASST house journal has raised the profile and visibility of S&TS in the community and has provided an improved publication outlet for members of the STS community. These developments are of mutual benefit to the journal and the community.

EASST collaborative awards – recognition of cooperative community building 

Copenhagen was the first time that EASST made awards to members and activities in the STS community. In initiating these awards Council were concerned to promote a distinct principle. In an increasingly individualised and competitive academic environment EASST wanted to celebrate collaborative activities which are often under-recognised or rewarded. This included inclusive and creative editing, working across different academic areas and engaging outside the community. Three awards – Amsterdamska, Freeman & Ziman – were established in the names of members of our community who we felt embodied these principles and the awards have now been made on three occasions.

EASST fund – support for range of actions – establishing national associations, convening seminars

A fund to support STS activities such as conference and workshops happening in the year between conferences had already been established. Over the past 8 years we have developed and expanded this fund. We have been clearer about the types of activities that we want to support and have prioritised areas of Europe where STS is less established. Council has also been keen that the outcomes of these supported events were available to the community more widely. To this end we encourage recipients to write accounts of their events for the Review and to provide web links including, where available, to materials such as programmes or videos of key note speeches.

EASST Review – more active and collective 

EASST Review has been restructured recently to expand its engagement with the community. It now includes a number of sections and actively encourages reporting of events and publications in our field. More people have become involved in the editorial process which makes it more collective and shares the workload involved. The Review has also benefited from improved design and enhanced presence on the EASST website.

A broader and more inclusive Europe 

EASST aims to represent STS scholars and STS activities right across Europe. Traditionally EASST membership has been concentrated in Northern and Western parts of Europe. To try to expand our representativeness and support new communities of STS scholars we have encouraged applications for conference support or workshop funds from the South and East of Europe. We have also sought to bring the EASST community as a whole to new locations and to encourage new associations to network with existing communities.

Reach into south and east of Europe – conferences for the first time in Italy (Trento 2010), Poland (Torun 2014), Spain (Barcelona 2016)

Eight years ago it had already agreed that our 2010 conference would be held for the first time in Italy. Council saw this through to a highly successful conference in Trento. After that the priority was to find a location in Eastern Europe where there was limited institutionalisation of the STS community. This led to EASST holding its 2014 conference in Toruń, Poland. This was the first conference in Eastern Europe since Budapest in 1994. This year we have our first conference in Spain, in Barcelona. All these conferences have raised the profile of the local STS community as well as providing them with the opportunity to shape the conference in terms of its theme and activities.

Encouraged national associations – meetings of existing associations in Jan 2010 & Nov 2013, support for creation – informal network model

We have also held two meetings where we have brought together representatives of STS national associations to share experience, discuss developments across Europe and the issues the local STS communities have been facing. The intention has been to share different approaches, and we published an account of organisational models used in the Review in 2014. EASST is not seeking to incorporate these organisations or to influence membership relations with them. Instead we simply want to facilitate informal networking and communication channels to promote their visibility and interaction. We have also used the EASST Fund to support meetings – particularly launch meetings – of national associations.

Future opportunities

There are many other issues that I would have liked to have pursued more fully. Below are some of the many issues we have discussed and made a start on – but there is much more that could be done.

Breadth & inclusion in field – e.g. links with innovation studies

I have been concerned to ensure that EASST remains a broad and inclusive home for STS scholars. When I ran for president I was particularly concerned about the links with the innovation studies community. There are other communities that may also feel on the margins of the EASST community. But this is also a subject that raises questions about what defines STS and this is something that the EASST Council members have different views on. For me a stronger positive interaction between innovation studies and STS remains an important goal.

Education/learning – links with ESST

Most of us are, or have been, involved in teaching. Teaching and learning is also the route through which our community grows and continues. In meetings with National STS Associations we have discussed opportunities for sharing teaching materials and approaches.  We have also been in discussion with ESST, the international, inter-institutional body that runs a European masters programme on Society, Science & Technology, about how they might cooperate more closely with EASST. I was kindly invited as EASST president to participate at the ESST Bureau meeting in Chios in June 2015 and we have agreed a number of potential areas of collaboration.

Research evaluation – influencing position of field in Europe

Most countries in Europe have been developing more formal approaches to research evaluation which have been impacting on STS scholars. When STS is not fully institutionalised it may prove difficult to get recognition for our subject area and the conferences and journals where our work is discussed. This may be a particular issue for members of the STS community who are located within more established disciplines. In national association meetings we have discussed ideas to address this and how we can support each other – for example through acting as external experts on evaluation panels. As EASST president I attended a meeting in Paris in May 2014 hosted by the Observatoire des Sciences et Techniques to promote greater bottom up influence on research evaluation and indicators. EASST as a pan-European body has contributed to recognition of journals and other publication outlets in our field to some national evaluation bodies.

European research and innovation policy – H2020 Vilnius initiative

The value of STS approaches and scholars is being increasingly recognised within EU research and innovation policy and EASST would like to play a wider role in supporting this development and ensuring the inclusion of members of our community, for example through supporting workshops and the development of networks. However, there are also tensions between this goal and the competitive nature of research bids. In support of the broader principle, as EASST president I attended the Vilnius conference in December 2013 ‘Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities’ which discussed ways to ‘operationalise’ the ambitious goals of integrating the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the Horizon 2020 grand challenges for research and innovation.

Social movements and activism, French initiative

The Barcelona conference has focused on the links between STS academic studies and related issues being pursued by members of social movements and other form of activism. As part of this EASST Council has discussed follow up activities to the French initiative in January 2015 of the ‘Alliance between Science and Society’.

These are just some of the issues where I have become aware of great opportunities for our field – internal boundary work, education and learning. research evaluation, EU research and innovation policy, social movements. There is much more that needs to be done on all these issues – and no doubt other relevant areas that are not included.

My main message is that to pursue any of these opportunities requires, in each case, an individual champion working through our EASST organisation and network. We now have a stable and effective organisation so the basis is there for any interested member to extend our reach and influence. The current renewal of the Council (both the President and many Council members) is the opportunity for you to shape our future. So I hope that if these issues are important to you, you will consider putting yourself forward for election. If anyone would like to have a discussion with me about the role of president I would be happy to hear from you. In the new competitive academic market place our collective voice as an academic community is more important than ever.

Does History Matter? Techno-sciences and their Historically Informed Policies

This was a one-day workshop in the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens co-organized by the Department of History and Philosophy of Science of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Centre for Environmental Policy in Imperial College London. It took place on 14 January 2016. The event was coordinated by Stathis Arapostathis, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and Peter Pearson, Imperial College London. Funding was secured by the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST), the EPSRC funded project Realising Transition Pathways, and the project History of Nuclear Energy and Society (HoNESt). The event was based on invited papers and it was attended by 30 scholars in the areas of History of Science and Technology; Science, Technology and Society and Policy and Innovation Studies. More than 100 members of the broader audience and from NGOs attended several of the sessions while the attendance during the final roundtable went beyond 120 people.

The aim was to start a discussion about the role of history and more particularly of the history of techno-sciences in techno-scientific policy making. Emphasis was given on histories of innovations and technologies in the energy sector, environmental innovations and the information and communication technologies. The main questions of the event were: What is or what can be the role of history in public policies relevant to science and technology? What historiographical perspectives are more pertinent to historically informed techno-scientific policies? Can a historian of science and technology have a role in policy and decision making?

Those questions were formulated in the very reflexive context that seems to have influenced the international community of historians. In recent years, historians are seeking to place themselves more centrally in the making of public policies. During the last decade, the extended and dynamic research network History and Policy (http://www.historyandpolicy.org/) has aimed to link historians with politicians, policy makers, policy analysts and journalists. More recently, the book The History Manifesto (CUP, 2014) by Jo Guldi and David Armitage has triggered continuous public discussions about the role of history in public policies of contemporary social, political and economic problems. Beyond this, during the last two decades, historians and sociologists of technology have worked on historically informed policy scenarios and have conducted policy relevant historical research. The new field of Transition Studies emerged through such synergies and approaches (Geels, 2002; Schot and Geels, 2007; Geels,2005; Smith, Stirling and Berkhout, 2005; Bijker, 1999). In this context the workshop aimed to bring together historians of science and technology, sociologists, innovation studies as well as policy analysts, in order to reflect on the role of history in the making of science and technology policies but in the context of the broader dialogue and taking into account existing experiences.

 

The event was structured around three main areas:

1) Infrastructures, Technologies and the Environment;

2) Innovation Transitions, Governance and Path Dependencies

3) Nuclearities, Techno-sciences and Nuclear Policies.

 

Audience of the workshop, photograph by author
Audience of the workshop, photograph by author

 

Furthermore, two roundtables were organized. One roundtable was about the aims and the scope of the research projects that contributed to funding the workshop. The aim was to show how large scale projects mostly in the energy sector promote multidisciplinary research that brings together historians, sociologists, innovation studies scholars and economists as well as legal scholars. The second roundtable and concluding session featured four external commentators who attended the workshop and provided both overall commentary and specific suggestions in relation to how history can be useful for science and technology policy making. These included Yannis Caloghrou, Professor of Innovation Studies in the National Technical University of Athens; Alexandros Kyrtsis, Professor of Sociology and Sociology of Science in the National Kapodistrian University of Athens; Dimitris Ibrahim from Greenpeace and Ioannis Margaris, from the National Technical University of Athens and the HEDNO (Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator). The aim was to have representatives both from epistemic communities different from that of history of science and technology, as well as representatives from NGOs and the industry that could provide the view of stakeholders in science and technology policy making.

In the morning session entitled ‘Infrastructures, Technologies and the Environment’, the papers addressed the construction of environment through technological infrastructures. Vincent Lagendijk advocated a historical approach based on a more symmetrical understanding of the causes and the agendas of the engineers, the state, the municipal authorities as well as the civil society. He argued for more historical sensitivity to the agency of the communities of citizens and infrastructure users in questioning engineering rationality and addressing issues emerged from the logic of civil society. Martin Ivanov provided a policy relevant history of renewable energy sources (RES) and their integration in the energy mix of the Bulgarian regime. He argued that institutional and technological path dependencies as well as the organizational and political culture defined the transition pathway of the energy mix in more sustainable directions. The transition was characterized by strong tensions and the opposition exerted by actors from the coal and nuclear lobbies, the local environmental activists and political engaged communities of citizens, distribution companies and electricity traders. Furthermore, governmental actions and decisions did not facilitate the integration of RES and the entrepreneurial activities of small scale installations. Pressures by the European Union were understood as windows of opportunity by incumbent regime actors to promote their interests, yet innovative initiatives were characterized and influenced by political corruption. Whereas Ivanov argued for the importance of institutions, governance patterns and culture in the making of energy regimes, the paper by Aristotle Tympas and Vassiliki Aggelopoulou stressed the importance of material histories in the making of policies and transitions to a more sustainable future. They argued that it is important to understand that technologies are not neutral and that different technologies are the material embodiments of different socio-political orders. Thus small scale wind parks with wind turbines of reduced height and width organized a different sociopolitical regime from the one organized around a large scale, colossal wind farms with gigantic wind turbines. While the first coproduced the energy regime for a regional or community level, the other coproduced patterns of energy demand that maintained unsustainable urban consumption. So when decisions are to be made, it is important to link technologies with the broader political priorities and with appropriate governance patterns.

 

Presentation during workshop, photograph by author
Presentation during workshop, photograph by author

 

The second morning section was dedicated to technological transitions and path dependencies both at the governance and technological level. Yannis Fotopoulos and colleagues argued that the natural gas transition in Greece showed that the political priorities at the transnational, national and local level defined the governance patterns and thus the character of the transition, the allocation of resources, skills and expertise(s). Fotopoulos et al. stressed that governing a transition really matters in the making of the network and the construction of organizational and material configurations of a system. In this context they pointed out the role of experts in visioning and framing energy problems and in directing policies by translating and inscribing them in the agenda of state and government actors.   Furthermore, Fotopoulos et al. argued that in the case of contemporary Greece and in the context of financial crisis transnational actors should be viewed as important players in the transition rather than as actors who only exercised pressures on the national actors.   While Fotopoulos et al. studied the structural characteristics of a specific case study, Peter Pearson showed how history and incumbents matter in shaping structural regime changes and effecting sociotechnical transitions with an emphasis on low carbon transitions. He was interested in theorizing and assessing the agency of the actors and their role in promoting, directing or reacting to a transition. He argued that incumbent technologies as well as organizations can be important influences, negative or positive, on the success of low carbon technologies and policies. Pearson showed that transitions can be conducted and realized in an effective way even under tight schedule, short time scale, and within a context of strong landscape pressures. The issue at stake is to mobilize human and financial capital at state and corporate level as well as to exercise the regulatory power to facilitate the technological change and to facilitate the effective interaction between actors. This is a dimension stressed by Ivan Tchalakov too. He argued that the recent history of information and communication technologies and digital infrastructures in Bulgaria showed that governing successful transitions necessitated choices over technologies, allocation of expertise and skills, the social legitimization through acts of legislative measures and acts of persuasion but also the synergy of local private concerns with civil society initiatives. He reconstructed the sociotechnical networks that were shaped in the struggle against the established state monopoly. The passage from the communist to the liberalization period involved intensive attempts by the private internet service providers to change legislation. Pressures from those actors were strong in order to legitimize a logic of competition. Furthermore, he argued that the low taxes and the high speed of the Bulgarian internet created the setting for entrepreneurial activity of international private interests. This is a condition that has been deemed as necessary for the continuation of the pace and the character of the transition but also of the integration of internet in the developmental patterns of Bulgaria.

In the afternoon session entitled ‘Nuclearities, Techno-sciences and Nuclear Policies’ the papers attempted to reconstruct the stories of the national nuclear programmes of Finland, Bulgaria and Greece from a perspective that could be informative to current trends in policy making. Karl Erik Michelsen addressed the problem of the limits of national self-determination in energy policy. His starting point was the Finnish experience and he argued that small independent nations, like Finland, have only limited self-determination when it comes to energy policy. The country’s struggle to develop a sovereign and independent energy policy had been unequal since the strong pressures and enforcement by the Soviet Union to use Soviet technology, expertise and uranium for the first nuclear power station in the country, which meant that Finland was then locked into a specific technological regime and technologically dependent on the Soviet Union. Dependence continued even for subsequent nuclear power stations despite the fact that they were built with western technology provided by Asea Atom and Westinghouse respectively. The country’s lock in nuclear power made it very difficult both politically and technologically to move away from this regime during the early years of the 21st century. In a context of market liberalization, the ownership of the new nuclear power plant by Russian interests triggered political contestation and conflict while it deepened the country’s technological dependence. The issue of technological dependence was raised in the paper by Arapostathis and Tympas on the story of the cancelled nuclear programme of Greece. The Greek story showed that a nuclear power station was an endemically political project in which experts played an important role in the process of framing the solutions to energy problems. They were key actors inscribing the integration of nuclear power plant not only in the energy mix but also in legitimizing the political priorities of democratic or fascist governments. They showed that the nuclear power plant in Greece was cancelled due to the critical event of a strong earthquake but also to the delegitimization and the politicization of the project that had been achieved by the anti-nuclear movement. Finally, they provided a new understanding of the ‘nuclearity’ of Greece by stressing the fact that while the country was cancelling the nuclear plant it established an interconnection with Bulgaria to purchase electric power produced by the Bulgarian nuclear power plant just kilometers from the north border of the country. The issue of technological dependence and network interconnections was raised by Ivaylo Hristov too. He presented a paper on the transition of the Bulgarian nuclear energy sector from the Cold War to the Liberalization and the period of Bulgaria’s integration in the European Union. Hristov argued that during the Cold War the technological dependency from Russia created the political and social legitimacy of a dominant ideology in which nuclear power was considered as critical infrastructure for the model of the state’s political economy. The collapse of the communist regimes destabilized the energy regime since it provided the political space and the legitimacy of actors from the environmental and anti-nuclear movement to react and question certainties and hegemonies in the energy policy of the country, while at the same time legitimized transnational pressures by the European Union that urged for the decommissioning of the nuclear reactors.

Each session was followed by extensive discussions that culminated with the final roundtable and the reflections by the commentators and the audience. In concluding we can summarize the discussion by stressing four main points that emerged from the papers and the discussions: a) understanding path dependencies is important in policy making since they shape the dynamic of actors, innovation networks and institutions. Only by mapping the sociotechnical networks involved, can a more interventionist agenda follow and effect changes; b) technologies are materialities inscribe and co-produce social order, the developmental paradigm and patterns of innovation. Thus, historically reconstructing the co-production process can inform public policies and public debates in spaces of deliberation. This is particularly important in order to secure symmetry in the engagement of different actors in the deliberation, as well as the condition for overcoming social inequalities in the design and distribution of innovations; c) studying the histories of transnational network interconnections and technological dependencies can help us to understand current technology policies and inform debates about the appropriate directions of contemporary transitions; and d) historical studies at micro and meso levels of analysis require a broader vision to address structural dimensions of sociotechnical networks and thus inform contemporary policies in an effective and efficient way.

The workshop concluded in optimistic and enthusiastic spirit about the linkages and synergies between the history of techno-sciences and innovations and public policies while discussions continued over a dinner in a historic traditional tavern in Plaka the oldest section of the city of Athens.

Gedankensprüngeausstellung

“Let’s pause for a while, follow a procedure and search for different sensors that could allow us to recalibrate our detectors, our instruments, to feel anew where we are and where we might wish to go. 

No guarantee, of course: this is an experiment, a thought experiment, a Gedankenausstellung.” 

(Field book, p. 1)

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

 

That voice is familiar. It appears in many texts and lectures, navigating between directly calling on the reader – never without a sense of humour, but seriously upset about the way we continue to act out modernity – and considerately trying out new ideas and forms of de-modernisation. In short: “r-M!”

“Gedankenausstellung” is one of these ideas, coined by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, who since their “Making Things Public” (2005), have tried to open up new ways of relating to the world through the mode of the discursive exhibition. In “reset Modernity!” it signals the theoretical work to be done by the visitors once they have gone through the six “procedures” that structure the exhibition. The “field book” is another:

“As the name ‘field book’ indicates, you are invited to do a bit of research yourself.” 

(Field book, p. 2).

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

As an impatient visitor of exhibitions, but an anthropologist passionate about analysing knowledge in the mode of the exhibition, I was most curious about the making of “reset Modernity!” when I visited it on its opening weekend. Would space be reserved for reflection on how this Gedankenausstellung became an Ausstellung? And if so, what kind of spatial arrangement could express the localising qualities of this very representational work?

As it turns out, there was. Firstly in the catalogue, which was too heavy to carry, and will be a source for future reading. Here, a seventh procedure with the title “In search of a diplomatic middle ground” had been added. The chapter provides a visual and textual documentation of the conferences, workshops, symposia and plays that took place in the context of AIME — the ERC-funded research project and network based in Sciences Po’s médialab in Paris. The website, which has been developed as a working tool for the group, contains additional materials, including interviews with Bruno Latour on the question, “What is a Gedankenausstellung?” (http://modesofexistence.org/what-is-a-gedankenausstellung/). When it comes to learning about the making-of process, the photographs of their work sessions are potential sources of information – they show people sitting around tables covered with document folders, bottles of soft drinks and plates of sweets, discussing plans that have been projected on the wall. It features photographs and an audio-visual recording of the curators visiting the ZKM in 2015, bent over plans and examining the future exhibition space. It also shows the “statement of intent”, which prompted the following comment: “It sounds exciting. Stay strong and hold on to your original vision. Alicia Flynn (a year ago)” (http://modesofexistence.org/statement-of-intent-for-the-aime-exhibition-at-zkm-2016/)

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

Did they stay strong? And was that the right approach? (It shouldn’t be, see Latour/Weibel 2007: pp. 94-95) They did keep to their plan, and while the catalogue and website document how the research network took on the risks of interdisciplinary work (intertwining research, debate and theatre with analogue and digital design in different locations and constellations) the exhibition includes traces of their original working practice in the form of “stations” implemented in each procedure. Here, thematically related quotes, notes, images and audio-recordings are provided and loosely arranged on a single white wall. These arrangements are aesthetically reminiscent of the associative Warburgian atlas production – without claiming to be exhaustive.

Quite the opposite: These stations point directly to another, virtual actor — potentially a zettelkasten of the AIME team and its collaborators, which could be a probable source for the arrangements. The looseness of the wall arrangements and the virtual zettelkasten cautiously suggest the existence of selection, but not to the ways in which the selection took place. Which lines were drawn between those artworks and references that became part of the spatially, temporally, financially limited exhibition-project? Which artworks and references made their way into the exhibition while transgressing these lines? And which ones never did become a part of it, despite having the strongest of qualifications1 Since much of the “field book” isn’t a “fieldwork notebook”2, the stations don’t offer these types of insights into the representational work. Given that these processes are always driven by tension and passion – which shape the agency distributed between the actors – these walls have a lightness, they breathe and invite the visitor to do the same.

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

But do they provide the quiet that, as Bruno Latour mentioned in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist (http://modesofexistence.org/what-is-a-gedankenausstellung/, 26:14), is necessary for a reset? The field book proclaims that they are “a sort of workplace … this is where you will find more information and where you can discuss the path of the inquiry” (field book, p. 2). Here something might have been lost between the original vision and its spatialisation.

 

»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber
»reset modernity!«, photograph by Alexa Faerber

 

The very discreteness of this AIME-archive (the table with books at the intersection of three procedures should also be mentioned) is partially the result of the large, all-consuming two-dimensional artworks that surround these stations. Walking through the exhibition, these spectacular images again and again captured my attention: the more-than-realistic, staged photographs of Jeff Wall showing scientific practices; Armin Linke’s photographic work, which seemed to be part of almost every procedure, and simultaneously points to humanity’s intriguing megalomania and smallness and, visible from far away, at the end of the first exhibition hall, the floating walls of film projections in procedure five. The latter, called “Secular at Last”, resonated with the large scale of the other pictures. One work in this procedure is spatially secluded by a triangular installation of screens: “Obama’s Grace” (Lorenza Mondada et al, 2016). Here, the performative force of Barak Obama’s combination of political statement and religious “sound” is disturbingly intensified. An analytical transcript on one of the screens, however, demonstrates the extent to which this intensity stems from both the president and his parish. When standing between these three screens, the need for a way out of modernity’s binding forces could not be more obvious. Time for a Gedankensprung!

Building bridges: new realities, new education approaches and collaboration

 

BIHSENA

 

Since the 1990s, Eastern European societies and their respective health care systems have been undergoing a series of major transformations – some of the changes have worked out successfully, others have had minor positive effects. One of the reasons for lack of progress in the field of health care and the medical innovations is that Post-Soviet governance mechanisms are not well attuned to the new realities. We believe that intersectorial collaboration and new education approaches may help to overcome this problem, as it prepares researchers, professionals and policy makers for analysing and dealing with the specific problems they meet.

The project “Bridging Innovations, Health and Societies: Educational Capacity-Building in Easter European Neighbouring Areas” (BIHSENA) aims to respond to the lack of education opportunities in the interdisciplinary area of health, innovations and society in the two countries of Russia and Ukraine, and to bridge a gap between (bio)medical and social scientists, academics and practitioners in these two countries, as well as between local and international communities. The common history regarding the organization of health care system (by means of the so-called Semashko’s model), and the health sector more generally, as well as similar past attempts to redesign it, create a shared ground for Russian and Ukrainian partners to do research, design solutions and develop up-to-date educational programs.

The project has started at the beginning of 2016. It was supported by Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and brings together seven universities: Maastricht University (the Netherlands); National Research Tomsk State University and Siberian State Medical University (Russia); National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” and Vinnitsa National Pirogov Memorial Medical University (Ukraine); Plovdiv University Paisii Hilendarski (Bulgaria), and Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University (Poland). The project is led by Dr. Klasien Horstman, professor of Philosophy of Public Health at Maastricht University. The Policy Analysis and Studies of Technologies Centre (PAST-Centre) is a key partner in the BIHSENA project.

The BIHSENA project was conceived by a group of scholars who came together in Tomsk to take a part in an international conference Social Sciences and Medical Innovations: Doing Things Together in May 2015 (a report on the conference can be found here: http://www.medanthrotheory.org/read/5431/social-sciences-medical-innovations). In the course of the conference, it became clear that, among the various post-Soviet transitions analysed and discussed at the event, Russia and Ukraine face very similar challenges in the area of health and medicine, even though they have followed relatively divergent development trajectories after the collapse of the USSR. Two central issues were identified by members of BIHSENA consortium in both Ukraine and Russia.

 

BIHSENA group, photograph by author
BIHSENA group, photograph by author

 

First, important shortcomings for the health sectors of both countries result from their education systems. Specifically, there is a major lack of higher education programs and opportunities that would adequately prepare professionals – in the field of medicine, public health, social sciences and social policy – to work under conditions of transition, to effectively govern health reforms/innovations and to conduct the kind of interdisciplinary research that is needed to adequately inform policy- and decision-making for citizens’ health.

Creating educational opportunities to adequately prepare such professionals seems indeed crucial, specially for university-level teaching staff that requires an in-depth knowledge of recent approaches in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society, and varied and active modes of education that fit that content. Currently, however, education programmes in Ukraine and Russia hardly address intersections of health, innovations and society and rarely bring together insights from various disciplinary fields. Traditional formats of education, emphasizing lecturing, large student groups and face-to-face learning are dominant at the expense of more interactive, student-centred and blended learning approaches2.

Second, both countries lack opportunities and platforms for communication and engagement between (bio)medical and social scientists; academics and practitioners; scientists, policy makers and industry. Bridging disciplines, professions and sectors is necessary to early diagnose problems with respect to specific innovations and policies, and to promote more thorough and responsive approaches to health issues in the two countries.

The BIHSENA capacity-building project addresses both problems. In 2016 the BIHSENA team began work together and has already organised training programmes for 40 teachers from Russia and Ukraine in Maastricht University. The training enhanced the capacity of partner universities in Eastern European region to use active, interdisciplinary and blended modes of education, necessary for the development of new educational opportunities in the field of health, innovations and society. The issues, the training programme focused on, included: a. the productive use of Problem-Based Learning in practice; b. design and implementation of blended learning elements; and c. development and planning of active learning curricula. Special attention was given to ways of translating active and blended learning methodologies into different socio-cultural contexts. During the training period groups of teachers developed outlines of new interdisciplinary education modules, using the knowledge gained.

The next upcoming BIHSENA project event is going to take place in Bulgaria. During this event BIHSENA team will deliberate on the content of the new courses that are being developed within the framework of this project. The first part involves problem-based learning sessions, lectures and group discussions devoted to the recent insights from the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and societies. The topics include critical approaches to epidemiology and metrics of disease; current health systems transition; recent perspectives on definitions, processes and implications of innovations for health; developments in governance of health care; roles of publics in public health. The second part focuses on competence-based education and specification of competences for professionals working in health, innovations and society domain. The final, third, part of the workshop consists of presentations and discussions of the new course syllabuses being prepared by BIHSENA consortium members.

The new course syllabuses will be further discussed with healthcare practitioners, representatives of business and regulators to ensure that new education opportunities fit particularities and needs of local settings. Furthermore, in line with the philosophy of student-centred education, students’ perspectives and interests will be incorporated in the development and adaptation of these new educational opportunities. Thus, BIHSENA courses in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society will be co-produced by project partners, students and those already working on the ground.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

PAST against the Clock — Centre for Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology, Tomsk State University, Russia

www.en.past-centre.ru

Mission and History

The mission of the Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology center (PAST-C) is to contribute to the development of the Science & Technology Studies (STS) in Russia as a research field and educational discipline. The main focus of the PAST-C research agenda is the study of technology in the context of non-Western countries, mainly in Russia, with the aim of making a contribution to global discussions.

The team’s chief objective is to establish PAST as the single most important ground for various activities related to social studies and policy analysis of technological change in Russia and in this way to contribute to a consolidation of research, to an effective communication of its results to a broader public, and to setting up educational standards in this field, rather novel for Russia.

Relying on the already established institutional resources and its network of domestic and international partners, and institutions, the PAST team constitutes one of few key hubs that carry out and coordinate the social studies and policy analysis of technological change in the country. A challenge for us results from the still marginal position of Russian social researches in S&T policy and the field of STS is just making the very first steps in its development.

PAST-C opened in 2012 with financial support from Higher Educational Support Program, Open Society Institute, as a part of collaborative project of European University at St.Petersburg (EUSP). The aim of the Project initiated by EUSP was to create sustainable pockets of growth in the new fields of social sciences in a number of regional universities in Russia. Now we are moving from the concept of regionally localized center to the idea of becoming a bridge connecting different disciplines, territories and institutions; science and education; researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. Initiated as a small local center at one of the oldest regional universities in the country, we have rapidly become an institutional landmark in the STS field in Russia. At the next stage our goal is to make more prominent contributions to global STS, producing, in particular, new knowledge on how politics works in science and technology innovation in non-Western countries.

 

 

Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author
Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author

 

 

Research Agenda

Scientists in STS have long been interested in policy issues. Much work has been done by them on issues of democracy, its relationship with technoscience, accountability and public participation in the governance of innovation in rapidly transforming contexts. Many such studies have observed a reduction of nation-state centralized governance of science and innovation processes, while pointing to decentralized networks and power assemblages in the field of S&T governance (Jasanoff, 2004; Irwin, 2008). This growing attention to the processes of governance occurring outside of the official governments and nation states has contributed to a more reflexive understanding of the organization of innovation management and knowledge models inscribed in it. However, despite such meticulously implemented studies of democratic tendencies in technoscience development, the existence of other, non-democratic methods of governance and government signals the need for attention to differences within and between countries and their organization of innovation (for example, Rajan, 2005). While empirical work on politics and science and technology, as well as innovation, has been mostly focused on established liberal democracies of the West, the main focus of PAST-C research agenda is on how and by whom decisions on S&T policy are being made, represented and ‘framed’, what kinds of assumptions operate within these processes, how choices are being legitimised and stakes negotiated in various kinds of societies. Within this frame, PAST-C faculty works on different spheres:

 

1) Medical innovations beyond the West

Since 2015 we have been working with colleagues from Maastricht University on a collective monograph about politics and medical innovations in non-Western world (Zvonareva, Horstman, Popova). What types of power and conflict are dealt with in various societies beyond the Western high-income world, including those with transitional and hybrid political regimes without long established democratic traditions and institutions? What kinds of responses to the politicisation of (bio)medical science and technology are being constructed and institutionalised?

Several research fellows of PAST-C concentrate on studying medical innovations from the STS perspective. The first project is investigating social embeddedness of drug research and development in Russia (Zvonareva et al., 2015). The second one considers Russian maternity care system from viewpoint of interrelations between technology, state policy and doctor’s decision-making (Melnikova 2014; Borozdina 2013).

2) Innovation and Technology in non-Western world

We are also interested in studying the varying political features in different technology fields. Our research projects focusing on non-Western innovation system investigate, first, how Russian top-down innovation policy enforce close positions between academic and industrial partners, a development that is often discussed as ‘coerced innovation’ and, second, how the available technological equipment and how different human agents shape such innovation systems (Bychkova, Popova, Chernysh 2015; Popova 2015).

We are also conducting a 4-years project on academic journals as organizations. It studies how the dependence on professional, commercial and state resources influences journal’s organizational behavior in Russian sociology (e.g. the choice between networks and open peer review as different forms of governance) (Guba 2015).

Another direction of research is devoted to the issue of inclusion of marginalized groups of society in innovation system, i.e. informal innovation, problems with their recognition, institutionalization, and diffusion. The research has focused on India and Russia. This educed new challenges to inclusion connected with the specifics of each policy regime (Ustyuzhantseva O., 2015). Networking with scholars from China, Africa, India and Brazil allows extending this agenda for BRICS.

3) Urban infrastructural transitions in post-socialist countries

Another research field concerns end-user interactions with urban infrastructure in post-communist context. One research project on smart utility meters draws attention to the ways in which end-users of smart technologies in centralized city infrastructures can undermine the proposed policy tasks of ‘commodification’ of public utilities, i.e. transformation of these quasi-public goods into economic goods (Bychkova, Popova, 2016; Bychkova, Popova, 2011).

A related research focus lies at the intersection of STS (particularly ANT) and mobilities studies (Kuznetsov, 2015). The project City, Transport Mediation, Social Justice studies the practices of mundane critiques and justification within sociotechnical assemblage of marshrutkas (Russian type of collective taxis) (Kuznetsov, In print). Recently we launched new two-year collective project aimed at sociotechnical analysis of the consequences of public transport infrastructure transformation in the preparation to the World Cup 2018 that will be held in Volgograd in 2018.

 

Networking and collaboration

We collaborate on issues of science and technology policy with the Center for STS and Center for Governance and Public Policy of the European University at St. Petersburg. In field of technology assessment we have approached the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and the Perm Polytechnic University in the Urals (see: https://www.itas.kit.edu/english/2015_043.php). The main idea was to make pilot research on the topic of TA in non-western world. Two workshops devoted to grassroots innovation and public policy for inclusive innovation development were hold together with member of Science Policy Research Unit of Sussex University. Together with the School of Social Science of Jawaharlal Nehru University, PAST-C is currently exploring the possibility of implementing some of their courses for the Master Program being developed by PAST-C.

Aiming at consolidation of Russian research and educational community in fields of STS and related disciplines, PAST-C hold conferences with participation of leading researchers and most importantly we began an audit of interested parties in Russia (Popova, Simakova, 2013). Two conferences on «Social Studies and Medical Innovations” in Tomsk (O.Zvonareva, O. Melnikova 2014 and 2015) were held in collaboration with Department “Health, Ethic and Society”, Maastricht University (HES). The conferences resulted in establishing links and cooperation with the Siberian Medical University, the NGO Academy of Evidence-based Medicine, as well as technological companies in the field of health.

Summer Schools were hold to attract the attention of Russian young researchers to STS, focusing on “STS for Seven Days” (2013) and on “STS and Urban Studies” (2015). This year we prepared the summer school “Science as a form of life: Watching heterogeneous communities in the ‘field’” in collaboration with Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research (TSU), Centre of Excellence ‘Bio-Clim-Land’, Scientific Research Institute of Biology and Biophysics (TSU) and Plovdiv University. The school aims to train young scholars in applying new theoretical approaches in the anthropology of science, with the process of researching being conceptualized as a heterogeneous community inhabited by different types of agencies (actors) – human, non-human (domestic and wild natural beings), artifacts, and other technical facilities, which are included in various forms of association and cohabitation. It will explore the world of scientists that work at biogeochemical laboratories and will study their methods of remote environmental monitoring through in-city participant observations.

Well-known researchers and practitioners have acted as key-note speakers in different PAST-events: Arie Rip, Stephen Hilgartner, Steve Fuller, Ignacio Farias, Anil Gupta, Guy Ben-Ary, Klasien Horstman, Boel Berner and Jessica Messman.

 

Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, a senior research fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, Senior Research Fellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education and training

PAST-C supports student exchange program with HES, Maastricht University (UM), providing co-supervision of UM students’ Master thesis in collaboration with Tomsk medical organizations and sending local students to attend the spring semester in Maastricht.

In 2015 PAST-C began developing master program “Innovation and Society: Science, Technology, Medicine”. One of the program’s areas is dedicated to medical innovation and is held in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Siberian Medical University a collaboration that received a grant from the European Commission Erasmus+ (see: http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Main/Sitewide/News1/InternationalConsortiumLedByUMReceivesEUfundingOf865.000Euro.htm)

It is also important that following the spirit of STS of fostering a dialogue between and beyond disciplines, the Center also aims to work as a part of civil society. While contemporary Russian policy-makers generally are not open for dialogue with NGO and other non-political groups, PAST-C seeks to attract the attention of general public, politicians, administration, etc. to policy issues in the sphere of science and innovation. PAST-C events seek to secure the dialogue between the different groups involved, concerned and affected.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

News from EASST Council

The EASST Council (the elected body that runs our association) meets twice a year, last time in Munich in October and next in Copenhagen in April. Issues which are currently being discussed and progressed include:

  • Elections: the terms of office (normally 4 years) of the majority of Council members, and the President, come to an end this year. There will be a specific call for self-nominations and details of the election process later in the year. However, if you want to know more about the Council you can see the current members from our website at https://easst.net/about-easst/easst-council-members/ and read the constitution at https://easst.net/about-easst/easst-constitution/. If you want to know more, please contact our secretary via estrid.sorensen(at)rub.de or the president at president(at)easst.net
  • Current Conference: there has been a massive response to the call for papers with over 2,500 received. Track Conveners and the Scientific Committee are busy assessing these. Students from 4S and EASST are working together to put together a Postgraduate Workshop to procede the conference. Both EASST and 4S have funds to support the conference attendance of students and those at early career stage who have had papers accepted. To keep in touch with developments follow the conference website at http://www.sts2016bcn.org/ .
  • Future Conferences: a reminder that we issued a call for those interested in hosting EASST’s next conference in 2018 (or at a future date). Council will be discussing this at the beginning of April so please get in touch straightaway if you are interested but have not yet told us.
  • Membership: a reminder that our membership year ends on 30th Those members who have a Futurepay agreement to cover renewals will receive a reminder about this – and an opportunity to cancel if you want to. If you know that your credit card has been renewed or changed over the year let us know and we can tell you how to update it. Others will receive an invoice as normal. A reminder that membership offers a discount on conference registration rates.
  • Awards for collaborative activities: thanks for your nominations. Council is considering those and the awards will be made in Barcelona.
  • Science and Technology Studies: our peer reviewed online journal has a new editor Salla Sariola. Thanks to Sampsa Hyysalo, the outgoing editor, for all his hard work. The journal has increased its issues from 3 to 4 per year based on the quality and quantity of submissions. Council is discussing other developments including an open journal platform and a pre-publication repository.
  • Website: we are currently making some amendments to our website to make its format more compatible with mobile and tablet use. We will use this opportunity to make some other minor changes. Look out for our new site soon.
  • EASST Review: we are always keen to hear your news via submissions to EASST Review. To discuss this contact our editor at ignacio.farias(at)tum.de

Tracing Sociomaterial Practices in Technoscientific Worlds. Stakes and Directions for STS

From 3-5 December 2015 the newly established national organization for science and technology studies STS Austria (see www.sts-austria.org) celebrated its launch with an international conference on the premises of the University of Vienna. This conference, organized with support from EASST and various other institutions, explored living in technoscientific worlds, as the title indicated, and thereto brought together a wide variety of researchers and their work from within Austria, Europe and beyond. From all their contributions emerged a colorful picture of what STS has to offer. Richly exhibiting the shared agenda of the field to make sense of the socio-material practices that surround us (as it was summarized in the closing panel), the conference made a strong case for the relevance of current work in STS. All the more reason for participants in a concluding discussion to consider how to strengthen not only research on sociotechnical practices, but also contributions to practices we study and the way we organize the practices of STS itself.

 

The closing discussion panel at the STS Austria Conference.
figure1: The closing discussion panel at the STS Austria Conference. Picture by Erik Aarden

 

The title ‘Living in Technoscientific Worlds’ deliberately opens up a plethora of sites and ways in which people interact with science and technology in their daily lives, and contributions to the conference did not disappoint in mapping many of these ways in great detail. From particular objects to so-called grand political challenges, the program covered the various facets of technoscientific worlds across many scientific disciplines, social domains and geographical locations. Without claiming to either be representative or do justice to this diversity, I came way with many interesting observations, lessons learned and new questions to ask.

As is tradition in STS, various presenters took specific mundane or novel objects and explored their relations to personal identities, social norms, economic ambitions or political imaginations. Among other things, we learned about the ways radio frequency tags in clothing are sold with the promise that they create effortless order and efficiency for the marketplace (or fashion store, as the case may be); how stem cells may be considered different things depending on the model for how to sell them as health care revolutions; or – as Judy Wajcman discussed in one of the keynotes – how our possibilities for digital communication enable the frantic, continuously connected lifestyle we were already committed to – rather than causing it.

Yet STS has also develop particular perspectives on how science and technology affect – and are affected by – sites and forms of living together that have traditionally drawn interest of other social sciences. Various policy-initiatives were critically interrogated, including the transnational travel of elite universities like MIT that turn out to change when traveling away from the US, rather than just being implemented elsewhere. Science also received its due as a profession in contributions interrogating how researchers ‘choreograph’ their interactions in interdisciplinary projects, or how they reflect on the differences and tensions between academic and industrial research from the vantage point of their own careers.

Still further, at various points during the conference discussions moved to interrogating conceptual categories that describe the – perceived – major challenges contemporary societies deal with. ‘Science’ as a category itself is not excluded from this discussion. The challenges science confronts were explored in Maja Horst’s keynote on the various levels at which attempts to communicate science seek to build a widely shared ‘scientific culture’. In related, yet different terms several presenters took up the notion that governance of technoscience needs rethinking, exploring approaches rooted in reflexivity, anticipation, responsibility and engagement as pathways for more socially robust and responsive technoscientific advances.

Across all of the different places, domains and levels of technoscientific worlds addressed in contributions to the conference, presenters – in lively interactions with their audiences – persistently debated the possibilities and limits of the various concepts and perspectives in the toolkit STS provides. What are the differences and implications of the various adjectives for ‘governance’ that (in part) have emerged from STS itself? To what extent are our diagnoses of shortcomings in how scientists conceptualize their publics applicable on new areas? How do we maintain a focus on materiality when thinking about policies, strategies and imagination? What do we ourselves take for granted when trying to unravel the implications of lives in technoscientific worlds?

Questions like these were peppered through a closing session led by Ulrike Felt and Alan Irwin, in which all conference participants were invited to contribute, which formed a fitting conclusion to the conference. This panel both crystallized many of the discussions of the previous two days and provided a helpful baseline for STS Austria in building its presence  – both in STS and in Austria – from its launch onwards. The conversation in this session revolved around various perspectives on both the idea and the practice of ‘practice’ and thereby helped in identifying some of the challenges STS (still) faces in claiming a place in conversing with its technoscientific environment.

One challenging dimension for STS as a field is how it relates to the structural demands of these worlds on how STS works. The field finds itself in a curious position in that regard, since many of its insights on scientific careers, funding mechanisms and indicators of quality and productivity barely find resonance in institutional strategies within STS. While we know that careers are precarious, or that funding requirements and publication scores may shape the issues we focus on and perspectives we develop, several contributions to this discussion implied a variation to the tune that we nevertheless play the game. Can we do more to challenge a system of which we are acutely aware that it has severe limitations?

How scholars in STS collectively respond to this question has important implications for directions the field may take in the future. On the one hand, particularly scholars that find themselves in the transition from junior to senior positions indicated that they miss an awareness of the challenges confronting the next generations in the field – which include, for example, the absence of a perspective on long-term stability due to the short duration of research projects. On the other hand, similar observations were made about geographical expansion of the field and the question how to integrate colleagues from outside Europe, North America, Australia and a few pockets in Asia – and their perspectives on living in technoscientific worlds – in the shared intellectual endeavor of STS. How can STS develop ways to enrich its perspectives on sociotechnical practices into areas it has not (yet) seriously engaged with?

Finally, conference participants also observed how the ways STS engages with its surrounding technoscientific worlds is often influenced by assumptions we carry about ‘outsiders’. Curiously, we often assume interlocutors such as policy-makers to neither understand our conceptual language, nor to be sufficiently reflexive to truly take on board the STS perspective. The question then, of course, is whether we are not too rigid in policing our intellectual tools, whether we aren’t reproducing attitudes we have been critical of ourselves, and whether we thereby not put the potential of our field to participate in conversations on important sociotechnical questions and challenges at risk. As the rich demonstration of STS perspectives in this conference showed, we have many interesting and important things to say. Yet it is to no small degree also up to us to make our voice worth listening to. How then to take serious those ‘outsiders’ that think we can make fruitful contributions to their practices?

The colorful display of STS perspectives on the sociomaterial practices that build the world we live in not only showed why the field is relevant, but also that the questions STS asks are too important to be secluded to an exclusive academic field. If we can draw one conclusion with implications far and wide beyond national boundaries from this conference, it is that both the diversity of work presented and reflexive questions posed to conclude the conference confirm this. While the field of STS thus needs to confront the various challenges of its own technoscientific environment of a disciplinary academy, it simultaneously should remain open to new perspectives coming from new generations, locations or practices adjacent to our own. The concluding panel therefore finished with the observation that there is work to be done for STS in cultivating open encounters with diverse forms of life in technoscientific worlds.