Tag Archives: Editorial

Invention is not Intervention

In the last two issues, we had the first installment of our new section ‘STS Live’ dedicated to discussing the notion of alternative facts. We would like to thank the amazing group of colleagues that were willing to contribute to this conversation! The ‘STS Live’ section is not a fixed, but a recurring feature of the Review – we plan to curate at least one ‘STS Live’ conversation per year. The aim is to practice response-ability, to open up dialogical spaces where we can collectively reflect and respond to pressing matters of concern. We haven’t decided yet which issue to invite colleagues to address in 2018, so your ideas are extremely welcome (you can always reach us at: review@easst.net)

STS’ capacity to respond to current political developments in ways that are attuned to those who are also challenging the ‘reasonable politics’ of our ‘guardians’, as Isabelle Stengers calls them, is an old concern in our field. Notably, the last years have seen an interesting development towards more ‘inventive’ engagements in science and technology often based on collaborations with activists, artists and designers and aimed at prototyping alternative infrastructural arrangements and aesthetic articulations of techno-scientific worlds. Think of the success of the Making and Doing events at 4S conferences (http://www.4sonline.org/meeting/sts_making_and_doing) or the renaming of Goldsmith’s CSISP into CISP: Center for Invention and Social Process (https://www.gold.ac.uk/cisp/overview/). There are indeed dozens, if not hundreds of examples. But looking back a bit, I think it is fair to say that Bruno Latour’s exhibitions at ZKM have made a major contribution to open up STS towards such inventive engagements.

Here I would like to report on my attending to Bruno Latour’s lecture-performance Inside (https://vimeo.com/237215710/48cd03ffcd) and reflect on the challenges of STS inventions. Inside, staged by the French scenographer Frédérique Aït-Touati, with whom the Latours wrote the radio play Kosmokolos (http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/downloads/KOSMOK-JULIE-ROSE-GB.pdf), was presented last September in the context of the Festival Der Maulwurf macht weiter. Tiere / Politik / Performance [The mole keeps on going. Animals / Politics / Performace] at the beautiful theatre HAU, a true temple for experimentation in the contemporary performing arts in Berlin. My first surprise happened upon arrival to the theatre: I met only one STS colleague in the audience. The place was not packed with STS friends and colleagues, as I somehow imagined when heading to HAU, but with a mixed audience, whose exact provenience I cannot quite tell (although see below).

The second positive surprise was to see what Latour is up to these days. Long done with the writing of a non-modern Constitution and the staging of Gaia, Latour is now experimenting with the visual representation of a new cosmology. How to literally redraw the cosmos? Which alternative visual imaginaries are necessary to remap and represent our entanglements within and beyond the ‘critical zone’, which broadly equates to the ‘biosphere’? Latour’s project reminds me of the kind of intervention Alexander von Humboldt did with his drawings of the Chimborazo volcano and how these drawings were crucial for advancing his reinvention of nature and the cosmos. Indeed, Latour’s Inside lecture-performance achieved something that has been so difficult to achieve in the various ZKM exhibitions: engaging in the production of aesthetic forms that cannot be reduced to an illustration of theoretical propositions and that actually challenge the audience to come up with a different language.

Or so I thought… until the lecture was over and the Q&A began (not included in the video). It was a short, but catastrophic Q&A marked by three interventions. The first one was a confession of not having understood much and a request to explain what is a vortex – the key topological figure that Latour used to articulate this new cosmo-graphy. The second was a long rant about the lack of effort by “professors” to relate the broad public, by making interventions one could not just politically, but even discursively relate to, in the sense of understanding what it is actually being said. The third one was a rant about not allowing the previous person to continue her rant, for after she was given a response someone else took the microphone to ask something different – a meta-rant moment that led the chair to call it a night and invite everyone to continue the discussion over some drinks at the bar of the theatre.

The more general question, of course, is what are we aiming at when embracing invention as a mode of STS scholarship. Oftentimes STS’ inventive engagements are celebrated as a form of political intervention in public controversies and current affairs. But the difference cannot be overstated. When composing songs, writing poems, programming bots, designing board games, writing play scripts, curating exhibitions or drawing ethnographic comics, STS scholars do certainly address non-academic audiences. But to think that such inventive engagements can only be a means to articulating matters of public concern, to make things public, would involve underestimating both, the capacities of publics to engage with standardized forms of knowledge and, most problematically, the role of inventive engagements as a research method.

Indeed, the most interesting statement during the Q&A was none of the above. Asked about what kind of political intervention he expects these visual experiments to have in current climate policy, Latour, demonstrating his difficulties understanding the question, said something like: ‘What? This? No. I don’t expect it to have any impact whatsoever’. If we consider this statement problematic, the question is then whose problem that is, for equating invention with intervention seems dismissive of how different these research methods are (cf. Zuiderent-Jerak 2016).

O EASST Review lovers, where art thou? On STS as extitution

Let me begin with an announcement: in the next few weeks we will publish the yearbook Doing STS in Europe: EASST Review 2016 – a 250 pages book compiling all the contributions to the EASST Review during last year, including the profiles of four STS groups located in Europe and four STS publications platforms, as well as dozens of reports on STS events and EASST-funded activities, including two special features: one on Bruno Latour’s exhibition RESET Modernity featuring an interview with the author and three commentaries; the second one on the EASST/4S conference in Barcelona last year featuring over to 20 reports on specific sessions and panels. A digital copy of the yearbook will be downloadable for free from our website. And you will be able to buy print copies (yes, nothing like physical objects you can hold in your hands) from conventional online retailers.

Good news, right?

But the project has also confronted us with tricky questions. First we thought: well, we would then need to give authors a free print copy, just like the one you get from any other publisher. This would also put some print copies in circulation among our core audience (you!), who might then in future buy print copies of all yearbooks we publish, and start their own collection. But discussing the idea further a different proposal came up: we could send free print copies to STS centers and departments. The issue is still undecided and we do not know yet how we are going to handle this, but the latter suggestion made me ask myself two questions: first, have we seen in the last years an institutionalization of STS at universities and research centers? And, second, should the goal of our professional organization be to just reinforce that process of institutionalization?

Thirty years ago, there were only a few STS centers around and practically the whole field was based in sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and political science departments. But has this really changed? We had a look at the last ten issues of the EASST Review and the result is perhaps exactly what one would wish for a successful interdisciplinary field: an exact tie of 62 authors based or affiliated to STS departments or centers and 62 authors, for whom in their bios we mostly found other institutional affiliations. By the way, we also have 57 female authors and 67 male authors, which is not so bad either. But even if we included Russia and Israel as ‘non-European’, the percentage of authors based in non-European institutions is just 12,9%, which should maybe remind us all of the regional character of our association and its main outlet.

But coming back to the question of institutionalization of STS, as reflected in author affiliations in the last ten issues of the EASST Review, we need to be careful with the prima facie positive results presented above. To begin with, we need to take into account, that in mid-2015 we introduced the section STS Multiple, where we invite STS groups and centers to present themselves. The seven contributions included in our database average 4 authors each. So, we have about 28 authors that appear listed as STS-based authors, whom we explicitly invited and encouraged to publish here. This doesn’t speak against the strong presence of STS-based colleagues, for the important question is how are we collectively performing the field of STS, not what the field is in itself. But it introduces a nuance in the result.

A second consideration is how our list reflects different levels of participation and institutionalization of STS across European countries. Most authors are based in Western European countries: UK (30 authors), Germany (21), Denmark (12), Austria (10) and Italy (9). For these five countries, 58% of authors are affiliated to STS departments. The percentage appears as remarkably high, when compared with the 42 authors from the other 19 countries, of whom only 33% is based in an STS department. Taking all this into consideration, we can confirm the obvious: STS is highly institutionalized in a small set of Western European countries, whereas in the rest of countries STS is primarily practiced in the margins of non-STS institutions.

 

We come thus to the second and more interesting question: how to act as a professional association in this context? I have really never questioned the idea that a major goal of EASST should be to support the institutionalization of STS both at universities and in national research funding agencies. It seems pretty obvious that we aim for a future in which universities have centers or departments of STS, where you can get a job in STS in most countries, and where, when you apply for funding, you don’t need to crook your research questions or methods in order to make them fit in a disciplinary evaluation committee (remember Josefine’s editorial on the presences and absences of STS in grants applications and CVs? See Raasch 2015). I certainly still believe that these are major goals for our field. I applaud the systematic support that EASST has given to the formation of many national STS associations and networks. At the EASST Review, the sections STS Multiple and Cherish, not Perish aim precisely to make visible this process of institutionalization of STS across different countries.

But I think that we should equally make an effort to support a non-institutionalized STS practice, but not in order to help it to become institutionalized, e.g. to create STS centers, associations or journals, but to keep STS a minoritarian intellectual practice in the heart of social and political science disciplines. In other words, couldn’t also be the role of EASST to cultivate STS as a line of flight that effects deterritorializations of the institutions it departs from and that creates a highly experimental, speculative, but also committed intellectual space1? Or to put it differently: couldn’t also be the role of EASST to cultivate STS as an academic ‘extitution’?

I really got to understand this Serresian notion through the work of Daniel López. Two references are illuminating. The first one is a quote: “Institutions fragment, disaggregate, and separate in order to make visible the distinction. To build an institution is to constitute a Cartesian space, clear and distinct […] In contrast, the extitution is a social ordering that does not need to constitute an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ but only a surface in/upon which a multitude of agents connect and disconnect” (López 2006). As López further explains in a blog post from 2014 entitled ‘There is no extitution, but modes of extitutionalization’, an extitution is not just a different type of institution, one that could be more heterarchical or with flexible boundaries and that you can point to with the finger, but rather a process of deterritorialization or extitutionalization affecting institutions, contesting power arrangements, and opening up provisory spaces for establishing new connections.

Looking at the incredibly generative history of STS in the last 40 years, my sense is that this didn’t occur in spite of, but rather thanks to its lack of institutionalization; lack of institutionalization that has pushed STS scholars to always invent new connections, new vocabularies, new research objects, and new political commitments2. Might it be that herein lays the crux and paradox of our field, always in need of simultaneously striving for institutionalization and extitutionalization?

 

1 In ways perhaps related to how the Spanish STS network is currently being practiced and reflected upon. “What would then be prototyping an academic network? We don’t really know but we have decided to explore it through the figure of openness and experimentation: opening spaces of dialogue with other actors and institutions outside the academic environment; experimenting with our academic modalities of rationality and their spatial organization” (Estalella, Ibáñez Martín & Pavone 2013: 6)

2 See, for example, Tomás Criado’s (2017) reflections on his personal experience in both highly fluid and highly institutionalized STS spaces.

Politics by other means: Sitting at an angle

I understand the title of the recent 4S/EASST conference ‘Science and Technology by Other Means: Exploring collectives, spaces, futures’ as a play on Bruno Latour’s claim that ‘science is politics by other means’ (1988). The title draws our attention to the extent to which knowledge production and technological innovation is being seized by all sorts of citizens and activist collectives. The conference was crammed full of presentations, workshops and informal and formal discussions about science and technology being done and imagined in unexpected places, diverse collectives, multiple spaces and various possible futures. Latour’s widely cited phrase captured a subtly differently sensibility that was especially crucial to early Science and Technology Studies (STS). It reflected and inspired a wealth of work that exposes and explores science and technology as a deeply political achievement of assembling non-human and human actors in ways that create a ‘Centre’ and it’s ‘Others’.

Feminist Technoscience Studies (FTS) put more flesh on the bones of this work through attending to embodiment and situatedness in the processes of assembling, and to the differentially experienced effects, asking ‘Cui Bono?’ as questions of justice and to make other worlds possible (Star, 1995). F/STS is skilled in telling stories about the ways in which specific examples of science and technology build worlds. It attends to the multiple ways in which technoscience is embedded in the realities that we are coming to live with. Moreover, many of the stories at the conference participate in the collectives, spaces and possible futures they are engaged with in complex ways. In particular, researchers told stories that interrogate the objects enacted in technoscience as oozing essentialisms by way of critique, but also to participate in building more equitable worlds (Haraway, 1988). That is, the stories often explicitly consider what realities we would like to come to live with and how F/STS might contribute to their becoming. There is, it seems, a keen interest to explore the multiple ways in which F/STS is politics by ‘other’ means.

The walls of the conference, in Britain and in the US, parliamentary politics was extraordinarily visible and being done by very obvious means. That is, overtly and loudly by individual politicians proselytizing. I refer here to political debates around Brexit (British exit from the European Union) and the recent US presidency elections. These displays of politics have been full of stories that attempt to clearly define allies and enemies and they enact universals and polarisations. This is a deeply disturbing moment in which it seems urgent for our European Association for Social Studies of Science and Technology (EASST) to reflect upon how it should contribute to the making of the realities that are coming into being.

For me, some of the most inspiring theorising in F/STS is profoundly at odds with these recent events. This work appreciates the interdependency of human and non-human bodies and beings, in which connections and cuts are always in process, precarious and condensed to momentary stabilities. These insights challenge us to ‘stay with the trouble’, resist origin stories and remain curious and response-able. We need to tread care-fully so as not to flatten otherness but rather to seek ways of ‘doing difference together’ (Verran and Christie, 2011). It seems incredibly important right now to articulate the weights that are pulling against these sensibilities, inwards towards an illusion of the possibility of just and productive, stable simplifications. These weights are crafted from alluring ingredients – the possibility of durable solutions, obvious answers, so-called straight-talking and common-sense. This is evident in many spheres not only national government parliamentary politics. For example, Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) ‘Lean In’ campaign urges working women to ‘sit at the table’, both literally and metaphorically, in order to achieve success. Her book and TED talk is described by Time Magazine (2014) as a hugely successful feminist mission (Sandberg, 2013; see www.youtube/TED). At the same time some feminist academics are critical that it is an example of neo-liberal corporate feminism that appropriates feminist terms to achieve capitalist agendas and creates divisions (McRobbie, 2013). The ‘Lean in’ campaign is problematic but seductive. It is catchy ‘politics by obvious means’ that has gained huge support. I have an unsettling feeling that while I have been ‘sitting at an angle’ to truth-claims and definitive knowledge, exposing and challenging the practices of centring and simplification, leaning in, talking straight and making problems doable has gained widespread support .

It is the above disconcertment that promotes me to ask; should our Association ‘lean in’ and engage in increasingly obvious political activities, and what would this mean? Or, perhaps our Association has a more important role to play in ‘sitting at an angle’. What are the ways in which F/STS does politics? The 4S/EASST conference showcased multiple ways of doing F/STS and the EASST Review wants to facilitate different modes of writing and presenting the work of the European F/STS community. For me, sitting at an angle is my favoured positioning because I consider it to be itself an interference, not only an intervention. It is critical of looking inwards, of centring, as well as of what is on the table. Moreover, I sense that sitting at an angle facilitates ‘politics multiple’ – by various means including allegory, quietism and ambivalence. As I learned from reading Star, when we ask cui bono? it is in order to imagine what other worlds are possible as well as to expose what has been hidden or denied (Bowker et al., 2016). This is more difficult to do if we are leaning in. I invite us to explore what ‘leaning in’ or ‘sitting at an angle’ might mean as we imagine the future role of EASST.

STS by other means?

‘How would STS look like in the future?’ That seemed to be a question many of us asked not only in preparing or organizing but also in taking part in the recent 4S-EASST joint conference in Barcelona: ‘Science and Technology by Other Means: Exploring Collectives, Spaces and Futures’. Prolonging and re-appropriating the conference’s ‘by other means’ motto in presentations, concept work, track titles, or informal jokes, the nearly 2000 participants proved, with great prowess and ingenuity, that this is not only a growing but also a still vibrant and burgeoning field. The many informal meetings, presentations and workshops with regular or ‘alternative’ formats also demonstrated that our field has become a space increasingly triggered and activated by a concern over our collective future: not just as frightened academics facing a job situation without great prospects in a shrinking job market, but also as planetary beings, friends, neighbours, or citizens worried about the somewhat gloomy horizon of our life in common with others.

In her electric keynote talking about the ‘alterlife’ practices of many indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, Murphy did not just make us reflect on our breathing in chemically-loaded spaces. Some of us sensed that something else was also in the air. Something infusing many of us with an air of the ‘otherwise’. Telling us–sometimes surreptitiously but also making itself very palpable–that STS could be undertaken or practised ‘by other means’: not only with a desire to work ‘in, with and alongside’ collectives, but also undertaking many new practices in a variety of other spaces beyond the formal locales of knowledge production. Of course, as Madeleine Akrich warned us in her tour-de-force keynote on patient collectives and their embodied health activism, this more collectivized and spatially diverse ‘by other means’ should not merely direct us to an acritical assumption that anything collective is necessarily better. There are many forms and practices of the collective and we should, indeed, pay strong and dedicated attention to dwelling on the particular ‘politics of collaboration’, such as the ones being articulated, for instance, in scientific societies or associations.

As Isabelle Stengers had beautifully put it elsewhere, and as she summarised in a marvellous detour across the greatest hallmarks of her recent works in the closing keynote, the ‘by other means’ “is not a matter of converting us but of repopulating the devastated desert of our imaginations” (Stengers, 2015: 102)1. In this most daunting of moments, where current forms of academic capitalism and its diverse alliances with Game-of-Thrones-like forms of nepotism are putting our academic–and personal–lives in danger, we need to rethink at great length not only our endeavors as a community of STS-minded scholars, but also the kind of research spaces we would like to populate and bring into existence ‘with and against’ our established forms of institutionalization, so that a more hopeful future for all could be co-articulated.

In the many plans to renew and upgrade the EASST Review, it would be one of our aims to turn this into one of those hospitable spaces. Amongst the many audacious open-source media transformations that our field is suffering affecting the modes of publication of journals and books, the EASST Review would like to occupy a different space, fostering many textual genres ‘by other means’: that literature situated ‘in between’ the conversation and the published paper that would not usually find a home in regular academic journals. But to make it true, we will certainly need your complicity and audacity, to help us reimagine our sections and to discuss and excuse our trials in prototyping a new artefact for our STS community. Will we be able to collectively manage to craft a new line of hope in the horizon of our discipline, perhaps even an STS by other means?

Towards data sharing in STS

Let me start this new edition of the EASST Review by thanking Ignacio for his superb work in leading its recent transformations, and making it such an exciting platform for information and exchange about the STS community in Europe and beyond, while also rejuvenating the outlook. As such, I did not hesitate for a second when he asked me to join the editorial board, and it is a pleasure to work with him and the others of the Review and EASST to generate ideas and topics for future publications. This edition features the PAST centre in Syberia, the feminist journal Catalyst, Latour’s Reset Modernity! exhibition, as well as two events partially funded by EASST. Many thanks to everyone contributing and we hope you will enjoy reading.

Building on Ignacio’s previous editorial that diagnosed a collaborative turn in STS, I would like to point at the important new development of data sharing in STS, which can also enhance the collaborative spirit of our field. Many STS scholars are studying transforming scientific practices around data collection, curation and preservation, and how these are changing scientific collaboration and data sharing, but we are just starting to think of the implications of this for our own research practice. How do we as STS colleagues share our data, not only with our close collaborators, but also within our field – with current colleagues and future generations of scholars – and beyond the borders of our own community, with stakeholders and various publics?

This topic has been on the agenda of the science and technology studies community for a while, especially since the US National Science Foundation now requires proposal applicants to include a data management plan. This resulted in a workshop in which colleagues from history, philosophy, and social studies of science and technology1 met last year at the National Science Foundation to discuss the opportunities and challenges of storing and sharing data in science and technology studies (involving two EASST members, Sally Wyatt and I). Workshop members reported on their work during the Denver 4S meeting and also discussed the need for a European discussion on this topic, in line with requests from various national councils and European funding bodies regarding data management and our own wishes as a community. However, as the European STS landscape and its funding sources are quite diverse, we will need to find ways to deal with national diversity, so national STS organization may also provide a role in forwarding these discussions, along with EASST.

What follows is a short summary of findings from the US National Science Foundation workshop2 to serve as a starting point for framing European discussions within this more global initiative on data sharing in STS.

The 4S/NSF Workshop participants identified four main benefits of data sharing for STS which are summarized as follows in the report:

 

The National Science Foundation Report on Data Sharing in Science and Technology Studies (2015). 

First, data sharing has the potential to transform the practice, substance, and scope of science and technology studies. This includes allowing scholars to ask broader research questions, conduct large-scale and cross-case comparisons, and create more rigorous and replicable methods, while also enabling the systematic accumulation of STS knowledge via analysis and synthesis of existing data. Such efforts may also enhance the value of STS data and scholarship for policymakers.

Second, data sharing has the potential to advance STS methodology and data curation practices. This includes improvement of measurement and data collection methods to ensure reuse and replicability, protection against faulty data, and archiving and making sustainable STS data rather than allowing them to decay and disappear at the end of a research project or professional career.

Third, data sharing has the potential to provide professional development opportunities. This includes new research training opportunities for advanced techniques for data sharing, synthesis, and reuse, and facilitating scholars’ abilities to meet granting requirements. New training programs may also help establish a cultural shift in STS whereby datasets, data preparation, and data sharing come to be valued as important scholarly products worthy of professional recognition.

Fourth, data sharing has the potential to make STS research more engaged, democratic, and practically relevant by making data and research findings available to scholars and citizens without access to funding and research materials.

 

We also discussed ways in which this cultural shift towards sharing can be stimulated, recognizing the value of data sharing while also safeguarding the diversity of data produced in different fields and specialties, and via different research methods. Most importantly, it seems necessary that different forms of data can have different levels of openness or access, with some data not being suited for actual sharing due to ethical considerations and anonymity. Moreover, and to promote a culture of data sharing within STS, the topic should become part of the agenda of workshops and projects in STS, as well as the training of (young) scholars. In this context, the development and sharing of example data management plans might also be helpful. In order to enable sharing efforts, alliances with publishers, libraries, archives, and museums can be useful to share expertise about data curation and management.

Last but not least, the topic of data sharing within STS is deeply embedded in existing discussions about open data that are taking place in our EASST community, and it is also quite visible in the 4S/EASST Barcelona programme. Tracks on ‘The Lives and Deaths of Data’, ‘Open science in practice’ and ‘Critical data studies’ will certainly be showing various ways in which we are already engaging with this topic, and can perhaps also provide opportunities to discuss these topics in relation to our own work and interests.