Tag Archives: STS Multiple

Entangling @ Satsu

Entangling is one of the interdisciplinary cross-cutting themes being used as a centre of gravity and focal point for our work @ Satsu. These theme based programmes take a central concept and use this to organise collaborations, events and activities. Like Threshold (Latimer 2018), we will be launching entangling as its own rhizomatous web presence.

The work included in this theme explores how world-making is connected, woven and knotted in revealing and powerful ways.  Activities examine how humans and non-humans become entangled and entangle, illuminating the political, social and existential affects of how these processes unfold.

So far we have two shoots to this theme – Metrics, Algorithms and Big Data exemplified by Dave Beer’s work around the politics of data and metrics, and the work of some of his Phd students on, for example, data visualization. And a project called Intimate Entanglements that Joanna Latimer works on with Daniel Lopez at CareNet, The Open University of Catalonia, in Barcelona.

Dave Beer

Metrics, Algorithms and Big Data

One of our ambitions at Satsu is to wrest the power away from big data by making it our own. Dave Beer’s work opens up how transformations in technology and media – such as social media, mobile devices and algorithms – have reshaped culture and society.

His book Metric Power (2016) examines the powerful and intensifying role that metrics play in ordering and shaping our everyday lives. Focusing upon the interconnections between measurement, circulation and possibility, Dave explores the interwoven relations between power and metrics. He draws upon a wide-range of interdisciplinary resources to place these metrics within their broader historical, political and social contexts. More specifically, he illuminates the various ways that metrics implicate our lives – from our work, to our consumption and our leisure, through to our bodily routines and the financial and organisational structures that surround us. Unravelling the power dynamics that underpin and reside within the so-called big data revolution, he develops the central concept of Metric Power along with a set of conceptual resources for thinking critically about the powerful role played by metrics in the social world today. Dave’s new project, The Data Gaze, will be published later in 2018 as part of Stuart Elden’s Society & Space book series.

Dave Beer, Metric Power (Palgrave MacMillan)

Our work on the social and existential effects and affects of new media technologies, and algorithms is being extended through incorporating new members into SATSU. On the one hand, there is our new lab@satsu early career/pg forum – which incorporates all students and early career staff working on STS elated projects from across the University. Lab@Satsu will be launched in the summer with a talk by Louise Amoore (Durham University), who works on the ethics of the algorithm. On the other, there is extension of our membership beyond Sociology, to other departments, including Politics, History, History of Art, Health Sciences and Management. Phil Garnett’s work, for example, on business analytics combines aspects of modelling and simulation, along with the analysis of complex or difficult data. His research interests are focused around applying complex systems theory, and network analysis techniques to a wide range of problems, largely focused on the processing of information. Combined with modelling and simulation techniques (which he is able to do himself), he helps show what the analysis of information can tell us about how organisations work, exploring the power of information and its consequences for privacy and liberty.

One of the things that SATSU is committed to is finding ways to make our work publicly available and to keep it engaged with realpolitik and problems. We want to be a resource to think and act with. Dave Beer is leading this aspect of our work. He writes about the social and personal affects of metrics, algorithms and new digital technologies in Open Democracy, The GuardianThe Conversation, New Statesman, Big Issue NorthTimes Higher Education, Berfrois, Louder Than War and others (a selection of these pieces can be found here) as well as managing our twitter feed. Like Dave, Phil Garnett is also helping to make SATSU’s critical work on data metrics public, such as making a trump twitter word cloud – https://www.prgarnett.net/trump-words-update/:

Phil Garnett, trump twitter word cloud

Intimate Entanglements

 The second shoot of our entanglings theme started as a sub-plenary at EASST/4S in Barcelona in 2016, when Daniel Lopez and Nerea Calvillo asked Joanna to talk at their Sub-plenary panel Spaces of Intimacy. Isabelle Stengers took up the theme in her plenary panel. We were all excited by how dangerous ‘intimacy’ as a notion is in the context of science and technology, and what a great resource the notion of intimacy could be for doing STS by other means. Later Dani and Joanna started to work on the ideas behind that sub-plenary. These morphed into a book proposal to The Sociological Review and has continued to grow – including a panel at this year’s EASST conference in Lancaster as well as a workshop in York in February, kindly funded by The Sociological Review Foundation as well as Sociology at University of York, a link to the workshop can be found here: https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/events/intimate-entanglements.html. In what follows I outline the book project.

Intimate Entanglements: The Book (Joanna Latimer and Daniel Lopez)

Intimate Entanglements opens-up the value of intimacy as a quality of socio-material relations in knowledge-making and communities of practice. Ethnographers and ethnomethodologists have long held the value of first-hand experience of social worlds and immersion within them if their rationales and their social significance are to be understood. Yet the intimate nature and character of these knowledge practices have seldom been fully explored. Where intimacy has been mentioned it is usually in the context of distinguishing local and experiential knowledge from universal and scientific knowledge. In contrast, as Raffles (2002) points out, intimacy can be foregrounded as a site for the social production of knowledge across the social, human and life sciences, to help rework human/nature and socio/technical boundaries.

The aim of Intimate Entanglements, is thus to foreground what is so often made invisible in extant accounts of how knowledge is done. Our aim is to articulate how socio-material life gets assembled and reassembled. This is to say that we focus on the attachments and detachments that appear crucial to understanding affective relations and ecologies inside and beyond the sciences, including the social sciences.

The specific contributions press how the ‘affective turn’, across anthropology, sociology, social psychology and Science & Technology Studies, does more than represent a ‘turn to ontology’. Rather they explore how the foregrounding of affect restructures possibilities for ‘situated knowledges’ and non-anthropocentric (‘posthuman’) modes of relatedness in different areas. In so doing the various contributors each address different aspects of how and when intimacy becomes a quality of entanglements. Issues addressed include the politics of intimacy and its different characterizations: as ordinary and dangerous, a site of alterity and “contamination” but also of attachment, belonging and companionship.

Intimate Entanglements builds upon and presses earlier explorations of:

  • The agentic and intra-active materiality of things (e.g. Barad 2007; Bennett 2004);
  • Interspecies entanglements in science (e.g. Gisler and Michael 2011; Despret 2013; Haraway 2007);
  • The distributed agenciality and heterogeneous composition of bodies (e.g. Mol, 2002; Winance 2010);
  • Space-times of intimacy, including intimacy without proximity (e.g. Barad 2007);
  • The politics of intimacy and its different characterisations (e.g. Pratt & Rosner 2012; Stengers 2010);
  • Intimacy, crafting and knowledge (Sennett 2008);
  • Technologies and intimacy (Bataille, 1989; Ingold, 2008);
  • How world-making is more than human and always affective (e.g. Haraway 1991; Puig de la Bellacasa 2011, Latimer 2013).

The volume extends conversations and debates started at EASST/4S 2016 which offered the provocation to think about STS by other means, including the sub-plenary panel, ‘Spaces of Intimacy’. In this panel, we pressed how intimacy is dangerous, particularly for dominant modes of ordering. This includes looking at practices of resistance that organise intimacy back in as critical to understanding (e.g. Kraeftner & Kroell 2009) as well as examining how technologies of governing attempt to organise intimacy out in ways which are dysfunctional (e.g. Menzies Lyth 1960). The discussion explored how intimacy is an affect of particular material distributions, attachments and detachments, but also covered how the notion of intimacy is difficult to grasp if we only associate intimacy along public/private topographies (Latimer & Munro 2009; Pardo 2011). In this light, focus shifted towards spaces of affect which are deemed as “ordinary” (Stewart 2007) but which usually remain in time/spaces that are ‘in-between’, either concealed to public scrutiny or recalcitrant to private appropriation, including sites of alterity and resistance.

The object of the research volume is to develop the different notions of intimacy and entanglement that these earlier works pose.   As well as positing material heterogeneity, our approaches each press how ‘vitality’ is an emergent property of intra-action (Barad 2003), ‘becoming with’ (Haraway 2003) or ‘being alongside’ (Latimer 2013), rather than an attribute of specific, discrete beings in relationships. By vitality we refer to the life that animates the social, including knowledge-making itself (Fraser, Kember and Lury, 2005), and which makes social and personal transformation possible. Here, the notion of intimate entanglements (Stengers 2010), is very much connected to forms of immanent relatedness (Bataille 1989), including what animates possibilities for being enrolled, emplaced and positioned (i.e. entangled), as well as for transformations and shifts (what can be called ‘becoming entangled differently’).

Additionally, we explore how ‘intimate entanglements’ are core to heterogeneous identities and forms of belonging, including notions such as “actor-networks”, “cyborgs”, “companion species”. Our concern here is with how their processual, temporary, ongoing, partial and unstable character challenges the very idea of ‘identity’. In this regard, we press how intimate entanglements are not just those that constitute our identities but those that force us to ‘stay with the trouble’ (Haraway 2017).

We also explore the politics of intimacy. How and when intimacy is dangerous? When it becomes a site of connection through which a sense of belonging and alterity might arise? Here we are interested in transformations, not as ontological “givens” but rather as concrete achievements. Thus we press the notion of intimacy as an adjective to qualify relations and entanglements which are characterised by susceptibility, a sensibility of being open and vulnerable, for example as with the pragmatist notion of attachment (Gomart and Hennion 1998), or in the tensions and shiftings between ‘extensions’, as forms of detachment and attachment and partial connection (Latimer 2013; Strathern 1991).

Finally, we press how a focus on intimate entanglement is a way of unconcealing the ethics and politics of relations (Martin, Myers and Viseu 2015). We explore how intimate entanglements turning on vulnerability and openness as something inescapable, create questions about how we become attached and even responsible for entangled human and non-human others, and explore what a “good” response could be. This leads to the question of the methodological apparatuses we as social scientists envisage to cherish, or even produce, these intimate entanglements (see also Fraser and Purwar 2008). Since these concerns pose possible connections with discussions concerning knowing (Greenhough and Roe 2011; Raffles 2002; Shrader 2015; also, Stenger 2010 and Despret 2004), we are particularly interested in how the beings we encounter in our research come to matter to us, and how our questions and concerns become relevant for them.

Contributors to the monograph include:

  1. Florence Chiew, Macquarie University & Ashley Barnwell, University of Melbourne
  2. Stefana Broadbent, Polimi Scuola di Design Politecnico di Milano & Centre for Digital Anthropology, UCL
  3. Blanca Callen, BAU Design College in Barcelona & Daniel López, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
  4. Nerea Calvillo, University of Warwick
  5. Tomás Sánchez Criado, MCTS, TU Munich
  6. Mariam Motamedi-Fraser, Goldsmiths, University of London
  7. Carrie Friese, London School of Economics and Political Science
  8. Emma Garnett, Kings College, London.
  9. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, University of Leicester
  10. Joanna Latimer, Department of Sociology, University of York
  11. Meritxell Ramírez-i-Ollé, Sociological Review Fellow, Keele University.
  12. Paula Reavey (London South Bank University), Ava Kanyeredzi (University of East London), Laura McGrath (University of East London), Ian Tucker (University of East London), Steven D. Brown (University of Leicester)
  13. Marilyn Strathern (Cambridge University) in Conversation with Joanna Latimer
  14. Myriam Winance, CR INSERM, CERMES3, Villejuif, Paris.

Responses to the call for papers for the workshop and the panel have been met with huge interest – helping to show that Intimacy and Entanglement in conversation with each other are wonderful and provocative concepts for STS to think with.

The ‘biotic politics’ of buildings – a SATSU research agenda

There’s a hospital in Skane, just outside Malmo Sweden. Some of you might know its distinctive spherical, doughnut shape. It’s one of a ‘new generation’ of hospitals commissioned and built for what’s described as the ‘post-antibiotic’ era. Its cylindrical ring-like shape is a little like that of an organic orbicular cell. Historically many hospitals have been modelled on a different kind of body. The cruciform or crucified shape. Limbs radiating from a central torso or spine. Or they have ‘wings’ that fan out from the body of the building. That’s why most hospitals have these improbably long central corridors, with wards and departments stretching out from the building’s central spine, or trunk.

But here at Skane, in this cellular or spheroid design, patients, visitors and waste occupy the outer ring of the building. The whole structure is wrapped in glazed open-air walkways from which its temporary residents and the public can enter individual isolation rooms directly from the outside. These external walkways operate a little like a semi-porous dermis or membrane. Gaps between each panel of glazed wall allows fresh air to enter the outer skin of the hospital. It’s like being both inside and outside at the same time. There are also external lifts, peripheral to the skin of the building. These lifts are reserved exclusively for patients, visitors and hospital waste. One doesn’t have to be an anthropologist to spot something interesting in an architecture that puts patients and dirty waste in the same classificatory space.

Then there’s the inner ring of the building. The central disc is designated for clean materials, clinical staff, offices and conference rooms. Internal lifts are designated for professionals, ancillary staff and supplies. A complex system of airlock doors and transitional spaces separate the outer ring of the infected from the inner sterile sphere of the disinfected. In this way, the whole building is bisected between thresholds of an inner purity and an outer danger. Skane is further evidence of the way microbial nonhuman life historically reshapes, ‘infects’ or ‘colonises’ our architectures and buildings.

My interest in buildings like that described above is linked to our new SATSU project exploring the biotic ecologies of buildings, the material relationships between infectivity and the built environment, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (PARC: Pathways, Practices and Architectures: Containing Antimicrobial Resistance in the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic, 2018-2020). The project brings together the interests of myself, Sarah Nettleton, Chrissy Buse and Daryl Martin at SATSU in antimicrobial resistance or AMR (Brown and Nettleton 2016, 2017) and healthcare buildings and the ‘materialities of care’ (Buse, Martin and Nettleton 2018; Martin et al 2015). We’re also working with other colleagues including Alan Lewis, an academic architect at the University of Manchester, Lynn Chapman who is a graphic artist, and two respiratory microbiologists, Mike Brockhurst and Craig Winstanley.

In the project and more widely, we’re interested in shifting understandings of biotic life and parallel changing architectural and material forms. How is it that we have historically come to envisage restructuring space for a ‘post-antibiotic age’? Some thirty years or so ago, in the ‘pre-post-antibiotic age’ we might say, the medical sociologist Lindsay Prior (1988) reflected on the relationships between medical discourse and hospital architecture. He focuses on the architectural drawing of a late C19th children’s ward. It’s a hexagonal pavilion shape with beds dotted around the edge. It reminds me of Skane somehow. Each bed has a window opening onto a surrounding veranda. The design is such that the beds can be wheeled outside during the daytime. It’s a variant on a number of designs for ‘fresh air wards’, a medical discourse influenced by a miasmic theory of contagion and infection. Illness here is conceived as a product of chemical processes, fermentation or putrefaction, resulting in airs, vapours and stagnating fumes. Torpid air must move if its not to fester.

Air then gives way to touch, as miasma gives way to germ theory. Antibiotics make way for the reshaping of clinical space, new efficiencies of scale, and densities of healthcare delivery that develop alongside the introduction of antimicrobial medicine throughout the latter half of the C20th (Bud 2006, 2007). The result is a much more recognisably ‘modern’ kind of hospital. The contemporary hospital rooms where we meet with medics in the course of our work on PARC are often windowless. The ceilings are quite low. They’re usually uncomfortably warm and well heated, crowded with AV and computer equipment. It’s in this way that colleagues like Clare Chandler (2016) of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine speak of antibiotics as ‘infrastructure’, having constituted healthcare spaces in deeply material and physical ways.

Most hospitals, of course, don’t look or feel like that at Skane. They don’t work like that either. But nor indeed does Skane work entirely in the way that was intended for the ‘post-antibiotic era’. That precarious threshold between the inner clean ring and the outer dirty sphere is inevitably leaky. It’s worth thinking carefully about the movement and interaction between people and the biotic as visitors, clinicians and others arrive and depart, board buses and public transport, pick their kids up from the same schools and nurseries, and live the inevitably mixed-up ecological lives expected of people who move, travel and work. It’s very difficult, and materially contingent, to completely maintain that pure threshold between the outer world of patients, their visitors, and the inner world of hospital staff.

Some of the story that follows recently appeared in Discover Society (Brown 2017) but it’s worth retelling here: I’m sat with a clinician. She’s a lung infection specialist. We’re talking windows. Whatever clinic I go to, the conversation always returns to the windows. Rooms without windows. Windows that don’t open. Windows that can’t be closed, or let in a draft. Windows that need replacing, or windows that were better before being replaced. Windows that were never installed. The irony isn’t lost on me. A respiratory specialist talking about the breath of the building. The breeze coming in. The hospital air moving out. In and out. Inhalation and exhalation. The clinic gasping for breath. All a reminder of the window’s early meaning, vindauga, the ‘wind-eyes’ of the building.

She recounts the story of a hot dry summer. In the outpatient clinic, staff and patients are wilting in the heat. Windows are open. It’s the older part of the hospital where it’s still possible to open them. Elsewhere the ability to open a window has been designed out of the more contemporary architecture. Open windows cause aircon chaos. Anyway, here the windows are open, despite the awful noise of construction work below. But at least there’s good clean ‘fresh air’.

Then months later the clinic is thrown into crisis. There’s a new strain of respiratory infection in the cystic fibrosis population. This could easily be fatal for patients already struggling with repeat infections, any one of which could be their last. The inpatient ward fills up with new admissions on high-dose intravenous antibiotics. The labs try to track down the source of the infection and where it could possibly have come from. After much head scratching, suspicion turns to that warm summer, the open windows, construction work going on outside, the digging of foundations below ground level, dust escaping into the air, spores drifting on the breeze. Inhaled by the clinic. Inhaled by its patients. Then coughed up in blood-stained sputum.

In Terror from the Air Peter Sloterdijk (2009) offers a meditation on the material technics of breathing and breath. Respiration is something to be technically accomplished, to be assisted by air conditioning, restrictions on smoking, surgical masks, air quality measures, carbon monoxide monitoring, ducting and ventilation, and so on. But such technics are not evenly deployed. They are striated, unequally offering protections to some that are not enjoyed by others. Respiration takes place, we might say, within economies of respirational scarcity. Breathing isn’t dangerous for everyone, but it is for lots of us.

The PARC project attempts to make sense of the experience of people with cystic fibrosis (PWCF) as they enter and make their way through clinical space. There are around eleven thousand people with CF in the UK, a ‘chronic degenerative’ condition that makes breathing perilous. Extending respiratory life for them hangs on all sorts of things, especially aggressive antibiotic treatment. They’re used to the daily routines of inhaling antibiotics in aerosol form, delivered by nebulisers. Antibiotics as vapour, atmosphere, mist. All this suppresses infections for a while at least, but without getting rid of them completely. Those residual colonies of infection, the biotic remnant, are left to evolve into to potentially fatal, resistant, and transmissible cross-infective pathogens. CF lungs become ‘reservoirs’ of infection, harbouring a constantly changing ‘resistiome’.

Biopolitical reflections on breath were at the forefront of our thinking in putting the project together. Sloterdijk draws attention to the material fracturing and divisibility of air, of atmospheres, the structuring of breath and respiration through spaces, places and architectures. We might call these ‘anatomospheres’ in which respiration is seen to retreat or withdraw from shared atmospheres, into airs that are increasingly private. A proliferation of personal respiratory chambers. Breathing is less likely to take place between and amongst shared and entangled airs, than it is to take place in more hermetically contained, secured and surveilled atmospheres.

It’s not at all uncommon to think of bodies and buildings overlaying and substituting for one another. For Mary Douglas (1966) the building is the body’s original surrogate: ‘Going through the door’ she writes, ‘… express[es] so many kinds of entrance… crossroads and arches… doorsteps and lintels… worked upon the human body’. Bodies and buildings are awkwardly duplicated within one another, both symbolically and materially. Heidegger (1971) thought of buildings as ‘dwelling’ or the embodied finitude of being. Architecture is techne. Buildings lend bodies metaphorical sturdiness (the ‘building blocks of life’). By contrast, bodies give buildings both their liveliness and frailty, their decay, their facades (faces), their permeabilities (vindauga). After the Grenfell tragedy, who could not be wary of architectural clothing, the cladding (cloak) of the body/building? ‘This contrast is at its most intense’, Steven Connor (2004) once wrote, ‘… when the physical processes in question are least material, which is to say those carried on or in the air’. Breath disassembles buildings.

Reflecting on Walter Benjamin, Böhme (1993) suggests that it is through respiration that one ‘breathes’ or absorbs the ‘atmosphere’ of a place. Respiration ‘allows this atmosphere to permeate the self’. He isn’t thinking about infections. Of course not. But he is possibly thinking about the way one might become infected by the atmosphere of a building, for both good or ill.

I have one final story. It’s about waiting. Or rather it’s about waiting rooms. The experience of most people with CF when they enter the architecture of clinical space is one of waiting. This is an acute source of anxiety for people who are told not to share one another’s breath. To sit, at least, ‘two or more chair widths’ from the next person. There must always be a space in which to breathe. A bubble of air around one’s chair. At one of the clinics, designers and architects were commissioned to make waiting more ‘comfortable’ and attractive. They were to give the experience of waiting the atmosphere of leisure, retail, hotel hospitality. Couches and sofas replaced the old 1970s plastic chairs. A new central open-plan plaza, or lobby area, replaced the specialist waiting rooms. Patients, visitors and staff could now move more freely amongst one another, all sharing the same atmosphere. All coming and going from treatment rooms to the communal space, the communitas of the lobby and then back again. That’s what the design of public space is supposed achieve, to optimise interaction, to foster networks, linkages, visibility. All, needless to say, known infection risks for people with CF.

Breath and breathing, together with the spaces that guarantee respiratory existence, become the basis for new forms of sociality. There are degrees of atmospheric entanglement and disentanglement. Timothy Campbell (2011) says of Sloterdijk that it is as if ‘… the former blood ties of family… had been turned outward from one’s person to now include the breathing space of those whose individual immunitary designs most closely match one’s own’ (97). Blood ties become breath ties. I’m thinking of people with CF when Sloterdijk recalls the devastating use of mustard gas at Ypes. We have to breathe. We have no choice but to breath. It’s the involuntary ambient nature of breathing that forces one to become complicit in one’s own destructibility. As Sloterdijk puts it ‘… unable to refrain from breathing, [they/we] are forced to participate in the obliteration of their own life’. The point is to ask, to whom does this respiratory obliteration most apply and under what kinds of lived material conditions? How are the technics of design and architecture tied into breath, breathing and even obliteration?

SATSU – The Science and Technology Studies Unit: 30 years in the making

When I was asked to write a short piece on the history of SATSU, I wondered how 30 years of activity since 1988 could be summarised. By pure coincidence, I had begun to go through and clear out 30 years of paperwork, generating 30 bags of confidential and other waste – one for each year. I took a picture of the bags, as you can see, but guess they don’t speak for themselves, so I should pen a few words here to tell you what is (now, I hope, was) inside them, without of course breaking any confidences!

Bags of confidential waste

I established the Unit at what is now Anglia Ruskin University, based in Cambridge, but then known as CCAT. From its early days the Unit was interested in developing research that could bridge between STS and science policy. I had already good links with a few other UK centres, notably the Institute for Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh (ISSTI) and the Science Policy Research Unit in Sussex (SPRU) (both celebrating their 50th anniversary last year) who were pursuing similar aims, and our work had a strong focus on understanding the relation between socio-economic innovation systems, policy contexts, and the promise of new technology. Studies on the privatisation of public science, on foresight (the FORMAKIN and FOREN projects), patenting and intellectual property within universities and knowledge sourcing across different public and private organisations, cycling cultures and various consultancies (such as one for Kodak who wanted to know if there was a future for digital cameras!) marked much of the work in our first ten years. The Unit collaborated closely too with the then Science Policy Support Group that Peter Healey and John Ziman established (and which also acted as the secretariat for EASST for a number of years). Peter, myself and Henry Etzkowitz set up an ‘Academic-Industry-Relations’ network, and it was that which led to the first ideas around the so-called ‘Triple Helix’, which Etzkowitz has since turned into a major international programme.

By 1998, we had grown in number and established a strong portfolio in both UK and EU-funded studies such that we decided to have a formal ‘public launch’ inviting both academic and policy contacts to see our work as a whole. We were delighted that Arie Rip came as our guest speaker, someone who works across the STS/policy divide with consummate skill.

The links to Europe, partly through EASST, meant we had a presence at important European Commission (then called ‘European Economic Community’) policy meetings: very different days, for then it was EEC officials, such as Riccardo Petrella, who took the initiative to foster STS research and training in its work programmes, and through which, for example,the postgraduate European Studies of Society, Science and Technology (ESST) was established. I was also involved in UK-based early policy debate in Westminster on genetics and biotechnology which led to our securing a number of consultancies from government to advise them on such issues, a focus which was to define much of our work in the next decade, after our move to York in 1999, where the Unit is still based. Of course, when going through the material from our time at Anglia, much of that was in the form of written letters (in ink!), the use of DOS to construct code for sending early versions of what was called ‘electronic mail’, Faxes by the score, and reams of paper-based data sets from fieldwork, hand-coded in pre-NVivo days. So the York move was at the threshold of a rapid expansion in academia of digital communication – yet there seems to have been just as much paper put on file!

Mike Mulkay and Andrew Webster in 2005

The move to York in part reflected ongoing links I had with the then colleagues here, such as Steve Yearley (now in Edinburgh), and Mike Mulkay (who had been my PhD supervisor, now retired). It also reflected the emerging impact of the UK’s national research evaluation exercise, and SATSU was recruited to help bolster the STS work being done in York. The move was not easy – transferring people and grants brings lots of professional, financial and personal/family challenges, such that sadly not all our members could move, though most did. Within a few months, the Unit hosted a major 5-year joint Economic and Social Research Council and Medical Research Council funded research programme on ‘Innovative Health Technologies’, involving 130 researchers across 32 projects, all of which is still available on the York website, and worth a visit. Paralleling this, we became a Marie Curie training site between 2001-5 which meant meeting, supervising and becoming long-standing friends and colleagues with a magnificent group of young European scholars most of whom are members of what became the Bio-objects network, funded via an EU Cooperation in Science and Technology Action: they too have gone on to secure their own careers making a major contribution to STS in their own countries and internationally. Work on bio-objects (which to members’ collective delight received the Amsterdamska award from EASST in 2012) continues and is used today way beyond the original network – a very mobile concept which will figure in the 2018 EASST Conference.

SATSU in earlier days, 2005

Over the next decade and more, three research themes framed our research: the sociology of the biosciences, social informatics, and the governance and regulation of new technologies. For example, within the area of health our work examined the influences shaping the clinical, regulatory and commercial development of the new biosciences, especially in the area of regenerative medicine/stem cells, cord blood banking, xenotransplantation, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) , the new genetics and pharmacogenetics, and developed our interest in e-health (such as telemedicine) and its implementation in clinical and non-clinical settings. Our work on stem cells – focused on the construction and performativity of standards – led to major funding from the EC – the REMEDiE project – and from the ESRC, the much more recent REGenableMED project (see a complete set of results at https://www.eurostemcell.org/regenerative-medicine-special-report). The Unit also hosted another ESRC programme on Stem Cells, which helped to build momentum in this under-researched area. I think it was the Unit’s engagement across the social science/science boundaries that in 2007 led the ESRC to commission us to prepare – through many meetings at national and regional level over 18 months – its new Research Ethics Framework – which is now what underpins its ethical guidelines for all UK social science research.

This compendium of work sought to answer key questions such as how do biomedical technologies and the play of expert/lay boundaries shape the meaning of health, ‘life’ itself and healthcare practices, within a wider context shaped by the growing regulation, marketisation and informaticisation of health. The Unit’s wider work on social media has examined digital technologies and systems working with real-time, by-product data, mapping the use and meaning of such data, and developing insight into socio-technical cultures that are emerging today around informational systems, metrics and data infrastructures. This has fostered a strong interdisciplinary programme with colleagues in computer science within the Digital Creativity Hub. The digital also is the main focus of a more recent ‘Navigating Knowledge Landscapes’ network that spawned out of the former bio-objects group, and which explores how individuals and groups engage with and make sense of health information on the web. This now has 72 members across 24 countries. In 2009 we celebrated our ‘21st birthday’ with a series of invited public lectures from senior STS colleagues available as webcasts on the SATSU site.

Lecture at the 21st birthday conference

In the past few years, we have also begun to build a sustained programme of work in the (recent) history of science, with work on the meaning of evidence in primatology and on how late 19th to late 20th century science has been a source of ‘unsettling’ social change, opening up new possibilities, anticipations and hopes, at the same time as inspiring new conflicts, and fears with unintended consequences. The project explores this through various literatures, including popular science periodicals and science fiction.

This more temporal aspect of the Unit’s work is not only embodied in the sociology of expectations but in recent work on how time is performed/enacted through regulation, and how temporalities are sustained through regulatory practices and the ways in which legal and regulatory time(s) have material expression. Temporality has also featured as a cross-disciplinary theme in an ‘STS Roundtable’ established in York in 2016, with 8 other Departments; two other core themes of the Roundtable have been governance and innovation, providing an opportunity for colleagues outwith STS to define their own problematic in these key areas.

The Unit has enjoyed many visitors too, often contributing to our long-established ‘Brown Bag’ lunchtime series of fortnightly seminars, which at the last count was running at close to 200; I still have hand-written notes from all these discussions (my ‘lab books’ – I have always been struck by the way in which French and Italian STS groups talk about their ‘labs’ – maybe we should all frame our work in this way). Members have played an important role in national policy committees, national and international evaluation of research, postgraduate training and editorial roles on various journals and book series. One of these has been the very successful Health, Technology and Society Series which I co-edit with former EASST President Sally Wyatt, a series which has just published its 21st book, with more on the way. We have also, on a more regional front, been heavily involved in the STS collaborative doctoral training programme located in the ‘White Rose’ universities (of Leeds, Sheffield and York).

In 2014, a group of STS colleagues from across the UK helped to establish a new professional body that would bring together and mobilise the extensive STS and Innovation studies expertise across the UK. The Association for Studies in Innovation Science and Technology–UK (AsSIST-UK) was established and has since gone on to build strong communication channels with the UK parliament and other policy stakeholders. Robin Williams (Director ISSTI, Edinburgh) and I co-Chair the Association. Membership of the Association now numbers around 350 and is composed of social science and humanities scholars working in the science and technology and innovation studies field, as well as some natural scientists. The Association’s membership includes expertise in a diverse range of science policy fields (including biomedicine, energy, health/mental health, digital systems/social media, the economics of S&T, military and security systems, finance and transport), drawing members from over 30 universities and a range of key UK research centres. It has been great to see similar initiatives being taken this past few years in other countries across Europe and elsewhere.

In many ways, my personal view is that AsSIST-UK tries to engender what I called a few years ago in a paper in Social Studies of Science a ‘serviceable STS’, by which I meant one that offers a critical yet useable STS within the complex and ever-changing S&T policy world. That of course requires engaging closely with policy players, and not just by ‘electronic mail’: what’s required is ongoing engagement to try to reframe some of the assumptions underlying policy. Many members of EASST are doing this across Europe and elsewhere as we see in annual conferences and publications. SATSU will, I am sure, continue to do this in the future under its new Director, Joanna Latimer, who will now pick up the story to look forward to the programme of work that lies ahead. Meanwhile, I will continue with work on the new ‘biomodifying technologies project’ that began in 2017: a name that perhaps conjures up too the way running a Unit for 30 years does have a personal biomodifying effect – the result of sleepless nights worrying about something or other and very enjoyable SATSU BBQs we had each year worrying about the next beer!

Epistemic pluralization and health activist groups

In this paper we present some of the main ideas and conclusions of our last two research projects, which have analysed in depth several case studies around the increasing implication of health activist groups in the production of biomedical knowledge. Using some examples from our own research, we argue that the incorporation of experiential and lay knowledges of patients is transforming biomedical sciences in different ways, producing what we term “epistemic pluralization”.

We are currently developing a research cluster focused on health activism and public participation, particularly on forms of generating knowledge and care practices from a feminist intersectional perspective. This work covers our previous project, Visions and Versions of Medical Biotechnologies (2012-2016), and the current one, Feminist Epistemologies and Health Activisms (2017-2019), both funded by the Spanish Public R+D Plan. Whereas the first aimed to map out networks and the circulation of knowledge among activist groups, the second one intends to emphasize how feminist knowledges and epistemologies transform biomedical practices. The current project has a more participatory approach both to promote forms of intervention and communication with health professionals and to walk side-by-side with collectives to generate co-operative synergies.

In the different activities and publications related to Visions and Versions of Medical Biotechnologies, we analysed the increasing importance and diversity of forms of social mobilisation around health issues by focusing on its epistemic implications: how do they transform the knowledge production and care practices in health and biomedicine? We faced that question by focusing on several case studies, primarily with trans and intersex activism in Spain, but also with other examples of how patients are increasingly intervening in the production of biomedical knowledge. In our research, we have also identified how traditional forms of scientific communication -top-down, from “experts” to “lay people”- are currently being reconfigured, through a new reappraisal of experiential knowledges which generate “hybrid” forms of knowledge that bring together personal experiences, activism and biomedical knowledge (Wehling, Viehöver and Koenen, 2015). It is in this sense that we speak of “epistemic pluralization”: as different actors and voices gain legitimacy as epistemic agents, the distinction of “expert vs. lay knowledge” blurs somewhat, or becomes more complex. Sometimes, indeed, forms of health activism become epistemic correctives identifying undone science (Hess, 2009).

Hybrid Lay-Expert Knowledges and Activist Groups 

As its very name implies, the figure of the patient was traditionally constructed in modern medicine as a passive epistemic element. But patients are increasingly becoming actors in the production of biomedical knowledge. Within the social sciences two main analytical frameworks have derived from this idea: lay knowledge and lay expertise. Lay knowledge (Caron-Flinterman, Broerse and Bunders, 2005; Prior, 2003) has been used to refer to experiences, perspectives or meanings patients offer about their own illness. It also refers to their knowledge of their own body, especially the kind of practical, caring knowledge they have. Finally, it makes reference to the knowledge specifically generated by associations and support groups, as they share their experiences as “communities of practice” or as “experts in the experience” (Akrich, 2010; Rabeharisoa, 2008). Lay expertise, on the other hand, refers to processes of expertification of patients, certain individuals or groups that, in the course of their condition or illness, seek information on causes, treatment, etc. becoming, thus, a specialist, one that can “legitimately speak[ing] in the language of medical science” (Epstein, 1996: 9).

In the case studies developed by our group, we have come across both types of knowledge. Experiential knowledge becomes part of care and self-care. For instance, the knowledges that caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s have -about the previous life of the cared person, but also about the current person’s need and tastes- function collectively as forms of sustaining the person living with Alzheimer’s (Ruiz, 2015). Another example are the oral knowledges that are passed on from mothers to daughters, between female friends or through offline or online recent mother self-support groups to respond to breastfeeding issues such as mastitis treatments (Santoro and Romero-Bachiller, 2017). But experiential knowledge also becomes part of mutual self-help processes in activist groups: for example, the stories that parents of trans minors and minors with an intersex condition share about how to communicate with their children in a positive manner about stigmatised or taboo issues. We have also analysed how online forums, blogs, social networks and collective webpages, and even mobile phone group chats, are recurring sites for sharing doubts and knowledges. These sites have contributed to the recognition of such knowledges, as some have provided material for support guides for parents, giving way to not only a medical, but instead a psychosocial turn in the treatment and care of these conditions (García-Dauder, Gregori and Hurtado, 2015).

Also, very often a process of expertification of patients and relatives occurs. Informational resources on association websites are a clear example of this, as they offer accessible and understandable information, adjusted to different levels of knowledge about the condition. Expertise becomes evident as well in conferences or association meetings where medical professionals are invited: questions from the public -made up of association members or relatives- show profound insight, sometimes even discussing recently published scientific articles by specialised professionals. Thus, many association members become expert patients, especially when they are affected by less frequent pathologies, rare diseases or stigmatised conditions. In the case of both intersex and trans individuals, sometimes the medical community itself will invite them to their professional meetings -yet with varying degrees of recognition and types of participation, from experiential testimony to expert knowledge- thereby recognizing the need to learn from and with them. Some of those “expert patients” even participate in scientific journals in collective authorship articles or as co-authors with medical professionals. In some cases, health activists and expert patients have even become instructors for medical professionals on psychosocial and gender issues -as has been the case with trans and intersex activists (Ortega et al., 2018). In some other cases, this has facilitated an inversion of the subject-object order of knowledge relationships: the very “objects of knowledge” -i.e. trans and intersex collectives or activists- have become real “experts” on the “subjects of knowledge” -doctors, scientists (García-Dauder and Romero-Bachiller, 2012). These “experts on experts” are groups with a deep understanding of the scientific literature, and they critically discuss and analyse the practices of the professionals treating them, sharing all this information with other people. Sometimes they even “experiment” with their own bodies, by regulating dosages or favouring certain prescriptions over others, for example, as in the case of male trans activists who reduce their  testosterone dosage or advocate for the re-incorporation of Reandron© 1000 ml -an injectable prescription dosage of testosterone- to the list of drugs that are publicly funded in Spain (Ortega et al., 2018).

A concrete experience of committed articulation and production of hybrid knowledge we recently developed was the organization of a workshop to train psychotherapists to work with intersex people. The workshop took place in September 2017 and  was organised along with a Spanish congenital adrenal hyperplasia association we have been working with for years. The training was given by two team researchers along with an adult with an intersex condition, and two mothers with girls with another condition and members of the association. The training aimed to give the participants an understanding of the specific characteristics and psychological needs of living with an intersex condition. Afterwards we participated with the trained psychotherapists in the First Psychosocial Meeting of CAH -Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia- by organising three workshops for girls, adults and mothers and fathers that addressed issues such as needs, emotions and communication. Boundaries between expert and experiential knowledge, and the premise that knowledge circulation is unidirectional and top-bottom, were both heavily questioned through these events.

Photographs taken by a team member of First Psychosocial Meeting of CAH, September 30th, 2017. Fig. 1 (top): final moment of the workshop.
Fig. 2: “Sculptures of the World of Hyperplasia”
Fig. 3: “Sculptures of the World of Hyperplasia”

Therefore, and as Wehling, Viehöver and Koenen (2015) have pointed out, we are increasingly confronted with hybrid forms of knowledge: scientific/biomedical knowledge is transformed and adapted to a patient’s own experience, a process which is both individual and collectivized through “communities of practice” (Akrich, 2010). In the collective learning process found in patient associations, shared advice and testimonies are inseparable from scientific knowledge -even in the most critically active collectives. In a similar fashion, the dissemination of accessible biomedical information to patients is increasingly impregnated with experiential knowledge -stories, testimonies and accounts from other patients. These are ultimately examples where experiential and academic knowledge work together, creating epistemic pluralised networks and developing new understandings of these conditions.

A larger porosity between scientific and “anti-scientific” knowledge can be found in some of our other research projects. In the context of childbirth, upbringing and breastfeeding, apart from the fact that there are different professional conflicts over unqualified practice -gynecologists, midwives, doulas- it is not easy to differentiate between medicalised knowledge and other “alternative”, “traditional” or “experience-based” knowledges. In focus groups of inquiry with recent mothers that we carried out in 2015, the mothers’ discourses showed there was not a unequivocal opposition between medically legitimised knowledge and “alternative” options. Mothers were involved in different forms of what we term activation of care with a multiple, juxtaposed and complex use of medical recommendations, alternative strategies, and experiences offered by friends, family, mobile phone group chats of recent mothers, or members of internet forums (Santoro and Romero-Bachiller, 2017).

Yet a hybridisation of knowledge is also produced on the “medical” side, as experiential knowledge is increasingly incorporated into scientific literature. The proliferation of qualitative methods in health research, for instance, gives renewed value to experiential narratives as evidence. Medical training given by patients is not an oddity, nor is their participation in medical conferences. Patients are not only listened to: sometimes their knowledge has been incorporated as an epistemic corrective, transforming medical practices, and helping to develop “undone science” (Hess, 2009). In the case of intersex activism, this has given way to a genuine paradigm shift, moving from a strictly biomedical paradigm to a psychosocial and human rights one, which has opened up bioethical and legal questions on medical practices (García-Dauder, Gregori and Hurtado, 2015).

On the other hand, there are also entrepreneurial actors turning their attention to the “experiential knowledge” of patients and family. Web platforms open social networks where patients and relatives can “share” their experience of “living with a condition” -such as the website Personas que [People that]. This altruistically shared information is formalised, quantified and organized by the companies managing these sites, and is then purchased by pharmaceutical companies and other bio-industries. This process introduces new agents, and the need to analyse the relationship between associations and these bioeconomic organizations (Lupton, 2013): patient experiential knowledge becomes here a commodifiable product in the bioeconomy (Pavone and Goven, 2017).

Finally, most of these knowledges are inseparable from care practices. Embodied, materialised and moving through the body, care practices are found in a concrete ensemble of relational practices: a “know-how”. For example, knowledges built, shared and mobilised by caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients become practices: practices of recognition, memory and care. Yet, from these very practices, hybrid knowledges also emerge. Knowledges that may help to provide better care (Ruiz Marcos, 2015).

Feminist health activism as epistemic corrective: Activism-based Evidence

A type of activity in activist health groups which we would like to consider in certain detail is the production of knowledge that questions medical science and dominant paradigms -their conceptualisation of etiology, prevention, diagnosis, treatments. This was specifically looked at in the project  Visions and Versions of Medical Biotechnologies, where we focused on opponent groups (Callon and Rabeharisoa, 2003), such as trans activist and some intersex collectives that aim to depathologize their conditions, generating epistemic “correctives” to dominant research and pressing science to act with greater social responsibility (Wehling, Viehöver and Koenen, 2015).

The role of this trans and intersex activism groups is especially relevant in promoting shifts in paradigms and in improving scientific practice. Yet, we are not talking about “evidence based activism” (Akrich, O’Donovan and Rabeharisoa, 2015), that is, those “hybrid” forms of biomedical/experiential knowledge from which activists defend the “evidence” of their demands. Rather, what we see here is “activism based evidence”: that is, a problematization of the very evidence itself and, with it, of the very biomedical paradigm -especially when the main objective is to depathologize certain conditions.

We have also analysed the knowledge generated in the International Network for Trans Depathologization -a collective that emerged in the context of Spain which later, through different mutations, become internationalised. We have specifically focused on their production of epistemic correctives, and mostly on their critiques of the DSM-5 and CIE-10, where transexuality is still  included in the catalogue of mental illnesses -although in the DSM-5 the term “disorder” has been eliminated. This critical task is complemented as well by concrete contributions, in the form of assistance protocols and alternative support procedures, such as the Best Practices Guide to Trans Health Care in the National Health System (2010) (Ortega, Romero-Bachiller and Ibáñez, 2014). A parallel process is occurring in the case of intersex organizing, where pressure from activists and support groups is causing not only a re-evaluation of the standards of care -to more patient centered ones that are based on informed consent- but also a shift to a psychosocial and human rights paradigm that is breaking down the exclusively biomedical paradigm that existed previously, which was more centered around surgeries and hormonal treatment for bodily “normalization” (García-Dauder, Gregori and Hurtado, 2015). Therefore, associations exert a mediating role between multidisciplinary approaches -biological, psychological and social ones- by pressuring science to act with greater social responsibility and by generating not only biomedical knowledges and practices, but also ethical and legal ones (Wehling, Viehöver and Koenen, 2015).

In our new project, Feminist Epistemologies and Health Activisms, which started in January 2017, we continue inquiring into this “scientific evidence” that emerges from health activism, by investigating recent cases where feminist social movements and collectives have been transforming practices and knowledges, thus contributing to more inclusive science (Epstein, 1996) and stronger objectivity (Harding, 2015). A new and interesting line of action has been seeking to recover the “lost history” of how the Women’s Health Movement -although never self-identifying itself under such name in Spain- and the LGBT movement in the 1970’s contributed to the improvement of knowledge on women’s health and bodies and on sexual diversity -thus, favouring the depenalisation of contraception (1978), homosexuality (1978), and abortion (1981) in Spanish society.

New researchers and new case studies have been incorporated into this project: the transfer of reproductive capacity through ova donation, human breast milk donation, participation in clinical trials and some other forms of what Cooper and Waldby (2015) have coined as “biolabour”. All these cases bring to the fore new questions, as they erode clear lines of demarcation between exploitative and depriving forms of participation in bioeconomies and empowering forms of participation in health associations (Santoro and Romero-Bachiller, 2017). These cases also move away from individuals acting in the bioeconomy through isolated decision-making and from empowered associations participating collectively in the production of health knowledge, to more informal and diffuse, yet also collective, spaces of interaction, knowledge production and participation. Spaces created by and generative of affects, bonds and reciprocity. Concrete attention to details in these cases becomes essential, as we find more entangled realities this way: sometimes forms of solidarity, belonging and obligation become strengthened by care bonds, some of which become articulated beyond traditional kin lines. Caring becomes enmeshed in chains of exchange which cannot be detached from bioeconomical interest, constructions of altruism, and emerging personal bonds. Affect, interest and obligation are all entangled in forms of “activating care” (Santoro and Romero-Bachiller, 2017), as we are illustrating in our current research on ova donation to fertility clinics (Lafuente, 2017) and on human breast milk donation (Romero-Bachiller and Santoro, in press). New questions are urgently emerging here about interactions of everyday life and the overflowing of strict definitions and clear cut perspectives, and they are being addressed by these cases.

They can all be considered examples of what Nancy Tuana (2006) identified as the move away from “epistemologies of ignorance” to “epistemologies of resistance”, stressing not only the role that health activism can play in making areas of ignorance visible, but also how it can produce paradigm shifts or “hidden innovations”. With this research we aim to reevaluate knowledges derived from embodied collective relational experience to open up to informal forms of sociality and solidarity as well as to the dense and complex bonds and relationship they provide.

 

References

Akrich, Madeleine (2010). From communities of practice to epistemic communities: health mobilizations on the internet. Sociological Research Online, 15(2): 10.

Akrich, Madeleine; O‘Donovan, Orla; Rabeharisoa, Volona (2015). The entanglement of scientific and political claims: towards a new form of patients’ activism. In P. Wehling; W. Viehöver; S. Koenen (eds.), The Public Shaping of Medical Research. London: Routledge.

Barbot, Janine (2006). How to build an “active” patient? The work of AIDS associations in France. Social science & medicine, 62(3): 538-551.

Brown, Phil (ed.) (2008). Perspectives in Medical Sociology. Long Grove: Waveland Press.

Brown, P.; Zavestoski, S.; McCormick, S.; Mayer, B.; Morello-Frosch, R.; Gasior Altman, R. (2004). Embodied health movements: new approaches to social movements in health. Sociology of Health & Illness, 26(1): 50–80.

Callon, Michel; Rabeharisoa, Volona (2003). Research “in the wild” and the shaping of new social identities. Technology in Society, 25: 193-204.

Caron-Flinterman, J. Francisca; Broerse, Jacqueline; Bunders, Joske (2005). The experiential knowledge of patients: a new resource for biomedical research? Social Science & Medicine, 60(11): 2575-2584.

Cooper, Melinda; Waldby, Catherine (2014). Clinical Labor: Tissue Donors and Research Subjects in the Global Bioeconomy. London: Duke UP.

Epstein, Steven (1996). Impure Science. AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

García-Dauder, S.; Romero-Bachiller, Carmen (2012). Los desplazamientos políticos de las categorías médicas. In Pérez Sedeño, Eulalia; Ibáñez, Rebeca (eds.). Cuerpos y diferencias (213- 240). Madrid: Plaza y Valdés.

García-Dauder, S.; Gregori, Nuria; Hurtado, Inmaculada (2015). Usos de lo psicosocial en la investigación y tratamiento de las intersexualidades/DSD. Universitas psychologica, 14(5): 1649-1666.

Harding, Sandra (2015). Objectivity and diversity: Another logic of scientific research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hess, David (2009). The potentials and limitations of civil society research: Getting undone science done. Sociological Inquiry, 79(3): 306-327.

Lafuente, Sara (2017). Egg Donation in the Making: Gender, Selection and (In)Visibilities in the Spanish Bioeconomy of Reproduction.In  V. Pavone; J. Goven (eds.), Bioeconomies: Life, Technology and Capital in the 21st century. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lupton, Deborah (2013). The digitally engaged patient: Self-monitoring and self-care in the digital health era. Social Theory & Health, 11: 256–270.

Ortega, Esther; Romero, Carmen; Ibáñez, Rebeca (2014). Discurso activista y estatus médico de lo trans: hacia una reconfiguración de cuidados y diagnósticos. In Pérez Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (521-572). Madrid: Cátedra.

Ortega, Esther; García-Dauder, S.; Gregori, Nuria; Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia (2018). Practices and knowledge: philosophy of biomedicine, governance and citizen participation. In Belén Laspra; José A. López Cerezo (ed.), Spanish Philosophy of Technology – Contemporary Work from the Spanish Speaking Community. Springer.

Pavone, Vincenzo; Goven, Jonna (ed.) (2017). Bioeconomies. Life, Technology, and Capital in the 21st Century. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

Prior, Lindsay (2003). Belief, knowledge and expertise: the emergence of the lay expert in medical sociology. Sociology of Health & Illness, 25(3): 41-57.

Rabeharisoa, Volona (2008). Experience, knowledge and empowerment: the increasing role of patient organizations in staging, weighting and circulating experience and knowledge. In M. Akrich; J. Nunes; F. Paterson; V. Rabeharisoa (eds.), The Dynamics of Patient Organizations in Europe. París: Presses de l’École de Mine.

Romero-Bachiller, Carmen and Santoro, Pablo (in press). Virtuous and Wicked Bacteria at Dance: Hybrid Zones, Boundary Work and Microbiota in Human Breast Milk Banking. Tecnoscienza.

Ruiz-Marcos, Lorena (2015). Cuando la memoria pasa por la piel. Escenarios del cuidado en la enfermedad de Alzheimer. Tesis doctoral no publicada. Departamento de Sociología V, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Santoro, Pablo; Romero-Bachiller, Carmen (2017). Thinking (the bioeconomies) through care. Patients‘ engagement with the bioeconomies of parenting. In V. Pavone; J. Goven (eds.), Bioeconomies: Life, Technology and Capital in the 21st century. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tuana, Nancy (2006). The speculum of ignorance: The women‘s health movement and epistemologies of ignorance. Hypatia, 21(3): 1-19.

Wehling, Peter; Viehöver, Willy; Koenen, Sophia (eds.) (2015). The Public Shaping of Medical Research: Patient Associations, Health Movements and Biomedicine. London: Routledge.

MerkenMerken

Biomedicine and gendered bodies: committed articulation as a feminist methodology

We present the research trajectory and current projects of the Science, Technology and Gender research group of Madrid, an interdisciplinary team composed of philosophers of science, sociologists, social psychologists, historians, nurses and anthropologists, most of them women. Focusing on biomedicine and its relationships to bodies, gender and activism, the group has opened a line of research based on feminist studies and STS which was practically absent from Spanish academia.

The challenge of building a feminist and interdisciplinary STS team

In contrast to other countries, STS studies in Spain have had scarce institutional support. Recognition is even more limited if STS Studies include the term “feminism”. For this reason our team was not organised by a university department or an already existing STS institution. Rather on the contrary: the very trajectory of the team has  contributed to the creation of one: the Science, Technology and Society department in CSIC -the Spanish National Research Council, which is the main state research institution. The Science, Technology and Gender research group in Madrid emerged more as a personal and risky endeavour carried out by Eulalia Pérez-Sedeño (CSIC Research Professor), along with some other feminist researchers, to develop a Science, Technology and Gender field in Spain. Despite this lack of support and informality, the group has enjoyed greater flexibility and interdisciplinarity, as it has never been tied to narrow disciplinary boundaries.

Fig. 1: Eulalia Pérez-Sedeño y S. García-Dauder.

Although membership has varied over the years, the group is formed of philosophers of science, sociologists, social psychologists, historians, nurses and anthropologists, most of them women. The team brings together scholars from different institutions, particularly from the STS department at the Institute of Philosophy-CSIC, the department of Social Theory at the Complutense University and the area of Social Psychology at Rey Juan Carlos University, but also from other institutional and non-institutional locations. The original meeting ground for the group, which started to function around 2004, was a feminist epistemological proposal: that a more democratic and inclusive scientific community would result in fairer and more objective science (González-García  and Pérez-Sedeño, 2002; Romero-Bachiller and García-Dauder, 2006). Research carried out by the team is characterised by the confluence of feminist epistemologies, STS, anthropology of the body and social studies of biosciences, with a particular orientation towards Science, Technology and Gender issues. Our investigations have always maintained an empirical connection to the context of Spain,  building links with diverse social actors, from activist groups to scholars from other areas or biomedical professionals.

Research trajectory

Since 2004, our team has been awarded several STS and STG-related competitive projects, funded by the Spanish Public R+D Plan, which have functioned as a way of connecting individual research and the interests of the team members. The first three projects carried out by the group, STS Interactions in Biosocial Sciences and Medical Technologies (2004-2007,  I+D+I 29/03); Sciences and Technologies of the Body from an STS Perspective (2007-2010, HUM2006-06327/FISO); and Cartographies of the Body: Biopolitics of Science and Technology (2010-2013, FFI2009-07138), featured Eulalia Pérez-Sedeño as the main researcher. The evolution of the careers of the team’s junior members led to a subsequent coordinated project, Visions and Versions of Medical Biotechnologies (2013-2016), with two subprojects: Governance, Public Understanding and Hidden Innovations, led by Pérez-Sedeño (FFI2012-38912-C02-01), and Analysis of the Production and Circulation of Lay/Expert Knowledges in Biomedical Practices, led by García-Dauder (FFI2012-38912-C02-02). Since 2016 we have been carrying out two different but coordinated projects: Multiple Voices, Plural Knowledges and Biomedical Technologies (2016-2019), led by Pérez-Sedeño, and  Feminist Epistemologies and Health Activisms: Emergent Practices, Care and Knowledges in Biomedical Contexts (2017-2020, FEM2016-76797-R), led by Romero-Bachiller.

These funds have served as umbrella projects for our team members’ empirical research, teaching, seminars and academic supervision, allowing for the consolidation of a line of research which had been practically absent from Spanish academia. All of these activities carried out by the group have culminated in many papers, presentations and articles, several PhD dissertations and two edited collections, Cuerpos y Diferencias (Pérez-Sedeño and Ibáñez, 2012) and Cartografías del cuerpo. Biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (Pérez-Sedeño and Ortega, 2014). Since 2005 the group has also annually organised an international workshop in Madrid where Spanish and Latin American researchers, along with scholars from other geographic origins, can present their research, share their interests and discuss current issues related to the complex intersections between science and gender. Throughout our history we have formed ties with many other research groups, both in Spain and internationally, and we have received visits from various STS, STG and gender studies scholars. Some members of the team have also been active in different STS networks, such as Redes-CTS (the Spanish-Portuguese STS Network) or EASST.

Fig. 2: S. García-Dauder and Nuria Gregory, “Multidisciplinarity and psychosocial turn in the management of intersex”, presentation at the X International Workshop Science, Technology and Gender: Visions and Versions of Biomedical Technologies, Medialab Prado Madrid (23rd-25th March, 2015).
Fig. 3: Anne Fausto-Sterling and Carmen Romero-Bachiller, Anne Fausto-Sterling “Gender as Process, Not Trait: dynamic systems approaches to the origins of difference in infancy“, invited conference, XII International Workshop Science, Technology and Gender: Knowledges, practices and activism from feminist epistemologies, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, CSIC, Madrid (21st-23rd June, 2017). Photographs taken by a team member.

As the names of our projects suggest, our group maintained a special focus on bodies during the first few years, analysing how biomedical practices and discourses result in the production of particular types of bodies, and especially how they act upon women’s bodies and re/produce boundaries between sexed bodies. Different empirical case studies were addressed by the team, allowing for a comparative perspective between specific biomedical technologies: from reproductive technologies or plastic surgery to sex-assignment procedures and food technologies. The comparison of these diverse technoscientific fields, with their focus always coming from the context of Spanish reality, gave way to the development of several analytic perspectives and questions, such as: How are bodies materially and semiotically produced? How are bodies gendered? What is “the human”? How do norms and differences function in biomedicine? How are logics of care and choice put to play?

We would like to highlight the critical work done by the team in its initial years on the lack of representation of women’s bodies in assisted reproductive technology discourses and practices (Pérez-Sedeño, 2004; Sánchez, 2004). We also consider noteworthy the pioneering work on the situation of psycho-medical regulation of sex/gender dualisms in the treatment of intersex conditions in Spain (Gregori, 2006; García-Dauder, Romero-Bachiller and Ortega, 2007). In later works we analyse how the “human” and “individuality” are made -the “individual patient”- in reproductive technologies. Whereas those technologies are deeply connected with women’s bodies, the center of attention tends to be displaced towards the “couple”, the “embryo”, or some other parts of the women’s body that become externalized (Ruiz and Romero-Bachiller, 2010; Bergmann, 2014; Pérez-Sedeño and Sánchez, 2014). In the case of therapeutic technologies, “molecular biopolitics” fragments bodies into transferable tissues that can be separated from their original settings, mobilised by clinics and reused in other bodies -cord blood banking and ova donation- (Santoro, 2009; Miranda, 2014). We have also analysed how bodies can be perfected and regulated through food, as is the case with cholesterol control and eating disorders (Ibáñez and Santoro, 2012; González Aguado, 2014), and other aesthetic medical practices, such as mammary implants (Pérez Sedeño, 2012, 2014). We additionally consider how bodies are surgically fixed as humanly livable through the medical assignation of a single sex within the sexual dichotomy, e.g., in intersex conditions (García-Dauder, 2014; Gregori, 2014).

Committed articulation as a way of doing research in STS/STG

Given the proximity that many of our projects have had with social movements and feminist and LGBT activist groups, a characteristic trend that has emerged throughout the different projects of our group is a way of doing research we refer to as “committed articulation”. Initially, the team employed mostly qualitative methodologies based on critical discourse and representation analysis -employing “classical techniques” such as semi-structured in-depth interviews, focus groups and discursive analysis of media or on-line productions. Later on, seeking to highlight how bodies are made in biomedical contexts, an ethnographic approach on these practices was favoured. Over the years, and with more than a decade of committed research on trans and intersex medical interventions working in, with, and alongside collectives, using Jay Ruby’s (1991) terminology, our methodological stance has adopted the form of a committed support rather than a detached extraction of information. This has allowed for emergent and more participatory methodologies to be constructed alongside collectives, whose goals very often go beyond “research” as such. We have named such an approach “committed articulation”. It is a methodology of processes, with a strong embodied and activist commitment (Esteban, 2011), anchored in standpoint feminist epistemologies and consciously aware of their political implications. A methodological stance where researchers are situated in an assemblage of relations along with different actors and voices articulated around a particular phenomenon. Research is, therefore, part of the assemblage itself. Thus, the impact of such a relation is part of a collective learning process, and the given results are never detached or aseptic. Yet, recognising co-production does not eliminate power relations altogether, and these need to be accounted for in any particular intervention. We may talk, then, of hybrid practices of research, activism, social transformation and teaching. An approach that is allowing us to recognise and bring to the fore knowledges emanated from health activism, participating in their processes of expertization, “getting undone science done” and acting as “epistemic correctives” (Hess, 2009).

Current research

Starting in 2013, our more recent research has been dedicated to two projects. In the project Visions and Versions of Medical Biotechnologies (2013-2016), our focus was not so much centered around how diverse biomedical technologies shape “the body multiple” (Mol, 2002), but around the different forms of public participation in the production of biomedical knowledge. We were also especially focused on how expert knowledge is constituted, in processes of expertification (Epstein, 1996), and, -questioning this dichotomy- “lay/expert” knowledge interchanges. In most cases, we aimed our attention at controversy analysis -in nosology, diagnosis, etiology, treatment and bioethical issues- and how a democratic re-articulation of knowledge is produced in a context of digital citizenship and citizen participation in health (García-Dauder and Romero-Bachiller, 2012; Romero-Bachiller, Ibáñez and Ortega, 2014; García-Dauder, Gregori and Hurtado, 2015; Hurtado, 2017).

We have been particularly interested in the figure of the “expert patient” or the “lay expert” and their hybrid experiential/activist/expert knowledge (Akrich, 2010; Akrich, O’Donovan and Rabeharisoa, 2015). Thus, we have addressed different cases of “epistemic communities”: patient organizations and online collectives constituted around a concrete health condition, that move from serving as a counseling and emotional support role within the community, to spreading and disclosing knowledge to the outside, to their own production of knowledge. Concretely, both the International Campaign for Trans Depathologization, and some intersex collectives, such as GRAPSIA -a Spanish support group for relatives and people with Insensitivity Androgynous Syndrome-  are paradigmatic examples of “epistemic correctives” in health, identifying undone science and producing activism-based evidence, inverting the concept of “evidence-based activism” as defined by Akrich, O’Donovan y Rabeharisoa (2013)  (Ortega, García-Dauder, Gregori and Pérez Sedeño, 2017).

Stemming from that work, the current project of the team, Feminist Epistemologies and Health Activisms, investigates emergent knowledges -including how-knowledge, caring practices and experiential knowledge- produced by feminist activism in health. Our objective is to analyse examples in the context of Spain of what Nancy Tuana (2006) has identified as the move from “epistemologies of ignorance” to “epistemologies of resistance”. In this project we are also introducing innovative methodologies that try to connect STS/STG research, health professionals and health activism with formal and informal teaching and learning procedures, and with more horizontal and inclusive formats to favour open conversations.

Teaching profile and research training

Our group members have multiple institutional assignments, which increases interdisciplinarity, and also multiplies our teaching participation in various university programmes and institutions, some of them directed towards health professionals. Currently, team members teach Sociology and Anthropology for the Nursing degree programme at both the Complutense University and University Rey Juan Carlos, and Sociology of Science for the Sociology programme at the Complutense University. Our members have also been participating in several innovative teaching projects, such as “Salud y sociedad” (Health and Society), lead by Elena Casado Aparicio, Pablo Santoro and Pablo Messeguer, which aims to go beyond the biomedical paradigm in nursing by promoting a socio-practical knowledge based on collaboration, tinkering and caring.

In addition, the team is highly committed to training researchers, which we do by extending our teaching to postgraduate M.A. courses at different institutions: the M.A. of Science, Technology and Society (CSIC); the M.A. of Health and Gender (URJC) and the M.A. of Sociocultural Analysis (UCM). Throughout the years, our group’s research development has also opened the way for varying promotions for its members. Some of them have completed their PhDs in its framework (Miranda, 2013; Ibáñez, 2014; Ortega, 2014; Gregori, 2015; Ruiz Marcos, 2015) and some have gained seniority and are now leading research projects and tutoring PhDs themselves. New members have joined the team as well, and their presence has contributed a revitalizing and renewing effect to the group, allowing for its expansion and maturation.

To conclude, the Science Technology and Gender research team of Madrid has contributed to the development and recognition of STS/STG Studies within the Spanish context, working from  a perspective of commited articulation between research, activism and teaching.

References

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Akrich, Madeleine; O‘Donovan, Orla; Rabeharisoa, Volona (2015). The entanglement of scientific and political claims: towards a new form of patients’ activism. In P. Wehling; W. Viehöver y S. Koenen (ed.), The Public Shaping of Medical Research. London: Routledge.

Bergmann, Sven (2014). La genética es como la masa de la pizza. El matching y la clasificación del fenotipo como práctica y decisión cultural en las clínicas de reproducción asistida. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (307-352). Madrid, Cátedra.

Callon, Michel; Rabeharisoa, Volona (2003). Research “in the wild” and the shaping of new social identities. Technology in Society, 25: 193-204.

Epstein, Steven (1996). Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Esteban, M. Luz (2011). Crítica al pensamiento amoroso. Barcelona: Bellaterra.

García-Dauder, S. (2014). La regulación tecnológica del dualismo sexual y el diseño de cuerpos normativos. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (469-520). Madrid: Cátedra.

García-Dauder, S.; Romero-Bachiller, Carmen (2012). Los desplazamientos políticos de las categorías médicas: actores, discursos y relaciones en la controversia “alteraciones del desarrollo sexual” versus “Intersexualidad”. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ibáñez, Rebeca (eds.). Cuerpos y diferencias (213- 240). Madrid, Plaza y Valdés.

García-Dauder, S.; Romero-Bachiller, Carmen; Ortega, Esther (2007). Cossos  insubmissos i mutilació genital: La regulació tecno-mèdica dels cossos sexuats. In Armengol, Josep M. (ed.). Masculinitats per al segle XXI (35-45). Barcelona: CEDIC.

García-Dauder, S.; Gregori, Nuria; Hurtado, Inmaculada (2015). Usos de lo psicosocial en la investigación y tratamiento de las intersexualidades/DSD. Universitas psychologica, 14(5): 1649-1666.

González, María (2014). Las caras ocultas de la anorexia: diferencias relacionales de lo bello, lo bueno y lo blanco. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (133-191). Madrid: Cátedra.

González, Marta. I.; Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia (2002). Ciencia, tecnología y género. Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnología, sociedad e innovación, 2. Disponible en http://www.oei.es/historico/revistactsi/numero2/varios2.htm

Gregori, Nuria (2006). Los cuerpos ficticios de la biomedicina. El proceso de construcción del género en los protocolos médicos de asignación de sexo en bebés intersexuales. AIBR. Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, 1(1).Disponible en: http://www.redalyc.org/html/623/62310108/

Gregori, Nuria (2014). “Llegar a ser” mujer/hombre desde un diagnóstico de intersexualidad o ADS. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (423-468). Madrid: Cátedra.

Gregori, Nuria (2015). Encuentros y des-encuentros en torno a las intersexualidades/DSD: narrativas, procesos y emergencias. Tesis doctoral, Universidad de Valencia.

Hurtado, Inmaculada (2017). Asociaciones y disociaciones: agentes, discursos y controversias en torno a la hiperactividad infantil. Salud Colectiva, 13, 321-335.

Ibáñez, Rebeca (2014). Bad to eat? Empirical explorations of fat. Tesis doctoral, Universidad de Salamanca.

Ibáñez, Rebeca; Santoro, Pablo (2012). Elecciones inciertas en tiempos inciertos: «elección informada» en el almacenamiento de células embrionarias de cordón umbilical y los alimentos funcionales. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ibáñez, Rebeca (eds.). Cuerpos y diferencias (179-193). Madrid: Plaza y Valdés.

Miranda, Mª José (2013). Fenomenología de las agencialidades materiales en la investigación con células troncales. Tesis doctoral, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela.

Miranda, Mª José (2014). Medicina regenerativa y terapia celular: turismos, patentes y feminismos. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (353-389). Madrid: Cátedra.

Mol, Annemarie (2002). The Body Multiple. Ontology in Medical Practice. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ortega, Esther (2014). La cuestión del sexo/género en medicina: tecnologías de reasignación de sexo y valores de género en España. Tesis doctoral, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela.

Ortega, Esther; Romero-Bachiller, Carmen; Ibáñez, Rebeca (2014). Discurso activista y estatus médico de lo trans: hacia una reconfiguración de cuidados y diagnósticos. In Pérez Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (521-572). Madrid: Cátedra.

Ortega, Esther; García-Dauder, S.; Gregori, Nuria; Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia (2018). Practices and knowledge: philosophy of biomedicine, governance and citizen participation. In Belén Laspra; José A. López Cerezo (ed.), Spanish Philosophy of Technology – Contemporary Work from the Spanish Speaking Community. Springe.

Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia (2004). Sociedad, cultura y tecnologías reproductivas. In Actas del IV Congreso de la Sociedad de Lógica, Metodología y Filosofía de la Ciencia en España  (pp. 438-441). Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid.

Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia (2012). Ciencias y tecnologías del cuerpo: la práctica de la tecnología de los implantes mamarios. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ibáñez, Rebeca (eds.). Cuerpos y diferencias (131-152). Madrid: Plaza y Valdés.

Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia (2014). Feminismo, ética y cirugía estética. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (91-132). Madrid: Cátedra.

Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ibáñez, Rebeca (eds.) (2012). Cuerpos y Diferencias. Madrid: Plaza y Valdés.

Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.) (2014). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología. Madrid: Cátedra.

Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Sánchez, Ana (2014). Asimetrías y olvidos en las tecnologías de reproducción asistida. In Pérez-Sedeño, Eulalia; Ortega, Esther (eds.). Cartografías del cuerpo: biopolíticas de la ciencia y la tecnología (195-244). Madrid: Cátedra.

Romero-Bachiller, Carmen; García-Dauder, S. (2006). Epistemologías feministas y democracia radical. In Eulalia Pérez-Sedeño (ed.), Ciencia, tecnología y género en Iberoamérica (263-271). Madrid: CSIC.

Ruby, Jay (1991). Speaking For, Speaking About, Speaking With, or Speaking Alongside- An Anthropological and Documentary Dilemma. Visual Anthropology Review.  7(2), 50-67.

Ruiz-Marcos, Lorena (2015). Cuando la memoria pasa por la piel. Escenarios del cuidado en la enfermedad de Alzheimer. Tesis doctoral, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Ruiz-Marcos, Lorena; Romero-Bachiller, Carmen (2010). Embriones, no nacidos y otras especies. una coreografía de los límites de la vida humana. Athenea Digital. Revista de pensamiento e investigación social, (19), 29-50.

Sánchez, Ana (2004). La investigación en células germinales embrionarias. In Actas del IV Congreso de la Sociedad de Lógica, Metodología y Filosofía de la Ciencia en España  (pp. 442-446). Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid.

Santoro, Pablo (2009). From (public?) waste to (private?) value. The regulation of private cord blood banking in Spain. Science Studies, 22(1), 3-24.

Santoro, Pablo y Romero-Bachiller, Carmen (2017). Thinking (the bioeconomies) through care. Patients› engagement with the bioeconomies of parenting. In V. Pavone y J. Goven (ed.), Bioeconomies: Life, Technology and Capital in the 21st century. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tuana, Nancy (2006). The speculum of ignorance: The women›s health movement and epistemologies of ignorance. Hypatia, 21(3): 1-19.

MerkenMerken

Five recent play dates

An advantage of the playground metaphor is that it comes with the activity of going out on ‘play dates’ and developing friendships. In such playful relationships, there is always something at stake, but the interaction is also fun and inherently exploratory. In the following, we take a tour of five recent collaborative projects that the TANTlab has participated in. The projects differ widely and testify to different experiences with collaboration and intervention – from a data print on obesity with other researchers to a Facebook-driven intervention in Aalborg municipality’s primary school reform. Thus, we aim to illustrate what we mean by TANTlab as a techno-antropological playground.

Re-tooling cultural research on Instagram

A visit to the playground inevitably entails that one kid that brought along a cool new toy. She or he will usually succeed in getting the attention of most of the playground – for a while at least. While new toys, or tools, may cause frustration as they inevitably disturb the way play used to unfold, they can also lead to experiments that merge familiar games with new ways of playing. In our introduction, this genre of laboratory play was given the headline ‘Re-tooling ethnography’.

An example of such work is a data sprint in 2015 where we worked with an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the Governing Obesity project at the University of Copenhagen (http://go.ku.dk/) on how to appropriate the social medium Instagram as a tool for cultural analysis. A theoretical point of departure was the notion ‘obesogenic environment’ as “the sum of influences that the surroundings, opportunities, or conditions of life have on promoting obesity in individuals or populations” (Swinburn et al. in 1999), which has led to researchers study which and how everyday settings and practices relate to obesity. We drew on a harvest of 82,449 geo-tagged instagrams from the five local authorities in England that reported the lowest average BMI, and five that reported the highest.

In a subsequent paper on the sprint (Munk et al, 2016), we presented three suggestions for how Instagram data can be of use for cultural research on obesity. The two first approaches entailed traditional ways of conceptualizing the obesogenic environment. The first by encouraging researchers to view ’Instagram as a camera’ – as a way of gaining visual information about the environmental factors that might influence individuals. The second by approaching ’Instagram as part of the environment’ – as part of user’s everyday practices, almost inevitably leading to field research beyond the medium to gain information on how Instagram gives and holds meaning in everyday life.

The third approach, however, suggests that it is impossible to understand Instagram and its users as separate from their environments. Practices such as composing photos, tagging and commenting are not just content production, but analytical practices performed by Instagram’s users, thus working with ’Instagram as analyst’. We therefore moved from an exploration of the productions of individual users to an exploration of co-occurring hashtags (that occur in the same post). In such an exploration, a network of hashtag relations was generated, where the tags were interpreted as part of different communities.

The figure above shows such a network of co-occurring Instagram hashtags in the five high BMI areas. Nodes are colored by local authority (grey nodes representing occurrence in multiple authorities) and sized by degree (representing volume of co-occurrences with other hashtags). The graph was spatialized in Gephi with a force vector algorithm, showing communities of hashtags frequently used together as visually clustered. Especially those hashtags that were ‘media-syncratic’, i.e. used across all ten areas, proved an interesting qualitative context that speaks to a difference in what is instagrammable (deserving of these tags) between geographic sites. The approach provided a promising alternative method for obesity research on Instagram in a cultural analytical context.

 

 

Making the value of fine art visible: A datasprint with The Royal Theater 

In August 2016, we did a one-week datas print with The Royal Theater of Copenhagen. The background of the sprint was that the theater experienced a shift in the way they could account for the worth of fine arts in negotiations with politicians and sponsors. Whereas stories and anecdotes had previously been sufficient, the employees found themselves increasingly challenged to ’show’ their value. For instance, it was no longer enough to claim that the Theater ”occupied a specific place in the culture landscape” and had specific ”emotional bonds to its audience”.

 

The aim of the data sprint was to experiment with new ways of datafying such claims. Since both claims are relational – they say something about The Royal Theater’s position in a broader landscape – we thought that digital methods might offer more interesting forms of visibilities than the focus group, which the employees had previously worked with. More specifically, we thought that a visualization of the way Copenhagen’ culture users interact with Facebook content on culture, would be an interesting foundation for seeing relations in new ways.

At the sprint we tried out different ways of crafting a dataset that could underpin such a visualization. One of the prototypes comprised all posts and user interactions (such as likes, shares and comments) from the Facebook-pages of 550 cultural institutions in Copenhagen. We turned these interactions into a network of posts connected by shared user activity (shown to the left in the figure below). Each node represents a post and are colored by the page they were posted on (e.g. all pages from the music venue VEGA are orange). Nodes are connected if the same user has liked, commented or shared them and are stronger connected if this is the case for more users.

When interpreting the network we found that the cultural users on Facebook seems to be fall into the six clusters of interest written on top of the map. We thought of these as ’post-demographic’ segmentations of these users because they are build on interactions – not demographic variables.

A central part of the sprint was to use this map to ask questions and use quali-quantitative methods to zoom in on other interesting aspects of the network. The close connection between the jazz audience and the maker-space was, for instance, surprising and required attention. It is in such ’conversations’ with data that new visibilities can stimulate new modes of thinking and new forms of valuation.

For instance, the interaction with data made it clear that the employees of the Royal Theater sometimes had diverging interpretations of the cultural scene. Such differences became visible in mundane practices such a s pointing to places on the map, where they expected a specific cultural institution to appear.

TANT-Lab Publications on this sprint and the link between digital methods and valuation

Munk, AK, Jacomy M and Madsen AK (2017) Thinking through the data body. In: Mäkitalo Å, Nicewonger T and Elam M (eds.) Designs for experimentation and inquiry: Approaching learning and knowing in digital transformation.

Madsen AK (2015) Tracing Data – Paying Attention – Interpreting digital methods through valuation studies and Gibson’s theory of perception. In: Kornberger M, Justesen L, Madsen AK and Mouritsen J (eds) Making Things Valuable. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 257-277

 

 

The Twitter-thing

Parliaments could seem to be highly issue-agnostic places. All sorts of problems move in and out. But issues make cuts. Some parliamentarians become attached to specific issues.

What if the parliament was approached not as a representation device for the national population, but as an assembly of multiple and constantly transforming issue-oriented publics? What kinds of issues come to the fore, how long does this last, and who associate themselves with them?

The aim of the Twitter-thing is to trace the cuts issues make in a parliament. Each time a parliamentarian use a hashtag in a tweet, a link is created between that hashtag and the parliamentarian. The tool then generates a network visualization showing how parliamentarians group around topics and issues. The version shown in the screenshot below was developed in collaboration with the Danish newspaper Politiken, which featured the tool and accompanying articles on its website in 2016.

 

The resulting ‘issue publics’ – or things in the sense of a collective aroused by an issue – are also ‘data publics’ because they are not necessarily aware of themselves as publics. At the same time, it is possible to self-select membership of these publics by using a specific hashtag. This raises the question of what feedback loops are at work between visualizations and those being visualized. How might a tool like the Twitter-thing change (parliamentary) politics? More generally, the tool prompts us to think about the fate of issues in institutionalized democracy.

The Twitter-thing invites users to explore these questions by making the network available in an interactive format that makes it possible to zoom, search for particular politicians, parties or hashtags, narrow down the network, and follow it over time. It is part of ongoing efforts in digital methods to develop ‘datascape’ navigation tools.

Link to the interactive online tool: http://twitterting.cadm.dk/

Built with the Actor-Network NAvigator (ANna): https://github.com/bornakke/anna

Publications

Birkbak A, Bornakke T and Papazu I. (2017) The Twitter-thing: Retooling the parliament into issue publics. Exhibition presented at the Data Publics Conference, Lancaster, Great Britain. 31/03/2017 – 02/04/2017.

 

 

Responses to Airbnb: public issues and emerging policies

The rise of the collaborative economy has attracted a lot of interest in recent years, not least in relation to travel and tourism, with companies like Airbnb and Uber in the rise. In 2016, TANTlab participated in the production of a report on the topic to the European Commission. The project was headed by the Tourism Research Unit (TRU) at Aalborg University Copenhagen and involved researching and writing a so-called ‘impulse paper,’ which provides academic input to the decision-making process in Brussels.

The thrust of the TANT-Lab contribution was to utilize digital methods to map issues related to the rise of services like Airbnb. Airbnb is the most prominent example of how a shift towards a collaborative economy is changing tourism. A key question for the EU commission is how cities respond to this development, how they monitor and regulate this new type of business, and how they cope with or attempt to benefit from the new developments. Recently, services like Airbnb and Uber have caused a range of controversies, also in Europe.

In the impulse paper, we explore the issues that have arisen in four major European tourist destinations: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and Paris. We constructed data sets from Airbnb reviews, from Facebook, and from the news database Proquest. Based on the semantic analysis software Cortext, developed for research purposes by IFRIS and INRA in France, we constructed maps of the ‘issue spaces’ related to Airbnb and visualized how the four different cities were positioned differently in the maps.

 

 

The discussions and controversies in Paris and Amsterdam turned out to be associated more with tax issues, while Berlin focused more on land use regulation, and Barcelona was more strongly associated with an innovation agenda than the other cities. Each city is represented by its own cell in the visualization above, which uses a heat map technique in Cortext to show how each individual city is related to the overall issue space. The visualization was published as part of the 40-page report, which can be downloaded (link below) and consulted for a closer look at the visualization and the datasets and techniques behind it.

Publications 

Dredge D, Gyimóthy S, Birkbak A, Elgaard Jensen T and Madsen AK (2016) The impact of regulatory approaches targeting collaborative economy in the tourism accommodation sector: Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. Brussels: European Commission.

 

 

 

Engaging stakeholders in the implementation of a new school reform

How do you engage citizens and stakeholders in developing a crowdsourced policy for the future of the public school system in a municipality? This was the challenge facing local politicians in Aalborg, Northern Denmark, when they approached the TANT-Lab together with the consultancy AGORA. It had been decided in advance that the process would have to involve the social media platforms where citizens were already making the school their matter of concern – in this case Facebook – but it was unclear how a messy social media conversation could be fruitfully hardwired into more traditional citizen techniques for public engagement.

 

Anders Kristian Munk and Anders Koed Madsen present the first results of the hashtagged Facebook conversation between 1600 school stakeholders in Gigantium Aalborg on January 8th 2015.

 

Throughout the fall of 2014 we helped the municipality collect and organize interesting conversations from their Facebook page and gradually cultivated a practice of users hashtagging their contributions, according to the themes the discussion had a bearing on, as well as the types of stakeholders involved in it. A school teacher might for example hashtag a post about physical activity in the classroom #physicalactivity #classroom #teacher allowing us to identify emerging thematic clusters in the debate and emerging relations between particular stakeholder groups and themes.

In early 2015 the municipality invited 1600 teachers, pedagogues, managers, students and other staff to a day of collaborative work at one of the major sports arenas in Aalborg. Based on our experiences from the more open ended online conversations in the preceding months we devised a short catalogue of best practices when hashtagging Facebook inputs. Organised around 150 tables the participants were then asked to collectively author visionstatements for the future, post them and discuss them.

The result of this work was a database of approximately 1.000 vision statements hashtagged by their authors according to their themes. From the data we identified a number of overarching thematic clusters and central hashtags that were deemed necessary to include in a crowdsourced political vision for the schools. Based around this analysis the database with the full statements was made available and explorable to the 150 school leaders who would sit down and formulate the eventual 2-page policy document outlining the vision.

The process proved an interesting experience for the researchers involved. A major reform of the school system in Denmark had preceded the vision process in Aalborg, and the topic was still sparking intense controversy, both locally and nationally. One important feature of opening up a conversation on Facebook was that the roaming issue-public that had sparked around the national reform found a temporary forum in which to express itself. Another and somewhat contradictory effect of these controversies was the considerable political potential with which the conversation was charged, and the implications this had for those participating in the discussion. It was not without consequence to make your voice public under such circumstances. These and other reflections are currently the topic of several paper projects in the lab.

Playgrounding Techno-Anthropology

The Techno-Anthropological Laboratory (TANTLab) was founded in 2015 as a response to what we saw as a growing need to road test digital methods and its associated styles of analysis with non-university partners. Located as part of the Techno-Anthropology Research Group at the Department of Learning and Philosophy at the University of Aalborg in Copenhagen, and thus part of thriving research and educational programmes in STS, we had been developing an interest in digital methods over a period of five years. These methods were relatively new to STS, where they had been developed under headings like issue mapping and digital controversy analysis (Marres & Rogers 2005, Venturini 2010). At the same time, STS more broadly had been asking itself how it means business and what kinds of interventions it wants to make. Our intuition was that digital methods in STS were now coming sufficiently of age to answer some of these questions more directly and in practice.

From the very beginning we decided to signpost this mission with two words: laboratory and playground. We called ourselves TANTlab and we adopted the tagline The Techno-Anthropological playground. In the following we will try to convey our sense of what it means to be a laboratory-playground.

Labs and serious play

We live in the age of labs. For someone taking an outside look at Academia these days, it quite possibly seems as if we’ve all contracted a contagious case of ‘laborangitis’. A new lab springs to life almost on a weekly basis (Smith et al. 2013, Ehn et al. 2014). On the relatively small campus of Aalborg University Copenhagen, we can think of at least 6 entities that call themselves labs, including a biotech lab, a food lab and a lab for physical prototypes.

Visitors coming to the TANTlab are not greeted by classic lab equipment. We have no petri dishes or microscopes, no animal models or bunsen burners, and no strangely looking blackboxed pieces of equipment. The physical space of TANTlab is a relatively conventional place – a room with screens, tables and chairs. You will find students mingling with researchers, and academics mingling with practitioners. You will hear people claiming to be makers and doers first, and thinkers or critics second, people claiming to be designing things, prototyping things, exploring and experimenting with things, although often ‘digital’ things that are only visible on screens and on large print-outs attached to the walls.

When you walk down the hallway, you will see the lab’s tagline in bold print on the glass wall: the techno-anthropological playground. It is only fair to ask if it is all fun and games?

Our response is that laboratories are indeed serious business. But so are playgrounds. Anybody who remembers being 5 or sending their kids off to kindergarden for the first time will know this instinctively. The transition from playing on your own, or under the close supervision of an adult, to holding your own against peers your own size, age and ferocity is a tough and challenging experience. And it takes place on playgrounds.

At the techno-anthropology lab we contribute to a young degree programme – only 6 years of age, in the middle of kindergarden, in fact – and we face all sorts of formative playground trials all the time. Our students face them in the college bar late at night, or at the family dinner, talking to that friend or relative who got into anthropology proper or decided to become a doctor: ’So, what exactly is a ”techno-anthropologist”’? They face it at their job interviews and when they negotiate a semester project with a company or a public agency.

Our researchers face it when they justify themselves to their colleagues in more established disciplines. But they also, and increasingly, face it when they strive to translate the societal relevance of their findings and methods. And, not least, our collaborators and future employers face it when they have to decide if we are worth playing with?

An age old tactic of the playground is of course to rely on your friends and your older siblings, if you have any. At the techno-anthropology lab we draw inspiration and support from fields like Science and Technology Studies, Digital Methods and Co-Design.

The trouble with siblings, however, is that they are not always there. Try walking into a job interview and rely on Science and Technology Studies to cover your back. It’s not bullet proof.

We – students, researchers, collaborators – need to work actively with how we are playgrounding techno-anthropology. That is the idea of the techno-anthropology lab.

The benefits of playgrounds

Playgrounding, or playground design, is actually a sprawling professional field now. In a recent paper on ”The developmental benefits of playgrounds” Frost et al. note that:

“Among the benefits of unstructured outdoor play (…) are the abilities to make decisions, work and play within a community of others, and to try out ideas and explore the play environment. Also highlighted are the benefits of pretend play, which has recently been shown to further the development of brain synaptic connections. (…) “If children lack opportunities to pretend, their long-term capacities related to critical thinking, problem solving, and social functioning, as well as to academic areas such as literacy, mathematics, and science, may be diminished.” (Frost et al. 2004)

That is surely something worth striving for! As a collateral bonus, the authors add that:

“Besides the social and academic benefits of play, research indicates that children with play opportunities are not likely to be depressed and hostile and generally do not exhibit excessive fear, rage, and worry.” (ibid.)

What is not to like?

The crux of the matter seems to be that good playgrounds have to be thought through. A little bit of playground history is instructive here. The idea originated in Germany in the mid 1800s but only spread at the beginning of the 20th century. Here is what president Roosevelt had to say about the matter in 1907:

“City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools.”

You will notice that there is a classic dilemma lurking between the lines: How do you design something that is supposed to afford games, that are vigorous and likely to be against the law? Can you even design play?

Actually, we have quite a tradition for it in Denmark. The landscape architect Carl Theodor Sørensen pioneered the concept of the adventure playground, or junk playground, in the 1940’s. He wanted to create imaginative environments, building on the pragmatist ideals of John Dewey. As pointed out by Kozlovsky, in a paper from 2008, it was the imagination of the child, not the architect, what Dewey would have called inquiry, that was supposed to unfold. We believe that is a good ideal to adhere to for a playground.

Carl Theodor Sørensen later said that: “of all the things I have helped to realise, the junk playground is the ugliest; yet for me it is the best and most beautiful of my works.” (Kozlovsky 2008: 7)

It seems essential that playgrounding is about coming out. That it is about doing things with others, rather than on your own. At the lab we are trying to do that with our students, for instance, making sure not only that they work problem based – or simply with other people’s problems – in concrete collaborations every semester, but also that this work is sign posted on our website as part of building a techno-anthropological identity.

And of course, when you play, you get invited home on play dates. We see this as a great opportunity. One of the things we did was to assist the municipality of Aalborg in developing a Facebook driven vision for the future of their schools. Going to other people’s locations and work spheres means learning to play by other people’s rules while honing and fine tuning your own position. The learning potentials are enormous, we think.

Often times, and again this is conveniently equivalent to actual playgrounds, this learning involves the simultaneous development of our imagination and our motor skills. At the techno-anthropology lab we work with a range of cutting edge techniques for harvesting and analysing large amounts of digital online traces. That is an ongoing process of acquiring tools and skills, while constantly maintaining a critical and imaginative perspective on their potential applications. And that is best done in a lab setting. It is together with other people’s problems, so to speak, that the strengths and weaknesses of new methods can crystallize.

Styles of play

On playgrounds, including ours, certain styles of play tend to emerge over time. Sometimes these styles are clearly demarcated. Kids who play football would NEVER join the roleplay with their younger siblings. In our case, the emerging styles of play overlap both in terms of participants, tools and ideas. And yet we can distinguish at least four different genres.

Re-tooling ethnography 

This game explores how traditional ethnographic approaches such as interviews and participant observation can be enriched or challenged in conversation with analysis and visualization of large datasets, and vice versa.

Participatory Data Design

This game explores how digital methods can enter into collaboration with actors who are already substantially engaged in particular fields or issues. We engage the actors, whom we call issues experts, to understand the problem of the field, and together we explore. Instead of just looking at data together, we take inspiration from participatory design methods and pursue the idea that decisions about datafication, filtering, analysis and visualization are never ‘just’ technical but more often where the scope and limitations of the project is laid down and blackboxed. We work actively with the data sprint format to facilitate participation in the early stages of a data project.

Media publics and democracy

This game is about assisting democracy. It presumes that new media has a variety of consequences for democratic practice and the formation of public opinion, some of which are adverse. The game is about providing meaningful interventions. It necessitates an ongoing discussion about normative commitments to particular styles of public deliberation and the goods that result from such commitments.

Critical metrics in organizations

This is a valuation game. It is about providing alternative metrics to help organizations make the quality of their activities visible in new ways. It draws on valuation studies and the sociology of markets to assert that the perception of quality depends on the devices available to perform it. Under an evidence based policy paradigm, to be critical can arguably be done at a distance or in proximity with the business of doing evidence (cf. Latour 2005; Birkbak et al.). This game pursues the latter option and embeds with the organization to do evidence in new ways.

Snapshots from the playground

In the following texts we present a set of case examples that illustrate the diversity of play from our first two years of operation. We have selected them to provide a tangible idea of what our playgrounding looks like in practice – the collaborators we engage with, the digital tools we deploy, and the emerging styles of play.

Materiality, Politics and Infrastructuring work

Nowadays, social scientists frequently consider infrastructure analysis as a starting point for an in-depth disentanglement of the multidimensional process of technoscientific innovation and societal change with a particular focus on the social and material ecologies in which human behavior is embedded (Gillespie et al. 2014). Since the mid ‘90, interest in infrastructure has profoundly permeated social theory attracting growing attention from sociologists, anthropologists and ethnographers working in the multidisciplinary STS field. Conceptually speaking, infrastructure can be considered sophisticated socio-material entities emerging by means of the management of a “series of tensions (between local and global, today’s requirements and tomorrow’s users, research and development; between project and originating practices, implementation and maintenance/repair, individual and community; but also identities and practices, planned and emergent course of action)” for the purposes of ordering everyday life (Mongili and Pellegrino, 2014, p. xvii).

Connecting to this broad field of inquiry, over recent years PaSTIS has developed a solid interest in the study of infrastructuring, a dimension through which infrastructures are generated and performed in practice. More precisely, PaSTIS has carried out a constellation of research, academic events and editorial projects aimed at capturing and exploring design and shaping, use, maintenance and repair activities related to infrastructure and infrastructuring work (Denis et al. 2015; Balbi et al. 2016). In so doing, we have cultivated an analytical perspective oriented to scrutinizing infrastructure as ongoing and open-ended processes grounded around an ecology of cognitive, material, and symbolic resources enacted by means of situated practices (Crabu 2014).

The rebellious side of infrastructuring work

One of the main research projects dedicated to the issue of infrastructuring work has related to Wireless Community Networks (WCNs) construction and consolidation processes. Conducted in partnership with the University of Trento, this project focused on these grassroots and joint working infrastructures, generally built-up at local level by media-activists, hackers and ‘nerds’ on the basis of explicit political as well as civic beliefs oriented to opposing the neoliberal and hierarchical governance of the commercial Internet. In this sense, WCNs imply heterogeneous work in which technical practices require constantly alignment with symbolic, political and organizational activities. From this point of view, WCNs constitute an exemplary environment with which to investigate processes of heterogeneous ‘infrastructuring’ (Star and Bowker 2002) at the local level in the field of digital media technologies (Parks and Starosielski 2015).

Technically, WCN is a decentralized infrastructure consisting of interconnecting antennas usually set up on the roofs of participants’ homes or on those of informal groups or volunteer organizations. These decentralized networks are fully independent from the Internet, although in a few countries they were popularized as a less expensive alternative to commercial ISP connections. WCNs are mostly self-built as volunteers adapt existing software, hack hardware, set up coordination rules, and materially install antennas. In this sense WCNs are rooted in a radical critique of contemporary governance of the Internet raising awareness on a relevant issue pertaining to the reconfigurations of power relationships between citizens and governments and also regarding distribution asymmetries relating to the growing pervasiveness of digitally-mediated communication (Crabu et al. 2015). In other words, WCNs represent alternative approaches counteracting the pervasive practices associated with the centralized control of digital communications and therefore shaping more autonomous and self-governed digital interaction spaces.

This research was based on a qualitative case study on the Ninux.org project, the main Italian WCN. The empirical data was gathered via in-depth interviews, documentary analysis and ethnographic observation of online and offline interaction aiming to investigate how Ninux.org members’ identities and motivations, as well as material artifacts, play a role in shaping and sustaining infrastructuring work in unconventional innovation contexts such as “squatted community centers” or do-it-yourself environments.

This research work will focus in particular on the cultural, political, and technological issues rooted in the Ninux.org project highlighting the way these different aspects are strictly interwoven and can hardly be understood as separate dimensions. We thus unraveled the intricacies of the mutual relationship between the various actors involved in the project emphasizing that the WCN is an emerging outcome from the cooperation of members involved in a process of mutual-learning and sharing of academic expertise and political outlooks. Indeed, contemporary innovation in infrastructures is increasingly characterized by a close relationship between experts and lay people. Taking into account this crucial aspect, we have shown that the shaping of grassroots infrastructures implies a processual and in-the-making work of creation and maintenance developed outside predictable and conventional innovation settings (Crabu et al. 2016).

Overall, on the basis of this research project we have been able to argue that bottom-up infrastructures, or more specifically ‘inverse infrastructures’ (Egyedi and Mehos 2012), are the result of an heterogeneous innovation process in which technical, political, material and cultural aspects interact recursively with each other and in which the mutual engagement of media activists and scientists is crucial in turning a political project into an innovative digital infrastructure model.

Infrastructuring in Computing Design and Development

Another research project related to infrastructures carried out by PaSTIS has regarded design and development practices in computing. Drawing on seminal work by Gregory Bateson, Leigh Star (2010, 610) used to say that users and designers, especially in computing, are bound together by a “double bind”. In the digital environment, it is extremely hard to distinguish design from development in practice. Although the design-mode in computing is a strategic re-ordering, designers limit themselves in practice to assembling elements that already exist, only rarely introducing new ones. Many developers verify or produce interoperability among the elements which are driven to converge in a new device. Their job thus consists of prolonged use of tools, libraries, databases and materials at hand. This use is often inextricably intertwined with their main activity. Sometimes developers act as designers, changing the original project or writing pieces of software for the purposes of integrating the heterogeneous elements better (Mongili 2014).

In order to explore this designer-developer tangle in depth we carried out ethnographic research into an Italian company working in telecommunications, Internet connections and other digital services. We studied their design and development practices in computing and more specifically monitored the development of an application for video surveillance connected with a social network owned by the same company. In particular, we observed testing activities which were articulated in two main information specific tools, two defect tracking systems (DTS), softphones, a protocol suite (SIP), a camera and so on.

Testing practices move forward as contingencies emerge. The ability of specific actors to exploit unanticipated gaps in previewed practices can be crucial to progress following and accompanying testing, development and design aiming at interoperability (at least at demo level) between a camera, a social network architecture and SIP protocol. To achieve this, developers looked for a camera and developed patches on extant codes, achieving OS level. They also intervened within the DTS which we have considered information infrastructure here, playing around with their different versions, obliging them to include the SIP Protocol as a part of their routine monitoring, interpreting their reports and learning the classifications they operate with. Not infrequently they interpreted and tried to change the threshold proposed by the DTS.

In accordance with Leigh Star and many other scholars, we can consider any information artifact, which relates a human activity and forms a whole with it, as an information infrastructure thus emphasizing the relational aspect of this definition. Every information artifact can converge toward a specific activity, becoming an information infrastructure but not every artifact is necessarily an infrastructure. This convergence is relatively unstable and obliges humans to take care of the infrastructure nesting their activity as a normal routine. Therefore, the ‘infrastructuring’ process challenges the invisibility of these infrastructures, their taken-for-grantedness. And a multiplicity of actors intervenes continually to alter elements and fix them.

By focusing on designing and developing, any new device can be conceptualized as the emerging outcome of hybrid practices, aimed to manage adverse contingencies and any sort of tensions. Infrastructures intersect any activities but are also extremely fragile. Infrastructures contain relations, especially through the data culture that they express, which is based on forms of classification containing forms of hegemony. This is another crucial issue: infrastructuring is a field of heterogeneous activity at the very center of technological cooperative circulation and at the crossroads of contemporary innovation processes.

On the basis of this theoretical and empirical reflection, issues related to infrastructures and their design and development now represent a consolidated pillar around which PaSTIS’s research work is organized.

Techno-scientific Issues in the Public Sphere (TIPS)

The TIPS project is based on the idea of using mass media and online newspapers, in particular, as a source for analysing the way science and technology is represented in the public sphere in order to study the role of techno-science in society, its relevance and evolution. To fulfil these aims, TIPS is grounded on a purpose built ICT infrastructure. Its design includes a dedicated platform capable of collecting, sorting and automatically analysing the text of newspaper articles in their digital format. These texts are then indexed and stored in a database for research analysis1.

 

Fig. 1: TIPS platform’s porcessing workflow: from newpapers to data and indicators

 

The TIPS platform is currently monitoring the eight most important Italian newspapers and, in a time span ranging from 2010 to yesterday, approximately 1.2 million articles have been collected. In 2014 the TIPS platform also began collecting two UK, two US, one Indian and seven French newspapers thus adding a further 1.4 million articles to its database. By means of ‘classifiers’ specifically developed by the TIPS research group, the platform determines whether the content of each article pertains to the science and technology domain. Then each article stored in the database is ‘tagged’ so that it is available for further analysis with an even greater focus on specific research questions.

The TIPS platform also calculates ad-hoc techno-science presence indicators and metrics within the main Italian daily newspapers: its ‘salience’ (i.e. the relative weight of techno-science in all the published articles in a given time span), ‘prominence’ (i.e. its presence on the home page) and its ‘presence’ outside newspaper sections specifically devoted to science and technology. The platform also provides a ‘risk indicator’, a measure expressly developed to operationalise risk as an ontological analytical dimension of public techno-science related discourse (figure 2).

 

Fig. 2: TIPS risk indicator trends for three specific issues in the last 24 months

 

So far, the research on techno-science in the media has generated a great deal of work on quite a wide range of issues including, of the most significant, climate change, genetically modified organisms, cloning, stem-cells, digital innovation and health risks. A majority of these analyses has focused largely on a limited portion of news, i.e. those specifically regarding a given issue, even if, alternatively, there have been also studies based on samples designed to map the presence of techno-science as a whole and thus to study its representation as well as to outline the perspectives of the social actors involved.

By contrast, TIPS was designed to take a non-specific topic-oriented approach. Rather than focusing on a restricted set of research topics, the objective is to follow techno-science coverage as a whole over time, enabling researchers to examine specific topics of interest. Accordingly, one of the most important methodological novelties generated by the TIPS project regards its infrastructure. The latter was designed to collect and analyse newspaper articles on a daily basis allowing researchers to analyse whole sets of online newspaper articles and texts.

The TIPS project roots its epistemological assumptions in recovering STS key-concepts. As techno-science resumes all the elements interwoven in processes of science and technology production and circulation (Latour 1987, pp. 174-175), TIPS assumes it as main concept to orient its monitoring activities. Indeed, from an empirical point of view, considering techno-science as an epistemic category enables researchers to avoid the need for univocal definitions (Shapin 2008, p. 3), keep their minds open to those processes and be flexible enough to intercept emerging trends about what are not yet ‘scientific facts’. The approach chosen by TIPS – i.e. considering the news as a whole using automated content analysis, comparing the features of specific issues against those of other issues or against media coverage as a whole – offers a perspective which embodies these key STS assumptions. However, this ‘operational openness’ has to be balanced with robust classification criteria. Indeed, in so far as TIPS aims to monitor techno-scientific issues, it first needs to establish clear criteria with which to identify techno-scientific content in a newspaper article. STS concepts, such as science as situated activity, the agency of non-human actors (artefacts, research tools, infrastructure etc.) definitely contributed to setting up useful demarcation elements as a reference for building up the classifiers, the indicators and the metrics used by TIPS.

Early outcomes of the project have been presented in international venues such as workshops in Stellenbosch (South Africa), Salvador de Bahia (Brazil) and Istanbul (Turkey), besides STS Italia and International Sociological Association conferences. In these, indicators and indexes as well as research outcomes were discussed showing techno-science salience trends and selected issue coverage. The relationship between media coverage and public opinion has been also explored, as in the case of recently published work on the nuclear power controversy which compares TIPS risk indicators from newspapers with public opinion perceived risk data (Neresini and Lorenzet 2016).

The operationalization of STS concepts into a media monitoring project is a first step in the hybridization between different, even related, scientific debates. The entire research group, however is a hybrid. Within TIPS this partnership has moved it in the direction of genuine interdisciplinary project organization involving scholars with sociology, linguistics, social psychology, statistics and ICT backgrounds. As Evans and Aceves (2016) have recently argued “machine learning is enabling the translation of text into social data” and this is the perspective TIPS is exploring further. This interdisciplinary cooperation is taking technical aspects about how properly to clean and interrogate data, for instance, further by making machine learning features such as ‘topic modelling’ (Blei 2012), ‘Named Entity Recognition (NER)’, and ‘part of speech (POS) tagging’ available for analysis. This interdisciplinary environment has proved to be ideal for tailoring and validating classification tools in the custom development of TIPS infrastructure. Machine Learning tools such as the Support Vector Machine (Cristianini and Shawe-Taylor 2000), for instance, have been crucial to positively testing the trustworthiness of the TIPS thesaurus-based classification scoring system. Interdisciplinary cooperation has further web-data automated monitoring development potential.

Indeed, the research team is presently working on a variety of topics related to technical aspects of content analysis by means of text mining. A further future development is investigating the potential for including the ‘corpus linguistics’ approach (Biber et al. 1998) as a possible feature for cross-linguistic and longitudinal analysis.

The TIPS team is therefore actively dedicated to exploring how the so-called ‘data science’ epistemological discontinuity (Kitchin 2014) may bring a better understanding of techno-science in the public sphere. Future developments generated by this epistemic potential will relate to both cross-country and source comparison. For the former, automated text classifiers for English and French are already in the pipeline. The latter, which will enlarge the analytical spectrum to social networks and blogs, is at an advanced level as TIPS is presently collecting approximately a thousand blog posts per day.

The ever increasing volume of data available for the purposes of virtually analysing any topic whatsoever, not only those linked to techno-science, is a stimulating challenge that still requires multiple skills and in-depth cross-fertilization between concepts, theoretical models and approaches ranging across various disciplines.

The Padova University PaSTIS unit and the infrastructuring of STS research in Italy

 

 

The PaSTIS (Padova Science Technology & Innovation Studies) research unit was set up in 2008 as an attempt to unify and catalyze the research of a number of professors, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students in the social studies fields of science, technology and communication within the Department of Sociology at Padova University (http://www.pastis-research.eu). PaSTIS’s emergence is interesting not only in that it tells the story of a specific STS-focused research unit but also because it offers a glimpse into the path taken by the STS perspective in a country like Italy which was until recently at the periphery of the main European STS geography.

It is not far from the truth to say that PaSTIS is today the most important research center expressly devoted to STS research in Italy, although there are also other universities in the country with a STS milieu such as the University of Trento, where the last 6th STS Italia conference was held in late November 2016. Although not exclusively Science & Technology Studies focused – but also interested in other approaches to the study of culture and communication – PaSTIS today encompasses around 15 scholars mostly with a sociology background including full and associate professors, several post-doctoral researchers and a turnover of PhD students and research assistants. During its almost ten years of existence, the research unit has also hosted around ten foreign visiting scholars from Europe, the US and South America. This highlights the fact that PaSTIS is also a place where STS scholars from other countries can spend a period of research finding a collective and stimulating environment: we would be happy to receive further visiting proposals in the near future.

The chief topics addressed over the years by PaSTIS with its research and initiatives include a number of areas: the study of public communication in science and technology and analysis of media and public discourses relating to science, technology and the innovation (on this subject see the section on the TIPS project by Giardullo and Lorenzet here); analysis of information infrastructures and media technologies and devices (see the section by Crabu and Mongili); the study of scientific practices and laboratory work, especially in relation to the biomedical domain and the field of nanotechnology; research on media practices, with specific focus on the process of digitalization, the use of social networks, the emergence of new forms of sexuality over the Internet and the processes of consumption of cultural content. A pivotal point bringing together the work of PaSTIS’s members is essentially the idea that social and cultural processes today can be understood by looking at the way scientific processes, technological artefacts and infrastructures innervate contemporary social experience and are thus the core of the reconfiguration of the whole current set of practices, routines, values, meanings, emotions and the overall texture of everyday social organization.

 

Fig. 1: The PaSTIS people (almost all the members, with come guests)

 

However, more interesting than a plain description of PaSTIS’s activities is an examination of the distinctive conditions of the research unit’s development which has not been a top-down process sustained by ministerial or university inputs. Rather, the emergence of PaSTIS was actually a bottom-up process, a sort of alchemic blend, the contingent product of a work of ‘heterogeneous engineering’ which was the response to a situation, the Italian university system, in which research units are not official entities and – especially in the social sciences and humanities fields – still quite few and far between. Many university departments across the country have no research units whatsoever and still prioritise the idea of self-sufficient independent scholars working on their own specific academic interests. At the same time, the experience has been that the setting up of research units has been seen by many as an institutional innovation stirring up traditional power assets and localist logics. This is a distinctive feature of the Italian academic system as compared to other countries and it speaks volumes about the fact that doing STS today (and by extension, social studies as a whole) requires diverse efforts, tools and strategies in diverse countries in order to produce a fruitful alignment of research, theory and local institutional frameworks. The institutional rigidities and weaknesses of the Italian academic system (one which has, over the last decade, also experienced a shortage of new tenure-track positions, a lack of internal mobility, a massive diaspora of Italian scholars and, therefore, has one of the highest average age of professors – in 2013 the average age of assistant professors was 46!) was for us the stimulus to adapt, re-invent and localize the idea of ‘research unit’ seeing it as a crucial strategy in the search to develop new opportunities to deal with the troubles typical of our national academic system.

One of the positive circumstances that helped to develop and sustain PaSTIS has been the growing of a wider STS movement in Italy, making our local unit an intersection in a wider process of ‘co-evolution’ involving an entire national academic community. On one hand, our research unit has clearly been sustained by the broader Italy-wide STS movement which was given institutional form as a national STS society, STS Italia, in 2005 and also sponsored the creation of the ‘Tecnoscienza: Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies’ journal in 2010. Whilst even before the mid-2000s in Italy there were at least a few scholars linked to STS these were just individuals with no chance of giving a collective dimension to their work and thus having a stronger impact on the study of science and technology in the country. There are many accounts of the way PaSTIS co-evolved within the broader national STS community and, at the same time, also became one of the drivers of STS development in Italy: for example, in 2012, PaSTIS co-organized the 4th STS Italia Conference in Rovigo on ‘Emerging technologies” and in 2015 the 3th STS Italia Summer School on ‘Biomedical research’. Several STS Italia workshops have been hosted in Padua: focusing on creativity in 2009, on interdisciplinarity in 2013 and on biomedicine in 2014. A number of PaSTIS scholars played a crucial role in establishing and editing the Tecnoscienza journal and energised efforts to build up the main STS Italia initiatives organized elsewhere in Italy.

Hence, if PaSTIS has been an instrumental device in the process of STS community infrastructuring in Italy, our research unit is, at the same time, an emerging outcome of the broader establishment of a STS community in Italy, thus confirming once again that science, like culture and art, is a truly collective activity which involves not only, in our case, PaSTIS’s current members, but also a wider group of people as well as artefacts and infrastructures. PaSTIS, STS Italia and Tecnoscienza can thus all be understood as a creative – and to some degree ‘resisting’ – reaction to the limits, rigidities and constraints of our national academic system whose scholars need to open up their work to an increasingly integrated, competitive and fast-developing global scientific community.