Tag Archives: STS

Constructive Technology Assessment – STS for and with Technology Actors

Over the years, STS has more and more moved from a predominant analytical gaze to engaging with the very fields and processes it is concerned with. At the University of Twente, STePS researchers have early on embarked on this road, with a key strand having evolved under the heading of Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA). While the core ideas were developed 30 years ago (Schot and Rip, 1997; Rip et al., 1995; Rip et al., 1987), the practical approaches and specific aims have clearly developed over time and – we expect – will continue to do so in the future. In what follows, we want to briefly explain the key characteristics of the approach, report on some recent projects and discuss our current attempts to move CTA from the field level to the work floor of researchers and technology actors, and close with an outlook on further directions for developing the approach.

Core Characteristics and Socio-Technical Scenarios

Constructive Technology Assessment emerged on the one hand from a concern to turn insights from STS actionable in the development of technologies. On the other hand, it builds on the field of technology assessment – as the term indicates – and aims to mobilize insights on co-evolutionary dynamics of science, technology and society for anticipating and assessing technologies, rather than being predominantly concerned with assessing societal impacts of a quasi-given technology. In addition, it shifts the focus from policy advice to (soft) intervention in the ongoing construction and societal embedding of technologies (see Rip and Robinson, 2013 for an analytical overview). Thus, CTA approaches involve stakeholders and typically include a step of analysis of ongoing processes and dynamics in a specific technology field, which draw on varying conceptual perspectives from science, technology and often also innovation studies. There have been extensive studies of social experiments with electric cars in the 1990s (Hoogma, 2000), some limited studies of micro-optics, and concerted work on nanotechnology (Rip and van Lente, 2013). Which conceptual lenses are used and which (scope of) processes are considered – innovation dynamics, use practices, governance interventions, developments within a field or its context, whether a whole technology field is addressed or a specific artefact – differs from project to project. This analytical step is often also an important base for studying the socio-technical dynamics in their own right.

Forms of intervention can differ, and here is not the space to expand on the full breadth. One form which has proven both doable and appreciated in various cases, includes the development of socio-technical scenarios as an input to stakeholder workshops. These scenarios typically start with the analysis of current and recent developments and then expand into the future, exploring different directions how the observed dynamics may further unfold, but also, how strategic and governance actions may play out and interrelate, or how different actor groups may react -as a means to stimulate reflexive consideration of broader developments and their interrelations than actors in the field would consider in their day-to-day concerns (Parandian and Rip, 2013; Rip and Te Kulve, 2008). In the CTA workshops we then aim to convene stakeholders from different backgrounds, who often enough turn out not to be familiar with many of the perspectives and considerations of other parties (so the workshops are occasions to let them probe each other’s worlds), and discussion is geared towards issues at stake and dilemmas that emerged from the preceding analysis.

By way of example, a project on nanotechnology-based sensor technologies in food and water explored directions for application and user requirements, but also the past and possible future processes which led and may lead to the emergence and further specification of user needs. It clearly turned out that user needs were not ‘given’, but rather that ‘demand articulation’ was an ongoing process, depending not only on dynamics on the use side, but rather on processes across the sector (Te Kulve and Konrad, 2017b; Te Kulve and Konrad, 2017a). More specifically, a stronger early-stage involvement of regulators was identified as a possible way forward.

This study approached the subject at the cross-section of a technology field with sectoral dynamics, and resided largely in the world of businesses. Other CTA studies were more concerned with the different perceptions and assessments of roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders and in particular patients of new medical devices that in different shades provide opportunities and requirements for patients for increased self-management. These examples also focused in more detail on (the design of) specific products, rather than a whole field (Maathuis, 2014; Krabbenborg, 2013).

 

Socio-technical scenario

 

Mainstreaming CTA to the work floor

The CTA approach in the forms described so far, poses quite some requirements, in terms of research time, STS expertise, workshop preparations, and engagement of participants. Accordingly, many of the projects have been part of PhD or postdoc projects. In the context of recent ambitions to broaden and enhance the consideration of the societal role of science and technology as a regular element of research and innovation processes, largely emerging related to initiatives under the heading of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), a new challenge arises.

The general rationale of CTA strongly resonates with the ambition of RRI (Fisher and Rip, 2013). However, for integrating CTA elements across a wide range of research and innovation projects and in a way that it closely involves the technical researchers themselves creates new and challenging frame conditions. This has been exactly the situation we faced in the Dutch nanotechnology research programme NanoNextNL where the ambition has been, clearly stated by the chairman of the programme, to have all researchers involved consider the societal impact of their research themselves (Walhout and Konrad, 2015; Volkskrant, 2011). While the mentioned CTA project for sensor technologies was part of the NanoNextNL programme, the same approach could not be applied to all (hundreds of) projects in the programme. As a way forward, the team of researchers in NanoNextNL who were conducting risk analysis and technology assessment projects set up a course targeted at the PhD students in the programme, which aimed at making the researchers aware of relevant potential risks, societal and ethical implications and prerequisites of their work. Ideally, PhD students were then supposed to dedicate a part, e.g. a chapter, of their thesis to further addressing the identified topics an early attempt to do so is (den Boer et al., 2009). Making in particular the latter happen and providing for the necessary supervision, was surely a challenge, as this had not been provided for in the original set-up of the programme and not all main supervisors were supportive of this type of activities; hence, in practice it wasn’t followed as widely as indicated by the initial ambition. Still, several of the PhD students did so, conducting for instance CTA-inspired workshops, in which they explored with different types of actors potential applications of their research work and the prerequisites and implications thereof (Schulze Greiving et al., 2016). One of them decided to follow this route further, and embarked on a postdoc project in the STePS department. The main aim of this project was to further develop a ‘CTA toolbox’ that builds on analysis and methods derived from STS and innovation studies, but presents and tailors these in a format which is easier accessible, understandable and doable for technical researchers (Schulze Greiving and Konrad, 2017).1 In the meantime we have applied these ‘tools’ in diverse contexts, from bachelor students to senior researchers exploring future research directions.

 

Courtesy of Gijs van Ouwerkerk

 

This move towards a ‘mainstreaming’ of CTA-type activities to the work floor of researchers is much in line with the overarching CTA rationale, but does not come without tensions, as supposedly all of the many colleagues involved in similar endeavors will know all too well. On the one hand, we have recently seen quite some openings for these activities; the activities in NanoNextNL were one of them, another is the recent educational policy of the University of Twente to include a substantial element of ‘reflective education’ throughout all the (largely technical) bachelor programmes. Similar approaches in different shades have been adopted by other technical universities, and the number of research and innovation projects which require a broadening up is expected to increase. At the same time, this development is also contested, particularly at the work- and lab-floor, and does not always go along easily with a number of the practical and disciplinary structures of technical researchers. Thus, tailoring our approaches to the real-world constrains what these openings can do in practice, and requires a constant balancing and experimenting to what extent and in which ways we can and want to adjust concepts and methods to achieve the goal of soft intervention for broadening technology development in a meaningful way.

Outlook

The situations and forms described are not meant to offer a comprehensive overview of the different conditions CTA may need to be again and again tailored to. Further challenges to situate the approach of CTA arise when CTA is to be conducted productively in different global settings, taking due account of local political and discursive cultures, and possibly different sociotechnical dynamics, an issue which becomes more and more salient also for us as STePS researchers, as we are increasingly working in globally dispersed and connected projects.

Infrastructural choreography of STS scholars

Living infrastructures in cities and beyond

The notion of infrastructure became popular in STS literature in the 2000s and in the 2010s (fig. 1). Its popularity might be explained by its relevance to many urban and non-urban systems and networks, at the same it usually demands focusing on particular empirical case-study.

 

Fig. 1. Frequency of keyword “infrastructure” in comparison with other keywords in STS literature. Source: Own elaboration based on Scopus Database and Science Scape tools by the Medialab, Science Po. URL: http://tools.medialab.sciences-po.fr/sciencescape/

 

Infrastructure addresses big urban and technological projects like power networks (T. Hughes), as well as situational interactions between people and things (S. Star, G. Bowker). Infrastructure simultaneously covers the fields of urban studies showing the importance of the processes of privatization, neoliberalization and hybridization of city spaces (S. Graham, M. Gandy, S. Collier), informational technology studies addressing issues of scale, connectedness, categorization, and accessibility of information (G. Bowker, S. Star), mobility studies that tackle with the questions of flows, frictions, connectivity, and also the everyday experience of spaces and places, and many others (J. Urry, P. Adey). This kind of multiplicity of the notion of infrastructure makes it fresh and heuristically useful (?) for thinking the contemporary city and beyond.

Dancing with the Western infrastructural ideal

With all these thoughts in mind, a group of scholars from Volgograd and Saint Petersburg (Russia) with the support of Volgograd State University and European University at Saint Petersburg organized the international conference “Living Infrastructures: Beyond Global North and Global South”, which took place in Volgograd on April 27-28, 2017. The topic itself was devised during a previous workshop in Volgograd when several scholars questioned the position of urban infrastructures in Russia with regard to the Western infrastructural ideal. Based on the ideas of scholars from the so-called “second wave” of infrastructural studies, who criticized the normativity and the Western-centrism of infrastructure concepts in the articles and books of the STS cannon, we sought to articulate the specificity of Russian cases, as well as to emphasize the diversity of infrastructures all over the world. The idea was not only to de-colonize infrastructural studies extending them to Russian cases, but to show the delicate relations between people and the everyday things they are engaged with. “Living infrastructures” became thus a metaphor to remind scholars that infrastructures are dynamic and surprising, simultaneously resilient and fragile. They are ecologically mutually dependent on other life forms. They are not invulnerable or “eternal beings”, as social scientists of Durkheimian denomination thought of societies. They confront risks to their continued existence and have sometimes their own life.

The logo of the conference – the “dancing bridge” in Volgograd – might be seen as the symbol of the living infrastructures idea (fig. 2).

 

Fig. 2. The Volgograd “dancing bridge”. Source: the design logo created by the Volgograd team for the conference.

 

Volgograd’s “dancing bridge” was under construction for 13 years and it connects the central part of the city, very busy and intense one, with the natural outskirts of Volgograd floodplain, establishing a fast connection between different parts of regions at the cost of harming the subtle ecology of the floodplain. Notably, after the construction, the bridge began to “dance”, that is, oscillate because of wind conditions that created a lot of authority concerns and people’s rumors (look at the bridge here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEQrt_w7gN4). It became an important tourist attraction of Volgograd, although some days after the dancing, with the help of Swiss and German engineers (sic!), the oscillation was stabilized. In this way, the common infrastructural urban object became important part of Volgograd hybrid ecology, its urban narratives and global technological connections.

Organizing and blogging!

Preparing the conference, the organizers decided to “build” a temporary digital infrastructure to liven up an interest in the forthcoming event. The idea was to create a special blog on the WordPress platform, where different topics around the infrastructures could be exposed (https://livinginfrastructures.wordpress.com/about/). The team posted little essays on bicycle mobility, kids smart technological infrastructure, innovation infrastructure, anthropology of infrastructures, the influence of mega-events on urban infrastructures, childbirth infrastructures in Russian central and peripheral regions, and also on the topic of how the urban infrastructure elicit affects and emotions from the citizens. All these essays were disseminated in social media and helped to attract the attention of different scholars and activists to the conference issues. The blog platform attracted hundreds of website visitors.

The infrastucturation of the world

The conference gathered scholars across Russia, India, Bulgaria, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. It was the first STS-oriented conference focused on the topic of infrastructure in Russia ever. The conference was opened with a keynote on “Infrastructuring Mobile Utopia: Global Challenges, Global Responses” by Prof. Monika Büscher (Centre for Mobilities Research,​ Lancaster University) (fig 3). She analyzed cases of material infrastructural breakdown and digital humanitarianism when people converged online to restructure absent governmental. The presentation raised a range of important issues of mobile utopia and dystopia in equipped smart cities, digital and immaterial infrastructure, reflexive resilience in the context of sharing data and the precarity, and creativity in the process of infrastructurization. Three modes were suggested to develop the argument of reflexive resilience – archaeology, ontology, and architecture, in order to contribute to the discussion on relational infrastructure and posthuman relational ethics.

 

Fig. 3. Monica Büscher gives a lecture on the mobile infrastructures that are enacted in the time of societal crises. Source: Lyoubov Torlopova.

 

Ivan Tchalakov (PAST-Center, Tomsk State University / University of Plovdiv) opened the second day with his talk “Ships, Channels, Gravity Wells and Valleys: Towards Deep Space Infrastructures” (fig. 4). The examples of SpaceX and ULA were redefined through Latour’s restored symmetry as transportation for human and nature and as a conquest of the resources to become an infrastructure for the space-scape and interplanetary network. Tchalakov also discussed new private projects that might advance space industry further.

 

Fig. 4. Ivan Tchalakov on the division between the governmental and private space programs.

 

Both keynote lectures revolved around the questions of new and only anticipated infrastructures that should be delicately and intensely investigated by the STS scholars, using conceptual resources from philosophy, activism and social studies of science and technology.

The main topic of the conference was devoted to mobility infrastructures. The session “Mobilities Infrastructures: Speeding Up the Slow, Slowing Down the Fast” gathered scholars interested in changing practices of urban dwellers, the Russian subdued forms of mobility called “marshrutki”, the social infrastructures of public transport, the ambiguity of bicycle infrastructure, bike sharing systems in Russian big cities, and children “smart” mobilities. The multiplicity of the topics challenged participants to ponder upon the possibility to assemble the cases under the head of the mobility infrastructure notion. At the same time, it became very apparent that mobility is an important part of any infrastructures since it makes informational or material units pass through. How to create the infrastructure in such a way to make easier and comfortable to transit units, and at the same time to make people who use this infrastructure to feel comfortable and not alienated – it is a very important question.

The session “Urban infrastructure” drew attention to the relations between city and infrastructure. Participants demonstrated their interest in the influence of politics and policy on urban infrastructures, the access to the latter and the regime of uses. Many Russian cities represent cases of infrastructures with the centralized logic of a planned economy. Despite contemporary neoliberalism scholars’ emphasis on privatized and splintering infrastructures, we may find a lot of examples of path-dependent urban infrastructure, which follows the old and very obsolete logic of planned economy. It opens up the space for thinking about the very principles of urban infrastructure development.

In the session devoted to digital infrastructures, speakers problematized the relations between online and offline: how the space-based digital games connect to the body, perception, and the social order of city; how visualization and simulations of existing and anticipated infrastructures make work with the city space, and help to construct more comfortable and participative infrastructure. The question of representativity also penetrated the issue of media infrastructure in the game development for gamers’ imagination and anticipation of the cultural product itself.

The “Infrastructured Bodies” session tackled with the biopolitical question of a seamless connection between sociomaterial infrastructures and bodies. The speakers demonstrated how infrastructure matters when certain policies and extensive spatiality affect professional work, patients’ access and abilities and how particular enactments of diseases involve people through mobile applications and handmade infrastructures, where technology becomes secondary to knowledge exchange and accumulation.

Finally, the “Infrastructure Theories” session grasped all the previous insights into the concepts of infrastructure with all their range. Forgotten sociological classic Ferdinand Tönnies was considered to be a pioneer in logics of translation (connection of wills) and assemblage (collectives), dealing with a paradox of things as objects in relations of possession and capital. Bruno Latour’s material semiotics with the focus on operations of shifting (shifting-in, -out, -up, down) was considered an important resource for thinking of infrastructures as a type of relation and not as a set of things.

Make them live!

Monika Buscher from the Lancaster University told about how in situations of risk or accidents people start to help each other and make their own living infrastructure that are sometimes more effective than already created and established state and municipal infrastructures. The notion of living infrastructure could be also told about the conference participation as a special infrastructure when people all around the world gathered to talk about the different cases of infrastructure and by this created temporal emotional and narrative infrastructure to make infrastructure be living longer in the minds of scholars. Geoffrey Bowker and Stephen C. Slota in the brand new “Handbook of Science and Technology Studies” named their chapter “How infrastructure matter?”. We believe that the conference “Living Infrastructures Beyond Global North and Global South” in Volgograd advanced further another vital question: “How to think and talk on infrastructures as a living matter?”.

 

Fig. 5. The participants of the conference, who have enacted the infrastructures in the Global North and South for the two days of the conference.

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

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

Good news, right?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Towards a Just Society: STS in the International Panel on Social Progress

The International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP) is a novel attempt at understanding how far we have come and in which direction we should be heading in our quest for a just society. As different articulations of progress pit themselves against one another, each vying for influence on the global agenda, our society is under a great deal of pressure to be reflexive about how we know what we know. Conclusions have been drawn in different fields and on many issues. However, there is a need to come together to discuss how these understandings of our world have a bearing on our collective futures and on issues of justice, responsibility and solidarity – a task requiring inter-disciplinarity. When we consider the myriad interconnected and sometimes subtle ways in which society is affected by change, it is difficult to determine what exactly has had an impact and in what ways those impacts have in turn affected people’s lives in a cumulative way. What progress means is neither apparent nor neutral as it requires an interpretation of such complexities. We also need to determine, as a society, the kinds of power and influence our current systems of accountability allow, which elements of our day-to-day lives we are willing to accept or should deem unacceptable and the ways that we organize ourselves so that governance tends to those shared values in a , bearing in mind that not everyone is able to influence the systems that shape their daily lives. Recent social, economic and political shocks to the global system have made social progress a particularly salient issue. It is time to take stock, to understand more deeply and openly the kind of world we have created and the potential impacts of the ways we have gone about developing and envisioning progress. This need for a reflexive and interdisciplinary vision of progress sets the tone of the work going into the IPSP.

At the 4S/EASST Conference in Barcelona, we had the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which Science, Technology and Society (STS) can contribute to this incredibly complex and pivotal understanding of social progress. We were given an overview of some of the reflections of STS scholars who are contributing to the development of the twenty-two chapters of the Report. The deeper the discussion became, the more striking the relevance of STS across the different issues appeared to be. The pathways that STS’ critical questioning enables, have found meaning in this vast chasm brought about by uncertainty in social progress, the debatable problem constructions and disconnected visions of the future. STS is concerned with process, how knowledge is made, for whom and by whom and its articulations become meaningful when it provides a perspective that closely reflects on the reality faced by knowledge producers themselves. The close involvement in the chapter-writing process has provided STS scholars with a remarkable opportunity to point out the value of STS as knowledge is being made. Moreover, the conversations and joint reflections on social progress can be enriched by the articulations that STS provides. These articulations include reflections on the role and influence of experts and expertise in framing and authority, reflections on power, ordering and governance and the social-construction of science and technology.

STS perspectives on the policy process challenge policy-makers’ preferences for a linear model of progress, wherein the expectations of policy-makers are met with positivistic ideas of science and technology and their goals systematically envisioned as incremental solutions to pre-defined policy questions. STS requires a different way of envisioning the science-policy relationship, as one that is far more intertwined with science, policy and society, contributing instead to the co-production of knowledge and social order (Jasanoff 2004). Change, as STS sees it, is something that should be negotiated with society if controversies are to be avoided. By stressing the social construction of science and technology, STS emphasizes the ways in which knowledge is made and how it is socially contingent, rather than objective or easily transplanted to policy contexts. STS roots its analysis of policy-making in the realities of knowledge production, considering how social contexts contribute towards the settling of facts, the different interpretations of evidence and truth, and the limits of change. The value of an STS perspective in the IPSP is thus brought to the fore as experts attempt to develop knowledge that is both a true reflection of what has been and of what should be done. If the STS perspective is indeed influential, the likelihood is that the expert advice in the reports alludes to more and different policy pathways than would be traditionally expected by policymakers.

 

Fig. 1: IPSP Authors Region of Origin
Courtesy of International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP): https://www.ipsp.org/people/authors

 

The contemporary context is one in which experts as well as scientific knowledge play a central role in politics yet they no longer hold the unquestioned authority and public trust they once did (Maasen and Weingart 2005). If we are to restore trust in governance and in the institutions that we entrust to maintain order in our lives, they should be made to reflect the diverse needs of communities around the world and protect the common values that bind us in our quest for a just future and reflect the kind of social progress that is sensitive to context and difference. As a collective group of academics, the IPSP is discussing the implications of global articulations of progress and how these ideas shape and influence the way we see and think of social groups and the kinds of things that influence them. Care needs to be taken to avoid the reification of difference, while the case is being made for equality and solidarity. STS is sensitive towards the effects of collectives, the assemblages that develop and the hidden power to shape interests and agendas through technologies of governance e.g. indicators, technical guides, organizations, practices, codes and rankings (Davis, Kingsbury, and Merry 2012). At the same time, a balance needs to be struck between governing institutions and local communities in shaping claims of justice, solidarity, responsibility, leadership and inequality. This implicates accountability practices, which need to question and align such processes as the courts, arbitration and peer-review. Global articulations attempt to apply norms to different countries and appeal to framings such as human rights as a means of harmonizing those efforts. Facts and technologies appear to be global but can fail to mean the same thing in different places. If a global vision of social progress is to be reached, the understandings should pay attention to the power of framings and their implications on local experiences. It is the hope of the STS scholars involved in the IPSP that these reflections shape the articulations of issues in the chapters.

The IPSP is modeled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the way that it enrolls experts in the writing of the report. Early in its establishment, the IPCC was criticized for its imbalanced geographical representativeness (Agrawala 1998), and took steps to remedy this problem. The IPSP needs to remedy its representation of authors if its work is to be seen as a credible and legitimate global endeavor. Figure 1 shows the low participation of African and Latin American authors in the IPSP.

The IPSP has the potential to provide a different kind of assessment that is both reflexive and interdisciplinary. STS has an opportunity to demonstrate the many ways in which its articulations are useful and can enrich the dialogue in a powerful way. This is a step in the right direction, however, knowing that there are social conditions that determine the acceptability of expert knowledge, it is important that STS influences the reflections further so that the global community recognizes the products of this endeavor as credible and legitimate.

The politics of antibiotic resistance: imminent threat, global policy, and the challenge for STS

In September 2016, a street theater group toured several German cities with a performance called “Schluck & Weg” – literally meaning “swallow” (the pill) and the disease is “gone” – publicly staging the saliency of antibiotics resistance as a pressing global health issue. The main protagonists in this performance were the “super agents” Alpha and Beta, decorated agents who have successfully served for a long time in their battle against evil bugs. But a surprising strike from “super bugs” hitherto unknown to Alpha and Beta has confronted our super agents with an experience of total impotence in the face of these newly emerging antagonists. Licking their wounds and puzzling over what has actually happened and why, the super agents begin to trace the lineages of their predicament — and thus the histories of microbes resistant to antibiotics (BUKO Pharma 2016).

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has also been a concern at the recent joint meeting of 4S/EASST in Barcelona. Within the track on “Antagonists, Servants, Companions: the Sciences, Technologies and Politics of Microbial Entanglements”, a full session was dedicated to the multiple problem of AMR, exploring diverse aspects and dimensions.

Problematized in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1960s and almost two decades earlier in Scandinavia (Podolski et al 2015), antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is hardly a new fact. However, its political and societal saliency seems to have changed dramatically in recent years. AMR was framed by the World Health Organization as an imminent threat to global health, both in the rich countries of the North where hospital-acquired infections with resistant bacteria pose challenges to health care systems, and in the South, where the treatment of severe endemics – such as Tuberculosis – runs into constraints due to the proliferation of resistant strains (Blasner 2014). But AMR is truly a global issue in an even more comprehensive sense: as microbes do not abide by the normativity of socio-political boundaries, the WHO has inscribed AMR into the “One Health” paradigm, which means that it affects the entire world irrespective of geographical boundaries, but also that it ignores inter-species boundaries proliferating precisely through the entanglements between humans, animals and even plants.

At 4S/EASST, I remember this session as particularly intriguing not only because of its thematic topicality, but also because it raises questions for STS that go well beyond the scope of AMR. Let me briefly capture the four presentations in a nutshell before returning to some further thoughts on these matters.

Inge Kryger Pedersen (U Copenhagen) presented findings from a collaborative project, asking how the situated local practices in medical care interrelate with efforts to tackle global problems, such as AMR. As many efforts to act upon AMR address physicians in their ability to prescribe antibiotics, various guidelines had been drafted that seek to police and promote the “rational use” of drugs. Hence, norms of “good doctoring” (usually centering on an individual patient-doctor encounter) have come to be closely intertwined with notions of “prudent use” of antibiotics (subject rather to statistical reasoning and the indicators of evidence-based medicine). And yet, when translated into the realm of everyday medical practice and the doctor-patient-relationship, these guidelines leave considerable space for professional discretion and case-by-case maneuvering.

Approaching the combat against overuse from another angle, Catherine Will (U Sussex) explored public campaigns against antibiotics overuse that seek to act upon the desire of patient-consumers and their attachments to practices of antibiotics use that had been cultivated throughout past decades. Will shows that these policy campaigns seek to “detach” publics from antibiotics by invoking individuals and publics simultaneously as rational subjects and as passionate subjects of desire attached to certain notions of disease and treatment anchored in social norms and tacit routines (One campaign poster for instance informs the public that “40% of all Europeans wrongly believe that antibiotics work against colds and flu”).

Focusing on how public knowledge of AMR is co-produced between different social domains, Stephanie Begemann (U Liverpool) set out to study how the science of AMR is taken up and communicated in the media. Her findings add rich empirical detail to the notion that AMR is a controversial issue that crisscrosses multiple sites and domains where its meanings may significantly alter. Taking up the cudgels for STS research, Begemann’s argument suggests that knowing how and where exactly the “multiple ontologies” of AMR are being established may shed light on emerging controversies and help to better tackle the problem in practice.

Similarly, Sujatha Raman (U Nottingham) addressed the question of how knowledge on AMR is produced and diffused, yet taking a slightly different take on this matter. Raman explored how different framings matter in the ways we conceive of and address the problem of AMR. To begin with AMR is broadly framed as an imminent, human-made global threat and as such shares many similarities with climate change. In past years, the idea has taken shape to establishing an International Panel on AMR modeled after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see Woolhouse/Farrar 2014). A crucial difference might be, though, that the science of AMR is — yet? — less contested than the science of climate change: scientific accounts present strong evidence that AMR constitutes a profound systemic problem on a global scale, precisely because it unfolds in a complex eco-socio-techno-economical system (see the illustration in Figure 1) and there seem hardy radical controversies over these facts; yet, the policy responses to AMR are predominantly framed in terms of – and thus seek to act upon – individual behavior.

In sum, this rich session provided an intriguing picture of AMR and the important role of STS research in this field of actuality. What all four presentations emphasized is that AMR is being problematized predominantly as a pressing policy challenge, and not primarily a scientific controversy. To be sure, the “policy question” had been located at various levels and through multiple domains, and has been articulated in terms of public awareness campaigns, in the politics of representation and issue framing, or in governing (through) behavioral patterns. Clearly, these multiple policy practices intimately involve questions of science particularly in relation to public knowledge and policy programs. Re-reading my notes while working on this review made me come up with a series of interrelated thoughts and impressions that address the relationship between global (health) policy and STS.

Worldwide, the vast majority of political and expert authorities seem to acknowledge that AMR amounts to a multifaceted systemic problem: a pressing human-made, apocalyptic scenario that demands immediate attention. Experts further seem to concur on how AMR developed, how it works at the microbiological and epidemiological levels, and what the social and economic structures are that make it grow. Moreover, it seems quite uncontroversial that AMR is produced and propelled not in one center or social domain, but across and in-between domains of practice: from human medicine to the livestock industries, from material production (of health, of food, etc.) to the production of collective needs and desires. As such, we could say, the question of AMR appears as a question of global capitalism in its broadest possible meaning.

 

Fig. 1: AMR as complex system. A similar version of this slide was used in Raman’s presentation. The original reference is Linton, AH. Veterinary Record 1977;100:354-360. The version used here was retrieved online from http:// tdvglobal.com/en/about-us/news/ development-of-canadian-roadmap- for-amu-surveillance-in-food-animal- production (access November 15, 2016)

 

In this light, I expected that technoscience would have assumed a more central role in the discourses and enactments of AMR counterstrategies, compared to other STS-related policy debates over other grand challenges confronting the contemporary world: from the surge in age-related degenerative diseases to climate change and economic recession, the respective problems are more often than not framed in ways that are amenable to technoscientific solutions (for instance, “regenerative medicine”; “green bio-economy”; etc.). By contrast, the role of technoscientific innovation only seems to play an underpart in the global “war” against AMR. To be sure, I learned that there is limited biopharmaceutical R&D activity into “super antibiotics” (geared towards fighting resistant “superbugs”), and that there are considerable efforts to build and harmonize surveillance infrastructures to detect, map and monitor the global geography of AMR (O’Neill 2015, Chakradhar 2016). Yet, the dominant problem frame is one of overuse and misuse: the majority of efforts seem to focus on behavioral interventions, that is to say, programs that seek to act upon AMR through altering routinized patterns of antibiotic consumption. Moreover, these various policy programs of “antibiotic stewardship” that have been launched to counteract AMR largely remain within an individualistic-liberal framework and articulate the problem in terms of individual behavior, be it the (aggregate) individual prescribing practices of physicians or the (aggregate) demand-desire of patients for antibiotics due to embodied cultural treatment practices and/or erroneous beliefs about the reach and efficacy of antibiotic therapy. If it just were to alter consumer-choices and guide subjects to behave rationally!

From this angle, AMR seems to be less a contentious (techno-)scientific issue, and more an issue of policymaking, state strategies and practices of governing: it is about getting individuals, professions, and institutions to alter their routines. Clearly, in this regard (scientific) knowledge plays an important part – and this had been reflected nicely throughout the papers in our session: framing, public understanding, practices of subjectification. But throughout the different locales and practices, it is apparent that what is at stake in the overall picture is to translate – semiotically and materially – a global and systemic problem-constellation into a series of discrete, individualized policy responses actionable at the local level (administered largely through national action plans). In this context, the key question at stake, it seems, is the question of implementation. But less has been said about the material politics of AMR, about the state-driven efforts to implement a global anti-AMR strategy, about the institutional forces that enable, channel, support or perhaps thwart these manifold efforts. Where then could be the role of further STS in research that takes these issues seriously? At this point I see a veritable chance for establishing a more intimate joint working space between STS and critical/interpretive policy studies.

From their very infancy, STS and interpretive policy analysis (IPA) have formed a mutual thinking space underpinned by many shared methodological presuppositions (Gottweis 1998, Paul/Haddad 2015, Åm 2016). And yet, despite their vicinity there are hardly any efforts to comprehensively integrate the rich conceptual toolboxes of either fields. Given the specificities of AMR, as well as the general stress in STS on the co-production of science and policy, it seems worthwhile to pay equal attention to the formation of policy knowledge and to the role the state plays in articulating knowledge and practices of intervention – and hence, the “implementation” of global policies and its translation into local practices.

To begin with, implementation – as technical and top-down as it may sound – is not a linear process; it always involves a politics of translation. STS stresses that in order to understand how and why knowledge can be established as scientific facts and how technologies work as innovations in society, we need to look at the dense network of heterogeneous elements that create and stabilize it. Yet, concepts of policy and of the state often remain monochrome. Conversely, policy studies have for long ignored science and technology as active agents in policy. Engaging STS work, policy studies can improve their sensibilities for how exactly scientific knowledge and technologies matter – and in what precise, situated ways – in policy practice. How is policy knowledge fabricated and translated into the design of political strategies of intervention into the dynamics of AMR? In turn, critical policy studies can complement STS scholarship with a profound toolbox to study how certain policies are being articulated, designed and implemented. What seems particularly relevant for AMR is to include a fine-grained focus on how path-dependencies and institutions shape not only the content of policies, but also how “epistemic selectivities” (Vadrot 2016) emerge in relation to complex institutions such as the state and its role in rendering some forms of knowledge accessible to policy programs while others are being silenced or dismissed. How to conceptualize the role of the state in providing corridors for selective policy knowledge? How should we situate science, policy and the state in broader global socio-material formations and particular historical conjunctures (for the relationships between policy knowledge and the state see the recent conversation within critical policy studies in Brand [2013], Paul/Haddad [2015])? These are pressing issues in order to make sense of AMR as a global phenomenon, and could also enrich STS debates more generally – especially in fields that are, right at the outset, as much about science as about policy.

To conclude: the challenges that confront the politics of AMR make clear that STS has a vital role to play in establishing not only knowledge but also perhaps help to design policy responses that go beyond the half-heartedly conventional behavioral approaches. However, if it were to adequately address the policy question in STS, insights from other fields are vital. AMR seems an intriguing field to develop synergies between allied yet perhaps estranged fields of critical social science research, and particularly between STS and interpretive policy studies.

Science, Technology and Security: Discovering intersections between STS and security studies

Although science, technology and security are fields with numerous intersections, especially on a theoretical level, there are, on the one hand, few STS studies on security issues and, on the other, security studies do not pay much attention to science and technology. This is particularly striking, given that technology has always been crucial for the development of effective security policies and programs, and the military sector has not only profited, but also induced major scientific and technological developments. Of course, these developments have to be regarded very critically, as they often interfere with universal rights such as liberty and privacy. Especially with the rapid increase of different surveillance technologies, social impacts of technologies have become subject of an extended political and societal debate. (cf. Lyon 2007: 46) But debates on intersections between science, technology and security need to go beyond the debate on surveillance technologies, as the continuous development of lethal arms as well as the rise of dual-use technologies – technologies that can be used for civil as well as military purposes such as drones – have changed approaches towards security. The track “Back to the future: STS and the (lost) security research agenda” at the 2016 4S/EASST conference in Barcelona included a variety of different approaches in order to advance the field of security studies from an STS perspective, initiating a more comprehensive debate on science, technology and security.

How can we describe the theoretical intersections between these fields? Theoretical approaches were widespread in the course of the panel, using STS as well as security studies, one presentation explained the boundaries of security studies and technologies, others used critical approaches towards security.

During the conference, especially critical, post-structuralist approaches of security studies were used, such as the securitization theory. As described by Buzan et al. (1998), securitization means the perception of an issue as an existential threat to the security of a state. This perception should however be extended to the security of individuals as well, as technology can often assist as well as compromise human security. Securitization is therefore the act of defining problems as security threats through various actions; a prevalent action in this regard is discourse, as described by Hansen (2006), meaning that security is created through language and the debate on certain topics, which was also used by one presenter in the context of the security implications of satellite imagery. One theory that I would suggest in this regard is the approach of Collier and Lakoff (2008) who describe critical infrastructures as security issues. This is a viable approach in order to link STS to security studies as it links thoughts on infrastructure characteristics to thoughts on security and how infrastructures are characterized as security issues, furthermore Collier and Lakoff describe a variety of threat scenarios. Multiple approaches, also during the session, explained discourses on security as central aspects of the constitution of threats and solutions to these threats, especially by using technology. In return, securitization can lead to what Ceyhan (2008) calls the “technologization” of security, where technology is regarded as a “security enabler” (ibid.: 103), a means of achieving security.

The construction of security and the following technologization leads to what Jasanoff (2004) defines as “co-production of science and social order”, in this special case security being a part of the social order, therefore, the question arises if technology and security are co-produced, which was also one of the main discussion points at the 4S/EASST Conference. One concept that was discussed throughout the course of the session was the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries as explained by Jasanoff and Kim (2009). Sociotechnical imaginaries are “collectively imagined forms of social life and social order reflected in the design and fulfillment of nation-specific scientific and/or technological projects.” (ibid.: 120) Sociotechnical imaginaries might prove useful to explain technological shifts to a certain extent, as one speaker suggested in the context of terrorism, where the imaginary of terrorist attacks shapes the development of counter-terrorism technologies.

 

 

The co-production of technology and security represented one storyline that appeared consistently during the presentations. Possibilities of developing stronger intersections between STS and security studies lie within a stronger linkage of theories. One alternative is the use Pinch and Bijker’s (1987) theory of the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), which describes technology as socially constructed by interests, problems, and solutions of actors, as explained on the panel with the example of drones being a result of social construction. In opposition to this approach, which has been under critique, stands technological determinism, where technology is regarded as factor in social change. This approach is especially prevalent in International Relations (IR)-approaches, which regard technology as one main driving factor of change in the international system. (McCarthy 2013) Determinist views appeared across the panel, especially when speakers investigated how technologies change security practices. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) represents another possibility of approaching security technologies through an STS perspective and creating intersections between the two fields. Barry (2013) sees the necessity of changing ANT approaches in order to make them fitting to IR, describing a “translation zone” of ANT within IR. Barry describes that IR poses a different set of challenges, such as the concentration on historic events and the importance of boundaries, two aspects that signify little importance in ANT, which is why ANT needs to consider these challenges when applied in an IR context.

Security technologies can adopt a great variety of forms, such as weapons but also so-called dual-use technologies, surveillance technologies and defence technologies, especially against attacking weapons. Dual-use technologies can be described as technologies that can be used for civil and military purposes at the same time, depending on the characteristics of the technology, such as drones. One approach that I think is viable in the context of dual-use technologies is Star’s (2010) concept of “boundary objects”, objects whose significance is subject to the interpretation of usage. In this regard, emerging technologies, such as drones, pose new analytical questions, as these are prime examples of boundary objects that take different shapes and are used in different contexts depending on the objective of the usage.

When debating infrastructures as security issues, it might be viable to apply Hughes’ (1989) concept of Large-Technical Systems (LTS). Hughes describes big infrastructures, such as electricity, railways and energy supply, as technological systems that do not only involve the integration of different technologies, but also include human actors. Furthermore, these systems have enormous impact on the functioning of societies, which makes them interpretable as critical infrastructures. As security is growing increasingly globalized, LTS become more internationalized as well, which opens questions of governance of LTS. Mayer and Acuto (2015) argue for a linkage of Global Governance, a theoretical approach that is prevalent in IR, and LTS for a stronger perspective from the field of IR on these systems.

The debate at the 4S/EASST conference disclosed some very important aspects of intersecting science, technology and security and proved the necessity of creating a more comprehensive understanding of security aspects within STS. Security is a vital interest of states and individuals alike and shapes perceptions and imaginaries of science and technology. From an STS viewpoint, it is also important to investigate the role of agents and structures in security R&D, as it is important to understand the interdependence between society and security technologies. An improved understanding of security technologies might provide STS-scholars with a more comprehensive perspective towards these technologies as instruments of power, surveillance and even oppression, but also as threats or opportunities. The prevalent aspect of the debate is to develop the ability to understand security technologies in a more comprehensive sense, especially, since the development of dual-use technologies and the securitization of technology have initiated a stronger connection between civilian and military technologies.

To sum up, STS needs to develop a vital interest in security studies, as security studies have undergone dramatic change, threats have multiplied, for example, climate change is regarded as security threat, terrorism has emerged as one of the central aspects of security policy and surveillance has dramatically altered the narrative of security studies. This will not only help in understanding the development and use of security technologies, but also will cause substantial and important critique on the militarization of science and technology.

NORDIC JOURNAL OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY STUDIES

The following scenario is most likely recognizable to many readers of EASST review. You are with a group of colleagues and friends. You are possibly in a bar, in a basement, or a conference hotel. The voices heard in the room are deep in discussions about an obscure band from the 80s, the latest sci-fi craze or the interpretation of some French theorist. Critical voices delve into the state of the academic publishing system and university policies, as well as the prospects of achieving proper academic tenure any time soon. In sum, you feel slightly uneasy about the state of academia, STS and the world surrounding the ivory tower. The red wine, IPAs and umbrella drinks do nothing to help the situation. The next day you wake up with cottonmouth and a headache, but the world remains the same.

This was our situation, and of course, it still is in many ways. Four years ago, we decided to use the frustration as a catalyst for creative work. The outcome was the launch of what we considered a much-needed scientific journal, catering for the steadily growing, but somewhat disconnected Nordic STS communities, whose scholarship often falls outside the scope of disciplinary journals, while its Nordic field of enquiry sometimes come across as too exotic for the international STS mainstream. This is a paradox in a field where locally anchored and embedded knowledge has always been valued. While NJSTS is an internationally oriented journal, we also want to acknowledge that scholarship emerges from locally situated actions, networks and arenas, and that the importance of this for the scholarship produced should not be ignored.

Further, we wanted to construct an arena where upcoming and established scholars of the north could engage in each other’s work, as well as with the work of interested scholars from other regions. A related question that emerged was the following: is there anything distinctly “Nordic” about our shared breed of STS, and if so – what would this “nordicness” constitute? Thus, the idea of a Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies was borne.

Surprisingly, we soon learned that the formal requirements for establishing a scienti c journal were quite relaxed. They concerned avoiding institutional inbreeding, and setting up a peer review process. So we did it! At the first bi-annual Nordic STS conference in 2013, fittingly located in Hell (!), Norway, our journal was launched with serious academic discussions on the agenda. The real launch however, took place at late night hours in an overcrowded hotel room in the very same non-metaphorical Hell.

While the formalities of setting up shop are not an obstacle, we had – and still have – high ambitions for the contents of our entity. We wanted to make a journal like no other, with interesting content in innovative contexts. Now, in the journals fourth annual volume, we can look back at great individual articles and book reviews from scholars in close to all major Nordic STS communities and beyond, special issues exploring exciting themes, and interviews with big international STS-names. Our papers have spurred controversy, been debated, cited, put on curriculums and have been read and downloaded across the globe. In an age where the term “impact” seems omnipresent as academic currency, this is not too shabby for a small, independent journal. In the years ahead, we want to build on this, to make sure the journal stays an open, democratic and relevant arena for high-quality scholarly exchange in the Nordics and beyond, and an outlet that is open to engagement across arenas like science, the arts and industry. Open access on open platforms is key to this, a strategy we will continue to pursue.

To retain the vibrancy of the journal we are interested in manuscripts of different kinds. First, we seek theoretical or empirical research papers. As we do not doubt for a second that ‘the north’ is part of the globe, authors do not need to work in Nordic institutions or have a specifically Nordic focus to publish with us; we are seeking diverse scholarly contributions engaging broadly with both traditional and emerging issues in STS and surrounding scholarly fields. Second, we seek book reviews. On the one hand, we seek authors interested in reviewing specific books; on the other, we seek hints about which books we should explore. Thus, publishers and authors with new books at the intersection of science, technology, arts, media, society etc. should feel free to get in touch.

Figure 1: The front page of vol. 1, issue 1, NJSTS (2013)
Figure 1: The front page of vol. 1, issue 1, NJSTS (2013)

Thirdly, we are interested in more open-ended contributions. These could be short commentaries, essays, interviews, conference reports and other reflections – in principle imagination is what stops you here. Finally, we are always interested in dialogues about the possibili- ties of special issues, sections or other ideas that you might have. As a teaser, we can point out that a thematic, guest edited issue on feminist technoscience is on the agenda, so keep your eyes open for an exciting call for papers soon!

STS is increasingly becoming a global endeavor. At the same time, the local settings where STS is enacted, produce local variants, locally anchored traditions of methodology, theory development and analysis. We want contributions that balance the need to address a global audience, with care for the situatedness of the work presented. Thus, while we have mainly published contributions in English, we are also open for manuscripts in other Nordic languages.

We are a small journal, and we will not be able to compete with top journals on matters like impact factor or rating. However, we are dedicated to being better than such journals on matters of author communication, feedback and reviews. We are also quite friendly people. Therefore, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you want to discuss a manuscript or for any other reason!

STS by other means?

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

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

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

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

Towards data sharing in STS

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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