Category Archives: easst review

EASST conference 2018 – fee waivers for early career participants

EASST is able to offer a number of fee waivers for this conference to students and early career researchers. EASST is unable to support travel and accommodation costs, so please ensure you have plans to cover these costs.

Applicants must be a member of EASST and be presenting a paper within the conference. To apply for funding to cover your registration fee at EASST2018 conference in Lancaster, please complete the online form here. Applications by email will not be accepted.

The deadline for applications is end of 3rd May. Applicants will be notified of decisions by 11th May, before the early-bird rates end. Successful applicants must agree to write something for the EASST Review after the conference (e.g. report on a panel).

Note:
You can register in advance without making a payment.  If your application is successful we will pay your invoice.  If your application is unsuccessful then you will have the opportunity to cancel if you cannot secure other funding.

If you have any queries or problems with the form or your application you can email conference(at)easst.net.

EASST Conference 2018 – Registration Process

Dear EASST members,

Greeting from Lancaster, UK. We are looking forward to welcoming you to Lancaster at the EASST
2018 Conference on 25th-28th July. https://easst2018.easst.net/ We are currently finalising the
conference programme and we are very excited about it. The array of papers, events, activities and
plenaries are impressive. Registration is open and early-bird rates are available until May 16

Here are some details about how to register (also on the web page):

  • Everyone wishing to attend the conference must register online and in advance. You do not
    have to pay at the time of registration; an invoice will be emailed to you that details
    payment instructions and deadlines.
  • Registration includes access to the opening reception, the plenary and sub-plenary sessions,
    panel sessions, the book exhibit, all the fringe events (e.g. sign up events such as tree
    planting and a visit to the University wind turbine), and tea/coffee during the morning and
    afternoon breaks and lunches. You will receive a printed conference programme on arrival.
    Registration also includes bus travel between the city and the University.
  • Please register for the social event on the Friday night. We have worked hard to organise an
    event that will be enjoyable for everyone. It will take place in a marquee on the University
    campus. Your ticket includes a range of international street food, a drink, music installations,
    live music and dancing, and more. There will be a cash bar serving locally brewed beers, as
    well as a gin bar and a cocktail bar. There is an extra cost for this event (note there is a
    concession rate) and you need to book this at the time of Registration.

Your EASST membership means you have a considerable discount on the conference fee.

The early-bird conference fees are:
EASST member: €280
Non-member: €360
Member concessions (student or low-waged): €160
Non-member concession (student or low-waged): €240
Social event: €45
Social event concession (student or low-waged): €30
Details about accommodation and travel to Lancaster are on the conference web page.

We are looking forward to MEETING you in Lancaster
Vicky Singleton and Richard Tutton
Chairs of the conference Local Organising Committee

From the Periphery: exploring STS at the edges of Europe

An interdisciplinary gathering of scholars took place at Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (M-ITI) on October 19-21 2017. We came together to discuss the issues we confront in our work looking at the intersection of remoteness, technology, and self-determination. What began as a plan to write a manifesto ultimately resulted in a hypertext document replete with ambiguity. The structure of the final piece was intended to mirror our booksprint location and site of inspiration – an archipelago of islands, in this case formulated as a series of interlinked but standalone pieces of writing.

This report is being written in the aftermath of a vicious storm which swept the Portuguese island of Madeira – flights cancelled, no one coming in or out. The fisherman’s boats usually dragged up on the wharf had to be relocated to protect them from waves several meters high. A few days later, life more or less went back to normal. The weather, usually a topic reserved for awkward water-cooler small talk in big cities, is a topic of major concern on a remote island, dictating whether the isolation of island life is felt acutely or obscured.

We were fortunate, when we chose to gather in late October of 2017, that the weather was with us, so none of our guests were detained enroute. Together we were a group of eight academics, with five of us from Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (M-ITI) (Michelle Kasprzak, Gemma Rodrigues, Mariacristina Sciannamblo, James Auger, Julian Hanna), one rural-born Canadian artist (Garnet Hertz), an Irish artist living on a remote Orkadian island (Saoirse Higgins), and an Indo-European design scholar (Deanna Herst). We started our booksprint trying to define the contours of the chosen topic before us – STS and remoteness/islandness. (Figs 1 and 2). We arrived having browsed a series of communally suggested paper recommendations beforehand, featuring STS thinkers such as Susan Leigh Star, Sheila Jasanoff, Ruth Oldenziel, Steven Jackson, and Bruno Latour, as well as Island Studies scholars such as Elaine Stratford and Adam Grydehøj.

 

Fig 1. Whiteboard brainstorming at Madeira Tecnopolo.
Fig 2. The group discussing text fragments arranged on the Floor.

Though in our initial planning we entitled the booksprint “Science, Design, and Technology on the Periphery: A Manifesto”, and despite the presence of an expert in manifestoes in the person of digital humanities scholar Julian Hanna, the relativities and ambiguities of our topic soon became clear, putting the case for a manifesto on unsteady ground. In our discussion we were able to define many polarities when thinking of island life or remote living and technology: tourist/local; mainland/island; resilience/fragility, et cetera. These polarities, which may have provided scintillating material for a pointed manifesto, proved difficult to maintain once interrogated further. Ultimately we found more interesting murky corners in the contradictions and overlaps, such as a quasi-aphorism from an anonymous Madeiran local: “There are tourists who visit and tourists who live here”, and the idea of the island’s distinct borders also ultimately acting as threshold. Each concept we explored seemed to have a surface polarity obscuring a deeper complication or paradox.

This complexity also manifested in the final form our writing took on. Inspired by anti-colonial theory and non-binarism, a key element of our explorations looked at how ‘epistemological ecologies’ and diversity could be an antidote to ‘epistemicide,’ the obliteration of locally adapted ways of knowing and doing (de Sousa Santos). Thinking in a non-binaristic way and hoping to present many different aspects of related problems in the area of STS, design, and remoteness/islandness, we created an “archipelago” format for our final publication. We decided to create multiple short texts, each one an “island” in the final larger archipelago. Each island would concern itself with one theme, and within the context of the larger archipelago would find the resonances and references to other concepts. We accepted that within this there would be slight thematic overlaps, but that each island could potentially treat a similar concept with a different perspective. For example, the textual island themed “Mainland/island” looked at power relationships between mainland and island, and specifically at re-examining the Indonesian concept of “goytong rotong”, or reciprocity, as a way of circumventing top-down authority. Other textual islands also looked at power, but addressed this notion in geographical, technological, or cultural ways.

The idea of island as outpost and laboratory became a focal point where histories of technology and sociotechnical imaginaries intersected strongly with the concept of remoteness. In the textual island we developed entitled “Laboratory”, we explored the long history of how islands lend themselves well to becoming sites for technological or social experimentation, or as Schalansky points out: “For empirical research, every island is a cause for celebration, a natural laboratory.” (Schalansky 2010) The constant search for new territory is expressed in the dark visions of techno-libertartians who promote concepts such as seasteading or the colonization of outer space. Techno-libertarians also fetishize islands (natural or created) as providing an ideal incubator for moonshot projects, away from the regulatory structures and taxation obligations of nation states. These principles are made clear in, for example, Wayne Gramlich’s manifesto ‘Seasteading: Homesteading on the High Seas’: “tax avoidance is my pick as the most powerful motivator for the development of sea surface colonization technology.” (Gramlich 1998)

Another key island in our textual archipelago examined the phenomenon of frugal innovation. When materials can take quite some time to arrive, or aren’t available at all, local hacks provide a way to continue to experiment with new designs to common problems. Known as a ‘kludge’ in America, ‘bodge’ in England, ‘jeitinho’ in Brazil, ‘jua kali’ in Kenya, ‘jugaad’ in India, ‘zizhu’ in China and ‘Systeme D ‘in France, this way of creating has resonance far beyond the island context. However, we noted that “Islands serve as a microcosm of the world, reminding us of the global condition of having limited resources – and that ad hoc repairs, whether on an island or on the mainland, is a raw form of design that stands in contrast to the standardized, commodified and generic.” (Kasprzak et al, 2017)

Once we had drafted our series of textual islands, the question remained about how to best present them. Typically a book sprint involves several collaborators working on a digital document which is then published as an EPUB and shared. These results are sometimes printed out as short-run books. In our case, our multiple textual islands lent themselves well to neither an EPUB nor a printed document, and instead we found the hypertext paradigm fit our concept best. Using Twine, an online tool for constructing simple games, we were able to create our archipelago, even including a simple method of wayfinding and navigation in the pages. (Fig 3)

Fig 3. Working view of the Twine coding interface, showing the “island/archipelago” structure of our publication.

Our event drew to a close, and we continued the work of final editing and sourcing images. Throughout we maintained a commitment to ‘island thinking’ and tried to imagine what the connections were between textual islands. The thematic pieces of writing all belonged together in one archipelago, but it is a network with connections of various strengths among islands. We made choices on where to include links to other islands based on what we believed were particularly strong or relevant thematic connections.

Throughout our process, we continually returned to the notion of how the edges can lead, or be independent, instead of being the isolated backstage, tapped of resources to support a distant metropole. With this final collection of textual islands, we hope to provide a stimulating set of responses to the ongoing issue of technological development and how it benefits and burdens center and periphery in differing ways.

Read the full publication: http://bit.do/periphery

Community and identity in contemporary technosciences: Conceptual issues and empirical change

In February 2017, about 30 international STS scholars gathered in a three-day workshop to address ‘Community and Identity in Contemporary Technosciences’. Presentations were based on case studies featuring so-called emerging fields such as synthetic biology or nanotechnology, interaction formats such as science festivals, and collaborative environments such as excellence centres or COST projects. The ubiquitous and far reaching impact of a new funding regime and its local interpretations and repercussions resulted as a common theme from presentations and discussions. Also, the presentations reflected an ongoing search for new conceptions of scientific community and identity so as to foster the empirically grounded analyses of modes of being and belonging in science.

Doing science comes with a specific identity and membership. From Ludwig Fleck’s ‘thought collectives’ to Warren Hagstrom inspired ‘scientific communities’, from Tony Becher and Paul Trowler’s ‘academic tribes’ to Knorr Cetina’s ‘transepistemic networks’, STS scholars have been busy analysing links between identity and belonging and conceptualising what the socio-cultural units of such belonging might be. Still, conceptual discussions on these themes somehow dissipated, with central arguments left hanging in the air (is it communities or networks that are the basic units of epistemic cultures?) or even untouched (how does scientific identity relate to community membership?). One cause of this unresolved situation might be that the decisive aspects of such arguments lay in the details of each empirical case and the specific questions its analysis raises. Another cause might be found in the parallel existence of anthropological and sociological approaches. And with all the pressing new issues of contemporary STS, we might well take a relaxed view on all this ambiguity, unresolvedness and multivocality. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) some fundamental shifts within our contemporary empirical cases render this comfortable position problematic. Some things are definitely on the move with regard to scientific communities and identities, however we used to conceptualise them in the 1930s, 1960s or 1980s. It stands to be proven anew that we have the conceptual instruments and theoretical clarity to re-construct and analyse these changes and make sense of current constellations. We are faced with new education/socialisation phenomena like synthetic biology’s iGEM competitions where students compete in constructing ‘Genetically Engineered Machines’[i], with institutional reorganisations like university reforms, with new modes of institutionalisation like excellence initiatives, with new funding constellations and paradigms like the ones of Horizon2020 and RRI. All these leave their traces in community constellations and identity patterns within science; and they do so in resonance with the very  local (geographic, institutional, sub-disciplinary) parameters at hand (cp. Merz and Sormani, 2016).

A short look at – admittedly my own empirical case – the University of Vienna’s biology departments may further illustrate what I hint at: for 100 years, the University of Vienna was content to feature one or two chairs of zoology, one chair of botany and one chair of plant physiology. A human biology / anthropology institute existed almost as long, switching from one label to the other and back after its split from cultural anthropology. Since the early 2000s, along with legal and organizational reforms, this situation has changed abruptly: you will look for a zoology or botany department in vain (‘integrative zoology’ is the closest you get to such ‘antiquated’ traditional labels), instead be impressed by a quickly growing number of new labels, such as ‘computation systems biology’ or ‘microbiology and ecosystems science’, affiliated with ever more complicated organisational constructions – such as interfaculty and interuniversity centres – and very likely ever shorter shelf life.

And then, STS is also confronted with and co-created by these new conditions. How we think of community and identity, how we make use of our re-constructions and discussions of community and identity and how they are made use of is open to change. New funding programmes and initiatives address scientific communities and identities in a new strategic manner, aiming at building, nurturing or engineering them so as to enhance the competitiveness, productivity and responsibility of contemporary technoscience. The European Commission’s Framework Programmes are probably the most visible representatives of this new funding regime. Not only did they gain influence with ever higher monetary power in absolute and relative terms, they also changed their character from rather open, unlabelled calls for medium scale projects to targeted calls for large scale collaborative projects with more specific agendas (beyond the overarching stimulation of a ‘European Research Area’ to secure ‘Europe’s global competitiveness’) – or, in the European Commissioners’ own words: “Their objective has also evolved from supporting cross-border collaboration in research and technology to now encouraging a truly European coordination of activities and policies” (Moedas and Smits, 2015:1). Recent Framework Programmes include ‘Coordination Actions’ such as ERASysBio, explicitly aiming at “support[ing] the convergence of life sciences with information technology & systems science”[ii] with diverse activities, thereby self-consciously co-creating a new technoscientific identity and community with a new repertoire of funding Instruments.

This, in short, was the motivation to organise an international and interdisciplinary workshop to probe our notions and empirical accounts of “community and identity in contemporary technosciences” (thematically a follow up of a session held at the EASST conference 2016 in Barcelona, see below). The respective organising committee of this workshop included Martina Merz (Alpen Adria University Klagenfurt), Ulrike Felt, Max Fochler, Anna Pichelstorfer (University of Vienna), Niki Vermeulen (University of Edinburgh) and myself. The workshop was co-funded by EASST, STS Austria, the Alpen Adria University Klagenfurt, the University of Vienna, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Austrian Science Fund.

FIGURE 1: Gathering right before the second public keynote at the Biozentrum Vienna – with organismal biology’s take on identity and change over time (© Karen Kastenhofer)

In February 2017, some 30 workshop participants from the US, UK, France, Denmark, Germany and Austria, affiliated with sociology, philosophy, history, political science and cultural anthropology, and representing all academic career stages from PhD student to professor, gathered at the Alpen Adria Universities’ Institute of Science Communication and Higher Education Research in Vienna to present their take on this theme. The workshop spanned three days and comprised four sessions: two sessions focussing on aspects of community, two sessions focussing on aspects of identity. All presentations drew on empirical material from so-called ’emerging fields’ in the realm of science (such as supramolecular chemistry, systems medicine, systems biology, synthetic biology, microbial fuel research and nanotechnology) or cutting edge science and engineering more generally.

The first session combined very similar papers: all of them addressed the impact of the current funding regime on community building and characteristics in synthetic biology / microbial fuel research. Community was addressed as ‘paradoxical establishment’, as ‘project-ed community’ or described as ‘community of needs’ or ‘community of utilisation’. With the changing context of community formation – so one résumé – the very character and function of community seems to change. Following this first session, Susan Molyneux-Hodgson (University of Exeter) gave a public keynote on ‘Making a new community: the ‘scaling up’ of synthetic biology’. The second session combined papers that allowed for contrasting different conceptions of sociality in inter-disciplinary fields, spanning from sociality as institutionalisation to collective reactions towards the dominant funding regime or to stabilising collaboration networks; here, clearly the old debate of communality as culture and community or as collaboration and network lured in the back.

The third and fourth session addressed the precarious situation of technoscientific identity and related ‘identity games’. Two papers focussed on socialisation processes, one on discrepancies between science ideals and the actual reality of every day experiences, the other on the often ignored impact novices can have on technoscientific fields. Two further papers addressed how technoscientists make strategic use of identity work, by playing the game and adopting provisional identities. The last four presentations scrutinized four different organisational contexts: a COST action, the FP 6 framework programme, a science festival and a transdisciplinary funding programme. Authors addressed ‘hybrid actors’, ‘multiple identities’, ‘reactive identities’ and identity work as ‘choreography’. A public keynote by Alfred Nordmann (Technical University Darmstadt) addressed the issue of identity, referencing Max Weber’s “Wissenschaft als Beruf”.

In short, I found two aspects of this workshop and the preceding sessions in Torun and Barcelona most striking: first, how the theme got translated into an issue for STS seemed to depend very much on the local configurations of the respective empirical context. Bettina Bock von Wulfingen (Humboldt University, Berlin,) at the respective session in Barcelona, had focused on an excellence initiative – an institutional research format specific to the contemporary German education and science system; Sarah R. Davies’ (University of Copenhagen) take on a science festival also reminds us of the very local relevance and interpretation of this scheme of interaction, presenting science and scientists at public locations via interactive formats; with Béatrice Cointe’s (University Aix Marseille) analysis of “one large regional project on microbial energy” again regionality is put forward as a theme; the influence of local conditions was tangible in Marianne Noel’s (Univ. Paris-Est) historical reconstruction of the emergence of supramolecular chemistry in France, while transdisciplinarity and academia / industry integration were a central issue in presentations from Austria based scholars Anja Köngeter (Austrian Institute of Technology), Barbara Grimpe (Alpen Adria University) and Andrea Schikowitz (University of Vienna) – arguably because disciplines and basic academic research are still very influential points of reference in this local context.

Second, all presentations in one way or the other referred to influences of funding schemes. Thus, emerging technosciences seem inevitably to be tied to the trans-local emergence of a new funding regime, albeit with its very local repercussions. This observation already found its way into the scholarly literature (cp. e.g. Whitley et al. 2018), but warrants further analyses and discussion. What will the medium and long term effects of this change in science governance on scientific community and identity be? How will they relate to the new interest of funders and funding programmes in these very same categories? If, for example the identification with one specific field or community erodes, what sense does it make to target a specific communities’ ethos or sense of responsibility? If a specific mode of community has already ceased to exist, what sense does it make to aim at building and strengthening allegedly ‘emerging communities’ (like that of systems biology or synthetic biology)?

A dedicated volume, covering presentations from the session in Barcelona in 2016, from an even earlier session at the EASST conference in Torun 2014 (details below) and from the workshop in Vienna in 2017, is currently in preparation and will hopefully be published this year. Any feedback concerning your take on this theme is highly welcome! Also, a track on identity is scheduled for this year’s EASST conference in Lancaster, organised by two workshop participants, Sarah Schönbauer and Rosalind Attenborough (details below).

[i] “The iGEM Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, and the development of an open community and collaboration. This is done by fostering an open, cooperative community and friendly competition.” (http://igem.org, last accessed 5 April 2018).

[ii] Compare <https://www.erasysbio.net/Summary>, last accessed 5 April 2018.

What does a workshop? Reporting from an event on STS and democracy

Last November, a collection of European STS researchers gathered in Copenhagen for an EASST-sponsored workshop focusing on STS and Democracy. Keynote speaker Kristin Asdal kicked off with a tour-de-force of “concepts, approaches and origins” with which to think about STS and politics. The second day started with Andrew Barry’s empirically rich keynote on the different materials and registers of a controversy surrounding an Italian gas pipeline. For the remainder of the two days, participants presented not their own, but each other’s draft papers. This is what happened, but how did it come about, and what came out of it? What does a workshop?

The two ‘doings’ of a workshop

Describing a completed workshop seems at the first instance a challenge of recounting the important parts of the event without boring the reader to death. However, as one of the organizers, I am acutely aware that a lot of work took place before and after (and around) the event itself. Such work is rendered invisible in the way most meetings are reported. Another question that bugs the organizer is what came out of the workshop? Did we achieve what we hoped for? Asking “What does a workshop?” captures both of these agendas: How was it done and what did it do? In this short exposition, I will deal with each in turn.

Figure 1: The illuminated walkway at Aalborg University Copenhagen on the evening of 23rd November 2017.

What came before the event?

First, there is the issue of ‘what does the doing‘ of a workshop. How was the workshop done, how did it come about? This line of questioning takes us back to the year 2013, when three Copenhagen-based researchers embarked on their doctoral dissertations. The life of a PhD student can be a lonely one, so when the three realised they not only shared timing but also an interest in STS and politics, they decided to start an exclusive but also entirely informal organization called the Working Group for STS and Politics (WGSP). In all three calendars, events marked WGSP started to occur.

One member was studying a municipal election (Vadgaard 2016), another the coming together of a zero-emissions island community (Papazu 2016), the third how media publics relate to issue politics (Birkbak 2016). Across different empirical commitments, we found uniting themes such as how to negotiate relations between the highly normative idea of democracy and the mostly descriptive impetus of actor-network theory. Differently put: How to describe the ideal when the ideal is description? On top of such conundrums, we spent several meetings commenting on each other’s draft chapters and comparing the three different labyrinthic universities to which we belonged.

Fast forward to 2016, and suddenly all three had completed and defended their theses. This tale might have ended here, but WGSP had, despite its informality, achieved a sort of institutional inertia, asking: What’s next? Dreams of an anthology project on the common question of STS and democracy became more concrete when EASST announced its biannual call for applications for workshop funding. We wrote a proposal calling for “a democracy-in-action approach” that pays ”close attention to the situated practices and entanglements” of ”political institutions and concepts”. Our search for allies was successful: On 23-24 November 2017, 18 scholars from 7 different European countries met at Aalborg University in Copenhagen for an EASST-sponsored workshop under the headline of STS and Democracy.

Various other activities led up to the event. At the 3rd Nordic STS Conference taking place in Gothenburg last year, we organized a panel together with Linda Soneryd on STS and democratic politics. Kristin Asdal was among the participants in our panel and she later joined us as a keynote speaker at the workshop in Copenhagen. We were fortunate to have another top capacity on the topic of STS and politics, Andrew Barry, to join as our second keynote speaker. The other participants, who were selected based on abstract submissions following a call distributed on the Eurograd mailing list, were also put to work: We asked everyone to submit a short chapter draft in advance and prepare to present not their own, but someone else’s chapter. Over the two days in Copenhagen, each participant was subjected to having their paper presented by another participant, followed by time for discussion in which the author was welcome to contribute on an equal footing with everyone else, but was encouraged to listen rather than speak.

What did the event do?

A more complete account would explore all the other work that took place before and around the event – all the emails, the catering, the funding, the nerves, etc. – but let us move on to the second question of what a workshop does. How did the event affect the world around it? Some participants commented that an informal and collaborative atmosphere was created at the workshop, which made it possible to be relatively frank with each other about the strengths and weaknesses of the work-in-progress texts. The fact that all drafts were short enough to be read quickly, combined with the circumstance that all papers had at least one designated reader, meant that there was rarely a shortage of comments and questions. Presenting someone else’s paper in addition to having one’s own paper presented also meant that each participant was ‘activated’ at least twice during the workshop. All in all, the format turned out to be an intense but also involving one.

In addition to these sessions designed to feed into the work of an author in the middle of writing, the workshop also surveyed how STS researchers in Europe engage with democratic politics at the moment. Several threads could be identified, while still intertwined with one another. One part of the workshop contributions followed up on a long-standing STS interest in participation, asking for instance how participation becomes meaningful in practice or how public dialogue approaches are co-shaped with STS. Another set of the papers focused on how existing scientific and technological practices evoke questions related to democracy, including maker prototypes, carbon markets, and ethical oversight committees. Finally, a third group of participants emphasized the devices with which democratic politics are made in practice, such as big data software for targeted political campaigning, municipal election procedures, newspaper debate, refugee activism, and social media diplomacy.

Across these themes and empirical touchpoints a meeting place was created for multiple STS traditions interrogating political assemblages and their democratic aspirations. It became clear that a new generation of scholars are ready to contribute to the growing conversation about STS interventions into the twin activities of studying and caring for democratic politics. Aside from the peer feedback and motivation that participants brought home from Copenhagen, the jury is still out on what exactly the workshop ‘did’. Hopefully it will be possible to continue the exchanges started at the event and work towards a collected volume on the matter. Such a book would immediately become the most tangible outcome of the workshop. The workshop would then be one of the invisible connectors that made the book come about, in the same way that WGSP was an important yet largely invisible part of what made the workshop possible.

As the lighted walkway on the AAU campus in Copenhagen was there to remind us, there are always new gaps to be crossed, and while the bridge between STS and democracy is far from steady, at least for a couple of days in November, we worked on it together.

I would like to thank all the workshop participants for their wonderful contributions, including not least the two keynote speakers. I also wish to salute my two co-organizers Irina Papazu and Anne Kathrine Pihl Vadgaard, and the following sponsors: The European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (The Annual EASST Fund), the Department of Learning and Philosophy, Aalborg University, and the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School.

Limn

Limn is a scholarly magazine that focuses on contemporary problems arising at the intersection of politics, expertise and collective life. It is also an experiment in scholarly production in the interpretive human sciences that explores new kinds of collective work and publication. Limn is available both in an open access web format and in print. Each issue of the print magazine has a custom graphic design, with a range of imagery and graphic material related to the contributions.

We created Limn in response to a set of concerns that arose from our shared background in the rapidly changing field of American cultural anthropology during the 1990s and 2000s. At the time, the discipline encouraged individualized work on particular sites or multi-sites, and valorized virtuosic interpretation and writing, while leaving little space for collaborative inquiry or concept work beyond abstract discussions of “theory.” However appropriate these orientations were for anthropology as traditionally conceived, a different approach seemed to be required for studying some of the topics that were moving to the center of the discipline at the time, such as science, technology, bureaucratic rationality, and planning. Given this background—and against it—we were all interested in exploring how research on specific sites or multi-sites might be brought into communication, and what alternative models of inquiry, writing, and publication might foster collaboration.

Initially, we pursued these questions, both together and separately, through well-established vehicles of collective work, such as conference panels, workshops, collected volumes, and joint projects. Our first experiment with novel directions in collective work was the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory (ARC), a collaboration with Paul Rabinow. ARC was a setting in which we began to think about models of inquiry that would allow researchers working on disparate sites to explore common problems that had contemporary significance. In launching Limn as separate initiative, we were particularly concerned question such as: How to expand the network of collaborators? How to establish a distinctive approach to the anthropology of the contemporary while remaining open to cross-fertilization with other approaches? How to re-imagine what scholarly work and publication can be after the Internet and open access? And how might collaboration provide a fresh way to respond in a timely manner to contemporary problems?

The 2009 Deepwater Horizon disaster provided a push in thinking about these issues. In various problem-domains—from computer security, to pandemic preparedness, emergency management, and critical infrastructure protection—we had all been thinking about the renewed contemporary concern among experts and policymakers with the vulnerability of critical systems and had been in communication with colleagues working along parallel lines. We initially entertained the idea of asking some of these colleagues to comment directly on the Deepwater Horizon event. Eventually, however, we settled on a different approach: to shed light on the event by placing it in the context of other events, sites, and problem-areas that raised similar questions, and that pointed to genealogical framings that might help understand why it was being taken up, and responded to, in a particular way. This, initially, was what we meant by “Limn”: to illuminate the space around the event, to understand how it became intelligible, thinkable, and governable. Limn 1, the issue that eventually emerged out of these discussions, was centered on the problem of “systemic risk,” as well as the norms, such as resilience and preparedness, that are invoked in response.

In the course of work on Limn 1 we took note of a productive dynamic. Although we had started with a sense of a core problem that would shape the issue, the process of identifying a group of contributors, discussing possible contributions, and ultimately reading and commenting on those contributions broadened our frame of reference. In this case, it allowed us to think about how a concept from a particular domain—systemic risk was specifically a term of art in financial regulation—might illuminate a broader problematization of contemporary life. Many of our subsequent issues have settled on a term from a particular field that seems to illuminate a broader set of problems: disease ecology, public infrastructure, chokepoints, and hacks, for example. In other cases, we have adapted such “first order” terms to designate something pervasive but as yet unnamed: such as “little development devices,” the “total archive,” or “sentinel devices.”

This orientation to shaping shared problems has given rise to a distinctive work process. In considering proposals for issues, we undertake an intensive and sometimes laborious process—involving both the general editors and the “issue editors” who have made the proposal—of identifying the core concept or problems that should be at the center of the issue, and the historical framing that will bring it to life. A great deal of this work takes place in the crafting, revising, and narrowing of prompts which we use to identify and then invite particular people to participate in an issue. These prompts are not published, and the work that goes into them is not directly visible in the journal itself, though they often provide a first outline for the introduction or preface to each issue.

Limn has also been an experiment in scholarly publishing in a time of rapid and significant change in that world. Limn has built on various experiences: Kelty’s experience with the success of the blog Savage Minds, the collaboration around ARC, the rise and spread of open access, and the rapid change in the availability and suitability of technical tools suitable for both online publication and DIY print publication. Limn is also a reaction to the standardization and normalization of journals and article forms, to the disciplinary gate-keeping that often governs academic publishing, and the slow publication process and public inaccessibility of most disciplinary journals. Despite what might have been an obvious (and labor-saving) choice to go all-digital, we also recognized early on that the print magazine still commands a large degree of respect and authority among academics, and confers a sense that the endeavor is more than a blog or a kind of online confab. Our commitment to producing a bespoke design for each issue is both a tribute to the history of the small magazine (and a desire to preserve that form and practice in the face of digital dissolution), and an attempt to think about design, juxtaposition, layout, format as elements of a collaborative enterprise.

All the work on Limn is done by the three general editors (Collier, Kelty, and Lakoff), the graphic designer (Høyem), copyeditors and research assistants, and, crucially, the co-editors who work on, and have generally proposed, a particular issue. Thus far we have been lucky to have such input from Lilly Irani, Nick Seaver, Frederic Keck, Mikko Jauho, David Schleifer, Bart Penders, Xaq Frohlich, Boris Jardine, Antina von Schnitzler, James Christopher Mizes, Biella Coleman, Peter Redfield, Jason Cons, Townsend Middleton, Ashley Carse, and Alice Street. The bulk of the money we spend goes to the design of the print version. Thus far, there has been no marketing or promotion, and no involvement from any professional press or journal, and no managing editor; all production and distribution for the journal relies on other infrastructures (tools like Amazon’s CreateSpace or MailChimp), which are both liberating and at the same time, unstable.

Since the first issue of Limn in 2011, this labor-of-love, small-scale, outsider experiment has exceeded our expectations. As of this writing, we are about to release our tenth issue. We have published over fifteen hundred pages of writing by more than one hundred twenty contributors. Over one thousand subscribers are on our mailing list and our twitter account has more than one thousand followers. Anecdotally, our colleagues appreciate Limn as a welcome alternative to existing venues of scholarly publishing. Despite the fact that Limn offers none of the professional rewards of publication in standard academic journals, nearly all of the authors we invite to write for Limn agree to do so.

We reflect frequently on the kind of future we imagine for Limn—and whether, indeed, it should have a future, or should be concluded as a limited experiment that has run its course. What remains at the heart of the endeavor and keeps us engaged is the desire to find a form for collaborative inquiry that escapes the more stultifying aspects of normal university and disciplinary life, and that sustains and valorizes intellectual engagement. We continue to discuss Limn as if it were more than a magazine—as an umbrella, network, or platform—and frequently ask ourselves how the model might evolve. Are there ways in which a “Limn 2.0” might better realize those ambitions by opening up the editorial collective, or loosening our own sense of what this platform is good for? Might there be opportunities to explore collaboration with an established press? Or would the compromises (to accessibility, to format, to the genre of contribution) outweigh the benefits of greater support in editing, production, and distribution?

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!

Creating spaces for debate and action

This editorial is written in the middle of a strike in UK academia. I sincerely hope that by the time this appears, a satisfactory solution will have been found, but at the moment I am rather sceptical. The strike seems to be the culmination of a series of political events that have deep influence on academic life, and although the formal reason for strike is the proposed changes to pensions of UK academic staff, these pensions also represent broader problems in contemporary academia and its financing system. Next to pension problems sit vast increases in student fees and huge salaries for vice-chancellors (see also https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/mar/11/university-vice-chancellors-are-paid-far-more-than-public-sector-peers?CMP=share_btn_tw). This of course is all interlinked with forms of metric based governance, expressed in rankings, indexes and evaluation systems, including REF and TEF. These problems are specific to the UK while to some extent mirrored in other countries too.

Here is an important question that arose for me and my colleagues: How can we as academics effectively protest and change the ways in which universities are governed? Is disrupting teaching the most effective way to give a message to the management, or are there other ways to disrupt administration? In any case, with cancelled classes and supportive students, the reactions of university managers were often absent or remarkably slow. Some sense of urgency came only weeks into the announcement and the actual strike, but without any satisfactory solution so far. This is especially disconcerting since the university management is largely composed of academics and as such reflects some deep problems in our own community which already have been excellently addressed in recent Manifestos by colleagues from Aberdeen (https://reclaimingouruniversity.wordpress.com) and the Netherlands (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11024-015-9270-9).

In the UK action and debates took place in various spaces: on the picket line, through empty lecture halls and offices, during teach-outs, through the occupation of buildings, and on twitter. The strike was occupying the digital space too. Twitter was actually the best source of information on the strike, providing a value that is often unclear (see for many examples #ucu on twitter).

As an STS-er in another country, one is always somewhat of an outsider, while trained in ethnographic methods too, and as such I spent some time trying to understand the UK system in strike mode. My early field notes are full of surprise. Especially concerning the amount of rules and regulations that different parties stipulate. I will not go into detail here, but it certainly comes across as a very disciplined strike, in which different strike levels can be subscribed to, requiring careful registration. To me, this seems a bit against the idea of rebellion and unruliness that goes with striking, and I think I would prefer a simple strike: no work – none whatsoever! – till a solution is found.

Twitter was a means to check what actually happened. Here I could find information about motivations and actions, about the different organisations involved, about the ways in which my own university handled the situation, and what was taking place at other universities. These tweets are brilliant research material (who takes this up?), and show the emotional engagement – including anger, frustration, and hope – covered with some good sense of British humour. And even the negotiations were at one point arranged through a twitter exchange (see below), perhaps in line with contemporary politics but I could not believe my eyes.

negotiations through twitter exchange

The importance of (virtual) spaces for debates and actions also became a main discussion point during the meeting ‘Science, Technology and Public Value: Beyond responsible innovation?’ organised by the Biotechnology and Society Research Group at King’s College Department of Global Health & Social Medicine. In a wonderful meeting space called ‘Wallacespace’ in the heart of London, we gathered around tables to search for positive ways forward based on experiences with RRI type of research. We reflected on the importance of space for interaction, and how the spatial design can enhance both formal and informal exchanges. This connects to my own work on the Francis Crick Institute which is especially designed to enhance collaboration, and it is of course also relevant when thinking about interactions between (social)scientists, stakeholders and publics. What would be the way forward here?Do we need to complement common time with common space, or is it about inviting each other in our own familiar space, or creating a new common home? Another important discussion evolved around the occupation of epistemic spaces, and how the process of priority setting is an important place to analyse and influence (see colleagues Ismael Ràfols and Jack Stilgoe on priorities in biomedical research: https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2018/mar/16/who-benefits-from-biomedical-science).

Within our own academic community spaces for debate and discussion are crucial too. We need to, for instance, pay attention to the identity of scientists, and the education of new generations of researchers within transforming academic environments. The relations between community and identity in contemporary techno-science was on the agenda in workshop in Vienna last year, supported by EASST funds and reported on in this issue by organiser Karen Kastenhofer of the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) and the Austrian STS network (see also http://www.sts-austria.org/events/). One of its key members, the STS department of the University of Vienna is celebrating its 30th birthday with an academic party: congratulations Helga, Uli, Max and all colleagues!

Within a community that studies the interaction between science and society, it is no surprise that political and social developments are permeating academia. However, recent events such as the science marches (see colleague Bart Penders on this topic: https://doi.org/10.15252/embr.201744935), the UK strike and the effects of brexit do not only require action but also analysis and reflections. Thereby it seems important to have an academic platform outside of twitter, where discussions and debates on these developments can take place.

The British strike action fell together with what has been named, the ‘big freeze’, or the ‘beast from the east’ which added to disruptions in life, but at the moment the last snow is melting under the sunshine and we are awaiting Spring. Here is hoping for some positive (green)energy in the months to come!