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STS-informed approaches to biobanking, medical technologies and biotechnology: A workshop review

The two-day Research Workshop on Science, Technology, Society (STS) / History, Technology, Society (HTS): Bioeconomy, Biotechnology, Medical Technologies was held in Athens, Greece, on 19–20 April 2018.1 It took place in the hospitable seminar room of the Historical Archive of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, located in the lively city centre. The organizers designed this workshop in the context of the ongoing research project “The public debate on umbilical cord blood banking in Greece: Approaches from the interdisciplinary field Science, Technology, Society (STS)”, funded by the Onassis Foundation (Special Grant and Support Program for Scholars’ Association Members) and hosted by the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, School of Science, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens).2 An open call, specifying the aims of the workshop, was widely circulated in order to attract contributions by interested scholars. The additional funding secured through the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology – EASST Fund 2018 made travel grants to scholars from abroad possible, in order to facilitate their participation in the workshop and to promote the exchange of ideas. 

The design of the workshop served the purpose of bringing together scholars working on umbilical cord blood (UCB) biobanking and the STS/HTS research community working on broader themes regarding biotechnology and medical technologies. The programme of the workshop was designed so as to provoke critical discussions about the theoretical frameworks and the methodologies employed in current STS research projects, in order to contribute to developing novel research questions in the respective empirical fields. The idea of the workshop was to cultivate dialogue, following the recent STS interest in the development and functioning of biobanking practices, among other developments in the technosciences, in the context of a growing bioeconomy (see, for instance, Pavone and Goven, 2017; Gardner and Webster, 2017; Birch, 2017). Consideration of biobanking practices as well as a range of biomedical technologies in modern society, through perspectives from the humanities and the social sciences, was the focus of the workshop, in order to open up discussions among the participants and the broader Greek STS/HTS research community. The sessions aimed to provoke detailed and wide-ranging discussion on concerted research efforts from diverse geographical sites and varied interdisciplinary foci. Indeed, the diverse thematic and geographic contributions (from Europe, North America, Africa and Asia) matched this scope. Furthermore, the programme of the workshop reflected this ambition. Apart from the four traditional sessions, the workshop included an invited speech and a session with stakeholders from the Greek biobanking sector. The audience and the faculty members chairing the sessions engaged in thought-provoking dialogue and proved the fruition of this initiative in the local research community.

Fig. 1: The Workshop Poster

The first session, Appropriating STS/HTS concepts and perspectives in dissertation research about medical technologies, provided the opportunity to elaborate on the methodological challenges of interdisciplinary research in biomedicine. Marilena Pateraki presented her ongoing research focusing on the ways to interpret the variation in body-technology relations in the case of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for persons with Parkinson’s disease in the Greek healthcare system. Her ethnographic research directs attention to theorizing the relations brought about by implanted technologies and to appropriating such technologies in a specific sociotechnical setting. Kostas Raptis addressed the historical encounters of digitalization efforts in medical diagnostics in relation to the conceptualization of death. His contribution emphasized the need to deal with the sociality of technologies in biomedicine, tracing the conceptualization of death in specific works. In her presentation, Aspasia Kandaraki focused on research practices, studied through video recordings, in order to analyse the embodied and experiential character of real-time work with digital technology in a medical imaging software development laboratory. 

In the second session, Trends in biotechnology policy and bioeconomy, Yulie Foka-Kavalieraki presented the initial results from her research on the attitudes of Greek citizens toward biotechnology. Then, Blessing Silaigwana directed attention to biobanking governance. Given the diverse regulatory options in European countries, Silaigwana he argued for the need to support ethical biobank research in the context of developing recommendations for biobanking practice in Africa. 

Fig. 2: Blessing Silaigwana presentation in Session 2

In the third session, Rethinking biovalues and the political economy of biobanking, the presenters drew on case studies to highlight the relation of transnational developments and local characteristics in configurations related to novel biomedical technologies. Polina Vlasenko talked about the political economy of transnational ova provision, by analysing the processes of the generation and appropriation of the economic cycle of ova produced in Ukraine for exchange in the global reproductive market. She argued that the persistent non-recognition of egg donors as fully fledged workers (as well as mothers, persons, bodies) reinforces the invisibility of their labour and disposability of their bodies. Amishi Panwar discussed the market of cord blood stem cells in India. She juxtaposed traditional methods of storing the umbilical cord with the recent growth in biobanking practices, and stressed the importance of anthropological research to better capture the cultural and historical significance of storing cord blood. Constantinos Morfakis and Katerina Vlantoni examined the factors that accommodated the growth of private/family UCB banking in Greece, making Greece the “El Dorado of private UCB banks’, by paying attention to the processes of transforming UCB as a form of biological insurance and to the wider economics of the Greek health sector.

Fig. 3: Panel discussion in Session 3

In the fourth session, STS and Biobanks: Opening the “Black Box” of UCB biobanks, Jennie Haw presented her research on the enrolment into allogeneic circulation of cord blood in the case of Canada’s National Public Cord Blood Bank. Examining cord blood banking as manufacturing biologics, Haw suggested that it foregrounds the production of biovalue and biocapital in biological materials, and illustrates the tensions between manufacturing and clinical logics. In the following presentation, Lorenzo Beltrame discussed the biopolitics of UCB banking in Italy and the UK, by focusing on the way that the collection of cord blood units is organized and on the strategies to involve donors. He argued for paying attention to the participation of citizens/donors as it relates to the target of covering the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) variability in possible recipients. Astha Jaiswal shifted the focus on the dominant discourse (choice, control and reassurance) constructed by commercial UCB banks for banking UCB. Her findings suggested that the need for private/family banking has been created on the grounds of the responsibility of expectant parents to do the “best” for the child (choice), of not missing this “once in a life time opportunity”(control), and of avoiding the distress of a future illness (reassurance). Concluding this session, Pablo Santoro reflected on the changes undergone by UCB banking sectors during the last decade and on how recent STS-informed approaches to biobanking, encompassing a renewed attention to materiality, to processes of commodification, and to hybridity, can shed light on some of the current features of UCB banking in Spain. 

The fifth, and last, session of the workshop had a different scope: to engage with stakeholders in the Greek UCB banking sectors. The rationale of the session Engaging with stakeholders: Institutional arrangements and bioethical challenges in UCB biobanking, was that given the research focus of the workshop participants, most of whom have conducted primary research on the topic in other national settings, the opportunity to interact with stakeholders from Greece would be stimulating. Each of the invited speakers (Takis Vidalis, scientific officer on the National Bioethics Commission, and Vassiliki Gkioka and Aggeliki Xagorari, both representing public UCB banks) made a short presentation about the institutional challenges that have arisen with the operation of UCB banks, their view in relation to the opposition between public and private/family biobanks for the future of the bioeconomy sector, and their opinion with regard to the emergence of this opposition in the case of Greece. The presentations were followed by a lively and stimulating discussion with the workshop participants, providing a basis for cross-national comparisons. Representatives from the private UCB banking sector were also invited (through contact with the Greek UCB Banks Association – EETOA), but, unfortunately, did not participate in the session despite their initial acceptance.

Fig. 4: Lorenzo Beltrame delivering the Invited Speech

On the evening of the first day of the workshop, Lorenzo Beltrame delivered a speech entitled “Cord Blood and the City: On the hybrid economies of international exchange of cord blood for transplantation”. A broad audience of about 60 people, including undergraduate students, attended the invited speech. Beltrame presented the ways the institutional boundaries between public and private UCB banking and the distinction between redistribution and market exchanges are blurred and decoupled. He convincingly argued that heterogeneous pressures co-shape private and public UCB banking; nonetheless, public banking, while not being a paradigm of redistributive economy, is neither one of market economy. He paid attention to the international exchange of a cord blood unit as a transplant and argued that it is “a particular form of market exchange coherent with the moral economy”. Beltrame further elaborated on his argument that public banks engage in cord blood exchange, a practice that “resembles the economy of the medieval city, based on redistribution supported by regulated market exchanges at set prices”.

The speech, in tandem with all the contributions to the workshop, shed light on a range of issues worth exploring regarding the shaping of and the complex practices involved in medical technologies and biotechnological innovations, on both the local and global scale. With regard to biobanking practices, the participants showed that case studies dealing with current practices in different national settings could offer more nuanced understanding of the processes of commercialization, commodification and biovalue production, together with a renewed attention to the materialities involved. Further perspectives could bring together the dynamics of cord blood bioeconomies with those of the political economy of healthcare.

Fig. 5: Workshop participants during lunch break

 Discussions flourished during the two days of the workshop, and continued during the social events, including lunch and dinner. During dinner, in a terrace under the shade of the Acropolis hill, the participants animatedly exchanged their ideas and discussed future opportunities to meet up again. As can be seen, EASST, through the allocation of travel grants, made possible an important forum for bringing together STS scholars, and gave impetus to the future publication of the workshop contributions.

 

 This workshop was co-funded by the EASST Fund 2018.

1 For the full programme, see: http://www.phs.uoa.gr/hst/Projects/Project_Biobanks_Workshop.html

2 The duration of the project has been from October 2016 up to September 2018. For more, see http://www.phs.uoa.gr/hst/Projects/Project_Biobanks.html.

 

References 

Birch, K. (2017). Rethinking Value in the Bio-economy: Finance, Assetization, and the Management of Value. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 42(3), 460–490.

Gardner, J., & Webster, A. (2017). Accelerating Innovation in the Creation of Biovalue: The Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 42(5), 925–946.

Pavone, V., & Goven, J. (eds) (2017). Bioeconomies: Life, Technology, and Capital in the 21st Century. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

STS Encounters: A genealogy of a journal

STS Encounters factsheet:

The journal of the Danish Association for STS (DASTS) (www.dasts.dk)

Established in 2007

Objective: to support the dispersion of STS research and be an outlet for upcoming and established researchers.

Language: Danish and English

Articles and issues are published immediately after finished review process.

Publication online only

Peer review: Yes. Blinded and open review processes are optional.

Editorial board is the board of DASTS

Editors: Peter Danholt & Christopher Gad

BFI points (bibliometric score in the Nordic countries): 1

Website: https://www.dasts.dk/?page_id=356

This is an attempt at an account on the emergence and ongoing bringing into existence of something as abstract as a journal. The account is anthropological in the sense that it attempts to describe the journal as relation and relational. The intention is to give an adequate account of the journals partial, multifaceted existence. It is an account in which the journal is both cause and effect of relations. It realizes and is realized. It is parent and orphan. Its genealogy consists of ambitions, persons, platforms – digital and other –, financial means (or lack thereof) and layers of work.

STS Encounters is the journal of the Danish Association of STS (www.dasts.dk). It is a digital journal only. It does not come out in print and hard copy and this is a central aspect of its existence. The journal is not a body without organs in the deleuzian sense as an unorganized assemblage of multiple parts. It is an organ of a partially or vaguely existing body. But still, its body consists of the digital and contrary to some writers, that suggests that the digital is pure essence and light as air (see for instance Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2014), we, as students of STS, have, if not a full understanding, then at least a well-developed sense of the fact that the digital indeed has a weight. We have a sense of the enormous amounts of energy, buildings, material and work required for the digital to be ‘light as air’. But it is this layered and seemingly lightness of the digital that realizes STS Encounters.

The work and effort required for a paper journal to come into existence, the bundling of articles into issues, the many deadlines entailed in production, the work required in having enough, but not too many articles in the ‘pipeline’, and of course in the end, the paper and the ink, has been either ‘cut away’ or been redistributed to the digital in relation to STS Encounters. As a ‘real’ hard copy paper journal STS Encounters would not have lasted the first quarter. It would probably not even have made it into the printing press.

STS Encounters was not coined in a spirit of high ambitions and expectations. Rather it was conceived as a journal that should be inclusive and broad and be an accessible outlet for upcoming as well as established researchers. It was conceived in the spirit of the field of STS, namely as multifaceted and inclusive and where differences are welcomed and generative. Differences are invitations to think with and to be explored, instead of something to be policed. On the webpage of STS Encounters it is stated (and here reproduced in the same font):

“The aim of the journal is to stimulate quality and collaboration in Danish STS research as well as to make Danish STS more visible nationally and internationally. In this context STS is understood as a broad and interdisciplinary field. Encounters encourages submissions from all relevant fields and subfields of social and cultural inquiry dealing with scientific and technological matters. The editorial board emphasizes that the journal is to offer a broad and nuanced view of the Danish STS environment. This applies to theoretical and analytical frameworks, choice of method and substantive empirical areas.”

But STS Encounters is also an appendix. It is the journal of the Danish Association for STS (DASTS) which was founded in 2002. STS Encounters and DASTS are mutually parasitic and co-constitutive. As Bruno Latour argues, ontology is not binary and a matter of existence vs. non-existence, instead objects/subjects/actors/ come into existence and they may be partially existing or have fluctuating levels of existence (Latour, Bruno 2000). DASTS and STS Encounters gain existence through their mutual association. DASTS achieves existence as a national association by also having a journal and STS Encounters is not ‘only’ a journal, but the journal of the Danish Association for STS. The point being that different elements: an association with a board, a yearly conference, and a journal, are mutually co-constitutive community producing actors.

Going deeper into the genealogy of the journal thus implicates DASTS. DASTS was established as a platform for Danish STS research in the beginning of the 2000, at a point in time where STS was well established internationally, but still also a young and growing field. In Denmark at this point, STS research and teaching were scattered and took place only in corners of some of the universities in Denmark. There were no educational programs dedicated to STS. STS lived its life as subparts of programs taught and promoted by a few teachers and researchers around the country. But then these few people started talking to each other and they convened and decided to make an association, DASTS. This was taking place in an academic and political climate in which alliances, visibility and research strategies was becoming increasingly important given that basic research founding was being replaced by neoliberal principles for delegating research funding. But it was also simply a consequence of an experience of being associated with a field that was forming and being articulated. In the 00’ of the new millennium, people began to say and refer to STS in a somewhat monolithic sense and thus performatively articulate the field as well established and felt interpellated by others saying and doing “STS”.

The founding people, according to this author, was a few tenured researchers from Aarhus University, University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark. Among others, these were: Randi Markussen, Finn Olesen, Peter Lauritsen, Lene Kock, Christian Clausen and Ulrik Jørgensen. These established researchers were flanked by a group of upcoming scholars: Torben Elgaard Jensen, Julie Sommerlund, Signe Vikkelsø, Maja Horst, Casper Bruun Jensen, Henriette Langstrup, Klaus Høyer, Brit Ross Winthereik, Kristian Hvidtfeldt Nielsen. And further on there was a group of students and aspiring scholars, which among others included the author of this account and the members of the board of DASTS today. Many others could be mentioned and the general experience to this day – for better and for worse – is that the Danish STS community may be best described as “a party of cousins”.

In sum, DASTS and STS Encounters has grown out of an intellectual milieu and climate that can perhaps be described as a combination of the principle of the least effort, a strong sense of community and the will to – with no to little funding – build platforms that support a broad and inclusive, publicly engaging and intellectually stimulating research community of practice. As a consequence, the rate and amount of publications has always been uneven, with quiet periods. STS Encounters is indeed a percolating outlet and not a steady stream of publications. But of course, this has over the years also entailed a continuous concern with submission activity

Examples of articles published in STS Encounters

Anna Tsing: Alien vs. Predator

“…Let me begin right away with my point. Researchers must love their material to produce good research. Science studies researchers must get inside the science, learning to appreciate it with the passion of an insider. This is the mainly unrealized gift of anthropology to science studies. Immersion produces insight. Reifying theory as a higher life form gets in the way of love. Theory is a tool kit. We need to love our tools as they help us make things, not for themselves.” (Excerpt from the introduction).

Winthereik, Lutz, Suchman & Verran: Special issue on Attending to Screens and Screenness

“..In the call for participation the ubiquity of screens was described as one of the reasons cultural/media studies, design studies, science and technology studies, information studies and anthropology ought to be interested in this topic empirically and analytically. It was suggested that screens play an increasingly central role in a wide range of human practices relating to work, play, travel, care, learning, planning, monitoring, designing, coordinating and much else.” (Excerpt from the introduction).

Svendsen, Mette N.: The “ME” in the “WE”: Anthropological Engagements with the Personalized Medicine

“…What has spurred discussion is the government’s suggested organizational and ethical framework for collecting, banking, and using genomes from the Danish people as part of its realization of personalized medicine in Danish health care. The framing of “stealing” and the articulation of this project as “high risk” points to the discussion’s central issue of how to treat and administer genomes as concomitantly part of the “me” of the person and the “we” of the welfare state.” (Excerpt from the introduction).

Blok, Anders: Scoping Endangered Futures: Rethinking the Political Aesthetics in of Climate Change in World Risk Society

“… In this article, I engage a key claim of Ulrich Beck’s theorizing of global risks, to the effect that socio-political collectivities are currently being re-imagined through the anticipation of endangered long-term futures. Such dynamics of temporal reordering are visible, the article shows, in the imaginative politics of climatic projections.” (Excerpt from the abstract)

Irina Papazu & Christian Elling Scheele: (De-)Localising the Climate – The production of uncertain agencies through climate websites

”…This article introduces a devicecentred approach to the concept of climate engagement through a qualitative analysis of two websites: www.klimabevidst.dk and www.mapmyclimate.dk. While klimabevidst.dk represents a down-to-earth take on individual engagement with the climate, providing users with hands-on guides to green home improvements, www.mapmyclimate.dk seeks to increase the user’s awareness of the phenomenon of global climate change by demonstrating how the user’s actions impact the earth’s future.” (Excerpt from the abstract)

 

References

Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. 2014. The Second Machine

Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Techno-

logies. First Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Latour, Bruno. 2000. “On the Partial Existence of Existing and Non-

existing Objects.” In Biographies of Scientific Objects, edited by Lor-raine Daston, 247–69. University of Chicago Press.

Current work in the Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations: Doing research in a more-than-thought collective

Having shown how the lab has evolved over the course of 15 years since its foundation, it is now time to reflect on where we are and where we are going. 

Our members’ research falls, broadly speaking, into two fields: life sciences, medicine, medical technologies and psychiatry on the one hand – and on the other sustainability, global land use, the role of modelling in human-environment systems and political ecology. Despite the broad range of topics we tackle in around 20 individual Master, PhD and Postdoc projects – ranging from the interconnections between (shifting knowledge about) medical care and urban environments, digitalization and memory politics1 and the subsequent changes in work systems/ecologies & governance2 to transformations of food and energy systems3 as well as resource socialities more broadly4 and finally, knowledge produced about such phenomena for example by socio-ecological modelling groups5 – and the geographical distribution of field-sites across Europe, the US, South America and West Africa we are committed to the idea of research as a collective endeavor. This is then our first point to make: 

The Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations is more-than-project. Our self-understanding is more akin to what Ludwik Fleck has termed a thought collective:  

“Although the thought collective consists of individuals, it is not simply the aggregate sum of them. […] A thought collective exists wherever two or more people are actually exchanging thoughts. He is a poor observer who does not notice that a stimulating conversation between two persons soon creates a condition in which each utters thoughts he would not have been able to produce either by himself or in different company. A special mood arises, which would not otherwise affect either partner of the conversation but almost always returns whenever these persons meet again.” (Fleck 1979 [1935], 41-44) 

We are dedicated to providing and generating space in which ideas that are not quite finished yet, as well as research-in-the-making, can be openly discussed. Yet, our thought collective exceeds Fleck’s in that it is explicitly open for and actively seeking disconcertment. We seek to constantly oppose our own problematizations, approaches and findings, thereby seeking to expose their underlying assumptions and understandings to critique from within our collective as well as from the outside by welcoming guest researchers and discussing their works and comments to avoid becoming too comfortable. The lab is not a filter bubble. 

Our commitment to work that is ‘more-than-project’ comes in different modes. Through constant reporting from our individual projects around our weekly meetings we establish contact points between projects, thereby fostering ideas, which exceed the individual members’ projects and can then be taken to broader discussions in STS, anthropology and the respective disciplines that define the fields we study, e. g. discussing the concept of niching through different fields in a joint paper (Bieler and Klausner 2019, see also below), working on the idea of situated modelling in a series of meetings together with the modelling6 community (Klein, Niewöhner, Unverzagt) or discussing the effects of situated politics of context for rice production systems in Uruguay and Burkina Faso for a workshop presentation (Hauer, Liburkina) to name just a few examples. 

Our current research topics. Picture and Collage: Janine Hauer

The framework of situated modelling stems from longer-standing discussions at the IRI THESys and will be elaborated on the basis of fieldwork currently under way in the field of participatory modelling (Unverzagt) and social-ecological modelling (Klein). Rather than striving for the single most accurate simplification of complex events, situated modelling acknowledges the contingency of simplifications and tries to turn this insight productive. As a research framework, situated modeling relates positive, predictive and quantitative approaches to reflexive, contextualising and qualitative approaches. It does so in ways that move beyond integration and critique.

Thinking across two initially unrelated PhD projects – on land-use and livelihood dynamics in the course of the introduction of large-scale rice production through a development project in Burkina Faso (Hauer) and the role of grand notions such as responsibility, economic growth and sustainable transformation in two distinct food supply chains (Liburkina) – allowed us to experiment with analytical prisms ranging from system to assemblage thinking and asking how de/stabilization is achieved and challenged in practice, while simultaneously raising questions about the construction and comparability of cases. The latter concern is taken up by the group as a whole in a couple of reading sessions on the case as well as on comparison.   

Moreover, we cherish concept work on a more daily basis, making it less ‘quantifiable’ but not less productive. In our weekly sessions, we attempt to link conceptual discussions that emerge in one field to other fields as well as to overarching questions in STS and anthropology: comparison, juxtaposition, diffraction. For example, we’ve traced the parallels in the uses of the concepts of hope and experience in the anthropological records in order to circumvent the fallacy of adding another definition of the concepts instead of focusing on the work these concepts do in the world and their effects. Although, these discussions did not result in joint outputs, they enriched the research they accompanied (Hauer, Nielsen, and Niewöhner 2018, Schmid 2019). Paralleling our attempts to think through rather than within projects, we have ongoing discussions about how to empirically trace and conceptually frame relatedness, a question that connects many of our ongoing projects, whether they deal with supply chains, mental health care in urban space or the emerging rice market in Burkina Faso. Exchanging concepts from different fields, switching lenses and thought traditions and exploring what they might add to our own thinking is an inspiring exercise that helps us to strengthen our arguments and positions.       

This brings us to our second point: what holds the lab together is more-than-discipline. STS has been, right from the start, an inter-disciplinary endeavor. Bringing it into an established discipline such as Social and Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology, the challenge has been to make an argument for what our approach has to offer to that discipline. Today, lab members are no longer an exclusive group of anthropologists with an interest in STS thinking, rather the lab has assembled as well as produced researchers that transcend disciplinary boundaries coming from or working in anthropology, geography, sociology, medicine etc. We all share an interest in discussions beyond disciplinary boundaries. Yet we are all also eager to take these discussions back to the centers of their respective disciplinary discourses in order to foster friction rather than new comfort zones. By doing so, we are committed to upholding the critical potential we believe STS has so productively developed.

Accordingly, the Lab strongly believes in the importance of long-term co-laborative ethnographic projects carried out in research teams, taking initiatives such as the Matsutake Worlds Research Group or The Asthma Files as examples. So far, this has proved especially productive in the field of social psychiatry. Steady exchange between the projects has led us to a detailed exploration of the ecologies of psychiatric expertise. Starting with fieldwork on different psychiatric wards, our inquiry into the classification and phenomenon of chronicity reached out to the everyday of public community mental health care services, their public administration, and the lives people lived once released from inpatient care. Examining the links between mental distress and (the transformation of) urban environments beyond the psy complex, resulted in recent research on and with administrative agencies, political institutions and lobbying groups. Ongoing discussions with anthropologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, and geographers from Germany, the UK, and Switzerland, reinforced our approach of investigating the situated experiences of people with psychiatric diagnosis as socio-material practices co-constituted by and co-constitutive of knowledges, bodies/minds and (urban) environments. (Klausner 2015, Bister, Klausner, and Niewöhner 2016, Bister 2018, Bieler and Klausner 2019)

The lab pushes ethnographic inquiry and theorizing to be more-than-deconstruction. All lab researchers share the belief that our research needs to amount to more than critically deconstructing any sort of phenomenon or prevalent problematizations on and of the fields we research. We, therefore, aim at co-laborative and response-able research designs and at keeping the possibility open for situated interventions, feedback loops and generative critique. In two medical technology development projects, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, for instance, we contrasted individualized approaches of compliance and technology use with our empirical analyses of daily health care practices and modes of living and working with medical devices. By doing so in regular project meetings together with partners from engineering and through a continuous ethnographic presence, we created space for irritating basic assumptions that were to be black-boxed in the technology under development (Klausner 2018). We do not wish to overemphasize our impact on the way in which the projects developed nor on the general technical set-up of the technologies. Nevertheless, we insist that ethnographic co-laboration and intervention adds a dimension to established research on the ethical, legal and social aspects of technology development as well as user-centered design and design thinking (Seitz 2017). 

Although our fields as well as modes of research differ considerably in how they allow for different degrees of co-laboration, we share a commitment to ethnographic research and theorizing not only of but also in, with and for the world as the ultimate vantage point. 

So, as you can tell from this text, we are not only more-than-human, but super-human, really: critical and generative, engaged and reflexive, versed in disciplines but also transcending them. Above all, of course, we are more-than-serious, so get in touch and join our sessions if you are ever in Berlin or would like to visit us.

 

1 Current research projects in this area deal transgenerational trauma in the context of medical practice and memory politics, professional peer support in psychiatric care, anti-discrimination law, dis/ability in the context of mental healthcare and palliative care, relations of mental distress, urban environments, healthcare infrastructures, and public administration, and non-invasive prenatal genetic diagnostics. 

2  These projects are about the valorization of comparing by online platforms, emerging high-technologically driven economics and socialities, solidarity and sociality in a technological world, the human microbiome, and experimental practices in behavioural governance.

3  Examples are projects on renewable energy policies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, low-carbon energy transitions, rice ecologies in Burkina Faso, and food supply chains of bulk consumers.

4 Such as projects on the political ecology of mining conflicts and mining extractivism.

5 See the projects on modelling complex systems in the environmental sciences and the co-production of socio-ecological modelling and social order.

6 The models we are concerned with are numerical models, computer simulations based on mathematical models. For now we are interested in models that take socio-ecological phenomena as their object (on various scales and with different symmetries).

 

 

Literature

Bieler, Patrick, and Martina Klausner. 2019. “Niching in cities under pressure. Tracing the reconfiguration of community psychiatric care and the housing market in Berlin.”  Geoforum. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.01.018.

Bister, Milena D. 2018. “The Concept of Chronicity in Action: Everyday Classification Practices and the Shaping of Mental Health Care.”  Sociology of Health and Illness 40 (1):38-52. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12623.

Bister, Milena D., Martina Klausner, and Jörg Niewöhner. 2016. “The Cosmopolitics of ‘Niching’. Rendering the City Habitable along Infrastructures of Mental Health Care.” In Urban Cosmopolitics. Agencements, Assemblies, Atmospheres, edited by Anders Blok and Ignacio Farias, 187-205. London, New York: Routledge.

Fleck, Ludwik. 1979 [1935]. Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. (First published in German, 1935) ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hauer, Janine, Jonas Østergaard Nielsen, and Jörg  Niewöhner. 2018. “Landscapes of Hoping – Urban Expansion and Emerging Futures in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.”  Anthropological Theory 18 (1):59-80. doi: 10.1177/1463499617747176.

Klausner, Martina. 2015. Choreografien Psychiatrischer Praxis: Eine Ethnografische Studie zum Alltag in der Psychiatrie. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Niewöhner, Jörg. 2016. “Co-laborative Anthropology. Crafting Reflexivities Experimentally.” In Etnologinen tulkinta ja analyysi. Kohti avoimempaa tutkimusprosessia, edited by Jukka Joukhi and Tytti Steel, 81-125. Tallinn: Ethnos.

Niewöhner, Jörg, and Margaret Lock. 2018. “Situating local biologies: Anthropological perspectives on environment/human entanglements.”  BioSocieties. doi: 10.1057/s41292-017-0089-5.

Schmid, Christine. 2019. „Ver-rückte Expertisen: Eine Ethnografie über Genesungsbegleitung. Über Erfahrung, Expertise und Praktiken des Reflektierens im (teil )stationären psychiatrischen Kontext. Doctoral Thesis, handed to the Institute of European Ethnology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin on February 19th, 2019.”

Seitz, Tim (2017): Design Thinking und der neue Geist des Kapitalismus. Soziologische Betrachtungen einer Innovationskultur. Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag.

From the Collaboratory Social Anthropology & Life Sciences to the Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations

The laboratory started in 2004, when Stefan Beck and Michi Knecht together with Jörg Niewöhner initiated the “Collaboratory Social Anthropology & Life Sciences” at the Institute of European Ethnology1 at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The notion of the Collaboratory was adopted from a group of anthropologists around Paul Rabinow in Berkeley (Stavrianakis 2009), with whom Stefan Beck had stayed as an assistant professor in 2000. The term is meant to signal a more epistemically focused relationship between ethnography and its interlocutors. “Damn, I also want to save lives!” Stefan Beck quipped back then and so we started to look for ways to elaborate the intersection of critical medical anthropology and science and technology studies beyond its established mode of deconstruction. This effort rested on three commitments: thinking and working across individual projects for the sake of developing empirically grounded middle-range concepts and methodologies; placing knowledge making practices of science and technology centre-stage in anthropological inquiry; and collaborating with members of the fields we explore. When the Collaboratory started, science and technology studies (STS) – though of course well established internationally – had arrived neither in the discipline(s) at large2 nor in our department in particular.

One of the first efforts to establish a different relationship with biomedicine and the life sciences took shape through the research cluster “Preventive Self” funded by the German government. Here, social inquiry including history worked in close connection with general medicine to better understand cardiovascular risk, obesity and prevention efforts as a set of practices giving rise to a new form of self-care and self-management. Inspired by recent thinking on the multiplicity of the body (Mol 2002), we built on Foucauldian analyses of biopower and technologies of the self. Moving ethnographic analyses right into the heart of medical practices emphasized their ambivalences and contingencies and allowed us to address another politics of life as such (Fassin 2009). In this first phase (2004-2010), we tried to better understand the intricate entanglement of nature and culture as well as technology and ‘the social’, which led us to explore ‘practice theory’ and material semiotics. Building on Pierre Bourdieu, Sally Falk Moore, Anthony Giddens, and Tim Ingold, among others, we grappled in our ethnographic encounters and research puzzles with the insights feminist science studies and (post) actor-network theory had to offer. Connecting ethnographic research, practice theories and collaboration was our way of translating the shift from matters of critique to matters of concern (Latour 2004) into actual research practice (Environment and Relations 2019a, b). By that time, the lab was beginning to develop its format, which it retains until today: weekly meetings during term time to discuss our own ethnographic material, read about and debate theoretical concepts, write together, invite guests and host visitors.

Heike Zappe. Published in Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. May 2011. HU Wissen: Humboldts Forschungsmagazin / Humboldts Research Magazin.

This format quickly began to attract masters and graduate students as well as postdocs and staff from the Institute of European Ethnology as well as from other Berlin-based institutions and beyond. It began to succeed in bringing together researchers from different stages in their careers working on an increasingly wide range of topics in a work-in-progress format. In 2007, this formatwas adopted for the entire institute in order to create an institutional structure based less on professorships and status hierarchies. Laboratories became open and experimental workspaces along particular perspectives, within which students, postdocs and staff engaged in order to develop a shared set of intellectual practices. The Collaboratory became the “Laboratory: Social Anthropology of Science and Technology”.

In its second phase (2008-2015), the Laboratory shaped its profile through a number of research projects that continued collaboration with the life sciences: particularly with molecular biology and the social and cultural neurosciences. In 2010, the lab implemented a specialization in Science and Technology Studies in our department’s Master program and published an edited introductory volume to the social anthropology of science and technology in German (Beck, Niewöhner, and Sørensen 2012). It also launched a very productive and extensive research collaboration with social psychiatry that continues until today shaped first and foremost by Stefan Beck, Martina Klausner, Milena Bister, Patrick Bieler, Christine Schmid, and Jörg Niewöhner as well as Sebastian von Peter and Manfred Zaumseil on the psychiatric / psychological side. It started off with the ethnographic project “The Production of Chronicity in Mental Healthcare and Research in Berlin” that was funded by the German research foundation despite having co-applicants from psychiatry on the proposal and thus breaking with the tradition of disciplinary social inquiry and critical distance. This research context quickly produced new collaborative formats that inspired conceptual work (choreography, doing presence, niching) and expanded ethnographic methods (longitudinal ethnographic work and mobile methods such as go-alongs). We started to discuss the specificities of collaboration with social psychiatry: How does it differ from general medicine, molecular biology and the neurosciences? Within social psychiatry, we did not exclusively collaborate with academic colleagues that had their own research interests and agendas, but additionally with professionals and practitioners who aimed at reflecting upon and intervening into existing treatment practices. Our research was constantly put to the test of whether or not it offered meaningful results to the places we explored (clinical wards, a day hospital, community care facilities). Hence our interpretations were incessantly challenged by established epistemic practices within the field. Without necessarily sharing goals and moral values with our collaboration partners, our anthropological analysis and ethnographic theorizing substantially benefited from the tensions that arose from engaging with (not appealing to!) different audiences and epistemic cultures. This research trajectory has culminated in conceptualizing our work as co-laborative (with the hyphen), i.e. “temporary, non-teleological, joint epistemic work aimed at producing disciplinary reflexivities, not interdisciplinary shared outcomes.” (Niewöhner 2016, 3) By doing so, we foreground that co-laboration differs from interdisciplinarity in significant ways: Co-laboration includes joint work with experts from various fields without limiting itself to collaboration with scientists or academics. It enables the partners to work jointly on the basis of shared objects of concern without necessarily aiming for a common goal. In a nutshell, co-laboration acknowledges the heterogeneity of existing knowledge practices. It draws on the generative potential that arises from reading different communities of practice through each other (diffraction), rather than reflecting on one from the standpoint of the other. Today, we are still enrolled in inventing formats of laboring together with partners in our current projects, which include participants within (mental) health care settings, but also reach beyond the medical field into areas of (urban) policy making, agricultural production, or business organizations, to give but a few examples. Involving respective community members in ethnographic inquiry while it is still unfolding significantly impacts the ways in which we approach and craft anthropological concepts and problematizations.

Heike Zappe. Published in Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. May 2011. HU Wissen: Humboldts Forschungsmagazin / Humboldts Research Magazin.

In spring 2015, the lab was forced to enter its current third phase under tragic circumstances. The unexpected and sudden death of Stefan Beck shook our group to the core. He left us in the midst of a number of projects, plans and ideas. In getting to grips with this loss, it became clear to us how deeply our thinking has been informed and challenged by Stefan’s way of doing ethnography – not in the sense of an academic ‘school’, but in the way he constantly confronted thought styles, which were at risk of becoming (too) settled, through making unorthodox connections. It took us a long time to find our way into a new rhythm and we continue to miss his most ‘irritating’ presence every day. 

For the lab, this meant that Jörg Niewöhner stepped in as head and a handful of postdocs and PhD-students assisted in organizing our meetings and ensuring a continuity in discussion and planning. Continuing Stefan’s approach of a relational anthropology (Beck 2008), our group tied the last discussions with Stefan together to develop the notion of “phenomenography”, i.e. the ethnographic inquiry into ecologies of experience and expertise in relation to the material-semiotic practices that bring them about. (Niewöhner et al. 2016) We define phenomenography as an inherently co-laborative research practice, which aims at curating concepts jointly and by doing so re-articulating reflexivity within anthropology. The fact that Jörg took over the chair in Social Anthropology of Human-Environment relations at the Institute of European Ethnology and became director of the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, affirmed our group’s ecological approach on anthropological, political, and geographical issues. Over time, the Lab also became home to scholars eager to explore the entanglements of social practices and material worlds in the Anthropocene. In these last three years, our department also attracted new staff with an explicit expertise in STS (e. g. Tahani Nadim, Ignacio Farias). This happy proliferation of STS inspired ethnographic research widened our scope beyond a single STS umbrella.

Hence in 2018, we marked the beginning of this new phase by giving our group its current name “Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations”. Why such an awkward name, you may ask: Human-Environment relations or interactions is a term largely occupied with ecological and systemic thinking in the biological and human sciences. While we co-laborate with these thought styles, we are keen to explore ethnographically how these relations are enacted rather than assuming them within a particular epistemological position. We also want to emphasize the environment to avoid its reduction to symbol or metaphor. (Niewöhner and Lock 2018) The vertical bar ‘|’ marks our inquiry into an open, dynamic as well as often ambivalent and excessive relationship. We take our cue here from Stefan Beck’s inaugural lecture entitled “Nature | Culture: Thoughts on a relational anthropology” (Beck 2008). ‘Relations’ summons elective affinities including Gregory Bateson, Marilyn Strathern, Stefan Beck, Annemarie Mol, to name but a few with a lifelong interest in relentlessly relational research and thought. We see our approach within the broad and multi-facetted tradition of social and cultural anthropology, including its German-speaking strand of European Ethnology. We have dropped the ‘social and cultural’ to reference our background in science and technology studies, the material turn and our understanding of ‘the social’ as always already entangled with environments, artefacts, infrastructures and bodies.

Somewhat ironically for a contribution to the EASST review, ‘science and technology studies’ has disappeared from our group’s name. This is not accidental and only partly explained through the institutional developments described above. While we remain deeply committed to the last 40 years of excellent scholarship in STS, we note that the success and growth of the inter-discipline also raises some important questions. Most importantly, perhaps, the question how STS can rekindle the productive friction with its disciplinary kin that has been key to its development.

https://ethnoserver.hu-berlin.de/sts/

 

1 For further discussions of the divided histories of an ‘anthropology at home’ (Volkskunde) and an ‘anthropology abroad’ (Völkerkunde) and subsequent institutional divides between ‘European Ethnology’ and ‘Ethnology’ in German academia see (Bierschenk, Krings, and Lentz 2016, Welz 2013) 

2 In Germany, neither European Ethnology nor its sister discipline of Social and Cultural Anthropology had really taken note of the first two waves of STS with the notable exception of Richard Rottenburg and his group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle.  

 

Literature

Beck, Stefan. 2008. „Natur | Kultur. Überlegungen zu einer relationalen Anthropologie.“  Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 104 (2):166-199.

Beck, Stefan, Jörg Niewöhner, and Estrid Sørensen, eds. 2012. Science and Technology Studies. Eine sozialanthropologische Einführung Bielefeld Transcript.

Bierschenk, Thomas, Matthias Krings, and Carola Lentz. 2016. „World Anthropology with an Accent: The Discipline in Germany since the 1970s.“  American Anthropologist:n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1111/aman.12535.

Fassin, Didier. 2009. “Another Politics of Life is Possible.”  Theory, Culture & Society 26 (5):44-60.

Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment|Human Relations, eds. 2019a. After Practice. Thinking through Matter(s) and Meaning Relationally. Volume I. Berlin: Panama.

Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment|Human Relations, eds. 2019b. After Practice. Thinking through Matter(s) and Meaning Relationally. Volume II. Berlin: Panama.

Latour, Bruno. 2004. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.”  Critical Inquiry 30 (2):225-248.

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

Niewöhner, Jörg. 2016. “Co-laborative Anthropology. Crafting Reflexivities Experimentally.” In Etnologinen tulkinta ja analyysi. Kohti avoimempaa tutkimusprosessia, edited by Jukka Joukhi and Tytti Steel, 81-125. Tallinn: Ethnos.

Niewöhner, Jörg, and Margaret Lock. 2018. “Situating local biologies: Anthropological perspectives on environment/human entanglements.”  BioSocieties. doi: 10.1057/s41292-017-0089-5.

Stavrianakis, Anthony. 2009. What is an Anthropology of the Contemporary? Field Statement (Concept Labor), no. 1, April 2009.

Welz, Gisela. 2013. “Europa: Ein Kontinent—zwei Ethnologien? [Europe: One Continent—Two Anthropologies?].” In Ethnologie im 21. Jahrhundert [Anthropology in the 21st century], edited by Thomas Bierschenk, Matthias  Krings and Carola Lentz, 211–228. Berlin: Reimer.

STS as participant in policy worlds

Fig. 1: People-place/policy landscape, Santa Teresa, Central Australia. Photo by Michaela Spencer

What happens when STS scholars become active participants in the emergence of policy worlds?

This question seems a natural corollary to the topic discussed in the last EASST Review editorial, where Andreas Kuznetsov (2019) suggested that there might be much that STS could offer when engaging with both science and social scientific research practices. It is also a question with which me and other STS colleagues working in a small regional university in northern Australia are frequently confronted with. This question worries in three directions. We worry about what happens to research and our responsibility to the academy, about what happens to policy and our responsibilities to members of government departments that we work with, and about what happens in the communities that the policies of those departments impact upon.

In our small regional university, research is intimately entangled with governance contexts. Much of our research funding is generated in partnerships with government and non-government organisations. It is also implicated in the policy challenges and problems that emerge when practices of Western governance and decision-making intersect with the vibrant and diverse sets of epistemic practices mobilised by Indigenous Australians, who are our close collaborators in urban and remote Indigenous communities. 

In this aspect at least our situation seems to differ starkly from European contexts. But does it? Perhaps considering the situation of STS in policy worlds in places that grapple with the aftermath of several hundred years of European colonising on a day-to-day basis might be useful for Europeans struggling to recognise and do difference in European policy worlds.

When science was the focus of inquiry in the emerging field of science and technology studies, focusing on the embedded participation of scientific researchers helped to query standard stories of representation (Latour and Woogar, 1986; Haraway, 1997). Associated with this shift, there was an implied call for scientists to become more overt about their complex and difficult work, admitting their participation in the emergence of knowledge claims and their complex hinterlands. Working as policy researchers, the implicated positioning we inhabit seems both similar and interestingly different. 

Recently, in the collaborative work negotiating how to evaluate government engagement in remote Aboriginal communities, we found subtle but significant controversies beginning to arise around the status of ‘evidence’ in our evidence-based policy research. We were involved with evaluating government policy practices around how government staff should engage cross-culturally (and in quite different epistemic conditions) in Aboriginal communities; places where Indigenous groups are collective landowners, and Indigenous forms of governance are recognised in Australian law. Our research contract assumed we would assess government engagement activities against processes and goals already identified as significant. However, the Indigenous co-researchers we were working with resisted this formation. They insisted instead, that it was the effective doing of engagment as partnership which itself evidences good engagement practices, and that it is this form of evidentiary practice that was approprate for policy reseach and evaluation. 

Around such seeming inconsistencies around what knowledge or evidence is, the whirring of gears around government policy implementation and evaluation seem to suddenly start to grind and slow, and even halt. If there is no representational gap between policy making and policy practice, or policy implementation and policy evaluation, how might we proceed? Here the particular and unique sensitivities of STS, and its attention to differences in epistemic practices, seem crucial if social science research and policy practices are to accommodate more-than-singular worlds (de la Cadena and Blaser, 2018), and the accountabilites of government departments are not to obscure other accountabiliites that are significant on the ground and in Indigenous communites. 

‘Back-then’ when STS spoke to narratives of scientific objectivity, there was a generalised sphere of understanding and practice to which this work was directed. If STS researchers are currently involved as social scientists entangled in policy worlds in the making – where our work involves discerning difference and ontological tensions – perhaps our interventions need to be more specific. Working at nodes of seeming disconnection, where epistemic practices meet and abrade (even though difficult to discern), attending to our responsibilities in the academy, as well as to funders and within community life may involve finding ways to recognise and work generatively with these impasses. In such work, there is also a commitment to maintaining and even magnifying the multiplicities revealed within the doing of resarch practices, as an outcome of engaged ontological work—making difference more discernable. This is to insist on valuing multiplicity as a policy good, and on finding ways for STS to participate and intervene in good, and less bad, policy practices (Verran, 2016).

 

 

References

de la Cadena, M., & Blaser, M. (Eds.). (2018) A World of Many Worlds. Duke University Press.

Kuznetsov, A. (2019) Changed but Undescribed? What STS Could Say on the Research Practices of Social Sciences. EASST Review, 38 (1).

Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Knowledge. Princeton University Press.

Haraway, D. (1997) Modest_Witness@Second Millennium_FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouseTM, Routledge.

Verran, H. (2016) Researching Policy Goods for Australia’s Northern Regions, People.Policy.Place Seminar Series, Charles Darwin University, 17 February, 2016. https://vimeo.com/156517454 Accessed on 17 April, 2019.

Doing difference differently in Northern Australia today: The beginnings of TopEndSTS

Conferences are well known for the opportunity they provide to spark our imagination and to generate productive networks between researchers from different universities and institutes. Our small group of scholars from Charles Darwin University (CDU) in the Northern Territory of Australia experienced an interesting twist on this narrative recently. Our attendance at two major STS conferences – EASST2018 Conference in Lancaster in July and the 4S Conference in Sydney last month – revealed to us that through the eyes of (some) others, there was seemingly a clear and coherent ‘hub’ of Darwin based STS researchers. This was welcome news for us and an understanding we are now seeking to cultivate. However, it was certainly not a realisation that we had made ourselves!

This year was the first-time scholars from northern Australia have travelled together to attend large, international STS gatherings; an effort significantly assisted by this year’s location of 4S in Sydney. At these events we have found the opportunities for engaging with other STS scholars invaluable. Over the course of delivering and listening to presentations, and through formal engagements and informal networking, we came to learn more about current debate and issues in STS, as well as to develop a stronger sense of the approaches and practices that we share. While we have been working together for a number of years and are collaborating on research and teaching projects, it took the experience of being at these conferences to realise that there were certain research commitments we embody and genealogies that we hold in common. 

Fig. 1 Presentation by TopEndSTS member Jennifer Macdonald at 4S Sydney, 2018.

Pushed by the experience of these conference events, we selected a title for our emerging group that speaks to our local situations, as well as our involvement in broader STS networks – ‘TopEndSTS’. For those not familiar with the term, the ‘Top End’ is generally used to indicate the northernmost parts of Australia, and for us it evokes a sense of situated research which includes and engages disparate climatic environments, complex interplays of connection and ‘remoteness’, and the co-presence of many differing Western and Indigenous modes of people-place making. 

As a group, we see TopEndSTS (sometimes the twitter handle @TopEndSTS, sometimes just a name) as a growing and evolving group of STS scholars who are generally, though not always, based in northern Australia. As scholars we often juggle several hats, with our commitment to ‘STS’ often complementing other disciplinary affiliations (for example, in anthropology, human geography, resilience and heritage studies) and our position as scholars often merging with other professional roles (for example, as language workers, government bureaucrats, arts practitioners and archaeologists). However, in developing and participating in TopEndSTS, we all share a commitment to supporting research work and conversations around relational, and engaged, STS research practice.

Fig. 2 Water work with Traditional Owners and hydrogeologists at Nilatjirriwa, waterhole on Milingimbi Island, East Arnhem Land.

STS is far from mainstream in northern Australian research circles; however, as a group we are fortunate to be part of a rich and unique legacy of STS scholarship, with its origins embedded in collaborative practice between researchers and Yolngu and other Aboriginal elders and knowledge authorities. The STS we undertake at Charles Darwin University remains strongly connected to Helen Verran’s (2018) concerns with ’how differences are generated in humans going-on together’. These concerns began in her time in Nigeria and were consolidated in her work in Arnhem Land in the 1980s. Back then, participating in a policy era focused around self-determination and bilingual education for Aboriginal Australians, Helen’s work was carried out under the guidance of Yolngu Aboriginal elders, and involved careful negotiation of the knowledge practices mobilised in education curricula and the teaching of maths in high school classrooms. This acted as an antidote to the assumed superiority of non-Indigenous students and Western knowledge and became fundamental to the philosophy and knowledge making practice of the Yirrkala Community Education Centre in Yirrkala. 

These early beginnings, and long-term collaboration with Michael Christie, led to the development of a vibrant research and consultancy practice at CDU (see Yolngu Aboriginal Consultants Initiative and GroundUp). This research continues to mobilise the same philosophy of pragmatic, ground-up knowledge production and agreement making which can be seen as connecting with Yolngu Indigenous metaphysics and forms of pragmatism present in the Western tradition (Verran and Christie, 2011). Today, working across the Northern Territory, TopEndSTS scholars and post-graduate students are continuing to find careful and collaborative ways of navigating the complex institutional landscapes of the region. Our work includes: developing institutional practices within and beyond the university which support collaborative knowledge work (see for example, Yolngu Research@CDU and the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages); cultivating design-oriented approaches for infrastructures of policy evaluation (see for example, Remote Engagement and Coordination – Indigenous Evaluation Research); and problematising received concepts of land and sea ownership, climate adaptation, economic development, language and education as these concepts configure emerging realities in more or less colonial ways (see for example, Disaster Resilience Management in Aboriginal Communities in Darwin and Cross-Cultural Management of Freshwater on Resource-Constrained Islands).

Fig. 3 & 4 Collaborative design of approaches for evaluating government policy practices in Ngukurr in South-East Arnhem Land and at Charles Darwin University in Darwin.

We now recognise such work as characterising TopEndSTS and see our work as inhabiting a range of settings and situations in the collective life of northern Australia and beyond. We are developing scholarship within complex nodes of cultural, social and economic practice in which the local, the national and the global entwine in unique ways. This work, mostly funded by government and non-government organisations interested in doing their work differently, centres on issues of current concern in the ongoing interactions between Aboriginal people and their places and communities, and the non-Indigenous organisations and agencies with which they engage. 

Our scholarship takes seriously a metaphysics of emergence where new and unique worlds and ways appear in careful collaborations and practices in place. This provides the core metaphysical commitment of all this work. In our approach, received categories and practices continue to be transformed, engaging particular Indigenous approaches to knowledge production in the doing of a contemporary northern Australian STS. In our day-to-day work, the TopEndSTS group does our best to inhabit an epistemic landscape which could be considered merely an argument (Deleuze, 1994; Whitehead, 1978), but which our research inhabits as an actively embodied collective form of life as we, explicitly and in good-faith, mutually articulate our differences as we go on together doing those differences.  

Spurred on by the EASST2018 and 4S Conferences, TopEndSTS is now hoping to become a vibrant, generative hub of shared ideas and collaborations. To help strengthen our understanding of what it means to do STS and to bring our team together, we convene a fortnightly workshop to discuss classic and contemporary STS texts, as well as creating opportunities to share our own writings for mutual encouragement. In 2019, we are planning an STS seminar series and online Cosmopolitics colloquium to share more of our own research and hear from others working in the field. We offer an open invitation to visiting scholars to connect with us. We particularly welcome Indigenous speakers to share their own experiences and ideas, and to invite collaborations and generative knowledge practices. Living and working as STS scholar-practitioners in northern Australia means that we cannot just recognise the presence of multiplicity in knowledge practices, but also need to learn to work with this multiplicity in engaged and productive ways. We are always exploring ways that ’difference can be done differently’, and we look forward to sharing our stories and making a unique and valuable contribution to the STS conversations and debates as our work continues.

 

References

Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Difference and Repetition, Paul Patton (trans), London: The Athlone Press

Verran, Helen (2018) Doing Difference Differently: Deakin STS in the late 1980s. Accessible at: http://stsinfrastructures.org/content/helen-verran-doing-difference-differently-deakin-sts-late-1980s

Verran, Helen, & Christie, Michael (2011). ‘Doing Difference Together Towards a Dialogue with Aboriginal Knowledge Authorities through an Australian Comparative Empirical Philosophical Inquiry’ in Culture and Dialogue, 1(2), 21-36. 

Whitehead, Alfred North (1978) Process and Reality, David Ray Griffin and Donald W Sherburne (eds), NY: The Free Press

 

Views from the Edge: Prototyping “Rapid” Ethnography in Madeira

In May 2018, three scholars met on the Portuguese island of Madeira to discuss the perspectives we bring to our work in STS and adjacent fields. Intending to undertake 10 days of exploratory “rapid” research in this particular field site, relying on “walkshops” and ethnographic participant observation, we instead emerged having shot two 360-degree “immersive” documentary films and attempted the aerial mapping of a key site with a kit provided by a citizen science non-profit.

Coming from different fields—contemporary art and curating (Michelle Kasprzak, University of Porto/Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute), journalism and digital media (António Baía Reis, University of Porto), ethnography and innovation studies (Justin Pickard, University of Sussex)—we three authors were united by an interest in what rapid, collaborative, and experimental research approaches could bring to an interrogation of questions around landscape, inclusion, digital technology, and imagined futures. In this, the “edge” of the title denotes Cabo Girão, a set of cliffs on Maderia’s southern coast looking out over the Atlantic, and, by extension, the island’s peripheral status. While our time in the field was limited, we found ourselves focusing on how these thematic concerns—questions which have animated our research elsewhere—are inflected by Madeira’s location on the outermost edge of Europe, an autonomous region of Portugal, but with a common colonial maritime history.

Fig. 1: Bay of Câmara de Lobos, 9 May 2018.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

This experiment took place in the interstices of Kasprzak and Baía Reis’s respective doctoral research projects. Kasprzak’s work was already well underway, working with at-risk youths in Malvinas, a bairro in the fishing community of Câmara de Lobos, on Madeira’s south coast. Involving these young people in practices of art-making, and working in close collaboration with a Madeira-born artist, her research looked at the role of curation in helping articulate local sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff and Kim, 2009)—the visuals, symbols, shared understandings that influence the behaviour and decisions of members of this particular community. With Kasprzak’s research as a backdrop, Baía Reis was using a multi-lens Vuze camera to capture 360-degree video footage, material for a couple of short “immersive documentary” films that would be experienced online or through wearable virtual reality headsets. In pursuing this goal, his overriding concern was with the kind of narratives that would be best suited to this emerging visual medium, arriving prepared with some ideas and “leads” regarding what to shoot in mind.

With this coincidence of individuals and research projects, and inspired by a list of provocative prompts on “experimental” ethnography from media anthropologist Gabriele de Seta (2017)—variously relaxing, reworking, or breaching the conventions of ethnography as method and genre—saw an opportunity for some wider methodological experimentation. Where much established STS ethnography would stretch for longer durations, often relying on the efforts of a single researcher, we asked what it could mean to work rapidly, at speed, drawing on the observations and products of three people. Writing on short-term ethnography as a research practice characterised by its “intensity”, Pink and Morgan (2013) borrow from design, corporate ethnography, and applied research to discuss how researchers can use more “interventional as well as observational methods”, working in ways that could be too intrusive to sustain over longer time frames. In our work in Madeira, much of this intensity came from being able to join in media res.

In this, early plans for a “walkshop”, described as a “workshop conducted through walking” (Wickson et al., 2015: 243), fall by the wayside, as, lacking social capital and a neat description of our aims, we prove incapable of convening sufficient participants beyond ourselves. Instead, our explorations unfold through person-to-person and small group interactions, visiting people in their own pre-existing milieus, and participating in situations linked to work already in progress. Seizing on plans already underway, we join the artist and members of the Malvinas youth centre for a three-hour boat trip aboard a replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria, originally built to represent Madeira wine at the 1998 Lisbon World Expo, since repurposed a tourist attraction with a tethered macaw, ship’s dog, and bar serving rum and cokes. We attend a Catholic mass, a wine-tasting, and a foreign academic’s Eurovision Party. We travel by cable car, walk the coastline, and explore the graves and ornamental masonry of the British Cemetery of Funchal—taking photos of Communist Party paste-ups, museum exhibits, EU-funded wifi infrastructure, and a government department’s appeal to return “octopuses weighing less than 750g … to the sea to continue to grow normally.”

Fig. 2: One of many signs inviting users—in Portuguese and English—to connect to free wifi available in Câmara de Lobos. Installation of the service and creation of the application cost roughly €31,000, with five initial access points targeting areas with the greatest footfall.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

As a second set of departure points, we also drew from existing work on collaborative and event ethnography, forms of research that have relied on larger research teams to tackle time-limited or otherwise ephemeral sites—conferences (Brosius and Campbell, 2010), trade shows, state fairs (Paulson, 2009), and, in one case, a day-long taping of British television series The Antiques Roadshow (Weston and Djohari, 2018). While time in Madeira was limited, our field site was less clearly bounded, our group much smaller, more mixed, and less bound by hierarchy or institution. As a result of our self-consciously experimental orientation, there was little sense of what might constitute “success.” We had goodwill, but less common ground—something anthropologist Kirsten Hastrup (2018) discusses as part of reflections on her interactions with a group of biologists and archaeologists as part of a research voyage in northwest Greenland. With no common lexicon and fewer shared assumptions, Hastrup stresses the extent to which cross-disciplinary collaboration relies on those moments in which “the implicated disciplines become visible as human practices, embodied, and emplaced.” (Hastrup, 2018: 317) In such undertakings, the field site itself becomes that which is shared, an anchor and reference point. By opting to meet in the field, “the shared bodily experience of appropriating a landscape together” allows “a drifting of ideas” (Hastrup, 2018: 318), unsettling old certainties.

In Madeira, assisting Baía Reis in his 360-degree video work, work which opens “interesting scenarios in the interconnection of image making and emplacement” (Gómez Cruz, 2017: 28), seeing his criteria for suitable material foregrounds some key distinctions between journalistic storytelling and ethnography; between the deliberate, conscious orchestration of meetings and cultivation of story leads, a logic driven by time constraints and the practical difficulties of maneuvering bulky equipment between sites, and a more open-ended, explicitly opportunistic mode of research. Shooting footage, a aggregation of material captured by the camera’s multiple lenses, “stitched” together by software later, we also encounter a tension between the evident expense of the recording equipment and the filmmaker’s desire not to “break” audience immersion by appearing in the shot. Such calculations lead to some awkward scrambling as we attempt to maintain a direct line of sight on the equipment while ourselves remaining concealed behind rocks or landscape features. In Câmara de Lobos, we meet with “Bailinha”, a master boat builder resident in Malvinas. Having retired from the shipyard, he now works on other wooden products, primarily for tourists, while making attempts to train a younger generation in carpentry skills. At the time of our meeting, he is threatened with eviction from his workshop in a disused government on the seafront, a space granted to him by a former council leader, to make way for the ongoing development of the bay. Interviewing Bailinha, we then visit his workshop, where Baía Reis sets up a camera to obtain 360-degree footage of the interior, making sure to capture the craftsman in action, using the relevant tools and equipment. WIth the shot level, he closes the door, and steps outside. The audio from the interview will play over this footage, anchoring the story in a particular interior space.

Fig. 3: Inside Bailinha’s studio, prior to his eviction. The model boat’s name, Espada Preta, translates as ‘black scabbardfish’, a regional delicacy.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

As part of our more explicitly ethnographic observations, we visit La Vie Funchal, a four-storey shopping mall in the centre of Funchal, described by one local as a place people go when they want to “escape the island”. Seemingly unconcerned with history or identity, and with little linking it to its immediate surroundings, it is easy to imagine it having been copied and pasted from somewhere else—though, in fact, the architect was Ricardo Bofill, designer of Catalonia’s iconic 1975 public housing project, Walden 7. At the time of our visit, the mall is hosting a temporary exhibition of the island’s first Captain-Majors: João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira, and Bartolomeu Perestrello. Intended to “acknowledge the men who led the colonization process of these Atlantic islands”, marking and commemorating “Madeira’s 600 years by reviving and reinforcing the connection of community to heritage and its past”; the organising frame has onlookers declare themselves to be the heirs of these men, with cut-out hole pictures, reproductions of exploration instruments including a sextant and armillary sphere, and a model caravel, one of the small sailing ships developed to explore the Atlantic and West African coasts. The setting is jarring in its incongruity, with the trappings of Portuguese colonial expansion displayed against a backdrop of escalators, potted palms, and bureaux de change.

Fig. 4: Exhibition commemorating the first Captain Majors of Madeira, at La Vie Funchal, part of celebrations marking 600 years since the discovery of Madeira and Porto Santo by the Portuguese.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

Led by Kasprzak, we attempt an aerial mapping of the Malvinas housing projects, using a balloon mapping kit produced by Public Lab, a Boston-based nonprofit group. First devised as part of a response to the information blackout surrounding the 2010 BP Oil DIsaster in the Gulf of Mexico, capturing hundreds of thousands of digital photos that could be “stitched” together and uploaded to Google Earth, the kit would usually comprise string, protective gloves, rubber bands, zip ties, a carabiner, and 5.5ft weather balloon. Kasprzak’s institution provide a digital camera modified to enable continuous shooting, but we have to supply our own helium balloons—obtained from a Funchal party supplies store, then quickly bundled into the back of a taxi. With official maps and floorplans of Malvinas difficult to come by, but required as a base for the next stage of the art collaboration, our intent is to replace this information with digital aerial photography. Following a YouTube tutorial from a local youth centre’s internet cafe, we assemble a harness and cradle for the camera, sawing through a plastic drinks bottle with a knife. Ultimately, the balloons lack the required buoyancy; with inclement weather and insufficient height, our attempts to guide the barely-airborne device through the neighbourhood is little more than a curiosity for the neighbourhood’s residents.

Fig. 5: Balloon mapping in Malvinas.
Courtesy of Justin Pickard

With the “edge” of Cabo Girão as our backdrop, this research prototype certainly succeeded in achieving the experiential “intensity” of encounter recognised by Pink and Morgan (2013). We may not have realised been able to sustain a single collectively-held perspective on this fragmented network of field sites (see Burrell, 2009), but the shared experience of encountering and striving to make sense of a particular landscape helped us to engage substantively with each others’ divergent, often unfamiliar practices of research. Though the organisation of “walkshops”—as an original stated aim—may have proved unworkable, we made the most of the readymade situations and spaces of encounter to which we could most easily gain access. Our limited time in the field was a generative constraint, enabling us to sustain an intensity of engagement that would have otherwise been impossible. Visual material and outputs also had a particularly important role, with Baía Reis’ “immersive” video footage and Kasprzak’s bricoleur assembly of an apparatus capable of producing aerial photography both providing an effective external scaffold and accessible entry point for participation and informant engagement.

 

References

Baía Reis, A., Coelho, A. F. V. C., 2018. Virtual Reality and journalism. Digital Journalism, ahead of press, 1-11.

Brosius, J.P., Campbell, L., M., 2010. Collaborative Event Ethnography: Conservation and development trade-offs at the fourth world conservation congress. Conservation and Society, 8 (4), 245-255.

Burrell, J. 2009. The field site as a network: a strategy for locating ethnographic research. Field Methods 21 (2): 181-199.

de Seta, G., 2017. Experimental ethnography: 31 prompts. http://paranom.asia/2017/09/experimental-ethnography-31-prompts/

Gómez Cruz E., 2017. Immersive reflexivity: using 360° cameras in ethnographic fieldwork. In: Gómez Cruz E., Sumartojo S., Pink S. (Eds.), Refiguring Techniques in Digital Visual Research, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 25-38.

Hastrup, K., 2018. Collaborative moments: Expanding the anthropological field through cross-disciplinary practice. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 83 (2): 316-334.

Jasanoff, S., Kim, S.-H., 2009. S.-H. Kim (2009). Containing the Atom: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and Nuclear Power in the United States and South Korea. Minerva, 47: 119-146.

Paulson, K.E., 2009. Ethnography of the ephemeral: studying temporary scenes through individual and collective approaches. Social Identities 15 (4), 509-524.

Pink, S., Morgan, J., 2013. Short-term ethnography: intense routes to knowing. Symbolic Interaction, 36 (3), 351-361.

Weston, G. and Djohari, N., 2018. Student/staff ‘Collaborative Event Ethnography’ at the Antiques Roadshow. Journal Of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, 4(1): 1-7.

Wickson, F., Strand, R., Kjølberg, K.L., 2015. The walkshop approach to science and technology ethics. Science and Engineering Ethics 21, 241-264.

 

“Doing Data”: Methodography in and of STS

How does STS ethnography meet what it researches? Not prescriptive methodology – we were interested in methodography, describing and problematising how methods shape data. 2018 saw three research events that focused on data infrastructures and practices in participant observation and in collaborating with other actants in & around the field. With this focus, we turned back and looked at our own research practices. This meant exploring what kind of performative relations arise between STS and our topics of research and how these relations were materially and otherwise shaped.

Amidst today’s conversations about what data (big or small) might be, or could do, a reflexive moment has arisen within STS. Whilst STS scholars have been foundationally studying research practices – data handling and processing, translations, semiotic and material practices, epistemic and ontological shifts – these have been almost exclusively in fields of scholarship outside of STS. We have studied knowledge practices across the sciences, in spaces of engineering, technology, from laboratories to fields, governance practices to evidence regimes. But what happens when we turn back and look at our own research practices? In the take-up of ethnography within STS, what kind of performative relations arise between STS and its topics of research? 

The Spring and Summer of 2018 saw three interrelated research events on these questions. They took form as a series of conversations in Berlin and Lancaster, organised by Ingmar Lippert, Rachel Douglas-Jones, Tahani Nadim, Jörg Niewöhner as well as Julie Sascia Mewes (and supported by Göde Both).[1]

 

Fig 1: Workshop introduction (left: John Law; center: Ingmar Lippert)
Source: Ildikó Plájás

Critique of method is not without precedence, and a series of important moments from different eras informed our discussions. In 1975, Paul Feyerabend wrote Against Method, setting the tone for the questioning to come. His rallying cry opposed the strict constraints that methods can impose, which Feyerabend considered weakening epistemological openness. Down the decades, John Law’s 2004 After Method speculated on the practices of analysis and writing in the wake of methods deconstruction, questioning stereotypical UK social science methods training. Inventive Methods by Lury and Wakeford (2012) is an inheritor to these questions, turning to specific devices in the doing of epistemic work. Their range of method devices ran from tape recorders to the conceptual work of “configuration”, elaborated by Lucy Suchman. Even though these texts were very much about the relation between methods and the making of worlds, the collection did not focus on narratives of how certain kinds of method assemblages, used in specific places at specific times, produced researchers’ own particular accounts.

The term methodography arises in the work of STS ethnomethodologists Christian Greiffenhagen, Michael Mair and Wes Sharrock (2011) which contemplates the difference between methodologies that are prescriptive and studies that allow for the problematisation of qualitative research method within the account given. At that point, STS and its methods did not arise as an empirical field for their questions – something that arose as a point of discussion at the EASST/4S Roundtable ‘Does STS have problems?’, organised by Noortje Marres and Endre Dányi in 2016[2] . Yet typically texts that question STS methods waver between a prescriptive-normative take and a descriptive problematisation (e.g. Hyysalo, Pollock and Williams, forthcoming; Lippert 2014). 

Focussing on descriptive problematisation of STS methods-in-action, Lippert and Verran’s (2018) special issue in the EASST Journal Science & Technologies Studies highlights how different modalities of performing an analytics produce different accounts. Such contemporary scholarship increasingly calls for more detailed engagement with how STS researchers do and interpret specific methods, research designs and analytics. 

Answering this call, the three events of 2018 wove conversations across twenty authors, six commenting contributors, a roundtable with five scholars, [3] a keynote by John Law and a writing methodography session chaired by Rachel Douglas-Jones and Estrid Sørensen.

 

Fig 2: Lively discussion within Humboldt University STS Lab’s meeting space
Source: Alexandra Endaltseva

Devices and Collaborations

Papers at these events ranged vastly in terms of their empirical focus. From archives to borders, policing to residential care, Internet of Things device use at home to public environmental agencies, call centers to tourism, the contributions all attended to how methods shaped the STS analyst’s epistemic practices.

Themes that arose in discussion were those that discussions of ethnography often produce: the responsibilities of researchers, anxieties about interventions, the work of description, and the politics of collaboration. But in the ‘graphic’ component of methodography, participants sought not introspective accounts of method but extrospective ones, resulting in ethnographic accounts of what researchers actually do in the field. Method came to be a defamiliarization technique, allowing for (amongst other things) attention to performativity and materiality.

Inspired by Farías (2016), and by the EASST2018 theme of meetings, collaboration arose as a focusing term. It was also a contested term. In research, researcher and researched meet, and participants were encouraged to consider meetings of humans and nonhumans, their concerns, voices, material or immaterial presences or absences. In research, devices are met and employed, though these might be unruly, too. Discussion ranged from the implied positivity of collaboration (“do-gooder consensuality”) versus its potential to allow friction within forms of collective that do not need or presume “common ground”. We discussed differing degrees of togetherness, with other researchers and those participating in the field, including those with whom we might write.

Several papers highlighted the configuration and shaping of roles in the network of socio-material relations between researcher, artefacts, devices, human interlocutors. This resonated well with method devices, found in Lury and Wakeford’s book, which include invitations to engage material, tangible entities like photo-images, cameras, lists, screens but also categories, research protocols and modes of relating. In discussions, participants speculated that STS, which has honed its attention on the politics of classification, categories and ordering, may need to think differently about the ethnographic openness, embodied learning, and knowledges of others that are brought together in moments of analysis. Several papers found spaces to describe the openness they had sought through methods, whether in “pausing” (Melina Antonakaki) or in “experiment” (Ryanne Bleumink, Lisette Jong and Ildikó Plájás), as students set the knowledge practices that they were studying against the knowledge practices they were using in their analyses. 

Material devices were also foregrounded to tell and explicate methodography. Stefan Laube, for example, turned to clothing and costumes as participants in material practices that configured his ethnographic presence. A range of papers engaged with how rooms and scapes took part in configuring epistemic work, such as the location of a cab (Alexandra Endaltseva), snowy landscape (Eva Kotaskova) or a room at a home (Christine Hine). The papers showed how materiality – in both the seemingly well controllable research devices like a shirt or a camera as well as the rooms and landscapes encountered or tactically employed – was taking on multiple roles, such as of affordance and of obstacle. 

Fig 3: Round of introductions between junior and senior STS researchers
Source: Ingmar Lippert

Those with a background in anthropology brought a range of references to the table, from explicit reflections in that discipline on how ethnographers produce knowledge, and the legacies of Writing Culture. However, participants agreed that it was worth considering the specifics of STS ethnographic practices, from the kinds of situations where researchers do their work, to those where they are in co-presence with those they study, while then producing material about it. Along these lines, John Law’s workshop keynote illustrated how being ethnographic about ethnography permits descriptions of research practices. He argued that what we do in the field interferes in field spaces, and working with others in the field allows us to attend to how different peoples’ sensibilities inform the making of the work that emerges. Using stories of fieldwork with Marianne Lien in Norwegian Salmon fisheries, Law’s paper highlighted his interest in ontological politics, the differences that are important to different people. Is it possible, he asked, to generate practices that are open to the possibility of going on well together in difference in particular contexts. Can we observe and write small stories, grounded in practices, that do not aim to bring differences ‘together’? Not resolve ‘away’ ontological divergences, but work with the power and limitation of words to make evident differences that may operate outside of language.   

The Berlin workshop closed with a practical writing activity called Writing Methodography, which involved writing and re-writing texts prepared for the workshop. The conveners, Douglas-Jones and Sørensen, acknowledged the challenge for junior scholars, whose initial writing task of bringing forth research and fieldwork, is reflexively compounded by the task of producing text that brings both the field and method’s research effects into being simultaneously. From discussions of what ethnographies of observation look like to close readings of section of ethnographic texts and a ‘walk and talk’ around Berlin’s Deutsche Dom, the workshop focused on what students had brought with them to the workshop. Post-walk exercises practiced the use of words in making worlds, holding the capacity to bring forward both field and methods together in description. 

A fascinating thread in the closing discussions questioned what a focus on writing about method in an analytically descriptive rather than prescriptive sense does for STS. Scholars contemplated the potential for greater accountability through explicitness (Nadim), or voiced the desire for greater formalisation of STS’s methods in a time of ‘alt’ facts and post-truths (Niewöhner). What it means to do ethnography in STS settings, and as reflexive STS scholars is not a topic that offers simple answers. It taps the basic questions that fascinate STS scholars – ‘how do we know’ and returns the ‘we’ to a disciplinary conversation.

Join the methodography conversation and exploration!

We invite public conversation on the theme via Twitter’s #STSethnography hashtag and we expect a Call for Papers in spring 2019 for a special issue on ‘Ethnographic data generation in STS collaboration’ in Science & Technology Studies. [4] This SI is going to zoom in on STS scholars who engage in collaborative research, as groups of STS scholars as well as in collaborations with colleagues in other fields or non-academics. So we invite contributions on how ethnographic data is generated and transformed for and in STS analysis across a range of such collaborative contexts. The SI aims to lead beyond reflexivity accounts of positionality in STS ethnography and to establish a benchmark for the STS ethnographic study of how ethnographic collaboration configures its data. Julie Sascia Mewes joins Ingmar Lippert as co-editor and we gladly contribute to strengthening the journal’s trajectory of exploring STS methods and analytical devices.

 

[1]    The conversations extended across a half-day workshop Speculative Instruments meet Ethnographic Data, hosted by Humboldt University’s Media & Digital Anthropology Lab (MeDiA Lab) on 12/4/18, continued with the workshop Participant Observation and Collaboration in STS Ethnography: Generating Methodographic Sensibilities for Science & Technology Studies at the same university’s Science and Technology Studies Lab (13-14/4/18) and became more public as an EASST2018 conference panel Methodography of data practices in STS’s ethnographic collaboration and participant observation (26/7/18). The first two events were financed by EASST, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and the IT University of Copenhagen’s ETHOS Lab and their Data as Relation project.

[2]    https://stsproblems.wordpress.com/

[3]    Including Charles Hahn, Sarah Inman, David Ribes, Stephen Slota, Andrew Hoffman, Cornelius Schubert, Judith Willkomm, Alexandra Endaltseva, Eva Kotaskova, Sofia Bento, Raquel Carvalheira, Catharina Lüder, Jonas Müller, Ryanne Bleumink, Lisette Jong, Ildikó Plájás, Leyla Safta-Zecheria, Stefan Laube, Christine Hine, Christoph Bareither, Hilde Thygesen and Tomás Criado.

[4]    See https://www.researchgate.net/project/Methodography-of-STS-ethnography for updates

 

References

Farías I (2016) A collaborative turn in STS?. EASST Review 35(1).

Feyerabend P (1975) Against Method. Brooklyn and London: Verso.

Greiffenhagen C, Mair M and Sharrock W (2011) From Methodology to Methodography: A Study of Qualitative and Quantitative Reasoning in Practice. Methodological Innovations Online 6(3):93-107.

Hyysalo S, Pollock N and Williams R (forthcoming) Method Matters in the Social Study of Technology: Investigating the Biographies of Artifacts and Practices.  Science & Technology Studies.

Law J (2004) After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge.

Lippert I (2014) Studying Reconfigurations of Discourse: Tracing the Stability and Materiality of ‘Sustainability/Carbon’. Journal for Discourse Studies 2(1): 32–54.

Lippert I and Verran H (2018) After Numbers? Innovations in Science and Technology Studies’ Analytics of Numbers and Numbering. Science & Technology Studies 31(4): 2–12. 

Lury C and Wakeford N (2012) Inventive methods: The Happening of the Social. London: Routledge. 

Facing the elephant: STS inspired reflections on the political crisis associated with migrants

In September 2018 the Centre for Social Studies (CES), University of Coimbra, Portugal held a workshop entitled ‘How can STS help to reflect on the political crisis associated with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers?’ An international group of scholars from STS, migration and border studies met to explore the benefits and limitations of using the analytical and methodological repertoire of STS to understand the ongoing political and social migration crises. Here, the organizers and participants write together and argue that it is necessary to tap into the full potential of STS as science and intervention to contribute to engaging with the sociotechnical and epistemic aspects of forced migration and displacement, resettlement, (re)integration, inclusion and related debates and practices.

Since at least 2015 and the so-called ‘summer of migration’, the term ‘crisis’ in combination with ‘migration’ has been the political and social hot potato. It has received a lot of scholarly interest from different areas of the social sciences, but surprisingly little from STS. In 2018 workshop organizers and participants of a workshop on ‘How can STS help to reflect on the political crisis associated with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers’ faced the elephant in the STS room and discovered that all the ingredients are in place to do interesting and scholarly and politically relevant research inspired by STS accounts.

The workshop was motivated by a desire to gather together scholars interested in exchanging and articulating suitable research questions and conceptual/methodological STS approaches in order to generate new insights. Considering the multi/interdisciplinary research on the topic already available – most prominently in migration studies or border studies – a driving question was what interesting partnerships could be made between STS and other research traditions, such as urban studies and postcolonial and decolonial studies.

Figure 1: Group Picture

Beginning by highlighting some of the most obvious connections, migration management establishes technologies and infrastructures that invite critical study through an STS lenses. As a substantial example of what infrastructures, and what implicit politics entangled with them, are at stake here, Martina Tazzioli reflected in her key note talk on the data infrastructures and data circuits associated with the implementation of debit cards in refugee camps, and explored the ways in which refugees’ subjectivities have been shaped by this peculiar articulation between financial tools and ‘humanitarian’ rationales. Dealing with the processes of the financialization of refugee governmentality, Tazzioli focused on the Greek context, where the European Union (EU) has implemented the first refugee Cash Assistance Programme in Europe in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She explored how financial tools, together with digital technologies, have been used to control and govern would-be refugees. In a significant concluding interpretation she questioned the nexus between identity and data that humanitarian actors try to establish through the spreading notion of ‘digital identity’, presented as something that both protects and controls refugees at the same time.

Figure 2: Martina Tazzioli

Two rather broad technological categories – Biometric Identification Technologies and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) – appear particularly relevant in (dis)enablement of migrants to exercise their right to move. Technologies are key instruments allowing simultaneously for political, social and cultural change, as well as new forms of social control. Martin Lemberg-Pedersen and Eman Haioty’s contribution explored the element of social control being exercised with the help of biometric technologies. Based on their case study into the UNHCR´s practice of iris-enrolling refugees, they discussed the ‘humanitarian experimentation’ of technologies on refugee populations. The authors explored some of the consequences of iris-data transformative capacity – such as becoming a suspicious (and a surveillable) body in a digital age and biometrics’ dynamics of racialization – through the concept of the quasi-object (Serres, Latour). Furthermore, the authors argued that biometric technology acts as a tool for neoliberalized displacement governance, by considering refugees as traceable units of credit (of potential labor, consumption, aid delivery) and credit-nodes for an Information Technology (IT) market (security, consultancy and humanitarian actors).

The ambiguities linked to ICTs were addressed in several presentations. Luciana Sotero, Maria Dias and Joana Sousa Ribeiro prompted us to ask whether we were not jumping too fast to the conclusion that ICTs are necessarily beneficial to migrants’ integration. They argued that ICTs might help migrants deal with the negative experiences associated with the breakdown of, what are known in psychology as, personal social networks. However, they also pointed out, ICTs are far from being a panacea: among other issues, they suggested that the fact that migrants now find it relatively easy to stay in touch with their families thanks to ICTs also has the effect of making the creation of new social connections less urgent, raising questions about ICT’s complex relation to social (re)settlement and forced assimilation. Going further, the authors also made a second and, perhaps, more provocative question when they encouraged us to reflect on what meaning of ‘integration’ is being embedded in the ICTs being promoted as part of the EU’s digital inclusion strategy. STS can help by offering concepts and paradigmatic cases on how to unpack normative assumptions built into these EU-funded ICT’s.

In another case study on the role of ICTs, Vasilis Galis and Vasiliki Makrygianni addressed what they call ‘the digital resistance in the Greek territory’ and portrayed the strategies and practices of survival, resistance and counter-movement promoted by migrants living in a state of ‘subversive mobility’ (Cohen et. al. 2017). The speakers argued that the use of ICTs paves the path for collective ‘unbordering practices’ as it creates digital spaces of autonomy and empowerment. ‘Escaping from domination’ practices occur both when migrants communicate among themselves and with people in solidarity. Furthermore, the use of such digital technologies subverts the European hegemonic system, as it [co-]reconfigures migration practices by enacting emancipatory patterns of use, and vice versa. Against this backdrop, the authors analyzed the multidimensional role of ICTs in migratory routes and digital border technologies as persecutory instruments of the border regime.

The two examples on the complex roles of ICTs in the context of migration and border regimes clearly demonstrated the multiple human–non-human relationships at work, and focused on making visible the empowering and disempowering effects of ICTs on migrants. 

Like the examples above, other contributions to the workshop also differed with regards to their implicit preferences enacting different versions of the ‘the state’, ‘state borders’ and ‘migrants’.. Their different approaches reflected the various positions in an ongoing discussion in migration studies on so-called ‘methodological nationalism’ (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2003). Migration research continues to produce a lot of – sometimes critical – work on how migration is governed by states and their technologies, but little work exists on how migrants exert their autonomy as moving subjects and how they claim rights without necessarily depending on representational politics and practices. Critics have problematized the dominance of approaches that take the nation state and nation state borders for granted and thereby contribute to their further naturalization. Taking heed of this criticism, scholars have been putting together a new vocabulary to study migration ‘from below’. The concepts of ‘autonomy’ (Papadopulous and Tsianos 2013) and ‘acts of citizenship’ (Isin and Saward 2010) are important ones coined in this spirit. The discussion on methodological nationalism can be understood as an invitation to reflect on each scholar’s account of migration with an eye to what such a perspective allowed them to see, but also what did it not allow them to see, where such blind spots derive from and, finally, how to overcome these limits.

Yet, taking into account that STS-inspired approaches also produce their own blind spots, overlook some developments and overemphasize others – which likewise should be subject of reflection – such approaches may help to expand and diversify the methodological and analytical repertoire (including that of methodological nationalism) available to study the blind spots of forced migration regimes and border technologies. As an example, we portray here the work of Fredy Mora-Gámez, which opened a rather promising line of inquiry on the intersection between studies on solidarity and STS work around the notion of care in practice (even though he did not himself use the word ‘care’ in portraying his research). Mora-Gámez’s research introduces the notion of infrastructures of solidarity to the study of the everyday struggles of migrants and the role of actor-networks of care. His interest lies in particularly in the material textures and the work that goes into repurposing a rather symbolic piece of material, the life vest. His study looks at the voluntary action of a migrant, Ivan, who repurposes life jackets that are distributed to migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Repurposing vests is represented by the author as transgressive work that allows Ivan to reclaim agency and, while working in the ‘oficina’, to establish ‘social networks’. STS helps Mora-Gámez’s to study the voices usually neglected due to methodological nationalism. Learning to sew – as Ivan did to repurpose the life jackets – is connected to specific abilities of doing and particular networks of care, and these might help those interested in migrant solidarity understand how migrants reconstruct affective relations. Rather than treating the issue as a purely conceptual puzzle to be dealt with by the theoretician, Mora-Gámez encourages us to learn about the different meanings and modes of solidarity from migrants themselves. He does so in line with STS’s calls for generalizing symmetry so as to extend agency to objects and other textures of matter.

Inspired by the workshop contributions, we conclude that STS may contribute in interesting ways to the study of migration and the many related political and social crises discursively associated with it, by:

  • Addressing research problems that benefit most from unpacking and problematizing the naturalization processes entangled with migration regimes through classification and infra-structuring processes and ‘de-scribing’ the norms they embed, the ways they ‘configure’ for instance migrants and border practitioners, and the relations of authority they sustain.
  • Diversifying the viewpoints of research subjects and including those voices usually silenced and marginalized by the socio-technical and epistemic practices of migration regimes and border technologies. STS calls for experimentation and greater reflexivity in writing that may contribute to the necessary revision of the epistemic and political premises guiding the study of how migration regimes are shaped and impact migrants’ subjectivities.
  • Diversifying methodological-conceptual repertoires, for instance, by encouraging researchers to follow actants through chains of translation, or by prompting them to attend to the ordinary methods used to accomplish ‘practical closure’ or the ‘singularization’ of multiple and potentially contradictory assignments of meanings.

In spite of nuances, there is a widely shared understanding in critical migration and border studies that more research is needed on how, in their encounters with border regimes, migrants create new forms of living and disrupt entrenched notions of what it means to be political, and of course on how they resist and appropriate governmental attempts to curb their right to move. STS seems to have lots to contribute here. 

The workshop organizers – Nina Amelung, Cristiano Gianolla, Gaia Giuliani, Joana Sousa Ribeiro, Olga Solovova  – not only aimed to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, experiences and views inside academia, but also beyond it. In a science café, Mounir Affaki (a refugee and volunteer for the Global Platform for Syrian Students), Cyntia de Paula (Casa do Brasil de Lisboa) and Susana Gouveia (Portuguese Red Cross) discussed questions on what science and technology do to empower migrants and refugees in Portugal, but also what could and should science and technology be doing to empower migrants and refugees in Portugal? 

Figure 3: Science café

Taking the gathering during the workshop as a first step in building an international community of scholars at the intersection of STS/migration and border studies, several participants indicated that they would be interested in contributing to further capacity building, for instance, by hosting similar events. The workshop organizers will facilitate a joint publication initiative in 2019, as the first follow-up activity.

 

*This work has received funding from the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology, the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement N.º [648608]), within the project “EXCHANGE – Forensic geneticists and the transnational exchange of DNA data in the EU: Engaging science with social control, citizenship and democracy” led by Helena Machado and hosted at the Communication and Society Research Centre, Institute for Social Sciences of University of Minho (Portugal). Furthermore, it received funding from received funding from FEDER – Fundo Europeu de Desenvolvimento Regional funds through the COMPETE 2020 – Operacional Programme for Competitiveness and Internationalisation (POCI), and by Portuguese funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (grant agreement number N. ° POCI-01-0145-FEDER-029997), within the project “(De)OTHERING – Deconstructing Risk and Otherness:hegemonic scripts and counter-narratives on migrants/refugees and ‘internal Others’ in Portuguese and European mediascapes”.

 

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Isin EF and Saward M (eds) (2013) Enacting European Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Latour B (1996) On actor-network theory. A few clarifications plus more than a few complications. Soziale Welt 47(4):369-381.

Serres M (1982) Theory of the Quasi-object. In: Schehr LR (eds) The Parasite, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, pp. 224- 234.

Wimmer A and Glick Schiller N (2003) ‘Methodological Nationalism, the Social Sciences and the Study of Migration: An Essay in Historical Epistemology’, International Migration Review, 37 (3):576–610.

Papadopoulos D and Tsianos VS (2013). After citizenship: autonomy of migration, organisational ontology and mobile commons. Citizenship Studies, 17(2):178–196.

 

Striving for Harmony in Diversity: EASTS and the Networking Infrastructure of Global STS

STS has a relatively short history in East Asia—it was not until the 2000s that societies and programs that bore the initials “STS” in their titles were established in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Yet in just fifteen years or so East Asia has come to play an active role in the academic world and in the transformation of a flourishing East Asia via journals such as EASTS. 

  Historically, it should be noted that as an intellectual trend STS was introduced to this region far before its institutionalization. Compared to the intellectual orientation of its Western counterpart, STS in East Asia is more locally rooted and problem-based. While in Japan STS was impregnated with socialist criticisms of Cold War science and it directs increasing attention to alternative forms of social organization grounded in ideological pluralism, STS in China has inherited ideology driven, politico-intellectual traditions of “natural dialectics” (Zi Ran Bian Zheng Fa) and is backed up by state ideology. While the assessment of science and technology is a predominant component of China’s STS, Japanese STS scholars tend to oppose the government by promoting science for the citizen. 

STS in Taiwan and Korea takes yet a different disciplinary orientation: both influenced by Joseph Needham’s account of science and technology in Asian civilizations (such as those in Science and Civilisation in China by Needham and his collaborators), in particular before the Western scientific revolution, and both developing their research agendas from the discipline of the history and philosophy of science, Taiwan and Korea have structured their criticism of scientific development as a necessary step toward democratization. The introduction of mainstream STS theories such as the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, Actor-Network Theory, Social Worlds Theory, and the Anthropology of Science and Technology did not erase these traditions; instead, introduced by East Asian scholars returning from Europe and the US, such theories have blended into existing traditions, stimulating the growth of new STS communities in East Asia. 

 

Fig. 1 Assemblage of covers from EASTS

EASTS’ inception can be understood in this light. Founded in 2007, EASTS started out as an intellectual network of scholars in the history and philosophy of science, mainly from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and what we used to call “outside of East Asia” branch, or “OEA” for short. With the support of Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology, EASTS aimed to be the first English-language journal dedicated to East Asian STS. The founding editorial board included Daiwie Fu as editor-in-chief, Chia-Ling Wu, Togo Tsukahara, Sungook Hong, and Warwick Anderson as associate editors, and more than forty editorial board members from communities covering not only traditional East Asia but also Australia and Southeast Asia, and covering various disciplines from the history and philosophy of science and history of medicine to public understanding of science and science policy. The journal itself came into being as the realization of this collective voice that was seeking the meaning of doing STS in and on East Asia.

As a quarterly, EASTS, like other academic journals, publishes research articles, research notes, review essays, commentaries, and forums. Even so, in order to make itself distinct, a large amount of editorial effort has been put into book reviews and the covers, which are perhaps marginal for an academic journal (see the assemblage of some covers in Figure 1). Since our inception, covers have been a colorful and artistic feature of EASTS. For each issue, editors carefully choose material that will be intellectually compelling for readers and transform it into a piece of visual art that faithfully conveys its nuances. With a team that consists of more than ten editors covering major Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) as well as French and German, in our Book Review section EASTS aims to be the gateway to East Asian STS, with reviews of books published in Asian languages as well as in English.

For those who want to understand the intellectual characteristics of EASTS in balancing the different origins of and ideas on STS, the quickest way is to read Daiwie Fu’s positioning paper “How Far Can East Asian STS go?” published in its first issue (1.1. It can be read or downloaded at https://read.dukeupress.edu/ easts/article/1/1/1/25936/How-Far-Can-East-Asian-STS-Go-A-position-paper?searchresult=1). By proposing EASTS to be a venue for “a distinctive EASTS study”, Fu called for a reassessment of existing interpretive frames (such as “center-periphery” models or post-colonial connections) and claimed an intellectual network that is made to set new parameters for studying East Asian STS. He also called for research agendas, such as focusing on socially embedded, situated technologies, in order to substantiate interdisciplinary and cross-cultural practices of STS. As Fu enthusiastically concludes, “East Asian STS will offer fresh STS perspectives because of its special local experiences, shared cultural and colonial histories, similar geological and meteorological makeup, and similar global positions… No doubt, East Asia has a lot to offer STS communities worldwide”. 

During his six years of editorship (2007-2012) Fu’s efforts can be appreciated in thematic issues on gender and technology (such as 2.2) and traditional technology and knowledge (such as 4.2 and 5.2), as well as in forums on the 50th anniversary of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution (6.4), “Engaging Asia: A Forum on the History of Science and Technology” (6.2), and a panel discussion on the 2011 tsunami and subsequent Fukushima crisis in Japan (5.3). Further, EASTS has been open for different perspectives, and ways envisioning how EASTS could achieve a scholarship that engages not only people living in and working on this region but the global STS community. The issue “What Is Distinctive East Asian STS: Method, Assemblages, or Theories?” (6.4) was fully dedicated to reflecting on these perspectives. 

It might be helpful to briefly review these visions. First is the relationship between science and the state. While EASTS is concerned with science policy, in particular deliberative democracy in science and technology, a more engaged  

Fig. 2  EASTS editorial meeting at the 4S, Sydney, August 30, 2018

scholarship is needed on national policy toward science and technology in terms of R&D. For this, EASTS has achieved discussions in both a national and international context, such as China’s biopolitics (5.3.), Singapore’s Biopolis (7.1), and a comparison between Japan and New Zealand (5.4). Second, as the only journal in English on this area, EASTS has been expected to establish a scholarship that moves beyond “area studies” of STS. In addition to theoretical reflections, in its first decade the papers published in EASTS have brought up situations that challenge the meaning of East Asia and reframe the STS specificity. Reflecting the multiple origins of STS in East Asia, its papers belong to various disciplines, such as the history of science, sociology, technology studies, and anthropology. Nonetheless, together they exemplify efforts to expand the networks of STS beyond mainstream narratives in the Anglo-American context. A case for this can be seen in the issues on traditional medicines in East Asia (notably 2.4, 7.3, and 8.1). The theme is distinctively East Asian, yet capturing how these therapies travel around the world and changing ways of thinking about these living traditions is definitely a global question. 

Chia-Ling Wu, editor-in-chief from 2013 to 2015, inherited the spirit of making EASTS an intellectual platform that thrives on harmony in diversity, yet without becoming some kind of STS “fox”—to use EASTS current associate editor Fa-ti Fan’s term—roaming through disciplinary, geographical, and intellectual territories (in his response to Fu’s position paper mentioned previously). While focused on East (and Southeast) Asia, EASTS is gradually expanding its geographical reach, publishing articles on South Asia (such as the issue on Indonesian STS, 11.1). We are also actively searching for articles in various disciplines to best present East Asia as both an intellectual subject and a meaningful method for doing global STS.

Though EASTS is still a young journal, we as editors are delighted that it has already become a permanent fixture in the networking infrastructure of global STS. A collaborative undertaking with the internationally renowned publishers Springer (from 2007 to 2011) and Duke University Press (from 2012), EASTS, like the landscape of East Asia, is always in transition. When the late Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) president Susan Leigh Star made mention of EASTS in 2007, it was as one of those initiatives not based in the traditional STS regions of America and Europe. With 4S inviting more non-Western involvement, and with EASTS advisory editors Kim Fortun and Ulrike Felt elected presidents of 4S and of EASST respectively in 2017, this seems to be the right time to renew EASTS’ road map. While looking back at the multiple histories of STS in East Asia, it must reinvent itself by introducing research agendas that push EASTS beyond existing framings, such as simplified dichotomies of West and East as “center-periphery” or “theory-subject”. We believe that this is why EASTS won the 4S Infrastructure Award in 2018, and we are grateful that our work with the journal has been recognized this way.

Ours is a fast-changing technoscientific world, and one in which East Asia isn’t an outsider but has a permanent seat at the table. EASTS doesn’t aim to provide the ultimate answers to all of STS’s questions; but we do believe that these answers—if they exist—can only be approached and set down on paper by making use of the expanding networks and evolving infrastructures of an STS community that can shape social agendas and create responsive scholarship. To borrow Confucius’ words, we strive for harmony in diversity. 

Though we are indexed by Web of Science (SSCI and A&HCI) since 2016, EASTS equally treasures networks created via scholarly collaboration. We believe that any scholarly piece published in EASTS does not stand alone and will not fade away. So we invite you to join us in contributing your own work to the living archive that is EASTS!