Category Archives: easst review

Sites of intervention: Getting down and dirty

What is a conference for? We asked that question more than once when, as the Local Organizing Committee, we came together to plan for the 20th EASST conference that took place in July at Lancaster University. We met in a space away from the University campus where we imagined EASST 2018 as crafting, discussing and troubling ‘meetings’. This became our conference theme – a deliberately ambiguous and broad one. The theme captured our sense that often we see meetings as tedious, as encounters we would rather avoid than engage in. We wanted our European STS community to reimagine meetings, and to curate meetings of different kinds – between people, between things and people, between things and things, between those who identify as STS and those who don’t, and between different kinds of STS. We wanted EASST2018 to reclaim meetings as stimulating, productive interventions, which also take place in particular situations. We were acutely aware of the possibilities that meetings afford, given the long association of Lancaster with the Quaker movement, and given the tumultuous political times in which we find ourselves in Europe.

Reflecting on those four sunny July days in Lancaster, we think that we mostly succeeded in what we set out to do: around 950 delegates gathered in the sunshine and also in lecture theatres, seminar rooms, a grand Victorian hall, and a huge tent, for varied encounters. And, although it was the largest EASST conference to date, there was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere as delegates involved themselves in the academic, cultural and social programmes.

Two years ago, at the joint 4S/EASST conference in Barcelona, we heard about Politics by other Means. At Lancaster we found ourselves discussing the business of ‘getting down and dirty’. Throughout the conference we were to return, again and again, to questions of how we do research and politics in technoscientific imaginaries and materialisations of making and taking life. First, through reflection on 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then with soil itself, then with the efforts to actively resist fracking, and finally in relation to STS itself: who are STS researchers prepared to meet? How comfortable are we with moving from critique to normativity? How far are we prepared to go?

Working to make a conference of this kind was sometimes hard, sometimes fun and threw up all sorts of unexpected issues. The Local Organizing Committee often employed concepts from STS to describe what we were doing: we were involved in a sociotechnical assemblage of people and things, or perhaps we were performing a sociotechnical imaginary, and we engaged in our own sociology of expectations as we wrote scripts for our future delegates, and sought to bring into being our desired future. At the same time, we anticipated futures full of risk and ruin and wondered how we could build resilience or take pre-emptive action to avoid the worst happening. In the end, we came to appreciate that what we were doing first and foremost was a form of taking care: this was about making something for, and together with, our STS communities.

Alongside the academic programme, we were fortunate to partner with our colleagues at the University to arrange lunchtime activities, visiting the EcoHub, the wind turbine, and the IsoLab in the Department of Physics. Each morning also started with Tai Chi in the Square outside the LICA Building where conference registration took place. The Friday night social event featured the indomitable Paddy Steer, the Groovecutters and a wonderful display of European STS dancing.

And, as is often the case now, the life of the conference is not only found in the face-to-face interactions and encounters, but also online. More than 800 people followed the official Twitter handle for the conference and contributed an impressive array of duck photos and commentary on papers and events throughout the conference. As STS scholars, perhaps we should have anticipated the important role the ducks would play in the life of the conference, but we hadn’t, and we here formally appreciate that their participation enhanced the relaxed and inclusive atmosphere.

Violet spots against sexual harassment in the University: an activist collective response from Spain

26th April 2018, 15:00. A bunch of students and some academic staff, female and male, enter a classroom at the Faculty of Political Sciences and Sociology at Complutense University in Madrid. Smiles and waves are exchanged, occasionally nervous, while we sit in circle around the diaphanous space, as seats and tables have been pushed against the walls. After a while the group divides up in four, and each small group moves to a corner of the room. There, the groups prepare, using the technique of the theatre of the oppressed (Boal, 1974), everyday scenes of harassment at the University, and also the typical responses we tend to offer, both as co-students and academic staff. Body is placed on first line to generate a fiction where to rehearse possible solutions. Laughter, tears, and the so often felt outrage draw again in a sharp way while we revive scenes that have passed through our skins. Scenes that bring both shivers and disgust, and the memory of the impotence that we’ve felt all too often. Emotions that get stuck in our chests yet become political, all the while open to collective reflection. Together we learn from our own experiences of harassment and not the least from the way we’ve failed to give support. The feeling of being together and thinking together makes anger return to us as a political tool, transforming “silence into language and action” (Lorde, 1984:40): ¡Escucha, hermana, aquí está tu manada! [Listen, sister, here stands your pack!]. At the end of the meeting -a workshop on support strategies to sexual aggressions, sexual harassment, and harassment towards LGBTQI people-, the recently self-made chapas [pins] of the violet spot that we are collectively building are distributed among the volunteers. Through the low cost, low tech, analogical technology of the violet chapa [pin], we become mobile violet spots accessible to anyone requiring the support of the Somosaguas Violet Spot. 

Fig. 1: Picture of the violet spot chapas [pins]. Courtesy of the author
Somosaguas Violet Spot is an activist, non-institutional network of self-help, collective support that denounces sexual and LGBTQI harassment and sexual aggressions. The collective is formed by academic staff, students and administrative personnel alike, and was recently created in our Faculty. It has been mobilised to counter the absence of effective responses from the academic institutions to the issue of harassment in our University.

The Violet Spot have drawn strength from international mobilisations that make visible and denounce sexual harassment and sexual aggressions prevalent in the media and in the social networks worldwide in the last year – although many of them have a less well known story. #MeeToo in the English speaking world. #NiUnaMenos in Argentina and Latin America. #TomaFeminista, the feminist occupation of Universities in Chile against sexual harassment this May. #Cuéntalo, along with the mobilisations against the outraged trial and sentence in the collective rape case known as “La manada” [the pack], as well as the massive demonstrations of the 8th of march and the success of the feminist strike [#HuelgaFeminista #8M] in Spain. All of them are part of a new feminist global mobilisation wave that move online and offline crying out #YaBasta [#Enough].

The sexual harassment support workshop and the Somosaguas Violet Spot were born with the objective of making the University community as a whole responsible for the vulnerability, discomfort, violence and harassment that gender and LGBTQI people face in University campuses, whereas very often responsibility of the abuse seems to fall back into the assaulted person. We demand institutional responsibility, but we tried to go beyond the current Sexual Harassment and LGBTQI Harassment Protocol at Complutense University passed on 20th December 2016. The protocol treats accusations as isolated and exceptional, instead of recognising them as part of the “organisation culture” of the very institution, as Sarah Ahmed pointed out in her entrance on Sexual Harassment at her blog feministkilljoy, of 15th december 2015. Yet the protocol, now held as an institutional device, is the direct result of ongoing student mobilisations against sexual harassment at Complutense University in Madrid (UCM) initiated in 2013. An example of this mobilisation is the action that took place at the UCM Chancellor’s Office under the slogan “Nos desnudáis. Protocolo de acoso, ¡ya!” [You strip us. Harassment protocol, now!].

The protocol was achieved, but it participates of the institutional inertia, more interested in protecting the institution than the person denouncing, thus provoking revictimizations, invisibility and lack of institutional support. We could have bitterly asked ourselves with Sara Ahmed if the protocol has become a “mechanism of non-performativity”: “when naming something does not bring something into effect or (more strongly) when something is name in order not to bring something into effect” (Ahmed, 2017: 106-107). 

Following Ahmed’s (2017) image, academic institutions -even apparently progressive ones- are part of a “brick wall” that reproduce inequality, and to take out one single brick of the wall requires of an almost heroic effort. #AllMalePanel has raised the issue of lack of female visibility in the Academia and how it very often works as an Old Boy’s Club, were women, LGBTQI, non conforming gender, racialized and functionally diverse people seems to be perpetually “out of place”. “Quiero ser libre no valiente” [“I want to be free, not brave”] was one of the slogans we sang in the different recent feminist demonstrations in Spain. Yet, setting up a sexual harassment complaint at University enhances insecurity and vulnerability. Not only because you need to testify again and again, but also since your testimony will be continuously put into question, as it is identified as an attack to the institution in the first place. 

Providing evidence becomes, then, a key issue. “Matters of fact” become questionable biases constructions, or even “unfortunately misunderstandings” too seriously taken. One word against another. Yet, maybe, as Latour (2004) suggested we could move away from “matters of fact” to “matters of concern”, bringing to the fore the collective effort in sustaining current state of affairs in academic institutions and also assembling together the complex connections held to sustain the lives and bodies of the people harmed within institutional walls. Yet to make of sexual harassment a “matter of concern” is still not enough. We need to think about the assembled work of care required to sustain our lives (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2012; Tronto, 1993). To transform matters of fact into matters of care (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011). Life entangles in strings that hold us as we also held them, both sustaining it and letting it go (Stengers, 2011). String figures using Haraway’s words that urge us to “cultivate response-ability” through a “collective knowing and doing, an ecology of practices” (Haraway, 2016: 34)

Thus, to resist collectively we have set our particular “string figure”. A rather ordinary clothesline at the entrance of the Students University Cafe. A clothesline to make visible sexual harassment. We have invited all passers-by to peg their own stories of harassment on the clothesline, as a washing out display to give presence to situations usually identified as absent. We wanted to wash out the silence that seems to ghost the university conjuring isolation into collective action. The narratives, many times dismissed as unreal, impossible to proof, take space and become visible, to be claimed as “matters of concern” (Latour, 2004). But the string that holds them together entails a collective effort and learning process. Both the clothesline and the Somosaguas Violet Spot are strings figures: collective caring devices both held by us but that hold us mattering care in particular ways to respond to the unavoidable demand of “staying with the trouble” (Haraway, 2016).

Fig. 2: Picture of the Sexual Harassment clothesline. Somosaguas Violet Spot, May 2018.  Courtesy of  one of the authors.
Fig. 3: Picture of the Sexual Harassment clothesline. Somosaguas Violet Spot, May 2018.  Courtesy of  one of the authors

Acknowledgments: We would like to thank Maria Kristina Rustad Nordang for her committed English review of our article.



“A world can only be stopped by another world”

As some of you might already be aware, in the last weeks one of STS main disciplines, anthropology–or at least its English-speaking versions–imploded in a social media earthquake of giant proportions. The trigger for this have been a number of allegations of systematic exploitation and power abuse regarding HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory’s Editor in Chief. But the turmoil went way beyond this case, and quickly opened up a series of debates: both on the generic problems of academic institutions to deal with these issues, and a series of other reflections on the Open Access publication ecology (since another of the issues regarding HAU is its alleged transformation into a pay-walled journal after signing an agreement with Chicago University Press).

Interestingly, what came to be called in the social networks #hautalk unfolded into what could be called ‘a fractal socio-technical controversy,’ exploding exponentially in all directions, and opening up all kinds of academic issues:[1] Gendered and racialized power structures undergirding academic relations of prestige and credibility; precarious infrastructures of scholarly societies and work practices; the fragility of the ecology of open-access journals; or the problematic appropriation of indigenous knowledges in the journal’s naming and branding. In sum, a true event revealing in a cascade of reflections many problems of our academic ways of being in the world. Not for nothing, some have been addressing it as the #metoo moment in the discipline. However, following it, I was aware that this was not just a matter for anthropology but for many other social sciences, including STS, across the world. In fact, I was constantly reminded of these powerful words by Sara Ahmed, also written very recently:

“What was hard was the complicity, the silence. The institutional response to harassment – don’t talk about it, turn away from it, protect our reputation whatever the cost – was how the harassment was enabled in the first place. To be silent was to be part of the institutional silence.” [2]

In that blog post, Sara Ahmed, now an independent feminist scholar and former Professor in Gender Studies at Goldsmiths’, goes back to why she resigned from her position: “in protest at the failure of my college to address sexual harassment as an institutional problem.” Since then, intervening in those spaces has been turned into her primary concern, discussing in her blog and publications at length the issues and problems of how institutions deal with complaints of sexual harassment–together with other violent conditions deriving from gendered and racialized power structures. As she has forcefully put it, our academic environments, because of the role of hierarchy, prestige and power structures are extremely ill-equipped to deal with situations like these.

What can we in STS do about them? These are the main series of concerns that our contributors to a new installment of STS Live are addressing and raising: In this issue, different pieces chart out the impact that recent activist phenomena such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter in the English-speaking-sphere, or #niunamenos and #vivaslasqueremos in the Spanish-speaking one might be having in our discipline and our modes of accounting or describing it. From essays containing ethical proposals and reflections to concrete approaches to intervention[3] the corollary of the works here contained is, as I see it, that “a world can only be stopped by another world.”[4] That is, that beyond merely engaging in these matters in our everyday life, or as our STS topics, our discipline and scholarly networks should be involved in creating the conditions for such a world to start happening in the here and now of our departments, meetings and journals.

Shall we? Yes, #wetoo.


[1] You can find a summary of the events here. Also, the AllegraLab and Anthrodendum blogs have been publishing a series of essays on the topic, discussing (1) open-access infrastructures –such as Ilana Gershon’s ‘The Pyramid Scheme’ or Marcel LaFlamme, Dominic Boyer, Kirsten Bell, Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Christopher Kelty, and John Willinsky’s ‘Let’s Do This Together: A Cooperative Vision for Open Access’–, discussing issues of power abuse–such as in Emily Yates-Doerr’s ‘Open Secrets: On Power and Publication’–, or addressing the colonial remnants of the discipline–such as in Zoe Todd’s ‘The Decolonial Turn 2.0: The reckoning’..

[2] S. Ahmed (2018). ‘The Time of Complaint’.

[3] In line with resourceful projects such as USVreact (Universities Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence: Training for Sustainable Services).

[4] ‘Un mundo sólo se para con otro mundo’ a sentence written by Spanish poet María Salgado, and compiled in Hacía un ruido. Madrid: Contrabando (2016). The translation into English was done by Luís Moreno-Caballud, who dwells on the poem in his book Cultures of Anyone (2015, Liverpool UP).

EASST conference 2018 – fee waivers for early career participants

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

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

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

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

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

EASST Conference 2018 – Registration Process

Dear EASST members,

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Periphery: exploring STS at the edges of Europe

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full publication:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ii] Compare <>, last accessed 5 April 2018.

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

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

The two ‘doings’ of a workshop

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

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

What came before the event?

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

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

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

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

What did the event do?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entangling @ Satsu

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

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

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

Dave Beer

Metrics, Algorithms and Big Data

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

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

Dave Beer, Metric Power (Palgrave MacMillan)

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

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

Phil Garnett, trump twitter word cloud

Intimate Entanglements

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

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

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

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

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

Intimate Entanglements builds upon and presses earlier explorations of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contributors to the monograph include:

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

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