Category Archives: easst review

Somatosphere: a medical anthropology website

Somatosphere is an online forum focused on medical anthropology, as well as the humanities and social sciences of health and medicine more broadly. The site aims to raise critical questions, debate and commentary about contemporary and historical matters of science, healing, illness, and the body. One of our key goals is not only to publish engaging essays, reviews, and new research in medical anthropology and social science, but to incorporate the flexibility and networking capabilities of digital media, generating new and rich links in and among ideas and across disciplinary boundaries. While there are a number of such disciplinary links and boundaries that we have actively worked around over the years, the relationship between medical anthropology and science and technology studies (STS) is among the most significant for us.

The site was founded in mid-2008 by a small number of then-fledgling medical anthropologists, including Erin Koch, Anne Kelly, Stephanie Lloyd, Todd Meyers, Matthew Wolf-Meyers, and me. We were impressed with the success of general anthropology blogs such as Savage Minds, and we all felt that medical anthropology needed a distinct space online. But it was also the case that most of us were inclined to a particular kind of medical anthropology: one that was closely engaged with questions of epistemology, history, and politics. For many of us neighboring disciplines and problem areas such as STS and the history of medicine were not only vital sources of inspiration, but domains in which we were interested in developing closer engagements and conversations. For some of us, working on the site also became a way of exploring both how medical anthropology was situated in a wider landscape of medical humanities and social sciences and thinking about what it could become.

Of course, by 2008 the relationship between anthropology and STS was well-established. Indeed, the relationship had been decades in development. Pioneers in feminist science studies included anthropologists like Emily Martin and Rayna Rapp, and anthropologists of biomedicine such as Allan Young and Margaret Lock were already engaging with science studies literatures in the early 1980s. If the 1990s had still seen the publication of works with titles like David Hess’s “If You’re Thinking of Living in STS….A Guide for the Perplexed” (1998) by the late 2000s many anthropologists were familiar with key STS scholars and texts. The broader project was no longer one of establishing connections but of asking new questions and developing new approaches on the basis of a medical anthropology which had one foot firmly set in the STS world. Indeed, new kinds of inter- and trans-disciplinary work was being proposed and carried out at the time, such as the Critical Neuroscience project, which drew partly on the tools of STS to enable both critique of and active engagement with the neurosciences. This kind of orientation to the horizons of medical anthropology has shaped the direction of Somatosphere from the beginning.

In the early days, the problem of finding contributions for the site was solved largely by drawing on our own networks of colleagues and friends, but as the readership for the site grew, we were increasingly able to use methods such as open calls for contributions and social media to reach scholars who had no prior connections to us. We also worked to expand the size of the editorial team. In 2014 we established an Editorial Collaborative of scholars who work together to develop the overall vision for the site. We now have an editorial team of some 50 rising and established scholars, and have published the work of some 500 contributors in all. We have one paid position, that of Managing Editor, currently occupied by the indefatigable Gregory Clinton, but otherwise all of the work put into Somatosphere is volunteered, part of the gift economy of the scholarly world.

While the website runs a range of pieces or posts, at its core are a variety of substantive pieces written by anthropologists and other social scientists, including research or fieldwork reports, conceptual pieces, interviews, and conference reports. And of course we publish many book reviews, thanks to the hard work of Seth Messinger, our book reviews editor. Substantive pieces are generally more polished than a typical academic blog post, with many undergoing several rounds of revision prior to publication. The site also runs monthly summaries of the latest academic literature in the social sciences of health and medicine (in a section currently edited by Anna Zogas) and a web round-up series which focuses on a different theme every month (edited by Lily Shapiro). Another popular series include “Top of the heap”, (currently compiled by Hannah Gibson) in which we ask scholars to recount what they have been reading or what they intend to read. Somatosphere has also increasingly taken on the task of facilitating current discussions and debates on the methods, arguments and politics of social science, both by extending discussions that occur at academic conferences as well as by publishing point-counterpoint pieces. Finally, in a series that was conceived of and is edited by Todd Meyers, we have been organizing book forums in which several contributors write open-ended responses to a recent book and the author responds. This has proved to be a very productive genre and we hope to run many more of them in the future.

I see the site as also providing a space for experimentation with form and genre at a moment when the ecology of academic publication and communication is rapidly changing. Particularly successful series in this regard have included “Commonplaces” – a series of short reflections on medical “keywords” written by leading scholars edited by Tomas Matza and Harris Solomon, and “The Ethnographic Case” – a series of short essays on the tensions between the general and the particular in the production of ethnographic knowledge, edited by Christine Labuski and Emily Yates-Doerr. Both of these series present relatively short, carefully written and edited reflections which are compelling to our specialist readers, but also, judging from the feedback we have received, very accessible to a range of non-specialists as well. We’re hoping to continue exploring the possibilities for online publication, especially in regard to the potential for employing multiple media, including image, video, and sound. Recent work that the journal Cultural Anthropology has been doing in this area is especially inspiring.

The speed of online publication allows Somatosphere and other similar venues to respond to unfolding events of concern in a way that is more challenging for traditional academic publications. To take one notable example, during the Ebola outbreak of 2014, Somatosphere ran a series of posts titled “Ebola Fieldnotes”. One of these pieces, a co-authored post by Almudena Marí Sáez, Ann Kelly and Hannah Brown, a group of anthropologists involved in conducting ethnographic research on the social, cultural, and material conditions shaping the outbreak, was picked up and reported on in an NPR (National Public Radio) Weekend Edition story titled, “The Experts the Ebola Response May Need: Anthropologists”. The Somatosphere piece was also later translated and published at La Marea, a Spanish-language news site. The reach of this piece highlights the site’s particular strengths: namely, as a web-based platform, Somatosphere is able to facilitate scholars’ interventions into public debate over compelling contemporary events in a timely way. The example of this piece about Ebola also speaks to the role of the site as a one of the public faces of medical anthropology and its neighbors. Many of our readers are non-specialists—whether scholars in other disciplines, clinicians, undergraduates, or simply readers interested in the perspective the site offers on issues of medicine, health, and society. In editing our posts, we try to keep in mind non-specialists and we encourage our contributors to write in a way which engages such readers.

In addition to our efforts to engage across disciplinary and specialist boundaries, we’ve made an effort to build a global academic community and facilitate conversation across national and regional boundaries in medical anthropology and adjoining fields, pushing against the insularity of many scholarly networks. I should add that this project is very much a work in progress. Most of our initial contributors were based in North America, and while we’ve made a concerted effort to assemble a geographically diverse Editorial Collaborative, and to solicit posts from scholars in a range of countries, there is still much work to do. We hope especially to expand our links to scholars in East Asia, Africa and Latin America, while continuing to work with those based throughout Europe. In addition to regular contributions, one of the ways in which we have attempted to do this is with a series called “Foreign Correspondents” edited by Stephanie Lloyd, which features reviews of significant books published in languages other than English.

While many of the pieces which appear on Somatosphere are invited, we always welcome unsolicited proposals for posts of various kinds, including (but not limited to) thought-pieces, essays, research reports, conference reports, interviews, photo essays, videos, and other multimedia projects. Not only are these great opportunities for students and young scholars to circulate their ideas and to begin publishing, writing a piece for Somatosphere can also be a first step toward developing an idea into a journal article. Indeed, a number of pieces which first appeared on Somatosphere were later reworked into articles for peer-reviewed journals or into book chapters for edited volumes. If you’d like to write a piece for Somatosphere, send us a brief proposal to

Materiality, Politics and Infrastructuring work

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

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

The rebellious side of infrastructuring work

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

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

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

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

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

Infrastructuring in Computing Design and Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

Techno-scientific Issues in the Public Sphere (TIPS)

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Politics by other means: Sitting at an angle

I understand the title of the recent 4S/EASST conference ‘Science and Technology by Other Means: Exploring collectives, spaces, futures’ as a play on Bruno Latour’s claim that ‘science is politics by other means’ (1988). The title draws our attention to the extent to which knowledge production and technological innovation is being seized by all sorts of citizens and activist collectives. The conference was crammed full of presentations, workshops and informal and formal discussions about science and technology being done and imagined in unexpected places, diverse collectives, multiple spaces and various possible futures. Latour’s widely cited phrase captured a subtly differently sensibility that was especially crucial to early Science and Technology Studies (STS). It reflected and inspired a wealth of work that exposes and explores science and technology as a deeply political achievement of assembling non-human and human actors in ways that create a ‘Centre’ and it’s ‘Others’.

Feminist Technoscience Studies (FTS) put more flesh on the bones of this work through attending to embodiment and situatedness in the processes of assembling, and to the differentially experienced effects, asking ‘Cui Bono?’ as questions of justice and to make other worlds possible (Star, 1995). F/STS is skilled in telling stories about the ways in which specific examples of science and technology build worlds. It attends to the multiple ways in which technoscience is embedded in the realities that we are coming to live with. Moreover, many of the stories at the conference participate in the collectives, spaces and possible futures they are engaged with in complex ways. In particular, researchers told stories that interrogate the objects enacted in technoscience as oozing essentialisms by way of critique, but also to participate in building more equitable worlds (Haraway, 1988). That is, the stories often explicitly consider what realities we would like to come to live with and how F/STS might contribute to their becoming. There is, it seems, a keen interest to explore the multiple ways in which F/STS is politics by ‘other’ means.

The walls of the conference, in Britain and in the US, parliamentary politics was extraordinarily visible and being done by very obvious means. That is, overtly and loudly by individual politicians proselytizing. I refer here to political debates around Brexit (British exit from the European Union) and the recent US presidency elections. These displays of politics have been full of stories that attempt to clearly define allies and enemies and they enact universals and polarisations. This is a deeply disturbing moment in which it seems urgent for our European Association for Social Studies of Science and Technology (EASST) to reflect upon how it should contribute to the making of the realities that are coming into being.

For me, some of the most inspiring theorising in F/STS is profoundly at odds with these recent events. This work appreciates the interdependency of human and non-human bodies and beings, in which connections and cuts are always in process, precarious and condensed to momentary stabilities. These insights challenge us to ‘stay with the trouble’, resist origin stories and remain curious and response-able. We need to tread care-fully so as not to flatten otherness but rather to seek ways of ‘doing difference together’ (Verran and Christie, 2011). It seems incredibly important right now to articulate the weights that are pulling against these sensibilities, inwards towards an illusion of the possibility of just and productive, stable simplifications. These weights are crafted from alluring ingredients – the possibility of durable solutions, obvious answers, so-called straight-talking and common-sense. This is evident in many spheres not only national government parliamentary politics. For example, Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) ‘Lean In’ campaign urges working women to ‘sit at the table’, both literally and metaphorically, in order to achieve success. Her book and TED talk is described by Time Magazine (2014) as a hugely successful feminist mission (Sandberg, 2013; see At the same time some feminist academics are critical that it is an example of neo-liberal corporate feminism that appropriates feminist terms to achieve capitalist agendas and creates divisions (McRobbie, 2013). The ‘Lean in’ campaign is problematic but seductive. It is catchy ‘politics by obvious means’ that has gained huge support. I have an unsettling feeling that while I have been ‘sitting at an angle’ to truth-claims and definitive knowledge, exposing and challenging the practices of centring and simplification, leaning in, talking straight and making problems doable has gained widespread support .

It is the above disconcertment that promotes me to ask; should our Association ‘lean in’ and engage in increasingly obvious political activities, and what would this mean? Or, perhaps our Association has a more important role to play in ‘sitting at an angle’. What are the ways in which F/STS does politics? The 4S/EASST conference showcased multiple ways of doing F/STS and the EASST Review wants to facilitate different modes of writing and presenting the work of the European F/STS community. For me, sitting at an angle is my favoured positioning because I consider it to be itself an interference, not only an intervention. It is critical of looking inwards, of centring, as well as of what is on the table. Moreover, I sense that sitting at an angle facilitates ‘politics multiple’ – by various means including allegory, quietism and ambivalence. As I learned from reading Star, when we ask cui bono? it is in order to imagine what other worlds are possible as well as to expose what has been hidden or denied (Bowker et al., 2016). This is more difficult to do if we are leaning in. I invite us to explore what ‘leaning in’ or ‘sitting at an angle’ might mean as we imagine the future role of EASST.

Call for Applications for the Annual EASST Fund (2017)

EASST Council is pleased to announce that we have redesigned our EASST Fund scheme in response to a steady increase of interest. We now launch an annual call for applications with a €1000 per successful application (in contrast to our previous biennial – non-conference year – scheme).

The scheme aims to promote national and cross-national community building within EASST, advance new questions, topics and perspectives in science and technology studies, as well as enable collaboration with non-academic actors publicly engaged in science and technology. EASST wishes to support a range of activities such as the organisation of conferences, network meetings, seminars, workshops, etc.

We welcome Network and Community-building activities organised by, or leading to, the creation of national and regional academic associations or other academic and non-academic initiatives committed to the promotion of scholarly and public engagements with science and technology in the European region. Examples of activities supported in previous rounds: STS Austria launch event in Vienna, Spanish STS network (esCTS) annual meetings, Technosciences of Post/Socialism conference in Budapest, Mattering Press open-access STS publishing initiative.

We similarly encourage the organisation of Workshops and Small conferences within Europe with the potential of making significant theoretical and/or empirical contributions to the field. Examples of supported activities from previous rounds: STS Perspectives on Energy conference in Lisbon, Does History Matter? Techno-sciences and their historically informed policies conference in Athens, STS and Development workshop in Amsterdam

Activities should start between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017.

EASST especially invites applications from parts of Europe where EASST activities and membership are under-represented (Southern and Eastern Europe). There is a total budget of €5000 for this call. By default we offer €1000 for successful applicants, but we also accept applications for smaller sums. The proposed activities can be fully or partially funded by EASST. There are no quotas for the announced support categories.


How to apply?

  • Applications can be submitted only by EASST members.
  • Applications should specify the category they apply for and include a description of the proposed activity, addressing the criteria below. They should also include the proposed venue, date, organisers and expected number and profile of participants (when applicable) along with a budget specifying how the funds requested will be allocated.
  • Applications should be on our application form which can be downloaded here: and submitted to no later than 31 October 2016.


Assessment of applications

  • The key considerations in assessing the applications are the following:
  • Community building on the national and cross-national level, and reaching to a European audience. Particular emphasis is given to novel network initiatives, especially in countries under-represented in EASST (Southern and Eastern Europe).
  • Novel academic questions, new collaborations, and reaching beyond academia.
  • Innovative initiatives in academia (e.g., open access publishing) and public engagement in science and technology.
  • Open activities accessible for a wide array of participants and reaching a broad audience.

Feasibility and value-for-money. We particularly welcome initiatives with limited access to other potential sources of funding.

Communication of award is expected by 30 November 2016. Recipients should notify the Council their acceptance of award within 15 days after the awards communication.


Funding requirements

  • Since only a small number of EASST members will benefit directly from the activities supported, an approx. 2,000 words report will be required from those receiving awards which will be considered for publication in EASST Review. Beyond this, EASST also encourages applicants to pursue further strategies to address or involve the EASST membership more widely (such as a video from the activity which can appear on the EASST web-site or an online discussion or a web-exhibition, Twitter hashtag #EASST).
  • EASST support should be recognised in the public dissemination of the funded activity. This could involve the use of the EASST logo or a short statement on publicity or event materials.
  • The awarded amount will be transferred against invoices after the event. In exceptional cases, full or partial pre-funding can be provided.


For further information please contact Marton Fabok at or EASST administrator Sonia Liff at

EASST – Achievements & Opportunities

As I come towards the end of 8 years as EASST President I want to reflect on developments over the past period of 2009-2016: the recent issues that are facing our community, what EASST Council has done to respond to these challenges and what future opportunities I see for a new president and council who will be elected shortly.



Growth of sts and related fields

Our field continues to grow both in terms of individual scholars, research groups, and new areas of study. Our concepts have been taken up by other disciplines and now have wide influence for those studying contemporary society. As such, STS has a high profile in the wider academic community.

Diversity of institutional settings

Partly as a consequence of this growth of academic influence STS scholars are increasingly found in a variety of institutional settings. Dedicated STS departments and research groups have had mixed experiences across Europe. In some countries new centres have opened and there has been institutional support for the growth of the subject area. In other countries longstanding centres have been closed or restructured. Many STS scholars also find themselves outside such focused settings, and instead work within a wide range of departments including sociology, cultural studies, urban studies and business schools.

Internal risks of fragmentation

With the growth of a field comes the increased likelihood that there will be a sufficient critical mass of scholars within specialised sub-areas to allow for the development of new conferences, journals or networks around particular subject areas, issues or approaches. This is a welcome development but does carry with it the risk that the sense of what we share as STS scholars more broadly, and our commitment to the overall field as a whole is diminished. If this happens we risk reducing the influence that the growth of the field could be expected to lead to.

External threats in the new competitive academic marketplace

STS scholars are also subject to pressures from developments in the wider academic system which has become subject to more formal measurement and competitive pressures. There has been a retrenchment of traditional established disciplines which may put pressure on STS scholars to prioritise non-STS conferences and journals. This is likely to be an issue particularly for those who are in a minority position in large, non-STS departments. This poses challenges for the development of STS conferences and journals as well as for individual scholars.

New opportunities for policy and social influence mixed with system inertia

In the wider policy world recognition grows of the salience of the issues with which we are familiar. Partly this addresses the societal significance of science & technology. But increasingly it also engages with the contested nature of knowledge and the challenge of public interaction with professional communities. The contemporary discourses around societal challenges, responsible innovation and open science are all expressions of this. Our community is well positioned to engage with this process and we have a highly relevant and distinctive contribution to make. Yet the inertia in the system still often relies on conventional epistemic communities who have far less to offer. As a comparatively young field created in an era of political engagement this remains a challenge for us.

My assessment, and that of the EASST Council, has been that these challenges all reinforce the need for an umbrella body such as EASST to champion STS in Europe and to represent the STS community. In order to achieve this, we concluded that EASST needed to develop to as organised and as effective voice for our community as we could make it.


A durable and flexible organisation

Towards this end, over the past 8 years, we have made a number of changes to EASST as an organisation, and to the way it operates, to make it more sustainable and effective. These developments include:

Council meetings – more frequent & regular (6 monthly)

Council used to meet only at biennial conferences. We now meet twice a year in person, hosted sequentially in the workplace of different council members for a full day meeting. In between times we have regular email and other contact. This has allowed us to get to know each other better, work through differences and develop shared positions. It has also allowed us to develop a range of new initiatives and move from an organisation that was primarily involved in organising a conference every two years to one which regularly communicates with members and offers them a range of opportunities and support. This has required the allocation of funds to support council members’ attendance at meetings but we feel that this has been more than justified by what Council has been able to achieve.

Administrative office created

In the past Council members received no administrative support and the President had to organise their own support on an ad hoc basis, and deal with many routine issues themselves. I felt that EASST needed to have on-going, professional support for a President and Council who are all highly active academics with a range of commitments to their own institutions and research areas. The establishment of an office has allowed more communications with members, more initiatives to be developed and pursued, stronger financial management, and so on. Again this has required resources but we feel it has had important benefits, particularly in ensuring that the enthusiasm that Council members bring to our discussions at meetings can be built on when we all return to our other demands.

Constitution updated

We have also reviewed and updated the constitution to ensure that it is in line with our current practices and serves our needs.

Membership – Futurepay system introduced

EASST is a membership organisation. It exists to represent and support its members, and its membership provide a large part of EASST’s legitimacy to be speaking on behalf of the STS community. As such we have sought to make those in the STS community aware of our existence, encouraged them to become members, put themselves forward for election, vote and in other ways make their concerns known. In the past, membership levels have fluctuated considerably – peaking in the run up to our conference (once every two years) and dropping back sharply in between. This was problematic both for legitimacy and for the resources on which EASST depends in order to pursue initiatives.

We have tried to address this both by providing more reasons for people to stay members through increasing activities between conferences and by administrative changes which encourage continuing membership. The latter has involved a more systematic membership renewal process combined with the introduction of the ‘Futurepay’ system whereby members sign up for future renewals. The office aims to keep members informed of their future commitments and provide the opportunity for them to cancel should they want to so we hope most members are happy with the way this operates. For EASST it has had the dual benefit of significantly reducing the decline in membership we saw previously in non-conference years, and reducing the administrative burden of multiple reminders to encourage members to renew.

Website – makeover with new IT support company, a new logo, and a rebrand of EASST-Eurograd

Early on we changed our website and IT provider. This included updating our image and look and introducing a new logo. At the same time EASST took formal ownership / responsibility for Eurograd, a well-used email announcement list for the STS community in Europe.

The website now incorporates a membership directory which supports networking and allows members to update their own data. NomadIT have also provided us with a conference management system which we used in Torun and again in Barcelona (with 4S). Having conference and membership management in linked systems makes things more efficient for both administrators and members. We are in the process of making further changes to make the website more ‘mobile / tablet compatible’ and to incorporate better new EASST initiatives.

Legal status – registered in NL as not for profit organisation 

From the start EASST has had a formal constitution but until recently it had no formal legal status. We felt it was important to address this for a range of reasons including to ensure we made best use of resources and to provide some protection for council members from individual liability. It also establishes our credibility as an organisation when we deal with other institutions and could provide a route to being able to apply for grants. We explored a range options in different countries, with a priority to be located in a Euro country to simplify and reduce the cost of financial transactions.

We are now registered as a Vereniging (not for profit, membership organisation) in the Netherlands. We continue to assess the demands and benefits of this set up in terms of reporting and tax.

Division of responsibilities in Council

In the last couple of years Council has sought to decentralise responsibility and through this to reduce demands on the President and to provide better support for, and interaction with, the office – as well as ensuring that initiatives are pursued effectively. Rather than all issues being discussed by the whole council and many decisions and communications relying on the President, we have identified a number of areas of activity and asked a council member to take primary responsibility for it. These areas include publications (EASST Review, Science & Technology Studies, and the website), conferences, and awards and EASST Fund as well as finances, secretarial issues and strategic linkages. The Council member involved is expected to lead discussions on the issue at council meetings and to progress developments with the office between meetings. It is not intended to restrict the involvement of the whole Council in decisions – rather to ensure that discussions are led effectively and decisions put into practice.

Closer working relationship with 4S – links between Presidents & officers and administrators

From early on EASST and 4S have been holding joint conferences in Europe every four years. We have been working to make the organisation and image of these conferences shared and to promote issues of particular concern to EASST. For the recent Barcelona conference, the presidents and officers have worked more closely together than on previous occasions. Issues that EASST have been particularly concerned to pursue have included a less formal, more inclusive social event than the traditional banquet and a new approach to the award ceremony. This conference year, at the initiative of the 4S President, we have supported a discount for those wanting to be members of both associations, further strengthening ties.

Promoting our community

Over the past 8 years we developed and initiated a number of schemes and projects which promote the STS community and provide benefits to our members. These include:

EASST journal – Science and Technology Studies

EASST launched a new peer-reviewed, online house journal, Science & Technology Studies, four years ago at the Copenhagen conference. This built on the previous Finnish journal Science Studies and it successful track record. To become the EASST journal its positioning was broadened with a name change and a wider editorial board. Becoming the EASST house journal has raised the profile and visibility of S&TS in the community and has provided an improved publication outlet for members of the STS community. These developments are of mutual benefit to the journal and the community.

EASST collaborative awards – recognition of cooperative community building 

Copenhagen was the first time that EASST made awards to members and activities in the STS community. In initiating these awards Council were concerned to promote a distinct principle. In an increasingly individualised and competitive academic environment EASST wanted to celebrate collaborative activities which are often under-recognised or rewarded. This included inclusive and creative editing, working across different academic areas and engaging outside the community. Three awards – Amsterdamska, Freeman & Ziman – were established in the names of members of our community who we felt embodied these principles and the awards have now been made on three occasions.

EASST fund – support for range of actions – establishing national associations, convening seminars

A fund to support STS activities such as conference and workshops happening in the year between conferences had already been established. Over the past 8 years we have developed and expanded this fund. We have been clearer about the types of activities that we want to support and have prioritised areas of Europe where STS is less established. Council has also been keen that the outcomes of these supported events were available to the community more widely. To this end we encourage recipients to write accounts of their events for the Review and to provide web links including, where available, to materials such as programmes or videos of key note speeches.

EASST Review – more active and collective 

EASST Review has been restructured recently to expand its engagement with the community. It now includes a number of sections and actively encourages reporting of events and publications in our field. More people have become involved in the editorial process which makes it more collective and shares the workload involved. The Review has also benefited from improved design and enhanced presence on the EASST website.

A broader and more inclusive Europe 

EASST aims to represent STS scholars and STS activities right across Europe. Traditionally EASST membership has been concentrated in Northern and Western parts of Europe. To try to expand our representativeness and support new communities of STS scholars we have encouraged applications for conference support or workshop funds from the South and East of Europe. We have also sought to bring the EASST community as a whole to new locations and to encourage new associations to network with existing communities.

Reach into south and east of Europe – conferences for the first time in Italy (Trento 2010), Poland (Torun 2014), Spain (Barcelona 2016)

Eight years ago it had already agreed that our 2010 conference would be held for the first time in Italy. Council saw this through to a highly successful conference in Trento. After that the priority was to find a location in Eastern Europe where there was limited institutionalisation of the STS community. This led to EASST holding its 2014 conference in Toruń, Poland. This was the first conference in Eastern Europe since Budapest in 1994. This year we have our first conference in Spain, in Barcelona. All these conferences have raised the profile of the local STS community as well as providing them with the opportunity to shape the conference in terms of its theme and activities.

Encouraged national associations – meetings of existing associations in Jan 2010 & Nov 2013, support for creation – informal network model

We have also held two meetings where we have brought together representatives of STS national associations to share experience, discuss developments across Europe and the issues the local STS communities have been facing. The intention has been to share different approaches, and we published an account of organisational models used in the Review in 2014. EASST is not seeking to incorporate these organisations or to influence membership relations with them. Instead we simply want to facilitate informal networking and communication channels to promote their visibility and interaction. We have also used the EASST Fund to support meetings – particularly launch meetings – of national associations.

Future opportunities

There are many other issues that I would have liked to have pursued more fully. Below are some of the many issues we have discussed and made a start on – but there is much more that could be done.

Breadth & inclusion in field – e.g. links with innovation studies

I have been concerned to ensure that EASST remains a broad and inclusive home for STS scholars. When I ran for president I was particularly concerned about the links with the innovation studies community. There are other communities that may also feel on the margins of the EASST community. But this is also a subject that raises questions about what defines STS and this is something that the EASST Council members have different views on. For me a stronger positive interaction between innovation studies and STS remains an important goal.

Education/learning – links with ESST

Most of us are, or have been, involved in teaching. Teaching and learning is also the route through which our community grows and continues. In meetings with National STS Associations we have discussed opportunities for sharing teaching materials and approaches.  We have also been in discussion with ESST, the international, inter-institutional body that runs a European masters programme on Society, Science & Technology, about how they might cooperate more closely with EASST. I was kindly invited as EASST president to participate at the ESST Bureau meeting in Chios in June 2015 and we have agreed a number of potential areas of collaboration.

Research evaluation – influencing position of field in Europe

Most countries in Europe have been developing more formal approaches to research evaluation which have been impacting on STS scholars. When STS is not fully institutionalised it may prove difficult to get recognition for our subject area and the conferences and journals where our work is discussed. This may be a particular issue for members of the STS community who are located within more established disciplines. In national association meetings we have discussed ideas to address this and how we can support each other – for example through acting as external experts on evaluation panels. As EASST president I attended a meeting in Paris in May 2014 hosted by the Observatoire des Sciences et Techniques to promote greater bottom up influence on research evaluation and indicators. EASST as a pan-European body has contributed to recognition of journals and other publication outlets in our field to some national evaluation bodies.

European research and innovation policy – H2020 Vilnius initiative

The value of STS approaches and scholars is being increasingly recognised within EU research and innovation policy and EASST would like to play a wider role in supporting this development and ensuring the inclusion of members of our community, for example through supporting workshops and the development of networks. However, there are also tensions between this goal and the competitive nature of research bids. In support of the broader principle, as EASST president I attended the Vilnius conference in December 2013 ‘Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities’ which discussed ways to ‘operationalise’ the ambitious goals of integrating the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the Horizon 2020 grand challenges for research and innovation.

Social movements and activism, French initiative

The Barcelona conference has focused on the links between STS academic studies and related issues being pursued by members of social movements and other form of activism. As part of this EASST Council has discussed follow up activities to the French initiative in January 2015 of the ‘Alliance between Science and Society’.

These are just some of the issues where I have become aware of great opportunities for our field – internal boundary work, education and learning. research evaluation, EU research and innovation policy, social movements. There is much more that needs to be done on all these issues – and no doubt other relevant areas that are not included.

My main message is that to pursue any of these opportunities requires, in each case, an individual champion working through our EASST organisation and network. We now have a stable and effective organisation so the basis is there for any interested member to extend our reach and influence. The current renewal of the Council (both the President and many Council members) is the opportunity for you to shape our future. So I hope that if these issues are important to you, you will consider putting yourself forward for election. If anyone would like to have a discussion with me about the role of president I would be happy to hear from you. In the new competitive academic market place our collective voice as an academic community is more important than ever.

Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research – Formal written evidence submitted to the House of Commons: Science and Technology Committee

Introduction and executive summary

The following written evidence is provided by the national professional association, AsSIST-UK, the Association for Studies in Innovation Science and Technology-UK.

AsSIST-UK is a Learned Society representing over 250 scholars working for many years undertaking research that has not only academic but also policy relevance. The Association (see includes social science and humanities scholars working in the science and technology and innovation studies field, as well as natural scientists. One of its main goals is to understand and foster constructive relations between science, policy and civic society.  In relation to the Select Committee’s Inquiry, the Association’s membership includes expertise in science policy, drawing members from over 30 universities and a range of key UK research centres with a leading role in policy research, such as SPRU (Sussex), ISSTI (Edinburgh), the Centre for Science Studies (Lancaster) and SATSU (York), as well as major policy research consultancy agencies such as RAND Europe and Technopolis.

2. The Association has received feedback from members about the risks and concerns that they have, which echo those that have been expressed by many other national bodies following the Brexit decision. These relate to concerns over staff mobility, security, collaborative research and the networks underpinning them, access to EU research facilities and continuity of research programmes beyond the current period.

The specific area of expertise encompassed by AsSIST-UK has played and continues to play a major role in EU-funded research. UK expertise has contributed to and been strengthened by collaboration on projects and research capacity built through highly regarded postgraduate and postdoc training programmes, such as the Marie Curie scheme and its current IEF format, and the COST Action. The Association recognises that as a result of the vote to leave the EU, many of these opportunities will be under threat, though efforts will be made to continue collaboration with European colleagues wherever possible through other funding routes. Indeed, it  may well be the case that the UK remains a partner in Horizon programmes, as, for example, does Norway.

3.  In regard to opportunities that Brexit brings, rather than adumbrate other possible routes to funding and/or international collaboration (of which there are many), it is more important to ask how, within the context of Brexit, expertise in the UK can be drawn on to provide the best possible policy intelligence in anticipating future developments.  This is less to do with policy for (specific areas of) science and more science for policy making under novel, unexplored conditions.  Most importantly, how to deal with the end of subsidiarity and legacy policies – such as on measures to restrict environmental pollutants agreed at an EU level – that will no longer apply in legally binding terms at the UK level, and how UK (and devolved) government can engage more effectively with pertinent expertise. What aspects of these policies still make sense within the UK, are there ways they can be improved post-Brexit, what might these be and how are we to achieve them? The UK’s influence on policy in Europe will undoubtedly decline in formal terms, but a fresh rethink of UK-specific policy making might have lessons for other European countries. The EU has done far better than the UK government in funding what we might describe as strategic research – i.e. providing a proper and thoughtful evidence base (fully evidenced; diverse) to support economic and social development policy.

This is where AsSIST-UK’s expertise can be drawn on, in collaboration with other learned societies, in advising the Department for Exiting the European Union (DEEU) on the need for new policy mechanisms and approaches.  There is an opportunity provided by the Brexit vote to mobilise policy expertise across the social sciences to re-think the UK’s policy framework and processes in such a way as to build a strategic and not simply de-coupling approach to withdrawal from the EU. AsSIST-UK is a professional community with knowledge on science and innovation systems, an expertise that can help to understand the implications of and responses to a reconfiguring of relationships between the UK and the EU.

4. We recommend that the UK government:

Draws on the policy intelligence available from across key policy centres within AsSIST-UK

In regards specifically to science and technology, uses the capacity available to undertake strategic planning  in regard to innovation, risk governance and standardisation, all areas in which AsSIST-UK has expertise

Understands how existing policy instruments in specific sectors interact and how they may work against rather than align with each other

Undertakes complementary work which involves backcasting such that decisions taken on policy framing and implementation post-Brexit are made recognising uncertainties and risks ahead and what publicly-informed decisions should be taken.


Members of the Association have been consulted about the specific risks they are facing in their academic institutions as a result of the Brexit vote. In summary, these are as follows:

  • Major fall in research funding – of the order of c18% for research intensive universities so it will be key for the UK to secure Associate Country status in Horizon and following FPs; the EC has also been of vital importance to smaller research centres whose specialist groups have, despite their relatively small size, been able to contribute knowledge on an international scale
  • Specific impact on funding for research in science, technology and innovation studies (STIS)  – the European Commission has been a major source of funding for novel research agendas to tackle complex policy challenges such as: ICT standards and innovation; regulation and innovation in the bio-economy; transitions towards sustainable environments and responses to climate change; health and social care across borders, and governance and public engagement. The EU’s Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship programme is an especially valued and distinctive research programme as is the cross-European Innovative Medicines Initiative
  • Drop in specifically interdisciplinary funding for research – ambitious interdisciplinary research projects led by AsSIST-UK members would not have been funded by any other body than the ERC, and since Association members are  very interdisciplinary in STIS they are more likely to suffer from the lack of ERC funding than other more traditional fields
  • Threat to strong links to EU science policy centres – such as the EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre, Seville
  • Brain drain – the exit of current EU staff working on research here and of UK scientists who want science to flourish will go to where they can collaborate more easily
  • The stifling of ideas – discounting possible projects (planned for H2020) because of the uncertainty
  • Exclusion from new and key science policy boards which currently include UK members – such as the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism1, and the FET Flagship programme
  • Major loss of ECR mobility – through lack of access to ERASMUS/ COST Action/ Marie Curie programmes which have been vital to build network links/co-authorship etc: it is crucial that the UK’s participation in COST and other networks is taken into account during the negotiations to exit from the EU
  • Major drop in numbers of EU students on UK teaching programmes– as future funding arrangements for EU students become increasingly unclear
  • access to pan-European data that is that is not open access but is compiled across EU members states – such as in the field of genomics/genetics

The risks above are primarily related to professional risks that are likely to hit the UK’s research activity in key STIS areas.  There are also major science and technology policy risks that can be foreseen. Some examples are:

  • uncertainties over how the UK will engage with future regulatory developments that have helped to stabilise and standardise EU-wide innovation – such as the development in the field of regenerative medicine, where the Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products Regulation (EC 1394/2007) was a major achievement for creating a harmonized framework for therapies such as gene therapy, somatic cell therapy, and tissue engineering. UK negotiators were able to influence the development of the ATMP Regulation so that medical device interests were protected, at a time when there was a threat from many member states that the industry would be defined in purely pharmaceutical terms
  • Leaving the EU will not exempt the UK from its international duties in the life sciences, yet it will also lose influence in the sector (both inside and outside the EU) to EU member states. It would be counter-productive for the sector, given the investments (not only financial) that have been made in life sciences by the UK. Additionally, the timing required for the UK life sciences sector to adapt to being outside the EU would threaten the UK’s current leading position in the field, particularly in a field characterised by rapid innovation
  • whether and how current EU-standards and laws in regard the environment will apply post-Brexit and how this will affect the movement of UK goods into the EU market
  • the potential collapse of the Unitary patent in the EU which the UK has been keen to foster, and so creating major problems especially for science-based companies in the UK


3.1 In regard to identifying opportunities, it is more important to ask how, within the context of Brexit, expertise in the UK can be drawn on to provide the best possible policy intelligence in anticipating future developments and mitigating risks. Clearly, this depends on what the actual UK government approach to the meaning of ‘Brexit’ will be – whether it will be the ‘Norwegian’ or ‘Swiss’ models – or a third, new, ‘UK model’? While specific funding decisions will need to be made – such as whether to underwrite H2020 contracts secured over the period ahead – more importantly, there is an opportunity to rethink the relation between science policy-making and the wider society, especially in order to address the democratic deficit that in many ways has been seen to underpin the Brexit vote.


3.2 AsSIST-UK research over many years has identified a number of lessons relating to better policy for science and technology: the principal ones are,

  • processes of policy implementation and policy learning across different settings;
  • the need to move from a policy framework which presumes policy is a rational tool or instrument that can be used in a standardised way to one that recognises there will be wide differences in policy outcomes because of  context-specific factors and existing ‘policy path dependencies’ ;2
  • as recent work has shown, the need to distinguish between (1) high-level policy and conceptual discourse; (2) core policy values and ideas; (3) policy instruments; and (4) institutional and governance change3
  • challenges posed to the UK as a national innovation system (especially given Brexit) by the emergence of globally distributed knowledge networks and open innovation;
  • the need, as Martin (2016) argues ‘to know more about how different R&D policy instruments interact before introducing yet another policy initiative and its associated policy instrument’, lest policies in practice work in different directions. There is clear evidence, for example, of the NHS tariff system acting as a perverse disincentive against the adoption of more optimal and cost effective treatment.
  • The need to undertake a number of ‘backcasting’ studies to understand how possible future policy changes – from a range of possibilities – could impact today as we realign after the impact of Brexit
  • the need to understand in light of the above for different sectors, such as health, energy, environment etc, how policies interact both intentionally and in unintended ways

3.3 Apart from extensive expertise and data on all of the above, the Association sees the combination of Brexit and the moves towards more devolved government in the four UK nations as an especially significant conjunction that calls for new thinking on policy structures and policy making. Devolved governments are experimenting with policy at the local level (such as for example the recent devolution of health and social care budget/responsibilities to Greater Manchester): these local settings have not yet become policy path-dependent in the ways in which they define and practice engagement. This is a very timely moment for AsSIST-UK members/research centres to work with them and in conjunction with DEEU.

3.4 There is an important opportunity to ask what sort of institutional framework is enabling of a more responsive, critical and reflexive science and science policy: one that opens space for dialogue and publicly-chosen goals and recognises that social and technological structures are transient and always operating under some conditions of uncertainty and risk.

3.5 Moreover, new constructs for local, national and international governance are needed that combine technocracy and democracy to reduce the democratic deficit of which Brexit is a symptom.

3.6 Finally, we recognise the need for relatively short term measures that need to be taken to mitigate the effects of Brexit, and need to be taken sooner rather than later – such as the UK government to underwrite H2020 grants to ensure our continued participation in research proposals/projects over the next few years. But more medium to longer term, we advocate an approach that says that risks are as much about policy frameworks being dismantled and new ones assembled in a disjointed way. We should avoid this by drawing on the insight and expertise the UK research community can offer, as outlined above.

6th Postgraduate STS Conference in Lancaster – Connecting Links in the North West


On March 21st-23rd 2016, the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University hosted its 6th annual Postgraduate Science and Technology Studies (STS) Conference. The event was supported by a range of academic departments and the Economic and Social Research Council North West Doctoral Training Centre in recognition of its increasing importance for the STS postgraduate community in Lancaster, and increasingly for the North West. For the second year, the conference invited students working on STS and related fields from the University of Manchester and the University of Liverpool. This invitation attracted students and academics from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives including Science Studies, History of Science, Educational Research, Geography, Management and Organisational Studies.

The conference was generously supported by academic staff and is entirely student led. Its primary purpose is showcasing postgraduate work-in-progress and opening it up for discussion. It thereby reinvigorates the North West STS community by offering Ph.D. students the chance to present their work and join the ongoing discussions about the field’s developments. The conference was opened with a keynote speech which this year was delivered by Gail Davies, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Exeter and member of the Home Office Animals in Science Committee. Professor Davies presented on “Economic values, animal affects, and the length of the (primate) working day” discussing her work on situated experimental practices, ethical debates of animal labour and the forms of animal agency associated with researching the neuroscience of reward using macaque monkeys.

The keynote speech was followed by two days of postgraduate presentations on their work-in-progress. Postgraduate presentations bring together academic staff from different departments to create one of the annual forums to discuss STS related concerns. In this respect, the annual conference reflects the interdisciplinary and engaged nature of STS work in the North West. The presentations are followed by commentaries and discussions that help to further research objectives and modes of inquiry in a supportive and engaging atmosphere.


Professor Law started his presentation by remembering his colleague Professor John Urry
Professor Law started his presentation by remembering his colleague Professor John Urry


We believe that scholarship is rooted in a continued interest in other people’s work, and to flourish we need to learn from each other as a community of scholars. This commitment is reflected in our review process, where each presenter submits a paper before the conference that is reviewed by both an academic and another student. Each reviewer gives feedback after the paper is presented, and once all the papers in a session have been presented, reviewers are invited to open a more general and wide-ranging discussion picking up on issues that emerge across the papers in that session. This system is popular with students and staff alike as students develop the vital skill of peer review, and receive more detailed questioning and suggestions compared to most conferences.

In 2016, the presentations charted a wide range of topics on the borderlands of established understandings of human, science and technology, which both necessitated and facilitated conversations across disciplines. Finding a common theme, as such, would be difficult. Student’s work addressed issues of how devices and bodies as diverse technologies, microbes, standards and screens are refigured when crossing the boundaries of not only laboratories or clinics, but homes, churches, farms, communities of amateurs, the “Global South” and the Iron Curtain.

While the diversity of topics could be seen as unusual in other disciplines, it displays how STS works across boundaries and draws together different connections. Additionally, the scholarly practice of unsettling research objects remains reliant on bringing heterogeneous cases together. In spite of this diversity, two themes seemed to surface in most of the presentations: (1) a troubling of and with method, where tools of knowledge-making, may it be our informants’ or our own, remain always problematic and open to questioning; and (2), a interest in displacement and how things, bodies and methodological tools ‘travel’, and how following these voyages enable problematisation.

In the last few years, it has become a tradition for the closing lecture to be delivered by a senior faculty from Lancaster, such as Professor Brian Wynne or Professor Maureen McNeil. In 2016, Professor John Law gave an account of his “journey through STS”. Professor Law touched upon both his engagement in developing actor-network theory and its successor material-semiotic approaches, and diagnosed some of the present challenges STS scholars can face in providing more symmetrical accounts of issues. More specifically, Professor Law discussed how knowledge making in STS remains bound up with Euro-American locations and tropes. Drawing on common work with Taiwanese Scholar Wen-yuan Lin, he explored how we can benefit from enrolling non-Western ideas into our analytical frameworks.

This year, the conference was suspended for an hour on receiving the news of the sudden death of Professor John Urry, a friend and mentor as well as co-worker to many conference participants. This enabled colleagues to assemble, reflect, tell stories and begin to grieve. He will be very much missed, but his legacy remains influential both in Lancaster and beyond.

The 2016 conference was organised by Lancaster research students in alphabetical order, Peter Fuzesi, Victoria Gorton, Jess Phoenix, Derly Sanchez Vargas and Andy Yuille. We extend thanks to the North West Doctoral Training Centre and Lancaster University for funding and supporting this event and hope it will continue to develop productive links between STS scholars in the North West and beyond.

Making Science Public: Opening Up Closed Spaces

What does it mean to make science more public, open or accountable? How is ‘the public’ imagined and constituted? How does this relate to challenges of legitimacy and moderation in politics and policymaking? These questions have been explored by ‘Making Science Public’, a five-year research programme (2012-2017) funded by the Leverhulme Trust and based at the University of Nottingham in collaboration with the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick. The End of Award Conference on 22 June showcased findings from across the programme’s nine projects and two doctoral studentships, and considered implications for the future. While contemporary configurations of science, politics and publics show instances of promise, imagination, and experimentation, further work is needed to (re-)build institutions, conditions and capacities for public reason(ing) and political accountability. 


The day before the UK voted in the most controversial British referendum in recent times, the researchers of the Making Science Public programme gathered from across sociology, geography, politics, ethics, and STS, with an international, multidisciplinary audience, to reflect on the relationship between science, politics and publics in the UK and beyond.

In introducing this theme, Sujatha Raman noted the unintentional significance of the conference’s timing, tagged ‘Britain’s “truthiness” moment’ by the press in acknowledgement of the prevalence of truth claims unencumbered by facts in the run-up to the referendum. The programme has focused on initiatives of open science, open policymaking, and engaged publics. So, have efforts towards making science public resulted in a greater capacity to engage with different forms of expertise? What are productive ways of holding together difference without falling apart? Raman borrowed the evocative metaphor of a sharp circle, attributed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to call attention to cultivating forms of reason that can accommodate contradictions.

Now, in the post-referendum UK and broader European landscape, these questions are all the more relevant and charged.

The day comprised four panel sessions, each with four speakers from the programme, comments from an external discussant and questions from the floor. It concluded with a lively public event.

Opening Up Scientific Agendas and Policy Practices

Have research agendas and policy practices been reframed as a result of initiatives to open them up? In Judith Tsouvalis’ case study of the UK outbreak of ash tree ‘dieback’ disease in 2012 onwards, a website for openly sharing genomic sequence data and a citizen science movement monitoring the spread of the disease did not equal ‘more democracy’. Rather, together with the British government-convened expert Task Force, they served to reproduce a culture of surveillance and control, omitting inconvenient publics (e.g. conservation organisations) that might challenge the predominant ‘biosecurity risk’ framing, and perpetuating post-political policymaking.


Figure 1: The UK government’s ‘Go Home’ van. Courtesy of Rick Findler (
Figure 1: The UK government’s ‘Go Home’ van. Courtesy of Rick Findler (


Pru Hobson-West described the emergence of a ‘transparency’ imperative in the field of animal research, pushed by three discourse coalitions (animal protection groups; the animal research community; government/research funders), justified to counter, respectively, a secretive system; misinformation/misunderstanding; mistrust in science/government. ‘Transparency’ could be the deficit model reinvented or maybe open up potential for new science-society relations. She offered a framework that might be of interest for future research on transparency in other domains.

Sarah Hartley’s projects on the governance of agricultural biotechnology at international and national levels showed promise for unsettling the status quo of public engagement as legitimisation of pre-established priorities, by enabling actors such as the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to consider the full range of public and disciplinary expertise available to them at different stages of their work.

Carol Morris and Susanne Seymour found that the UK food security research field is in theory open to contributions from social science and humanities (SSH), but narrowly conceived (economics, psychology, ‘people’ rather than subjectivities). However, SSH has the potential to re-frame such research (e.g. from security to sovereignty, and from production to waste). More attention should be paid to interdisciplinary politics.

Guided by questions from discussant Fern Wickson (GenØk – Centre for Biosafety), the subsequent discussion considered the role of RRI and engagement as tools for re-politicisation; the university as a post-political, privatised space; the need to focus on the quality of deliberations in such initiatives, and consider what publics might gain from participation; and on whose terms social scientists should and can engage with policy.

Science, Religion and the Moderation of Democratic Conflict

Is the common trope of a clash between science, democracy and religion adequate? What roles do science and religion play in moderating democratic conflicts? In Alexander Smith’s study of the Kansas ‘culture wars’ around evolution/creation in state school curricula, science has become a battleground, but this is best characterised as a debate between political activists over religion and science rather than one between religion and secularism. A normative theory of political moderation is required, entailing a commitment to pluralist political community and civility towards people with whom one disagrees.

Warren Pearce saw moderation as disciplined engagement with divided publics, a key responsibility of all academics (both natural and social scientists) in their engagements with policy makers and publics, and particularly necessary in highly polarised cases such as climate change. Brigitte Nerlich’s analysis of the relationship between concepts of (un)certainty, consensus and religious rhetoric in climate discourse suggested that as insistence on the certainty of the science increased, religious metaphors (e.g. ‘cult’, ‘dogma’, ‘preaching’, ‘prophecies’) were used to challenge mainstream science. While decision-making in the presence of uncertainty is a familiar topic, certainty and polarisation are perhaps new problems.

Vivien Lowndes reminded us of the political nature of evidence, distinguishing between data (observations about the world), information (data that has been organised/categorised) and evidence (information that has been selected in support of an argument). In the case of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in the UK, officials assessing asylum claims and the asylum seekers themselves had different views on what constituted evidence of religious identity and religious persecution, based on different understandings of Christianity. Evidence-gathering and use involves active processes of translation, power and selection; also on the part of social scientists.

Discussion, led by observations from Robert Antonio (University of Kansas), focused on the dearth of deep normative visions in contemporary politics, and the significance of constitutional arrangements and institutional designs for agonism, respectful disagreement and dialogue.

Science, Publics and Participation

How are publics – and progress – imagined in participatory initiatives and more broadly? Roda Madziva introduced the case of the ‘Go Home’ vans (Figure 1), a 2013 UK government initiative to ‘encourage’ illegal immigrants to leave the country. Here ‘immigrants’ became a category of people excluded from ‘the public’, visible only as the target of increasingly restrictive policies which claimed to reflect public opinion. However, British publics rejected the vans’ meanings by crafting alternatives (Figure 2), and the ‘Go Home’ vans were eventually withdrawn.

Informed by her ethnographic fieldwork on activists’ understandings of responsible innovation, Stevienna de Saille suggested that those wanting to engage need not only an idea of how science works but also knowledge of (macro)economics, given that definitions of R(R)I predominantly rely on the market-based meaning of innovation, as opposed to ‘ingenuity’. This prompted an exploration of responsible stagnation and what innovation might look like in a steady state economy.

In my case study of Future Earth (a major international research initiative on global environmental change and sustainability), co-design and co-production of research were envisioned in diverse ways underpinned by different conceptualisations of the public value of research and the proper relationship between science, politics and their stakeholders. This gave rise to tensions and ambiguities, which are not necessarily problematic if Future Earth is seen as an ongoing experiment; ambiguity makes space for openness and flexibility.

Alison Mohr’s talk made a case for bringing distributive and procedural justice principles to bear on global North-centric sustainability transition frameworks.


Figure 2: Liberty’s response to the ‘Go Home’ vans. Courtesy of Liberty (
Figure 2: Liberty’s response to the ‘Go Home’ vans. Courtesy of Liberty (


Co-design of solar nano-grid technologies in rural Kenya and Bangladesh promoted opportunities for communities (women and youth, in particular) to write the script of their own socio-technical transitions and move beyond narrow, top-down energy framing to consider broader socio-economic needs.

Subsequent discussion, initiated by Alan Irwin’s (Copenhagen Business School) insightful questions, considered the role of social movements as sites of experimentation, whether ‘co-’ talk diverts from more deeply embedded power dynamics, and what responsibility we as social scientists (should) have for how ‘our’ concepts are framed and used in practice.

Science and the Public Interest

How is the public interest imagined and framed, and how might these visions be reconstructed for our times? Sujatha Raman suggested that having acknowledged the plurality of publics, new ways of thinking about the public interest might be opened up by seeing social questions as inherently material. For example, a challenge like antibiotic resistance might be understood as needing inequality and poverty to be addressed in order for pharmaceutical technologies to work.

Adam Spencer found that UK policymakers envisage a major role for science and technology in food production: in meeting both the increased global need for food and the UK’s national trade interests within the neoliberal global system. A nascent UK food sovereignty movement, originating in developing countries, instead emphasises local governance.

Paul Martin considered the role of civil society organisations in articulating an alternative vision of science/technology in the public interest, noting that their knowledge is often seen as illegitimate, despite using the methods of science. So what is their role: are they outsiders, or part of the public? Do they provide a form of accountability in acting in the name of the public interest?

John Holmwood addressed the closing down of open spaces, arguing that the UK government has misconceptualised the public interest in Higher Education as private investment in human capital, and economic growth. Researchers have been complicit in commercialisation by accepting the impact agenda, whereby publicly funded research addresses the needs of private ‘users’, including in social science big data projects. The unruly public needs to be invited back into the university.

Mark Brown (California State University) highlighted the distinction between audiences of claims in the name of the public interest and constituencies supposedly represented: to what extent do those represented accept the claims, and under what conditions are they able to assess them? The discussion considered whether the term ‘public interest’ still has any power given the multiple and emergent nature of publics, and whether civil society and richer notions of ‘the state’ might be adequate replacements.

What Kinds of Evidence Do We Need in a Democracy?

On the public panel, Charlotte Watts (Chief Scientific Adviser, UK Department for International Development) noted policymakers’ need for multidisciplinary syntheses of complex problems, but also the challenges of difference in pace between research and policymaking, and scalability of research results. James Wilsdon (University of Sheffield) suggested that while notions of experts and evidence received a battering in the context of the referendum, recent developments in the impact agenda and scientific advice show promise for the science-policy interface. However, steps should be taken to develop the support structures around ‘brokers’, broaden the disciplinary spread drawn on in policymaking, and take public knowledge seriously in these contexts.

Brian Wynne (Lancaster University) argued that to move beyond decisionism we need to focus on whether we are collectively asking the right questions: too many questions are posed with one particular policy purpose in mind. Which questions aren’t on the table? Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard University) proposed a further consideration: what sort of polity or democracy should we build to ask the right questions? The word ‘evidence’ has become colonised and now people are rebelling against this. However, denying the power of science is not the way to decolonise it; rather we need to think about the accountability of counters, modellers and the ways in which their (ac)counts affect people (not an aggregate public).

The subsequent discussion explored which capacities are needed at the science-policy interface, and the importance of understanding how and why some capacities (particularly of public reason) are not currently being built.

This point is all the more poignant in post-referendum hindsight. While questions of citizenship and community are, for many of us in the UK, currently imbued with profound sadness, we are buoyed by the support and friendship of our colleagues across Europe and beyond. We hope for the continuation of inspiring, interdisciplinary, international collaborations well into the future; not least to strengthen conditions and capacities for political accountability and public reason(ing) so that we might move forward holding together differences without falling apart.


Read more about the Making Science Public programme here:

Programme publications are listed here: