Category Archives: easst review

Building bridges: new realities, new education approaches and collaboration




Since the 1990s, Eastern European societies and their respective health care systems have been undergoing a series of major transformations – some of the changes have worked out successfully, others have had minor positive effects. One of the reasons for lack of progress in the field of health care and the medical innovations is that Post-Soviet governance mechanisms are not well attuned to the new realities. We believe that intersectorial collaboration and new education approaches may help to overcome this problem, as it prepares researchers, professionals and policy makers for analysing and dealing with the specific problems they meet.

The project “Bridging Innovations, Health and Societies: Educational Capacity-Building in Easter European Neighbouring Areas” (BIHSENA) aims to respond to the lack of education opportunities in the interdisciplinary area of health, innovations and society in the two countries of Russia and Ukraine, and to bridge a gap between (bio)medical and social scientists, academics and practitioners in these two countries, as well as between local and international communities. The common history regarding the organization of health care system (by means of the so-called Semashko’s model), and the health sector more generally, as well as similar past attempts to redesign it, create a shared ground for Russian and Ukrainian partners to do research, design solutions and develop up-to-date educational programs.

The project has started at the beginning of 2016. It was supported by Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and brings together seven universities: Maastricht University (the Netherlands); National Research Tomsk State University and Siberian State Medical University (Russia); National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” and Vinnitsa National Pirogov Memorial Medical University (Ukraine); Plovdiv University Paisii Hilendarski (Bulgaria), and Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University (Poland). The project is led by Dr. Klasien Horstman, professor of Philosophy of Public Health at Maastricht University. The Policy Analysis and Studies of Technologies Centre (PAST-Centre) is a key partner in the BIHSENA project.

The BIHSENA project was conceived by a group of scholars who came together in Tomsk to take a part in an international conference Social Sciences and Medical Innovations: Doing Things Together in May 2015 (a report on the conference can be found here: In the course of the conference, it became clear that, among the various post-Soviet transitions analysed and discussed at the event, Russia and Ukraine face very similar challenges in the area of health and medicine, even though they have followed relatively divergent development trajectories after the collapse of the USSR. Two central issues were identified by members of BIHSENA consortium in both Ukraine and Russia.


BIHSENA group, photograph by author
BIHSENA group, photograph by author


First, important shortcomings for the health sectors of both countries result from their education systems. Specifically, there is a major lack of higher education programs and opportunities that would adequately prepare professionals – in the field of medicine, public health, social sciences and social policy – to work under conditions of transition, to effectively govern health reforms/innovations and to conduct the kind of interdisciplinary research that is needed to adequately inform policy- and decision-making for citizens’ health.

Creating educational opportunities to adequately prepare such professionals seems indeed crucial, specially for university-level teaching staff that requires an in-depth knowledge of recent approaches in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society, and varied and active modes of education that fit that content. Currently, however, education programmes in Ukraine and Russia hardly address intersections of health, innovations and society and rarely bring together insights from various disciplinary fields. Traditional formats of education, emphasizing lecturing, large student groups and face-to-face learning are dominant at the expense of more interactive, student-centred and blended learning approaches2.

Second, both countries lack opportunities and platforms for communication and engagement between (bio)medical and social scientists; academics and practitioners; scientists, policy makers and industry. Bridging disciplines, professions and sectors is necessary to early diagnose problems with respect to specific innovations and policies, and to promote more thorough and responsive approaches to health issues in the two countries.

The BIHSENA capacity-building project addresses both problems. In 2016 the BIHSENA team began work together and has already organised training programmes for 40 teachers from Russia and Ukraine in Maastricht University. The training enhanced the capacity of partner universities in Eastern European region to use active, interdisciplinary and blended modes of education, necessary for the development of new educational opportunities in the field of health, innovations and society. The issues, the training programme focused on, included: a. the productive use of Problem-Based Learning in practice; b. design and implementation of blended learning elements; and c. development and planning of active learning curricula. Special attention was given to ways of translating active and blended learning methodologies into different socio-cultural contexts. During the training period groups of teachers developed outlines of new interdisciplinary education modules, using the knowledge gained.

The next upcoming BIHSENA project event is going to take place in Bulgaria. During this event BIHSENA team will deliberate on the content of the new courses that are being developed within the framework of this project. The first part involves problem-based learning sessions, lectures and group discussions devoted to the recent insights from the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and societies. The topics include critical approaches to epidemiology and metrics of disease; current health systems transition; recent perspectives on definitions, processes and implications of innovations for health; developments in governance of health care; roles of publics in public health. The second part focuses on competence-based education and specification of competences for professionals working in health, innovations and society domain. The final, third, part of the workshop consists of presentations and discussions of the new course syllabuses being prepared by BIHSENA consortium members.

The new course syllabuses will be further discussed with healthcare practitioners, representatives of business and regulators to ensure that new education opportunities fit particularities and needs of local settings. Furthermore, in line with the philosophy of student-centred education, students’ perspectives and interests will be incorporated in the development and adaptation of these new educational opportunities. Thus, BIHSENA courses in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society will be co-produced by project partners, students and those already working on the ground.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

PAST against the Clock — Centre for Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology, Tomsk State University, Russia

Mission and History

The mission of the Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology center (PAST-C) is to contribute to the development of the Science & Technology Studies (STS) in Russia as a research field and educational discipline. The main focus of the PAST-C research agenda is the study of technology in the context of non-Western countries, mainly in Russia, with the aim of making a contribution to global discussions.

The team’s chief objective is to establish PAST as the single most important ground for various activities related to social studies and policy analysis of technological change in Russia and in this way to contribute to a consolidation of research, to an effective communication of its results to a broader public, and to setting up educational standards in this field, rather novel for Russia.

Relying on the already established institutional resources and its network of domestic and international partners, and institutions, the PAST team constitutes one of few key hubs that carry out and coordinate the social studies and policy analysis of technological change in the country. A challenge for us results from the still marginal position of Russian social researches in S&T policy and the field of STS is just making the very first steps in its development.

PAST-C opened in 2012 with financial support from Higher Educational Support Program, Open Society Institute, as a part of collaborative project of European University at St.Petersburg (EUSP). The aim of the Project initiated by EUSP was to create sustainable pockets of growth in the new fields of social sciences in a number of regional universities in Russia. Now we are moving from the concept of regionally localized center to the idea of becoming a bridge connecting different disciplines, territories and institutions; science and education; researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. Initiated as a small local center at one of the oldest regional universities in the country, we have rapidly become an institutional landmark in the STS field in Russia. At the next stage our goal is to make more prominent contributions to global STS, producing, in particular, new knowledge on how politics works in science and technology innovation in non-Western countries.



Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author
Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author



Research Agenda

Scientists in STS have long been interested in policy issues. Much work has been done by them on issues of democracy, its relationship with technoscience, accountability and public participation in the governance of innovation in rapidly transforming contexts. Many such studies have observed a reduction of nation-state centralized governance of science and innovation processes, while pointing to decentralized networks and power assemblages in the field of S&T governance (Jasanoff, 2004; Irwin, 2008). This growing attention to the processes of governance occurring outside of the official governments and nation states has contributed to a more reflexive understanding of the organization of innovation management and knowledge models inscribed in it. However, despite such meticulously implemented studies of democratic tendencies in technoscience development, the existence of other, non-democratic methods of governance and government signals the need for attention to differences within and between countries and their organization of innovation (for example, Rajan, 2005). While empirical work on politics and science and technology, as well as innovation, has been mostly focused on established liberal democracies of the West, the main focus of PAST-C research agenda is on how and by whom decisions on S&T policy are being made, represented and ‘framed’, what kinds of assumptions operate within these processes, how choices are being legitimised and stakes negotiated in various kinds of societies. Within this frame, PAST-C faculty works on different spheres:


1) Medical innovations beyond the West

Since 2015 we have been working with colleagues from Maastricht University on a collective monograph about politics and medical innovations in non-Western world (Zvonareva, Horstman, Popova). What types of power and conflict are dealt with in various societies beyond the Western high-income world, including those with transitional and hybrid political regimes without long established democratic traditions and institutions? What kinds of responses to the politicisation of (bio)medical science and technology are being constructed and institutionalised?

Several research fellows of PAST-C concentrate on studying medical innovations from the STS perspective. The first project is investigating social embeddedness of drug research and development in Russia (Zvonareva et al., 2015). The second one considers Russian maternity care system from viewpoint of interrelations between technology, state policy and doctor’s decision-making (Melnikova 2014; Borozdina 2013).

2) Innovation and Technology in non-Western world

We are also interested in studying the varying political features in different technology fields. Our research projects focusing on non-Western innovation system investigate, first, how Russian top-down innovation policy enforce close positions between academic and industrial partners, a development that is often discussed as ‘coerced innovation’ and, second, how the available technological equipment and how different human agents shape such innovation systems (Bychkova, Popova, Chernysh 2015; Popova 2015).

We are also conducting a 4-years project on academic journals as organizations. It studies how the dependence on professional, commercial and state resources influences journal’s organizational behavior in Russian sociology (e.g. the choice between networks and open peer review as different forms of governance) (Guba 2015).

Another direction of research is devoted to the issue of inclusion of marginalized groups of society in innovation system, i.e. informal innovation, problems with their recognition, institutionalization, and diffusion. The research has focused on India and Russia. This educed new challenges to inclusion connected with the specifics of each policy regime (Ustyuzhantseva O., 2015). Networking with scholars from China, Africa, India and Brazil allows extending this agenda for BRICS.

3) Urban infrastructural transitions in post-socialist countries

Another research field concerns end-user interactions with urban infrastructure in post-communist context. One research project on smart utility meters draws attention to the ways in which end-users of smart technologies in centralized city infrastructures can undermine the proposed policy tasks of ‘commodification’ of public utilities, i.e. transformation of these quasi-public goods into economic goods (Bychkova, Popova, 2016; Bychkova, Popova, 2011).

A related research focus lies at the intersection of STS (particularly ANT) and mobilities studies (Kuznetsov, 2015). The project City, Transport Mediation, Social Justice studies the practices of mundane critiques and justification within sociotechnical assemblage of marshrutkas (Russian type of collective taxis) (Kuznetsov, In print). Recently we launched new two-year collective project aimed at sociotechnical analysis of the consequences of public transport infrastructure transformation in the preparation to the World Cup 2018 that will be held in Volgograd in 2018.


Networking and collaboration

We collaborate on issues of science and technology policy with the Center for STS and Center for Governance and Public Policy of the European University at St. Petersburg. In field of technology assessment we have approached the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and the Perm Polytechnic University in the Urals (see: The main idea was to make pilot research on the topic of TA in non-western world. Two workshops devoted to grassroots innovation and public policy for inclusive innovation development were hold together with member of Science Policy Research Unit of Sussex University. Together with the School of Social Science of Jawaharlal Nehru University, PAST-C is currently exploring the possibility of implementing some of their courses for the Master Program being developed by PAST-C.

Aiming at consolidation of Russian research and educational community in fields of STS and related disciplines, PAST-C hold conferences with participation of leading researchers and most importantly we began an audit of interested parties in Russia (Popova, Simakova, 2013). Two conferences on «Social Studies and Medical Innovations” in Tomsk (O.Zvonareva, O. Melnikova 2014 and 2015) were held in collaboration with Department “Health, Ethic and Society”, Maastricht University (HES). The conferences resulted in establishing links and cooperation with the Siberian Medical University, the NGO Academy of Evidence-based Medicine, as well as technological companies in the field of health.

Summer Schools were hold to attract the attention of Russian young researchers to STS, focusing on “STS for Seven Days” (2013) and on “STS and Urban Studies” (2015). This year we prepared the summer school “Science as a form of life: Watching heterogeneous communities in the ‘field’” in collaboration with Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research (TSU), Centre of Excellence ‘Bio-Clim-Land’, Scientific Research Institute of Biology and Biophysics (TSU) and Plovdiv University. The school aims to train young scholars in applying new theoretical approaches in the anthropology of science, with the process of researching being conceptualized as a heterogeneous community inhabited by different types of agencies (actors) – human, non-human (domestic and wild natural beings), artifacts, and other technical facilities, which are included in various forms of association and cohabitation. It will explore the world of scientists that work at biogeochemical laboratories and will study their methods of remote environmental monitoring through in-city participant observations.

Well-known researchers and practitioners have acted as key-note speakers in different PAST-events: Arie Rip, Stephen Hilgartner, Steve Fuller, Ignacio Farias, Anil Gupta, Guy Ben-Ary, Klasien Horstman, Boel Berner and Jessica Messman.


Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, a senior research fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, Senior Research Fellow












Education and training

PAST-C supports student exchange program with HES, Maastricht University (UM), providing co-supervision of UM students’ Master thesis in collaboration with Tomsk medical organizations and sending local students to attend the spring semester in Maastricht.

In 2015 PAST-C began developing master program “Innovation and Society: Science, Technology, Medicine”. One of the program’s areas is dedicated to medical innovation and is held in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Siberian Medical University a collaboration that received a grant from the European Commission Erasmus+ (see:

It is also important that following the spirit of STS of fostering a dialogue between and beyond disciplines, the Center also aims to work as a part of civil society. While contemporary Russian policy-makers generally are not open for dialogue with NGO and other non-political groups, PAST-C seeks to attract the attention of general public, politicians, administration, etc. to policy issues in the sphere of science and innovation. PAST-C events seek to secure the dialogue between the different groups involved, concerned and affected.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Towards data sharing in STS

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

News from EASST Council

The EASST Council (the elected body that runs our association) meets twice a year, last time in Munich in October and next in Copenhagen in April. Issues which are currently being discussed and progressed include:

  • Elections: the terms of office (normally 4 years) of the majority of Council members, and the President, come to an end this year. There will be a specific call for self-nominations and details of the election process later in the year. However, if you want to know more about the Council you can see the current members from our website at and read the constitution at If you want to know more, please contact our secretary via estrid.sorensen(at) or the president at president(at)
  • Current Conference: there has been a massive response to the call for papers with over 2,500 received. Track Conveners and the Scientific Committee are busy assessing these. Students from 4S and EASST are working together to put together a Postgraduate Workshop to procede the conference. Both EASST and 4S have funds to support the conference attendance of students and those at early career stage who have had papers accepted. To keep in touch with developments follow the conference website at .
  • Future Conferences: a reminder that we issued a call for those interested in hosting EASST’s next conference in 2018 (or at a future date). Council will be discussing this at the beginning of April so please get in touch straightaway if you are interested but have not yet told us.
  • Membership: a reminder that our membership year ends on 30th Those members who have a Futurepay agreement to cover renewals will receive a reminder about this – and an opportunity to cancel if you want to. If you know that your credit card has been renewed or changed over the year let us know and we can tell you how to update it. Others will receive an invoice as normal. A reminder that membership offers a discount on conference registration rates.
  • Awards for collaborative activities: thanks for your nominations. Council is considering those and the awards will be made in Barcelona.
  • Science and Technology Studies: our peer reviewed online journal has a new editor Salla Sariola. Thanks to Sampsa Hyysalo, the outgoing editor, for all his hard work. The journal has increased its issues from 3 to 4 per year based on the quality and quantity of submissions. Council is discussing other developments including an open journal platform and a pre-publication repository.
  • Website: we are currently making some amendments to our website to make its format more compatible with mobile and tablet use. We will use this opportunity to make some other minor changes. Look out for our new site soon.
  • EASST Review: we are always keen to hear your news via submissions to EASST Review. To discuss this contact our editor at ignacio.farias(at)

Tracing Sociomaterial Practices in Technoscientific Worlds. Stakes and Directions for STS

From 3-5 December 2015 the newly established national organization for science and technology studies STS Austria (see celebrated its launch with an international conference on the premises of the University of Vienna. This conference, organized with support from EASST and various other institutions, explored living in technoscientific worlds, as the title indicated, and thereto brought together a wide variety of researchers and their work from within Austria, Europe and beyond. From all their contributions emerged a colorful picture of what STS has to offer. Richly exhibiting the shared agenda of the field to make sense of the socio-material practices that surround us (as it was summarized in the closing panel), the conference made a strong case for the relevance of current work in STS. All the more reason for participants in a concluding discussion to consider how to strengthen not only research on sociotechnical practices, but also contributions to practices we study and the way we organize the practices of STS itself.


The closing discussion panel at the STS Austria Conference.
figure1: The closing discussion panel at the STS Austria Conference. Picture by Erik Aarden


The title ‘Living in Technoscientific Worlds’ deliberately opens up a plethora of sites and ways in which people interact with science and technology in their daily lives, and contributions to the conference did not disappoint in mapping many of these ways in great detail. From particular objects to so-called grand political challenges, the program covered the various facets of technoscientific worlds across many scientific disciplines, social domains and geographical locations. Without claiming to either be representative or do justice to this diversity, I came way with many interesting observations, lessons learned and new questions to ask.

As is tradition in STS, various presenters took specific mundane or novel objects and explored their relations to personal identities, social norms, economic ambitions or political imaginations. Among other things, we learned about the ways radio frequency tags in clothing are sold with the promise that they create effortless order and efficiency for the marketplace (or fashion store, as the case may be); how stem cells may be considered different things depending on the model for how to sell them as health care revolutions; or – as Judy Wajcman discussed in one of the keynotes – how our possibilities for digital communication enable the frantic, continuously connected lifestyle we were already committed to – rather than causing it.

Yet STS has also develop particular perspectives on how science and technology affect – and are affected by – sites and forms of living together that have traditionally drawn interest of other social sciences. Various policy-initiatives were critically interrogated, including the transnational travel of elite universities like MIT that turn out to change when traveling away from the US, rather than just being implemented elsewhere. Science also received its due as a profession in contributions interrogating how researchers ‘choreograph’ their interactions in interdisciplinary projects, or how they reflect on the differences and tensions between academic and industrial research from the vantage point of their own careers.

Still further, at various points during the conference discussions moved to interrogating conceptual categories that describe the – perceived – major challenges contemporary societies deal with. ‘Science’ as a category itself is not excluded from this discussion. The challenges science confronts were explored in Maja Horst’s keynote on the various levels at which attempts to communicate science seek to build a widely shared ‘scientific culture’. In related, yet different terms several presenters took up the notion that governance of technoscience needs rethinking, exploring approaches rooted in reflexivity, anticipation, responsibility and engagement as pathways for more socially robust and responsive technoscientific advances.

Across all of the different places, domains and levels of technoscientific worlds addressed in contributions to the conference, presenters – in lively interactions with their audiences – persistently debated the possibilities and limits of the various concepts and perspectives in the toolkit STS provides. What are the differences and implications of the various adjectives for ‘governance’ that (in part) have emerged from STS itself? To what extent are our diagnoses of shortcomings in how scientists conceptualize their publics applicable on new areas? How do we maintain a focus on materiality when thinking about policies, strategies and imagination? What do we ourselves take for granted when trying to unravel the implications of lives in technoscientific worlds?

Questions like these were peppered through a closing session led by Ulrike Felt and Alan Irwin, in which all conference participants were invited to contribute, which formed a fitting conclusion to the conference. This panel both crystallized many of the discussions of the previous two days and provided a helpful baseline for STS Austria in building its presence  – both in STS and in Austria – from its launch onwards. The conversation in this session revolved around various perspectives on both the idea and the practice of ‘practice’ and thereby helped in identifying some of the challenges STS (still) faces in claiming a place in conversing with its technoscientific environment.

One challenging dimension for STS as a field is how it relates to the structural demands of these worlds on how STS works. The field finds itself in a curious position in that regard, since many of its insights on scientific careers, funding mechanisms and indicators of quality and productivity barely find resonance in institutional strategies within STS. While we know that careers are precarious, or that funding requirements and publication scores may shape the issues we focus on and perspectives we develop, several contributions to this discussion implied a variation to the tune that we nevertheless play the game. Can we do more to challenge a system of which we are acutely aware that it has severe limitations?

How scholars in STS collectively respond to this question has important implications for directions the field may take in the future. On the one hand, particularly scholars that find themselves in the transition from junior to senior positions indicated that they miss an awareness of the challenges confronting the next generations in the field – which include, for example, the absence of a perspective on long-term stability due to the short duration of research projects. On the other hand, similar observations were made about geographical expansion of the field and the question how to integrate colleagues from outside Europe, North America, Australia and a few pockets in Asia – and their perspectives on living in technoscientific worlds – in the shared intellectual endeavor of STS. How can STS develop ways to enrich its perspectives on sociotechnical practices into areas it has not (yet) seriously engaged with?

Finally, conference participants also observed how the ways STS engages with its surrounding technoscientific worlds is often influenced by assumptions we carry about ‘outsiders’. Curiously, we often assume interlocutors such as policy-makers to neither understand our conceptual language, nor to be sufficiently reflexive to truly take on board the STS perspective. The question then, of course, is whether we are not too rigid in policing our intellectual tools, whether we aren’t reproducing attitudes we have been critical of ourselves, and whether we thereby not put the potential of our field to participate in conversations on important sociotechnical questions and challenges at risk. As the rich demonstration of STS perspectives in this conference showed, we have many interesting and important things to say. Yet it is to no small degree also up to us to make our voice worth listening to. How then to take serious those ‘outsiders’ that think we can make fruitful contributions to their practices?

The colorful display of STS perspectives on the sociomaterial practices that build the world we live in not only showed why the field is relevant, but also that the questions STS asks are too important to be secluded to an exclusive academic field. If we can draw one conclusion with implications far and wide beyond national boundaries from this conference, it is that both the diversity of work presented and reflexive questions posed to conclude the conference confirm this. While the field of STS thus needs to confront the various challenges of its own technoscientific environment of a disciplinary academy, it simultaneously should remain open to new perspectives coming from new generations, locations or practices adjacent to our own. The concluding panel therefore finished with the observation that there is work to be done for STS in cultivating open encounters with diverse forms of life in technoscientific worlds.

“Making and Doing” at 4S Meeting (Denver): Let’s extend the experiment!

Conceived as “a response to a growing trend among STS scholars in engaging in scholarly practices that produce and express STS knowledge beyond the academic paper or book” (Amir, 2015), the Making and Doing Programme held its first session at the 4S Annual meeting in Denver in November 2015. The idea for this Programme developed from a discussion of scholarly making and doing STS  at the Ecosite/4S meeting in Buenos-Aires (2014). More than 50 presentations were displayed at the 4S meeting. The Programme took the form of an interactive exhibition. Each project was allocated a space of approximately 2×2 meters. The Programme was attention grabbing, notably through performances such as that of Woelfle-Erskine’s (UC Berkeley) “Tell a salmon your troubles” project. This report aims to give a flavour of the diversity and creativity of the exhibits. Despite the specificity of each, we gather them under different headings.


Tell a salmon your troubles” project invites working scientists to relate to another critically endangered species, coho salmon, as affective beings who may notice and respond to human actions. “Tell a Salmon” injects feminist STS practices of reflexivity and reciprocity into scientists’ inter-species thinking. Photograph: Paul Naish
figure 1: “Tell a salmon your troubles” project invites working scientists to relate to another critically endangered species, coho salmon, as affective beings who may notice and respond to human actions. “Tell a Salmon” injects feminist STS practices of reflexivity and reciprocity into scientists’ inter-species thinking. Photograph by Paul Naish


Visual and Sensory Experiences

figure 2: Light Through Prism, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from the series Science, 1958-1961, photograph: Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991
figure 2: Light Through Prism, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from the series Science, 1958-1961,
photograph by Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991

Special attention was given to art for its way of dealing with human sensibility and science. Named “Visual and Sensory Approaches” by the organisers, these exhibits encouraged reflection on the  place of the arts in science, the role of imagination in scientific comprehension and innovation, or simply how science can be a vehicle for artistic production of objects (or the opposite). Berenice Abbott’s work (see figures 2 and 3), presented by Hannah Rogers and Worthy Martin in the installation “Making Science visible”, is representative of this approach. As a photographer of the twentieth century (1898-1991), she produced pictures through scientific experiments, by using technologies of her time and designing a new kind of camera.  She mainly worked with mirrors and magnets to create black and white graphic photographs. For instance, her work influenced the way we currently represent waves or the diffraction phenomenon in a prism. She aestheticized science.

Similarly, work on medical imaging and its visual styles fascinatingly demonstrated the influence of art on scientific research. A striking example was a Norwegian mini-film of thirty minutes called “The Good, the True and the Beautiful” presented in the documentary “Film: Medical Imaging”.

The above are just two examples of projects focused on the importance of image and art. Other exhibits had different aims. For example, a digital installation titled “The Now(here) project” focused on re-presenting Borderline Personality Disorder and “Anarchy of Imagination” challenged ideas about shared space.


Writing and Communicating Experiences

figure 3: Soap Bubbles, New York from the series Science, 1945–1946 photograph: Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991
figure 3: Soap Bubbles, New York from the series Science, 1945–1946, photograph by Berenice Abbott, 1898-1991

A special concern in all the initiatives was the question of “living together”: how can we make knowledge reachable and allow everyone to understand the complex issues of our world? Participants were encouraged to think about science outside textbooks and make it alive. How science can be fun, different, and closer to our everyday life? Innovation in making knowledge reachable relates to the method of communicating science. Some projects offer new forms of publication, of writing and communicating about scientific questions.

Limn magazine works in this direction, by focusing equally on the style and on the content. Limn is an annual magazine, shared in open-access on the Internet and also available in paperback. The articles are short, illustrated and the topics are diverse. Since its creation in 2011 Limn has addressed topics such as “Systematic Risks” (2011), “Food Infrastructures” (2014) or “Ebola’s Ecologies” (2015). Limn is somewhere between a scholarly journal and an art magazine. The goal is to focus on contemporary questions, in an accessible style of reading but contributions are reviewed and carefully edited by the editorial team, as well as shared amongst the contributors.

The digital era has raised questions about accessibility, but moreover about the quality of knowledge. With the vast amount of information around us we need to be able to sort, to shed light on what is working and what is not. Two workshops presented initiatives about notation on the Internet. The aim is to allow its users to mark each other, for example in community sites selling products or services, and also to grade the sites themselves. These projects are “Matters of Care in Crowdsourcing” by Lilly Irani (UC San Diego) and co-authors and “How’s my feedback ?“ by Malte Ziewitz (Cornell University) and colleagues.

The idea of acting to better evaluate is used by lots of websites, but some initiatives were impressive in their ambition: thus, “How’s my feedback” offers to grade some much used sites including “Amazon” or “Ebay”. However, its implementation was challenging, and raised questions at the intersection of STS, design and engagement. Excitingly, these projects aim to show that becoming an actor is a collective endeavour rather than an actor being a receptor of information available on the Internet.


Educational Experiences

A large number of initiatives have also been implemented to create innovative courses or tools that actively engage young people in moving to a more environmentally and socially sustainable future. Using a “public ethics” framework -where ethical issues are prioritised- the “Greening Chemistry” program at UC Berkeley is an opportunity to gather scientists, engineers, designers, business managers, social scientists and environmental health specialists at the graduate level, through a series of courses that interweave STS with practical problem-solving. In the same vein, “Crafting Digital Stories” initiative makes use of short videos to discuss concepts and ways of thinking around sustainability. Through digital storytelling, the Arizona State University and its Biodesign Institute disseminate STS theories and case studies among educators and students.

The Programme as a whole offered concrete tools that sometimes work in tandem with educational projects. These tools aim at democratizing access to information and knowledge. For instance the “Solar Digital Libraries” project (by Laura Hosman) focuses on populations with no electricity or Internet connectivity: a self-powered plug-and play kit (SolarSPELL) was designed to provide access to a digital library over an off-line WiFi spot, with areas struck by natural disasters in mind. “Civic Laboratory: Plastics” is an action-oriented initiative at Memorial University of Newfoundland (Max Liboiron), which aims to create low-cost, open-source methods for monitoring environment and marine plastics. There is a description of do-it-with-others devices on the CLEAR website, which are designed by the people who use them (most of whom are not accredited scientists or engineers) and incorporate politics and values of feminism. This initiative tackles the major problem of oceans and marine pollution in a region (Newfoundland & Labrador) where many scientific protocols don’t work because of the extreme environment.


Paperworks, posters, tool kits… More than textbooks in the conference venue concourse. Photograph by Paul Naish
figure 4: Paperworks, posters, tool kits… More than textbooks in the conference venue concourse. Photograph by Marianne Noel


Similar issues apply to the context of “The Shore line” (Elizabeth Miller, Concordia University). This project is a series of stories about individuals who are responding to the threats of massive developments, destructive storms, and rising sea levels in coastal communities around the world (Canada, the U.S., Panama, India, Bangladesh and New Zealand). This documentary is more designed as a collection of testimonies than a coordination platform but illustrates a commitment around which citizens are engaged on preservation issues. New forms of more meaningful civic engagement are emerging in these initiatives. The approach is for all actors to be involved, often to overcome the lack of information from the administration or government.

There are many ongoing “political” projects, which challenge the relevant authorities on scientific questions. In Canada, the “Write2Know Project” is a letter-writing campaign launched in response to the Canadian government’s “war on science”. Write2Know offers a platform for people to pose questions to federal scientists and ministers on matters of public and environmental health and safety. The record was quite significant: over 4900 letters were signed by people at the time of the federal election in October 2015 in Canada. The Chilean project “Scientific legislation” moves into the same direction: Martin Perez Comisso and colleagues have developed a learning experience to empower undergraduate students in several disciplines with law creation techniques. Conclusions have been delivered to senators and congressmen.  The creation of laws by citizens is a new practice for Chile, experimented with in the civilian-academic format. Last but not least, Citizen-Led Forensics (Ciencia Forense Ciudadana, CfC) is a remarkable humanitarian project directed by relatives of the disappeared in Mexico. It was created in August 2014 with the task of governing and managing an independent and citizen-led forensic DNA database.


A Large Variety of Creative Initiatives

To conclude, we were impressed by the enthusiasm with which diverse and creative initiatives have been embraced by collectives of all types. This summary has covered 15 projects only; we have made choices that are influenced by our interests in specific topics (arts and representation, pedagogy, etc.). Many projects have been completed, which make them easier to describe, but some are still going on. We were surprised that two thirds of the projects came from the North American continent. That has certainly to do with the cost of travelling to Denver. Is there also a link with specific learning methods, STS “styles” or traditions and the availability of funds in countries such as the U.S. or Canada? It is still too early to draw on conclusions.

This report has been jointly written by Julie Le Bot, a bachelor student at the CRI, Université Paris Descartes, where Marianne Noel teaches STS. While Marianne attended the 4S meeting in Denver, Julie was encouraged to review the Making and Doing Programme from Paris, during her short internship at LISIS. She will give a feedback to her classmates during the Spring term. In addition to “traditional” courses based on readings, this will be a way to illustrate how STS insights are applied and implemented in practical processes of production, diffusion and utilisation of science and technology. We hope it will also generate new initiatives!

Experiments with “New Materialisms” – Workshop Report on “Sociology and New Materialisms”

Our workshop “Sociology and New Materialisms” was motivated by two interests: one genealogical, one experimental. The former interest arose from the assessment that the general discussion about new materialisms entered an intellectual climate where, at least in some disciplines, materiality was already a well-discussed matter of concern. We were therefore less interested in the fact that new materialisms put ‘matter’ on the table than we were in how authors from a variety of fields such as  Karen Barad (2007), Jane Bennett (2010), Andrew Barry (2001), Rosi Braidotti (2013), Bruce Braun (Braun/Whatmore 2010), William Connolly (2013) and others have raised the question of materiality differently. We wanted to think about the dis/continuities which are marked by neo-materialist contributions with regard to the broader debate on materiality in the social sciences. Our experimental interest derived from a desire to shift the debate on new materialisms away from a handful of well-established theoretical concerns. We therefore asked our participants to employ neo-materialist ideas and concepts to let them prove themselves vis-à-vis empirical field research.

One re-occurring insight throughout the workshop was that there is no easy answer to the question whether new materialisms are really new or even what they are precisely. The materialist challenge cannot be dissolved into exclusively conceptual answers. We found frictions through theoretical debates and empirical cases, we saw cracks in theories and methodologies, and we experienced the limits of our linguistic capability to express material ontologies and entanglements. The workshop left us with at least five problematizations which mark possible paths for further inquiry, research, and experimentation.


Apparative Materialities

A first problematization points to the question of how we can capture the material conditions of possibility, which are embedded in and constitutive of apparatuses. This challenge aims at a neo-materialist description of society which, on the one hand, goes beyond the anthropocentrism of classical approaches (e.g. Marxism) and, on the other hand, avoids focusing local phenomena.

Here, Sascha Dickel diagnosed an incompatibility between neo-materialist approaches and theories of society. Whereas materialist approaches focus on the social as a local materialization, theories of society stress its articulation in immaterial relations between people. Dickel then showed how digital devices such as the smartphone escape both of these analytical lenses because they constitute relations and collectives through mediation of the material and the immaterial. Therefore, if one wants to grasp the apparative im/materiality of digitalized society, neo-materialist thought should seek to make a difference in the development of both a theory of society and critical social theory.

One take on this problem is the concept of the apparatus, which was addressed in Thomas Lemke’s paper. He developed the notion of apparatuses of government drawing on Foucault’s concept of governmentality and neo-materialist approaches of apparatuses, especially the approach of Karen Barad. He argued that this kind of synthesis properly takes into account the performativity as well as the constitutive entanglements of subjects and objects and opens up new forms of critical engagement: a neo-materialist inspired critique for him is an experimental critique of mapping what is and what might be possible. Hannah Fitsch also used Karen Barad’s notion of the apparatus to analyze and problematize the materiality of computed pictures. She stated a re-materialization of digital images in which actors neglect the implicit and presupposed inscription of gender differences: These are incorporated into the very materiality of the apparatus. While she sees the notion of the apparatus as an important tool for the feminist critique of science she also challenged a neo-materialist critique that merely maps apparative conditions of materialization. She raised the question how such a project might profit from other critical projects such as Critical Theory.


De/Stabilizing Materialities

In a second problematization the inquiry into the apparative function of materialities was confronted with the question of how materiality has destabilizing effects in socio-material settings. Benjamin Lipp showed how empirical research on social robotics might be guided by neo-materialist thought. Drawing on Simondon’s philosophy of technology and Karen Barad’s notion of intraaction he developed an ‘analytics of interfacings’. In conceptualizing interfacing as a process of rendering things in/disposable for one another he argued for a neo-materialist perspective on the techno-material conditions of social robotics. Here, Lipp described how in the course of human-robot interaction materialities have destabilizing effects, which exceed accounts of materiality as stabilizing social order (e.g. Latour’s hotel key). Especially in the course of human/robot interfacings the ’eventful’ character of materialities comes to the fore.

Drawing on Karen Barad’s agential realism Athanasios Karafillidis problematized implicit presumptions of human/technology differences in projects of prosthesis. In scientific research practice, he argued, the first agential cut between human and technology is usually always already made. Here the very practical problem lies in the challenge how neo-materialist accounts of intra-actions as material-discursive events can help to infuse alternative differences into the development of assistive technology. Going beyond cybernetics (but also pointing out convergences of cybernetics and new materialisms), Karafillidis proposed to begin observations and analyses with relatively indeterminate phenomena: importantly for the sociology of technology, organic-mechanic couplings in the case of prosthetics emerge through processes that dis/enable users. Processes of boundary drawing are not only stabilizing processes and neither are prostheses simply stabilizing or enabling devices to begin with. Thus neo-materialist concepts might inspire to account for these ambivalent processes of technologies such as prosthesis.


Multiple Materialities

Many contributors pointed out the multiplicity of emergent materialities and ontologies. Jan-Hendrick Passoth whose paper engaged with the materiality of digitalization suggested that the politics of digitalization would have to deal with their multiple ontologies and their implied politics. He distinguished between three forms of materiality with regard to digital processes: hardware, software and runtime. Where the first materiality lies in the installation and maintenance of physical systems, the second can be found in the resisting materiality of software codes, e.g. in the case of updates. As a third type of materiality Passoth conceptualized ‘runtime’ as practices and apparatuses of prototyping, testing and evaluation. While these material enactments certainly intersect with each other empirically they also engender different versions of the political. In a similar vein, Sabine Maasen focused on multiple materialities with regard to the (re-)construction of selves through neuro-objects. Here, Maasen employed an analytics of milieus of subjectification in which neurofied subjectivities are co-produced through neuro-technologies such as neuro-feedback and brain-computer interfaces. The manifold materializations of neuro-selves enforce a thorough work of synchronization in which identity needs to be reconstructed and refitted again and again through divergent material circumstances.

In an ethnomethodological critique of materialist thought, Thomas Scheffer showed how multiple materialities emerge in actu. He argued that materialist thought all too often draws overarching ontologies without attuning its vocabulary to the situated character of material events. In order to be able to empirically see emerging materialities one would have to abstain from the ascription of absolute characteristics to matter. Matter is not. Rather matters exist.


Withdrawing Materialities

Departing from the multiplicity of materialities, in another problematization participants argued that materiality does not only exist, it also withdraws, fades and becomes fractious. In other words: To not take an agentive or vital account of materiality for granted but conceptualize its capacities one would also have to focus materiality from the side of its disappearance. For example, Ignacio Farías and Laurie Waller showed how certain phenomena are not adequately described in terms of multiple ontological enactments – especially if one takes into account the withdrawnness of objects (Harman). Taking noise as an example, they argued that this is an object of non-tology. In this sense they radicalize the theorizing of ‘withdrawnness’, because they see withdrawn materialities not as a relational effect but rather as indifferent materiality, which provokes speculative practices attaching noise to things. In a similar spirit, Andreas Folkers employed Heidegger’s account of ‘Gestell’ to think about renewable energy infrastructures. Problematizing phantasies of infinite resources, he focused the withdrawing materiality of wind and its consequences for the management of energy supply. Consequently, he argued that the withdrawnness of objects and matter cannot be grasped through the question of what withdraws but rather how the withdrawnness is rendered visible and/or problematized.


Contested Materialities

The withdrawnness of materialities points to another important concern. Emphasizing the fractious and also multiple character of materialities points to their contestation and the fact that particular materializations might stand in conflict with others. To address this contested and competing character of different materializations Andreas Folkers developed the notion of an onto-topology, an analytics of competing and co-existing ontologies. He showed that ontologies in recent debates are either conceptualized as too flat merely repackaging common constructivism with an ontological vocabulary or too deep analyzing historical formations as totalities that can be contrasted. In order to avoid both of these versions, he argued with Foucault and Heidegger for an onto-topology, that is, an analytical perspective that tries to analyze specific ontologies which are enfolded and can stand in conflict with each other. Folkers, thus, emphasized contestation as a mode of mattering.

Whether contestation is adequately theorized in more recent conceptualizations of politics, was one of the questions of Sven Opitz’ paper on cosmopolitics in Bruno Latour and Ulrich Beck. He showed how both approaches operate with ontologies of entanglement, the global risk-community and “Gaia”. In one way or another both approaches suggest that cosmopolitics are the necessary result of this global situation of interdependency. As a consequence, their cosmopolitics oscillate between an over- and a depoliticization but certainly miss a political middleground in which an analysis of concrete power relations and contestation is possible. A con-ceptualization of the political in a neo-materialist vein would have to avoid this tendency: An onto-topological orientation as suggested by Folkers might point in that direction.

It was never our goal to celebrate or dismiss the theoretical orientations framed as new materialisms. Thus, the workshop, to us, brought up more questions and a desire to further link the debates on new materialisms with sociological concerns, theoretically as well as empirically. For this, we proposed five lines of problematization which themselves can conflict: How can we capture the apparative conditions of possibility of materialities and at the same time retain a gaze for the event-character of materializations? How could this eventfulness be integrated in empirical research as well as theoretical accounts in order to be able to think the complex relations of de/stabilization? How can we observe and theorize the multiple modes of matter’s existence, or better: it’s enactment? Moreover, how can we distance ourselves from a concept of matter that just presupposes it as agentive or vital force; how can we integrate its contestation and its multiple ways of withdrawing into sociological analyses?

On the one hand, this range of questions shows that neo-materialist concepts and interventions can provide theoretical resources to tackle fundamental problems of social theory. On the other hand, referring to new materialisms does not provide us a definite answer to the question of the relation between materiality and the social. Instead we hope to have shown that this strand of discussion is open to and in need of further development across disciplines and theoretical traditions.

Bio-objects meet Multispecies Ethnography, Workshop at MIT Anthropology, 30 Oct 2015

On bio-objects: The concept and research network

Niki Vermeulen, Sakari Tamminen, and Bettina Bock von Wülfingen

The bio-object concept and the associated network have grown out of a common interest in issues surrounding the boundaries of the biological sciences and how they meet various aspects of society. The concept was born of the need for a heuristic device allowing the analytic gaze to be focused on a multiplicity of “objects of life” and the myriad processes that render life as an object that can be known, and hence grasped for intervention. The concept is biographically situated in the European STS research scene of the late 2000s, where it emerged in objection to some writings’ implications that the secrets of life can be reduced to genetic code. Thus, it voices opposition to reductionist interpretations surrounding life’s generative potentiality. At the same time, the concept, in effect, posits that work on philosophically and politically framed questions within the social sciences about “life itself” must be informed also by nuanced empirical studies of how the status of “life” is accorded to various vital objects. This endeavor demands a concept that does not carry the historical weight (from moral, philosophical, and religious realms) associated with discourses on “life itself.”


Heather Paxson: talking & tasting cheese, photograph by Sakari Tamminen


The bio-object network brings together researchers who are interested in the new biosciences and, indeed, in bio-objects in all their diversity. Since its establishment, in 2007, the network has, with the aid of EU COST funding, grown quite extensive. With more than 80 members, it spans a broad spectrum of disciplines – sociology, history, philosophy, anthropology, and the life sciences. The COST network, under the name “Bio-objects and Their Boundaries: Governing Matters at the Intersection of Society, Politics, and Science,” concentrates on three key questions:

  • What are bio-objects, and how do they span various boundaries?
  • What challenges do bio-objects pose for governance and regulation?
  • How do bio-objects generate and get generated by various relations – social, cultural, material, etc.?

Bettina, Niki, and Sakari considered how the concept can be used in practice and, through a number of case studies, illustrated where life is presented through relations found, for example, within bioinformatics. They also explored how the attempts at modeling life – to objectify life through relations – are culturally mediated in scientific practice.


Multispecies ethnography

Stefan Helmreich

Taking Kirksey and Helmreich’s article about multispecies ethnography as a point of departure, Stefan explored the socio-historical context of the phenomenon and gave an eloquent update on new arguments drawn from a wide range of literature. He started out with several ways in which dogs can relate to humans, from rescuing us from danger and detecting substances on our behalf to being companions and comforters, then began unpacking these relations as fruitful starting points for multispecies ethnography. He continued by demonstrating how well the multiplicity of relations is often depicted by bio-art and bio-artists, as both help to unwrap the “sacred bundle” of life. In fact, bio-artists have had a much larger role – they were among the first to push forward with ideas in this field, with the Multispecies Salon exhibits held at AAA meetings. Stefan compared multispecies ethnography to various approaches applied in ethnographic research – in research traditions ranging from ethnoprimatology to ethnomicrobiology – and borrowed from their discourse in order to map, analyze, and problematize the idea of multispecies ethnography.


photograph by Sakari Tamminen


What seems fundamental to multispecies ethnography, in a recurring pattern hinted at in the other approaches too, is the explicit effort to shift the boundaries between the researcher and the research object, between knower and the known, and perturbation of the modern dichotomy between the human perspective and the Other. With the modern way so imbued with traditional ethno¬graphic methods and manners of representation, can we render the perspective of the other species visible, through innovative research approaches that break from methods centered on text and the associated senses (the visual and cognitive)? What about sounds and the visceral, especially since we know that our voice is mediated through bio-objects and multi-species relationships, through parchment, paper, and/or the bacterial culture on an iPad screen?


The multi-species world and bio-objects 

Andrea Núñez Casal: microbiomes

Luísa Reis Castro: anthrozoology and pests, mosquitoes

Nadia Christidi: art, science, biology, conflict in the Middle East

Richard Fadok: “bio-inspired design”

Caterina Scaramelli: bovine biopolitics

Michelle Spektor: biometric IDs and databases

Lucas Mueller: aflatoxins

Rijul Kochhar: antibiotic-resistance research in India and the US

Alison Laurence: animals on display

Jia-Hui Lee: anthrozoology in post-conflict zones, olfaction

Peter Oviatt: domestication and commodification of fungi

Claire Webb: the search for extraterrestrial intelligence

Valentina Marcheselli: astrobiology

That a host of species can live with humans (and within a human host) and that these can be conceptualized as both enemies and friends can be viewed in terms of the human microbiome. Immunity as community opens numerous perspectives to health and car, while also showing diversification and inequalities connecting gut, food, and political cultures (Núñez Casal). For instance, while mosquitoes connecting with humans can bring disease, they can also become a public health tool that prevents infections (Reis Castro). In the context of war too, the lines between friends and foes can become reconfigured through multi-species relations. In one example, the Iraq War saw people become objects of destruction, yet the Baghdad zoo and its animals became ground for the reestablishment of social relations and international connections (Christidi).

These patterns are closely connected to differences between security and insecurity, yet another interplay in relations between the human and non-human species. As with mosquitoes as friends and foes, microbes can protect (as in the microbiome) yet can also resist being protected against (as in antibiotic-resistance), through adaptation and their travel through various cultures (Kochhar). In another landscape, through the care of and for water buffalo, wetlands that need protection are also protecting the livelihood of their inhabitants (Scaramelli). However, the balance in multi-species relation¬ships is continuously at stake and reconfigured, or strictly regulated as in the case of aflatoxins (Mueller) or cheeses (Paxson). All the concomitant issues are closely related to the governance of life and modes of governing life.


bearbeitet 3
photograph by Sakari Tamminen


Another theme that ran through the presentations was the way in which bio-objects and multi species relations are defined by form, smell, and taste. In the case of bio-inspired design, matter mimics life and life becomes active matter in various scenarios of emergence ruled through perceived principles of life, as form and function are blended (Fadok). In spaces that entail such melding, we learned that all smell can be reduced to six chemical components, but are those deconstructed smells still alive (Lee)? And can, in the case of truffles (Oviatt), smells constitute a difference between French, Italian, and Romanian identities?

Finally, the discussions explored the identity of life. In Israel, bodily identity can be transferred to a chip with biometric information (Spektor), creating a split between individual and informa¬tion, an opening for rethinking the meaning of historical and political relations for today and the future. And can another gap be closed, with fossils of political life (such as Mount Rushmore) being subsumed by the category “natural history” (Laurence)? Finally, the quest to seek extraterrestrial life and be able to escape Earth’s tether calls us to re-imagine what life is and how it can be known (Marcheselli), while also raising the question of whether, or how, instruments for finding life are themselves mediating (Webb), bringing bio-objects to life when within a proximity of vital signs – like the hyphen in bio-object concept itself.


Recombination, remixing, repurposing, and more

From the preparations and the initial presentations, it was already clear that bio-objects and the “multispecies” framework are both not only a way of conceptualizing and framing the social study of the biosciences but also a heuristic device to address the complexity and the (shifting) perception of relations between the organic and the non-organic and among various species in their broader social and cultural context. That both concepts focus on relations in a synthesis of material and diverse social-cultural-economic relations makes their relationship worth exploring.

Discussions focused on what the “bio” of the bio-object is and on how it is related to the other “bio”s, such as bio-value, bio-capital, bio-politics, and bio-labor (and/or multi-species labor). Is this a matter of object versus process? What about bio-epistemologies and bio-objectivities? Or does this objectification also take into account the more negative aspects of objectifying? And how should substances such as air or water be added to the picture? Are they bio-objects too? These questions led us to consider politics of engagement, mediation, intersubjectivity, and abiotic signs for “bio”s. Can we also think in terms of lifetimes, of objects-by-bio?

In the case of the microbiome, it became clear that both concepts address the other’s shortcomings: where the bio-object concept does not provide obvious ways to talk about relation-ships among multiple species and the numerous elements of life (the microbiome as a bio-object composed of many bio-objects), the “multispecies” approach does not allow ready analysis of the scientific work that transforms life (e.g., processes of bio-objectification).image1image1

An important observation was made at this juncture; that bio-objects as an analytic category can be used to think about issues of freedom and containment. How does freedom work in application of freedom of movement and pushing the boundaries of life – such as in the creation of a non-free body when data are stored elsewhere and can be stolen: a stolen self?

Related to this is the opening up of the categories of life, into digital representations of life but also into ruins of life and bodies of death. With regard to the material stuff of life, the flesh to the bones, we find categories of life able to be opened through instruments, technological objects such as microscope and satellites that mediate life, through which we zoom in and zoom out. Turning from space to time raises the question of when life ends: Where do the thresholds of life lie, and can we talk about pre-life? This is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. Finally, we can look at symbiosis. Ruins can be conceptualized as runaway life rather than any sort of death. Should we, for instance, understand antibiotic-resistance as the ruins of antibiotics or, instead, antibiotics out of control? And how is this related to cultivation and uncultivated/uncultivable life?

An important issue that arose repeatedly in the presentations and discussions is the primarily Euro- and US-centeredness of these approaches (the “multispecies” approach is more connected to US traditions, and the idea of bio-objects emerged in Europe). While the geographic heritage of both approaches is not surprising, it is important to reflect on this and find ways to expand both arenas, striving for a more global playing field.

Finally, all our presentations and discussions expressed a love for life. Eco-love. Affection for life, living, and the living, expressed through careful observation, analysis, and reflection. We also enjoyed some excellent talk and tastes of gastro-objects: truffles and cheeses.


Opportunities for future encounters

During the 4S/EASST meeting in Barcelona – there will be a bio-object track:

Revisiting bio-objects and bio-

objectification: Categories, materialities and processes central to the (re)configuration of „life“ (

Meson Press: Opening Up Book Publishing

meson press publishes research on digital cultures and networked media. Our open access publications challenge contemporary theories and advance key debates in the humanities of today.

Despite our admiration for books we believe they need to be reinvented. We face changing reading habits in the era of digital media: for academic reading as well as for public outreach ›searchability‹ has become central, and as such the pdf-format of the book. At the same time we face a rise in publishing (especially with edited volumes) leading to more and more books to be released under the increasing pressure to publish. This makes it necessary to experiment with new forms of book publishing that explore the books’ digital being, e.g. shorter formats of books as well as new forms of (still rigorous) peer review.


figure 1: »Modi der Exiszenz« by Souriau
figure 1: »Modi der Exiszenz« by Souriau
figure 3: »In Catastrophic Times. Resisting the Coming Barbarism« by Isabelle Stengers
figure 2: »Life and Technology beyond Simondon« by Barthélémy
figure 2: »Life and Technology beyond Simondon« by Barthélémy



These developments allow authors to shape their manuscripts in a different manner. Examples for this are future book projects like the upcoming »Symptoms of Our Planetary Condition«, a critical vocabulary developed by the group Or the upcoming »Terms of Media Series«, an experiment initiated by Wendy Chun, Timon Beyes, Goetz Bachmann and Boris Traue, who reinvent conference proceedings as a series of short books rather than thinking of them as an edited volume.

Generally, books by meson press are timely and of high expertise while written in a style that openly engages the reader in the spirit of Open Access. We believe in openness. For us this means that all our books are released under an open license on our website free of charge and that our publications can be harvested by libraries and other content aggregators using the OAI-PMH inferface. Recent publications published in this spirit include topics like »No software, just services« (Kaldrack, Leeker 2015), »The Politics of Micro-Decisions: Edward Snowden, Net Neutrality, and the Architectures of the Internet« (Sprenger 2015) or »Rethinking Gamification« (Fuchs, et al. 2014).

meson press has also published a range of translations of theoretical classics, among those Isabelle Stengers’ »In Catastrophic Times« (co-published with Open Humanities Press), the Italian 1960s classic »The Cyborg« by Antonia Caronia, or the German translation of Étienne Souriaus »Les différents modes d’existence«. As one can see from this list, our books are not only written for media scholars and advanced students of cultural and media studies, but also address the serious reader interested in digital media.

In the spirit of digital media, all of our books are published in digital formats and as print-on-demand. The visual identity of the press, which is effectively optimized for both environments, has been developed in close collaboration with the book designer Torsten Köchlin and the digital designer Silke Krieg. Working with the print-on-demand provider Lightning Source allows our beautifully printed books to be available in flexible numbers worldwide far beyond Europe including the UK, US, and South America.

Publications have become cheaper in recent years, however, publishing still isn’t free. Recent developments show that the sales especially for smaller presses are not high enough to sustain a press and its editors. This means, presses rely on a charge – hopefully paid by funding agencies or academic institutions – generally known as ›author processing fee‹ or ›print support fees‹. In German speaking countries, academic book publishing is already heavily subsidized by those fees known as »Druckkostenzuschuss«.

meson press remains an optimistic experiment despite Open Access is still highly contested in many respects and faces challenges that cannot be ignored. Taking a closer look at current developments, the suspicion against open access as not rigorous enough or the one-sided focus on OA journals quickly becomes apparent. The latter might be historically explained by the fact that the idea for Open Access was first voiced in the MINT disciplines. However, one size does not fit all in scholarly publishing and it is therefore important to us to take part in the development of Open Access publishing models more suited to the publishing cultures in the humanities and the social sciences, which still rely heavily on the book as a powerful means of scholarly communication.


figure 4: »Cyborg« by Caronia
figure 4: »Cyborg« by Caronia
figure 6: »Politics of Micro-Decisions« by Sprenger
figure 6: »Politics of Micro-Decisions« by Sprenger
figure 5: »no software just services« by Kaldrack, Leeker
figure 5: »no software just services« by Kaldrack, Leeker

meson press is a spin off of the “Hybrid Publishing Lab” which was funded within the framework of the EU major project “Innovation Incubator” at Leuphana University Lüneburg from 2012 until 2015. Its aim was to investigate the future of scholarly publishing in digital environments and generating ideas, technologies as well as business models for supporting the development of the regional publishing industry. It is in this context that we, Mercedes Bunz, Andreas Kirchner and Marcus Burkhardt met. As a consequence, the aim of meson press is to develop an academically sound strategy for Open Access book publishing. Today, meson press is an experiment we continue with verve after our research time at Leuphana University. As academic nomads living at the moment in Munich, Cologne and London, we run meson press in a decentralized manner, while keeping our main office in Lüneburg. To stress this network-like structure as well as its participative and democratic character, we chose to organize meson press as a cooperative – a legal framework not only meeting our requirements for the moment, but also enabling us to include further members in our hopefully growing network.



meson press eG
Sandstrasse 1
21335 Lüneburg

The Plovdiv University STS Summer School

The highlight of the STS teaching program for B.A. Sociology students is the STS Summer Research Practice, which takes place alternatively in sites of large technical systems (dams and power stations) and big research infrastructures. The Summer Research Practice aims to mimic classical STS fieldwork (as done by Latour and Knorr-Cetina). Students immerse into the daily life of scientists and engineers for about a week. In groups of two or three students, they are assigned to a particular micro community and collect data about it. They use STS concepts and methods as a tool for understanding and describing everyday life of scientists and engineers. Since scientific research and engineering practice is widely unknown to the public, displaying its “essential” features is another key tasks of the students. The Summer Research Practice ends with a public presentation of the research papers written by each of the groups. Among the discussants are representatives of the studied communities.

The Summer School “Science and Technology as Way of Life and Identification: Observing the Practices at Confined Research Stations and Large Technical Systems in High Mountains”, held at the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory, Bulgaria, from 22 of June to 1 July 2015, was the first international edition of the STS Summer School, regularly held since year 2000. Sixteen Bulgarian B.A. sociology students took part in this, along with twelve anthropology students from Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research at Tomsk State University, Russia, whose travel expenses were supported by the project “Man in a Changing World. Problems of Identity and Social Adaptation in History and at Present” (the RF Government grant No. 14.B25.31.0009). The summer school was also awarded an EASST Network Fund.


Participants of the summer school
Participants of the summer school


The program included an introductory theoretical and methodological seminar on Anthropology of Science and Sociology of Large Technical Systems, a seminar on methodology of data collection, fieldwork at the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory and high mountain dam, assessment of the collected data and instructions how to prepare the research reports, data analysis and writing research reports (two months after fieldwork), the presentation of research reports at competitively organized student sessions (held in Plovdiv and Tomsk). The practice was supervised by Prof. Ivan Tchalakov (Plovdiv University), Associate Prof. Irina Popravko (Tomsk State University, Russia) and Dr. Tihomir Mitev (Plovdiv University).

During the program, students spent one week with the research community of astronomers and supporting engineering staff at NAO Rozhen – the biggest astronomical site in South-Eastern Europe. NAO Rozhen is managed by the Astronomy Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, which is involved in research in astronomy, astrophysics, as well as in the training of professionals and students interested in this field. The Institute has two modern observatories to conduct astronomical observations and research – NAO Rozhen and AO Belogradchik. NAO Rozhen provides observations on a wide class of astronomical and astrophysical phenomena – from dynamics and physics of bodies in the solar system to extragalactic research on asteroids and comets, star spectra of different classes and types of variability, star clusters, close and distant galaxies, quasars.

The observatory, its scientists and engineers, their everyday life, practices and overall work were the object of research. International groups of two or three students observed the daily work of particular researchers, conducted interviews, analyzed documents and technical artifacts, and collected photo and video data. Special attention was paid to practical application and use of semiotics in the analysis of collected data. In their research, student groups approached different aspects of the life of this heterogeneous community.


Student group visiting the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory
Student group visiting the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory



Some teams reflected on the changing position of these scientists, taking into account both everyday immersion in the studied community and public perception of astronomy. For example, analyzing the relationships between astronomers and their publics (citizens that every day visit Rozhen observatory, local and regional authorities in Smolyan region, public media), students reflected on Schütz’ distinction of three types of social knowledge – the knowledge of the man in the street, the expert and the well-informed citizen. Interestingly, these three types could not grasp the relationships students identified, since some members of the public, especially amateur-astronomers but not only, have acquired deep enough knowledge to erode the asymmetry between experts and the other two groups, as assumed in Schütz’ typology. At the same time, astronomers (and especially the Institute of Astronomy as an institution) lack the knowledge and skills to promote the significance and attraction of their research to the larger public and thus boost its legitimacy – what is probably due to its inherited tradition of being dependent on and working with top public authorities.

Others student groups described the similarities between sociology and astronomy, using Weber’s understanding of science as a vocation. They focused on the anthropology of scientific practices and turned their attention to problems that arose in this heterogeneous community by addressing a crisis that occurred during one of the observations, the ways of dealing with it and the links between the heterogeneous elements in the network by applying Latour’s Actor-Network Theory.

Many papers examined this scientific community as a network of actors, particularly with a focus on the interaction between humans and non-humans, highlighting the influence of change of equipment on the process of doing science. Finally, some papers traced the steps followed by an astronomer in order to reach his/her scientific goals, making visible the routes of translation in the work of the scientist, through the prism of Latour’s and Callon’s terminology, while simultaneously showing how science “reproduces” itself.