Organising STS

Organising STS


Increasingly often scholars who are working in the larger STS centres are visited and interviewed by younger colleagues who are interested in mapping the scholarly history of STS. Our field has reached a stage where there is a need to define it, not only in terms of its empirical fields and theoretical approaches, but as a tradition. This work of identification is accompanied by louder and louder voices discussing how the future of STS will and should look. Arguments and disagreements often pivot around the issue of institutionalisation: should we strive for institutionalising STS as a field with degrees, professorships and an acknowledged status throughout the academic fields, or will such stratification restrict the creative theoretical and empirical nerve of STS, which flourishes at its best in open-minded and unconstrained networks? Sheila Jasanoff (2010) has metaphorically described a similar distinction as one between STS as an autonomous island coalescing out of an archipelago of knowledge-making, with its own native habits of production and trading or as a program of interstate highway constructions among existing disciplinary states.

For some thirty years STS has been primarily a heterogeneous group of scholars coming together to share their common enthusiasm and insights in the study of science and technology. Maybe we are still such a bunch, but we are also professors teaching STS, we are researchers searching for young scholars to continue and develop the work we have started, we are actors on the labour market looking for STS vacancies, we are applicants who want to see STS projects funded, and we are members of departments wishing that the journals in which we publish will be ranked at the top in the bibliometic system of our country or our discipline. We are also authors feeling exploited by commercial publishing houses which are profiting economically from the hard work we put into our books and articles and we are experts saddened to see scholars in the broader fields of social sciences and humanities expressing their views on science and technology in ways which we feel are inferior to the explanations we could have given, had we ourselves been consulted, etc.

This loosely associated group of scholars has not only become larger and its scholars grown older. We have become bound up in the increasing complexity of structural constraints in the contemporary academic world. Many of us are involved in organising infrastructures for STS to meet the diverse needs that have developed over the years. Sometimes such efforts are co-ordinated more broadly, and sometimes they are the result of either individual activity or of local groups. Even though a view-from-above makes some major accomplishments visible – such as the international ESST masters degree and the STS representation in the ERC – the various efforts to develop our field seem rather randomly scattered across the European landscape.

In 2010 the EASST Council hosted a meeting of representatives of STS associations and other similar interested groups from most European countries to discuss the position in the different national situations. These situations are indeed extremely diverse. Some countries have few competing centres, others are characterised by networks of smaller groups. In some countries it is possible to gain STS degrees; some have professorships and STS scholars represented on academic political bodies. In some countries STS is primarily represented by senior academics while in others early career scholars are the most active. Some national academic systems categorise STS as an established scholarly field, while other more disciplinary oriented systems have no category into which STS can possibly be fitted. In some countries STS scholars tend to prefer a situation of loose networks, while in others they strive for institutionalisation.

As is often the case in Europe, different national situations create different needs and require different types of solutions. There does not seem to be any one solution as the best way forward for STS in the European countries, whether by institutionalisation or through networks. For either way of developing STS nationally, increasing visibility and broader acknowledgement of STS on a cross-national European level seem beneficial. The EASST Council over the past few years has taken steps in this direction, some of which will be launched in 2012. Among these is the introduction of three new awards. The awards are meant to support and acknowledge scholars in our field who have engaged in particularly productive ways to enhance the field of STS. Just as important as the awards is the need to increase awareness of STS as a field in its own right. Apart from paying tribute to the individuals receiving the rewards and to the activities for which they are awarded, awards draw attention to the awarding organisation. We all gain from being in a field that has awards as instruments to increase visibility and acknowledgement of the field. The awards were introduced in the last issue of the EASST Review and the procedure for applications will be available shortly. In subsequent Reviews there will be launches of more measures taken by the EASST Council to both create visibility and also offer support for whatever strategies are followed nationally and regionally to organise the field.

STS has moved from its initial start-up endeavour to becoming a consolidated field in Europe. It is exciting to be part of this important development. Decisions to be taken over the coming decade about the ways to organise STS will be decisive for how our field will develop in Europe. In this process it will be imperative that lively discussions and ideas and experiences are shared in our field about the way forward for STS in Europe. The cover image of this Review suggests metaphorically that a combination of an archipelago island and interregional highway constructions is indeed thinkable.