The Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network: Bridging North, South, East and West

Bridging North, South, East and West by Richard Hindmarsh, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia

The Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network:

Bridging North, South, East and West
In the previous EASST Review (Volume 31(2) June 2012: 1), Harro van Lente wrote about STS research and teaching in EASST being dominated by a Northern membership. An article in that issue introduced a focus on STS outside Europe, reporting on the ESOCITE emergence and experience of STS in South America. Here, I report on the Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network (APSTSN), which bridges northern and southern and western and eastern divides/perspectives dependent on geopolitics and international relations/political economy understandings, as well as geographical spatial understandings.

The creation of the APSTSN, however, was triggered at the 2008 4S-EASST Rotterdam conference, as a response to Karen Cronin (then at Environmental Science and Research, New Zealand) and I (Griffith University, Brisbane) enduring yet another long 25-30 hour flight to Europe (or alternatively the US). Staying at the same hotel we complained at breakfast the second day about how tired we were in attending yet another northern dominated STS conference as the leading global STS event. So we hatched the idea of co-founding an STS network in our immediate region for more accessible STS conferences that would also promote a unique interaction of STS perspectives to better represent Asia-Pacific STS perspectives and contribute more to the field globally. We floated the idea to colleague Rosemary Du Plessis (University of Canterbury. Christchurch), also attending the conference, and later that night, to senior UK researchers we knew and Taiwanese researchers we met at a dinner denoting an issue launch of the East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal. All were enthusiastic, with the latter also drawing our attention to the Taiwan STS Association.

Following the 4S-EASST conference, to ascertain any serious regional interest in the idea of a regional network, Karen, Rosemary and I organised the Towards STS Networking in the AsiaPacific Region Workshop (Victoria University of Wellington, 1‐2 December 2008). It attracted 45 participants from Japan, Singapore, China, Australia and New Zealand. Our keynote speaker was Professor Frank Fischer (USA). Highly enthusiastic about forming a Network, Karen and I were subsequently elected co-convenors of the new network for 2009. As Karen promoted the APSTSN I organised our 2009 inaugural conference ‘Our Lands, Our Waters, Our Peoples’. Our scope of invitation related to the ‘Asia-Pacific’ as encompassing littoral East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australasia near the Pacific Ocean plus the states in the ocean itself (Oceania).

In turn, our aim of STS inquiry for the conference was to encourage stronger STS networking across the region’s countries, disciplines, institutions and professional groups, and to foster new connections and deepen or broaden existing ones in relation to themes we had previously ascertained were strong regional ones. These included the environment, and sustainability transitions; regional cultures; indigenous people, science and technologies; life techno/sciences; governance, public policy, community and citizenship; utopia and dystopia: science and technology for the new millennium; and conceptual and methodological innovations.

One hundred and thirty scholars from eight countries attended the conference (see: The program featured six keynotes from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and Austria, and five special panels on mediating debates on emerging technologies; regional perspectives on technoscience engagement and citizenship; sustainability science and climate change, indigenous-led genomics, and the biopolitics of regenerative medicine; as well as 90 papers. Of a number of themes informing the conference, the most popular one was governance, citizenship, and public policy, followed by those of environment, the techno-sciences, and Indigenous STS perspectives. The latter was something that people really noticed. It was a valuable ‘point of difference’ from the foci of US and European forums. Indeed, at conference end, (Aotearoa NZ) Maori STS scholars stated firmly that this conference was the first organised by non-indigenous organisers that they had really enjoyed and that they were keen to play a key role in the Network’s development, which they have since done.

As elected convenor at the conference end for 2010 to mid-2012, and with Tomiko Yamaguchi (International Christian University, Tokyo) as co-convenor, we set about establishing the organisational infrastructure of the APSTSN with membership blossoming to over 80 post-conference. This included a website; a Steering Committee of members representing key STS clusters in the Network; an International Advisory Board of senior and eminent STS scholars; a Conference Coordination Committee; and a quarterly newsletter. Policy development included APSTSN conference guidelines; membership consent conditions for an online members’ directory and their profiling; Steering Committee online and email communication guidelines; and the major policy document of a Strategic Plan.

Following on from the inaugural 2009 biennial conference, a panel of 4 sessions (20 papers) was organised for an APSTSN meeting at the 4S/JSSTS Tokyo conference 2010; the second 2011 APSTSN biennial conference was then held at the Research Center for Science, Technology and Society, Northeastern University, Shenyang, China 17-19 July (with 160 participants); with four research workshops also held. In turn, four special journal issues have been produced as outcomes of these conferences and workshops. In 2012 our annual event was held in conjunction with the inaugural 2012 Science Policy Research Studies Conference (Victoria University of Wellington, NZ, 8-10 February). At this conference we held a visioning workshop to build the research capacity of the APSTSN over the next five years, with generous funding support from 4S. As convenor I also travelled to Taiwan, Japan and Singapore to promote the APSTSN and attend regional STS workshops to which I was invited, as well as a keynote speaker to four regional conferences in Taiwan and South Korea. For example, I attended a joint Workshop on key Asian STS and environmental issues (especially the Fukushima disaster) held by the National University of Singapore’ STS cluster and the Research Institute of STS (RISTEX), of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (December 2011). In addition, Emma Kowal represented the APSTSN at a recent workshop at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology/Martin Luther University (Halle-Wittenberg) to discuss establishing an AfricaSTS network, which is next being discussed at the Copenhagen 4S-EASST conference.

As of mid-2012, the membership of the APSTSN stood at over 230 members from 11 regional countries (with about 50% from Australasia and Oceania and 50% from Asia). Also included were some 20 external Asia Pacific members from Europe and the USA with these members either conducting research in or on the Asia pacific, or having a keen interest in Asia Pacific STS research. The second elected Steering Committee 2012-2014 is now in action headed by new convenor Emma Kowal (University of Melbourne) and co-convenor Jerome Whitington (STS cluster, National University of Singapore: NUS). The third biennial APSTSN conference is to be held at NUS, 15-17 July 2013; all are welcome to submit papers when advertised soon

In sum, the purpose and achievement of the APSTSN has been to provide opportunity to create and build a regional identity, perspective and capacity in STS theory and practice that complements, promotes and reinforces local STS associations and societies, regionally and internationally. It offers a conduit for regional networking, to enhance awareness across the region of the usefulness of STS research and policy links. It has also encouraged the emergence of a regional indigenous STS perspective.

Not a bad outcome to achieve from a tired breakfast cup of coffee at the 4S-EASST Rotterdam conference! Indeed, something very constructive for global STS in arguably, shifting contexts of centre-periphery.

Contact information: Dr Richard Hindmarsh,
Associate Professor
Environmental Politics, Policy and STS
Griffith School of Environment, and
Centre for Governance and Public Policy
Griffith University
Kessels Rd, Nathan 4111