On the Geographies of STS

On the Geographies of STS

A Brief Introduction.

One day of EASST’s most recent council meeting was devoted to the various national and regional STS networks around Europe. Eleven (11) national and regional networks were represented, in one way or another. Some had sent representatives, some were present in that one or more members happened to also be members of council. Still, eleven is not the complete set of such networks around Europe.

The main part of that day’s meeting was a presentation round, first introducing each network in terms of its size, functions, structure and history, then presenting key concerns the respective networks are dealing with currently.

It was striking how different these networks are. For instance, the Dutch network arose out of a national policy some years back of organizing PhD programs through national thematic and/or disciplinary networks. An STS network was formed across multiple universities and has since been operating a series of post-graduate courses and summer schools. Many STSers have participated in one or more of these summer schools, which are obligatory for Dutch PhD students but also open to students from other countries. Thanks to this role, the Dutch network is well-funded. But at the same time, it does not have the grassroots, activist style of, say, the Spanish network (see their presentation in this issue).

Besides the locally specific academic and/or public functions of the networks, they tended to share one difference from EASST: Their activities are grounded in their respective national languages. We (and not only those of us who are native speakers of English) tend to think that more or less all European academics are sufficiently fluent in English that cross-national academic communications can flow freely in that language. Well, that may be so, but language is the tool with which we think and create, and we are best at those things in the language we grew up speaking and the language we currently use in the greatest variety of settings.

Turning that claim around for a moment, I can offer a personal example. I came to Norway in 1969 and learned the basics of Norwegian in a 2-month intensive course. Then I started attending university in Norwegian. Through determined refusal to speak English and equally determined immersion into Norwegian (leaving a radio on the national station from dawn ‘til midnight, taping lectures and listening to them repeatedly, signing on to a book club and reading through what most Norwegians had read in school, etc.) I was quite fluent by year 2. From then on I took my exams in Norwegian, taught school in Norwegian, did my research in Norwegian, and so on. I was told that my research reports were particularly clear and well-written. Then one day, in about year 15, I was invited to write a journal article in English. What a difference! I could be clear in Norwegian, but in my native language I could be playful, I could make new discoveries even as I wrote by twisting simple statements into metaphors and thinking through them. Now when my PhD students realize that they need to publish in English, I have two pieces of advice for them:

First, write like Hemmingway. Keep your sentences clear and simple. Use clear images as thinking tools. Don’t think you have to write convoluted sentences just to appear intellectual.

Second, do at least some of your writing in your native language, especially if it’s a language I too can read and therefore can still offer supervision. You’ll find you do your best thinking when writing in your native tongue. Find settings where you can present and discuss in your native tongue too. When you’re happy with what you’ve worked out, you can go back to advice point one and translate for publication in English, or some other language with a global reach.

So … returning to the theme of national and regional networks: Besides their various other functions relating to local circumstances (economic crises, academic structural demands, historical discipline structures, and so on), such networks also serve to enrich STS thinking, stretching our imaginations by utilizing the full potential of our language experience from infancy to academe.

EASST council therefore does not view national and regional networks as rivals within the STS field, but as natural allies. EASST is happy to have provided “seed money” for initial meetings of several of the national and regional networks, and is now looking into further ways of linking with such networks for mutual benefit.

The next issue of EASST Review is being planned as a thematic issue, focusing on national and regional networks. We are anticipating a number of network presentation pieces, but as we now publish on-line and have no page restrictions, please feel free to submit more! Contributions should be sent to the editor (me, annrs@svt.ntnu.no) by the first week of March. Meanwhile, enjoy the following report from the Spanish national STS network’s third meeting, and view their video from that meeting on-line at


Other EASST news in this issue: EASST has contributed to the launch of a new open-source publishing channel for books – Mattering Press. And by all means take note of two important EASST deadlines: First, the call for tracks for our 2014 conference in Torun. That deadline has now been extended but is still only a few weeks away. The length of a track abstract has also been reduced to 250 words. So make the most of those Winter holidays to put in a submission. Second, we repeat the call for nominations to our three prizes for community-building efforts.

The deadline there is longer, but we don’t want you to forget!