A collaborative turn in STS?

by Ignacio Farías

Maybe it’s just me, but my sense is that STS is not just thriving, but that this might also be related to wider transformations of what STS might involve as an intellectual practice.

There is indeed so much going on, wherever one looks. This becomes particularly evident when you check, for instance, publication initiatives. In the last one or two years, highly interesting new open-access STS publication projects have come to life, arguably changing the landscape of what it means to engage in STS writing. New journals, such as Engaging Science, Technology, and Society of the 4S, the new Catalyst Journal with a focus on feminist techno-science, or the Goldsmiths’ based Demonstrations journal are just some prominent examples. Our association journal Science and Technology Studies has recently increased the number of issues per year given the rapid increase in high quality submissions. Editorial projects, such as Mattering Press and meson press, are opening up new spaces and ways of conceiving of monographic books in STS.

At the EASST Review, the year couldn’t have begun better. For the first time since its launch, the Review has appointed an editorial board. It is composed by a fantastic group of STS scholars, including (alphabetically): Tomas S. Criado from Technical University of Munich, Andrei Kuznetzov from Tomsk University, Josefine Raasch from Ruhr-University Bochum, Vicky Singleton from Lancaster University and Niki Vermeulen from Edinburgh University. By the end of this year, Liliana Doganova from Mines ParisTech will also join the board. I’d like to officially welcome all of you and thank you in advance for the years to come. Indeed, whilst during the last year we have been making slight formal changes to the Review, also adding a couple of new sections (STS Multiple and Cherish, not Perish), the new editorial board will enable us to strengthen the Review as a key space for exchange, collaboration and reflection.

Or take STS events. The eurograd mailing list offers probably a good indicator that the number of STS events organized by individual ‘heroes’, research collectives, departments and national associations has not just significantly increased in the last couple of years, but also that the variety of techno-scientific issues addressed continues to expand at a fast pace. I think it is fair to say that the overwhelming number of submissions (more than 2500!) received for the ‘Science and Technology by other means’ EASST/4S Conference in Barcelona didn’t take that many by surprise – and not just because Barcelona is such a nice place to visit. Crucially important was, I think, the work put so far by the local organizing committee, especially in terms of proposing a set of questions that displace the study of science and technology to other sites and, most importantly, that invite us to explore our ethical and political commitments to those other means of thinking, researching and infrastructuring contemporary collectives. No wonder thus the major success, which from what I have heard and understood, is also due to the fact that such questions and commitments have also become of interest for researchers from other disciplines (designers, geographers, architects, etc.), as well as for concerned and activist groups.

Indeed, if one had to grasp the spirit of the many current STS initiatives in a diversity of fields, I would argue that the so much discussed ‘ontological turn’ is far from grasping what is currently going on. Rather, I would like to paraphrase a question posed by Antoine Hennion in a recent visit to Munich: ‘How can one engage in STS today if not collaboratively?’ Collaboration defines indeed a very specific mode of engaging in STS as an intellectual practice – somewhat different in spirit from the one STS developed in the early days, mostly oriented at turning radically upside down conventional understandings of scientific practice, research policy, technology design and development, techno-economic innovation systems, etc. This is arguably still today the most widespread mode of practicing STS. More recently, since the 1990s perhaps, we have witnessed an important transformation of STS, as it began to expand its theoretical insights, analytical perspectives and empirical sensibilities beyond science and technology to explore and engage with a number of other objects: arts, markets, government, design, care, disasters, cities, etc. STS, thus, entered a mode of not just opening up the back box of science and technology, but also of studying all sorts of phenomena across society. But what is now becoming apparent is again something different, namely, the consolidation of a collaborative mode of practicing STS involving committed action-research projects based on dialogue, mutual learning and caring relationships within heterogeneous collectives.

A collaborative STS is by no means a new intellectual practice per se. A short look at the long and powerful tradition of feminist technoscience suffices to understand that this has been an on-going concern since the early 1980s. But, as Mike Michael commented the other day, after the launch of our book Studio Studies at Goldsmiths, when you read the titles of the open-tracks for the Barcelona conference, you get the sense that what was for a long time a minoritarian position in STS has now become the new mainstream. Now, to be sure, if there ever was a mainstream we can join without any complexes, this is the one. Accordingly, my hope for the EASST Review is that it will increasingly become a space in which such committed and collaborative forms of STS could have a broader and stronger presence.