Methods, forms and norms
Gazing at the stars
We had the honour and pleasure of being entrusted with organising a sub-plenary session for the 2022 EASST Conference. The official title of the session was ‘Techno-science fictional futures: Methods, forms, norms’, but this can also be formulated as a haiku (see above). The aim of the sub-plenary was to stimulate the individual and collective imagination of STS scholars through paying attention to and engaging with poetic, literary, and artistic renderings of techno-scientific futures. Our invited guests – Katja Mayer (University of Vienna), Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (University of Westminster) and Laura Watts (University of Edinburgh) – certainly succeeded in realising that aim with their spectacular performances.
We know that scientific and speculative fictions (SSF) are a source of visions and imaginaries for scientists, engineers and others. Many STS students are avid readers and watchers of science fiction. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as SSF is a way of imagining other worlds, of representing alternative engagements with technoscience, and of expressing different ontological orderings. All of these are matters of concern for the STS community. SSF, especially when written as creative non-fiction, can also be a method and device for STS scholars to engage with interlocutors during fieldwork and with wider audiences, including people in their roles as citizens, workers, patients, artists or policy makers. (See, for example, Maguire, Watts & Ross Winthereik, 2021; Shaviro, 2021; Woolgar, Vogel, Moats & Helgesson, 2021.)
EASST members are very creative, so as part of the session, we also decided to hold a competition, inviting those planning to attend the conference to send us their poems, flash fictions and short stories. It was a real joy to read the material that people submitted. Those who did emphasised the pleasure they had in this creative writing and in participating in this experimental competition. This was all very gratifying for us as organisers, but it was also rather worrying because it raises questions about the state of academic publishing. Luckily, STS journals and book publishers are more tolerant than much of academia. However, there is evidence that articles in the leading STS journals have become more homogenous in form (including length, numbers of references) over the past years, perhaps due to the rise of quantified assessment practices (Kaltenbrunner, Birch, van Leeuwen & Amuchastegui, 2022). STS has had its more adventurous moments such as when it experimented with the literary turn, radical reflexivity and experimenting with form (see, for example, Ashmore, 1989; Mol, 2003; Rappert, 2009; Woolgar, 1988).
The sub-plenary and the competition were ways to celebrate the creativity of our community and its desire to communicate, and to remind ourselves that writing poetry and short stories, as fiction or creative non-fiction, always helps us to write better traditional academic texts and to think otherwise. Other forms of writing and representation open up new possibilities for research, representation, collaboration, and maybe even better worlds.
We are very grateful to the EASST Council for supporting this experiment, and hope they will find ways to continue to support similar initiatives in the future. We are also grateful to Andreas, Katja and Laura for helping us to judge the entries and declare the winners. Bristol University Press, Goldsmiths Press and Mattering Press generously provided some of their own creative books as prizes. Most of all, we would like to thank everyone who participated for their boldness and creativity.
It is our pleasure to present the full texts of the winning entries and the honourable mentions in this issue of EASST Review. We hope you enjoy reading them.
Ashmore, Malcolm (1989) The Reflexive Thesis. Wrighting Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. University of Chicago Press.
Kaltenbrunner, Wolfgang, Kean Birch, Thed van Leeuwen, and Maria Amuchastegu (2022, 28 July) Changing Publication Practices and the Typification of the Journal Article in Science and Technology Studies. Social Studies of Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/03063127221110623.
Maguire, James, Watts, Laura & Ross Winthereik, Brit (eds) (2021) Energy Worlds in Experiment. Mattering Press.
Mol, Annemarie (2003) The Body Multiple. Ontology in Medical Practice. Duke University Press.
Rappert, Brian (2009) Experimental Secrets. International Security, Codes, and the Future of Research. University Press of America.
Shaviro, Steven (2021) Extreme Fabulations. Science Fictions of Life. Goldsmiths Press.
Woolgar, Steve, Vogel, Else, Moats, David & Helgesson, Claes-Fredrik (eds) (2021) The Imposter as Social Theory. Thinking with Gatecrashers, Cheats and Charlatans. Bristol University Press.
Woolgar, Steve, ed. (1988) Knowledge and Reflexivity. SAGE.