Celebrating our former EASST president Prof. Ulrike Felt

EASST Council

Unfortunately, the last EASST council meeting organised and chaired by Ulrike Felt which was supposed to take place in Vienna last December, took place online instead due to the reinstatement of travel measures. To make sure to not just let this moment go by unnoticed, we want to mark the occasion by some words of thanks. We asked some witnesses for reflections on the important work Uli did for EASST as an association, both as its president and during earlier years including the organisation of the EASST meeting in Vienna. We hope you will join us in thanking her in person during the EASST meeting in Madrid.  


Message from the EASST Council: 

The EASST Council would like to thank prof. Ulrike Felt for having acted as President from 2017 to 2021. Thanks to her proactive thrust, organizational skills and contagious enthusiasm, Ulrike has shepherded the Council and the broader Association towards a new degree of professionalization. We will remember the warm welcomes at Council meetings where she never run off cakes or (when online) amusing jokes. While her Presidency has coincided with a difficult moment for EASST, the academic community and global health, she has managed to make the voice of the EASST community been heard amidst the pandemic turmoil. 

Thanks and good luck with your next adventures, Uli!

Screenshot from Uli’s last council meeting online


Message from Ignacio Farías, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
(former EASST council member and former editor of the EASST Review):

When Uli enters into a room, there is no way you can’t notice. There she comes, full of energy, ideas, positions, visions, jokes, and no matter how comfortable or tired or cozy or bored you were, doing whatever it was you were doing, you react, get activated, start to think with, along, otherwise – it doesn’t matter how exactly, what matters is the energizing momentum, the activation.

If this is what happens when she enters into a room, then imagine what happens when she takes over the direction of something: a journal, a department, a professional association like EASST. Things change and gain momentum. I’ve been lucky enough to be in such rooms with her and see things unfolding with my very own eyes.

During her tenure as a president of EASST, Uli put an incredible amount energy and enthusiasm in advancing the professionalization of our beloved EASST, but always finding the balance to maintain it as the infrastructure of intellectual friendship that it is. Squaring that circle has been a major accomplishment. As a former editor of the EASST Review, I’d like to thank her for all the support and trust, especially when it came to ensuring the necessary funding for the Review and opening up spaces for imagining its future.

On the funny side, perhaps EASST members should know that there was a time during her presidency, when Uli would regularly write emails to EASST council members urgently asking for money. You can imagine what happened. Yes, someone hacked the email account of the EASST presidency and, of course, how could it be different, it took ages to make it work again.

Dear Uli, I am looking forward to meeting and thanking you for all these years, when we all meet in Madrid, and I am especially curious to hear about your plans for continuing supporting the institutionalization of STS in Europe and abroad.


Message from Sally Wyatt, University of Maastricht (former EASST President): 

Night train to Vienna

I first met Ulrike during the EASST-4S conference in Vienna in 2000. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do remember that meeting Ulrike contributed to my general feeling of being completely overwhelmed by the numbers of people, variety of panels and presentations. It was the first time I attended a joint meeting of the associations, and it may well have been my first trip to Vienna. 

I found the university itself overwhelming, and I couldn’t navigate the space. So I picked a meeting room that was near the entrance, toilets and coffee, and waited to be educated, informed and sometimes entertained by a variety of STS colleagues on a huge range of topics. I still do this sometimes at a big conference. It’s not a bad strategy. I am rarely disappointed by what I hear, and certainly not more than I would be if I had deeply studied the programme.
Maybe I just looked very lost, but somewhere in that first day, I bumped into Ulrike. She must have been completely up to her eyes in mislaid registrations, disgruntled participants, double-booked rooms, coffee that arrived in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her energy was palpable, and she was completely unflappable. She made me feel as if the most important thing in the world to her at that moment was that I was having an interesting time, and that eventually I would dare to leave my comfortable meeting room near the entrance to find where my own presentation was to be held.
Since then, I have had the enormous honour and pleasure to work with Ulrike on a couple of research projects, teach in the STS group, take part in the Raach writing retreat, and contribute to the STS Handbook 4th Edition. Once we were both part of a EU Commission advisory group, and for me it was the first time. Again, Ulrike helped me to navigate that strange bureaucratic process. The breadth of Ulrike’s knowledge, her sense of humour, and her apparently limitless energy made her an excellent EASST president, including during a couple of difficult corona years.


Message from Alan Irwin, Copenhagen Business School:

’no hay camino, se hace camino al andar’ (Antonio Machado)
‘there is no path, the path is made by walking’

I won’t pretend that Spanish poetry is my area of expertise. But I do like this quotation. And it’s a rather good characterization of Uli Felt. Whether as EASST President, the head of a major European STS centre, producing influential European reports or organising the famous Vienna 4S/EASST conference, Uli keeps walking and she keeps making new paths. 

At times, the STS community has asked whether we really need a European space for our activities. Aren’t we all global these days? For me, Uli is the positive embodiment of a European intellectual spirit: alert to our differences as well as similarities; working to make European institutions open to our contributions; recognizing that there are strands of European culture and European history which can caution, challenge, provoke and inspire us. 

With Uli also comes conviviality and a sense of mischief – plus the irrepressible urge to laugh out loud. I have learnt that it can be disruptive, even dangerous, to sit next to her in the conference room. Of course, I do it anyway.

All this means that Uli was the perfect choice to serve as EASST President. And now we thank her for encouraging us to walk forward and for reminding us about what, despite everything, we have in common. Let Uli and EASST keep making that path.


Message from Rob Hagendijk, University of Amsterdam:


I’ve known Uli since she invited me for a workshop on ‘public understanding of science’ she organized in Vienna. The workshop was exciting, Vienna was wonderful and Uli deeply impressed me with her unique and joyful combination of intellectual ambition, organizational abilities and – above all- her excellent sense of humor, sharp eye for people and her unmatched ability for infectious laughter. In the margin of the meeting I also started to grasp her taste for good food, nose for enjoyable wineries and biergartens, and also her love for chats about stuff to read, items to pursue and authors to follow. Somebody to stay in touch with and to meet more often. EASST became a defining element for that. Starting when we met again as members of the EASST council under Aant Elzinga’s leadership. 

Late 2021 she stepped down as EASST’s ninth president and after twenty-five years serving EASST. A remarkable accomplishment, as the society exists only forty years. Alongside her involvement in EASST, Uli also managed to establish her own department, served as a Dean in her university, was an advisor to the EU science policy process, editor of STHV and of the fourth edition of the 4S Handbook. She attended an endless number of meetings, preferably in attractive locations and associated possibilities to enjoy cultural and other interesting events. And, in between, she of course supported her steady growing flock of PhD students, helping her PhDs forward with the work to be done and more. The steady flow of reports and articles to be published continues to flow out of her computer.

EASST and 4S have amply profited from her ability to handle ‘fun’ and  ‘trouble’ of all sorts. A major proof of her mettle became the 4S/EASST Conference in Vienna in 2000. Uli was the chair of the local organizing and of the program committee. She had already started to raise funds, reserved hotel space and meeting rooms. And then, Austria tumbled into a deep political crisis. Jörg Haider’s  extreme right-wing party won the elections and became a defining element of the new government coalition. It reminded many of the Nazification of Austria in the 1930’s. Protests erupted and the Ring in front of the main university building became the venue where activists met and marched. International scientific societies, professional associations and others started to cancel meetings. Members of 4S and EASST questioned whether we should not do the same in support of the protests.  

Uli, politically savvy as always, was shocked and in splits over what to do.  She contacted us, that is Sheila Jasanoff, the acting president of 4S, and me as the EASST president, for consultation. Together we agreed on a plan. If consultation of the members of both societies would show sufficient backing Uli c.s. would press forward with a conference at which support for the progressive and democratic forces in Austria would be a major constitutive element. And so it happened. Uli’s presence, leadership, efforts, secure hands and cool mind were key in that. 

So, both societies owe her – and her family!- hugely. Unfortunately, thanking her in person  was not possible at the EASST/4S conference in Prague, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s hope we’ll have a chance to do that in Madrid, in Uli’s signature style.


Message from Martina Erlemann, Freie Universität Berlin:

I thought over the 4S/EASST in Vienna in 2000 where I have been involved in the organisation as a then doctoral student but cannot recall some details of the conference organisation. But one for me personally remarkable challenge of that conference which Uli fabulously mastered was how she navigated the upcoming conference against the background of the change of government in Austria. The political change with the right-wing populist party as coalition partner in the beginning 2000 apparently produced some worries within the STS community if Vienna would really be a suitable location for the upcoming 4S/EASST. Here Uli argued in the spirit of “now more than ever” that Vienna would be the right place for an STS conference, since it is precisely the approaches of STS that enable a critique and scrutiny of technoscientific worlds and their entanglements with politics. And finally the conference has been a huge success.


Message from Mike Michael, University of Exeter:

I can’t really write in detail about Uli’s many contributions to EASST other than to say that she has been central to the society’s development from strength to strength over the past several years. 

However, I can offer a more impressionistic account of her presence at conferences. At the EASST and EASST/4S conferences, she seems always to be in motion – a whirlwind of greetings, welcomes, encouragements, and slyly humourous asides. In my mind’s eye she is always surrounded by a group of people to whom she dispenses wisdom, inspiration, praise and critique. And all this is wrapped up with deep humanity, and a dose of scepticism to remind us of the challenges posed by our institutional and political worlds. In these respects, she shares her immense energy with the delegates, not least early career colleagues: at base, her presence adds immeasurably to the collegial and intellectual atmosphere of a conference. 

However, there is also a dark side: the fear she generates in the panel sessions. There she sits in the audience, silent and attentive, biding her time. At the end of the talk, her hand goes up – perhaps a little too quickly – and she asks the most outrageously pithy and pitiless question, needlessly laced with erudition and critical insight. It goes without saying that I’m not speaking from experience, and I’ve certainly not had to re-think an entire paper on the basis of her intervention that I never received. What so many of us witness in these terrible moments is Uli’s brilliance as a scholar, and her spectacular ability to cut to the core of a presentation and usefully – and with copious amounts of care, of course – reframe its matters of concern. For all these things (and many others), thank you Uli!