EASST and National STS Associations Strengthen Links and Discuss Collaborative Activities
Attendees EASST: Fred Steward (President), Harro van Lente (Treasurer), Estrid Sørensen (Secretary), Attila Bruni, Pierre-Benoit Joly, Marton Fabok, Ignacio Farias, Maja Horst, Sampsa Hyysalo (S&TS journal), Ann Rudinow Sætnan (EASST Review), Sonia Liff (EASST Office).
Apologies Laura Watts, Krzysztof Abriszewski (EASST 2014 Conference)
Attendees National Associations: Cornelius Schubert (German STS – Gesellschaft fur Wissenschaft und Technikforschung), Paolo Volonté & Manuela Perrotta (STS Italia), Daniel Fernandez Pascual & Nerea Calvillo (Network for Social Studies of Science and Technology of the Spanish State (eSCTS)), Ashveen Peerbaye (IFRIS – Institute Francilien Research, Innovation and Society), Sally Wyatt (WTMC (Netherlands Graduate Research School of Science, Technology and Modern Culture)), Nicholas Stücklin (Switzerland STS), Marija Brajdic Vukovic (STS Croatia), Robin Williams (Assist, UK), Sampsa Hyysalo (The Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies),
Apologies Danish Association for Science and Technology Studies (DASTS) (written input provided & contribution from Maja Horst).
Fred Steward, EASST President, welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending. He then outlined the background and purpose of the meeting:
The aim of the meeting is to have an open dialogue about the ways STS are being organised around Europe and to share the challenges that are faced. EASST convened a similar meeting of national STS associations in 2010. This was in response to what then appeared to be the emergence of STS national groupings in Europe. EASST, as the body with a mission to promote & represent STS at the European level, was interested in exploring whether it would be beneficial to strengthen links between these organisations and EASST, and to work together on shared issues facing the field. One of the issues discussed in 2010 was the existence of journals with a national focus which could assume a more international role. The former Finnish STS journal has in the meantime become the EASST house journal, Science and Technology Studies. STS is growing in Europe, institutional affiliations are becoming more diverse. Many members in the field are not working in major STS centres, so it is important to establish a context for these people via national and international STS organisations.
1. Reports from National Associations
(associations were asked to provide a short summary of their organisations covering issues such as type of organisation, membership, main activities, and the issues facing STS in their country).
Switzerland: The Swiss association (http://www.sagw.ch/sts-ch.html ) has 130 paid up members and this is on the increase. The range of STS interests and activity is also increasing. Switzerland STS is a member of Swiss Academy of Humanities and is not directly state subsidised, but can obtain state contributions for scientific events. Philosophy, history and sociology of science are not always related to STS so the organisation tries to make events to attract them. Martina Merz was the long term President of the organisation but has recently stepped down. Lausanne and Zurich are currently the largest STS centres. EPFL-Lausanne has a new Chair for Science Studies. However Basel is closing its STS department. There is a lot of change in the Swiss STS community: people leaving the country, changing fields, young people joining. In the past much STS focus was on physics and chemistry but is now more on biomedicine / body issues. There is also activity in Zürich and Bern around aesthetic practices. The organisation has a forthcoming Swiss STS meeting in Lausanne in 2014 with a focus on Big Data.
Finland: Finnish STS (http://www.fssts.fi/index.php?page=main-page ) is a member of the Society of Scientific Associations. History of Technology has its own association. FSTS has about 100 members and membership has fluctuated around this level for a time. There are about 60 – 70 active researchers. Members come from many different centres and cover a great diversity of interests. Finland has one STS professorship. Tampere is the largest centre. Helsinki Institute for STS was discontinued in a general round of University cuts. FSTS activities include: an annual national conference and a bi-annual international conference. The conference on Energy & Society 2012 had 100 participants and has led to a special issue of S&TS with 25 article contributions. Science Studies Journal has been relaunched as S&TS. Its first year as the EASST journal has been promising: downloads have gone up by 1/3, submissions up by 1/3. S&TS is indexed in Scopus and in the process of getting indexed in SSCI.
Netherlands: WTMC, the Netherlands Graduate Research School of Science, Technology and Modern Culture (http://www.wtmc.eu/ ) has been in existence for 26 years. It started off as a network but is now a formal organisation, with approximately 120 academic and 50 doctoral student members. Its formal status as a graduate school is accredited by the NL Academy of Science. As such its main task is to provide doctoral training. Members have to be actively doing research and the supervisors of PhD student members must also be members. All 12 Dutch universities have members. Universities pay a total of 6000 Euros for a PhD student’s membership of WTMC (which covers training). A major activity is the WTMC Summer School where prominent international STS scholars give classes. There are also regular STS Workshops (next one in April on scientific fraud and integrity), plus one-day events for advanced PhD students to discuss work-in-progress. A PhD student has to attend 2 summer schools and 4 workshops. The organisation is financially sound and able to offer financial support for workshops and funds to enable PhD students from other countries to attend WTMC events. Despite this strong record and formal accreditation, Science, technology and innovation studies is not recognised by the NL research council as a subject area. WTMC has tried to raise this but without success so far. Declining research funding is not yet a problem, but might become so. In terms of the subject area, study of the history and philosophy of science and technology is part of WTMC but the sociology of science and technology (particularly around work) is less visible. The role of science, technology & innovation studies in broader society is being discussed. The inclusion of innovation studies did cause some controversy in the past but is now a well-established part of WTMC.
Croatia: A new STS section of the Croatian Sociological Association has been formed recently. There has been a history of STS research in Croatia going back 40 years tied mostly to the sociological community. Because of the new science policies combined with austerity measures, the older generation of scholars is now at the age of the (forced) retirement or not very far from it. In the 1990s there were restrictions on hiring new staff in science and higher education. Because of this, a ‘middle generation’ of scholars is almost completely missing, creating a gap between young and older scholars in an otherwise also small and unconnected community. There is a new science policy era where it is necessary to apply for big studies and to collaborate or change field. Out of this, the STS section was established. The first meeting took place 2013 during a workshop on qualitative methods in STS supported by EASST and attended by 23 scholars from different fields from Croatia and Slovenia. Fifteen people (Including a physicist and an economist) attended the STS section launch meeting (membership will not be limited to sociologists) including a colleague from Slovenia. Participants voiced concerns about being invisible in policy boards. Ideas do not get transferred due to lack of communication. A science, technology and policy meeting will take place soon, with invited colleagues having their own round tables on their own topics, which it is hoped will create more interest, and grow the association.
Germany: GWTF (Gesellschaft für Wissenschaft und Technikforschung – Society for Science and Technology Studies) – www.gwtf.de – was founded in the mid 1990s alongside the already existing section of Science and Technology Studies in the German Sociological Association. The aim was to give more space for the younger scholars, to take care of newcomers in the field, and to offer a place for interdisciplinary exchange. There is an annual conference where the topics seek to span the diverse fields of science and technology as well as history/sociology/philosophy. Conferences in Berlin typically draw a larger crowd than when it is held elsewhere, due to the higher concentration of STS scholars. Between conferences the society communicates via a Mailing-list with around 500 members. In 2012 the society started providing grants for PhD workshops at about 600 Euros. Other German STS activities are an English language journal: Science, Technology and Innovation Studies which is online and peer-reviewed and the German STS Blog at www.dests.de. The institutional development of STS is mixed. In 2012 Bielefeld’s STS-department closed down with historians, philosophers, and sociologists returning to their background-disciplines. As a result of the shut-down, a new centre called I²SoS (Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of Science) emerged and a young scholars and students network was established – INSIST, www.insist-network.com. There are still STS courses including: Berlin HU/TU and Bielefeld. The STS denominated Professorship in Munich with Sabine Maasen provides a context for building up a centre for STS, recently advertising 4 new STS professorships. In Freiburg, a new STS professorship was also recently advertised. STS is in Germany typically tends more towards science studies than to technology studies and there are individual disciplinary associations respectively covering the historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives on science and technology. Several professorships across Germany have or favour STS perspectives, even if not advertised explicitly as such. Despite several setbacks, STS ideas are growing and becoming accepted in other parts of the scientific community. STS related work is being done in centres such as the ITAS in Karlsruhe (technology assessment), the HIS-HF in Hannover (higher education), or the iFQ in Berlin (research information) and several more which cannot be named here.
France: There are different bodies that might “represent” STS in France, but none at the national level. IFRIS (Institute for Research and Innovation and Society – http://ifris.org) is a network of different organisations, but it brings together research units in Paris and surrounding areas only. The closest to a professional association for French STS is the STS network of the French Sociological Association (RT29, one of 40 thematic networks of the association). RT29 is a spin-off of a research committee of the International Association of French-speaking Sociologists, which has since 2004 become quite autonomous. It has a board of 12 members, and academy members mostly with a background in sociology. The main activity of the network is to organise sessions at the national sociology association conferences. In both 2011 & 2013 there were 6 STS sessions. There was an STS meets Communication studies event in 2012 in Belgium. The network also organises PhD workshops. The main problematic issue for STS in France is its weak institutionalisation. There is no national association and no French academic journal devoted to STS per se (the Société d’Anthropologie des Connaissances and its journal Revue d’Anthropologie des Connaissances come close, but have a much wider perimeter). There are no professorships in STS as such. STS teaching programmes exist mostly in engineering schools and grandes écoles, but are almost unheard of in universities (the STS programme in Strasbourg being a notable exception). This has led to a lack of visibility and awareness. Moreover, many academics still tend to associate STS solely with ANT, and tend to dwell on outdated debates (realism vs. relativism for instance), ignoring the diversity of theoretical approaches and empirical work that has been accumulating in the field these last decades. There still is little discussion of recent literature published in English language STS journals. There is nonetheless a growing trend in French participation in international STS events. However, despite the fact that the new generation of doctoral students is very interested in STS, they still remain very fragmented in terms of disciplines and are not well acquainted with each other’s work. Building an STS doctoral community is a major challenge for the future.
Denmark: DASTS (Danish Association for Science and Technology Studies – www.dasts.dk) was formed in 2006. It now has more than 400 members (who do not pay a membership fee but join by signing up to a news-feed). DASTS operates a blog/homepage, which posts Danish STS events and news at an average rate of 1 per week. (www.dasts.dk). DASTS has held an annual conference since 2007. The attendance has been between 50 and 80. DASTS also publishes an online journal – STS Encounters – which is peer-reviewed, good quality and a good place for Ph.D.-students to publish their first paper. Danish STS has gained considerable institutional momentum in the past decade. 4 BA and 5 MA programmes are more or less centrally based on STS scholarship and perspectives. Three universities participate in the international STS master education (ESST). There are at least 7 research groups with a considerable presence of STS at Danish Universities, and at least 5 Danish professors would label themselves as STS researchers. The institutional momentum has enabled Danish STS to play a role in international collaboration. Most visibly, the EASST/4S conference was held at Copenhagen Business School in 2012. From 2013 and onwards every second of the national DASTS conference will be held jointly with the other Nordic countries. The topical range of Danish STS research has also grown and expanded in the last decade. Initially, human-computer interaction was the dominant field. Very soon a broader interest in technologies of organizing and innovation followed, along with public engagement of science. Perhaps somewhat peculiar to Denmark, researchers concerned with education, pedagogy and psychology have turned to STS. Medical STS has established itself as a very large area of research. In the past few years, research groups strongly inspired by STS have been established focusing on the societal challenges of ageing and of sustainable transition. Finally and most recently, ‘big data’, surveillance issues and digital methods have gained much attention from Danish STS researchers. As this sketchy account of the topical expansion indicates, Danish STS has newly established itself as a distinct discipline strictly demarcated from other disciplines. Danish STS has grown and established its widespread presence and institutional foothold through collaboration with a range of other disciplines. This form of development is a great strength, since it generates many allies (and many jobs) for Danish STS researches, but it is also a great weakness since it requires constant work to hold together and develop the discipline. In this respect DASTS continues to play an important role.
UK: The Association for Studies of Innovation, Science and Technology (AsSIST) was established in 1996. Given the failure of earlier national membership organisations in the UK it was agreed to constitute AsSIST as an organisation representing the many larger research centres in the field. AsSIST operates as a virtual organisation – using email to exchange information and coordinate responses to developments in the field. A main focus has been in lobbying about research policy issues with research and funding councils (particularly over the UK research excellence programmes). In the UK there has from the outset been a range of strong centres across STS and innovation studies including Edinburgh, London, Lancaster, Manchester, Brighton (and their size offset pressure to set up a membership organisation). Consideration is being given to establishing a new organisation structure that can involve a wider range of scholars including people in smaller centres or individuals working alone in an STS/IS tradition (maybe membership based). This may result annual conferences and stronger collaboration around doctoral training. UK Higher Education is not rigidly organised around disciplinary structures in part because universities have a high degree of autonomy – creating a chair and appointing is a very local decision. STS and IS centres often cut across disciplinary structures within universities – and have to build a home at the interface. There has been quite a lot of reorganisation of small departments into bigger ones which has affected some STS groups. In some cases STS has found a happy home in partnership with sociology. However the groups that are in innovation studies are more likely to find themselves in business schools which are more wary about the future of STS (and the Research Excellence Framework presents particular challenges for them). Through the research council, ESRC, doctoral centres are set up regionally (e.g. Edinburgh trains all STS scholars in Scotland; White Rose covers Yorkshire). The field has benefitted from sustained research funding from Economic and Social Research Council but also other research councils (notably the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council) and cross-council initiatives (eg Digital Economy).
Hungary: The positive context is that Hungary has some history of STS including hosting an EASST conference in Budapest in 1994. There are generally strict disciplinary boundaries in social sciences, and STS has tended to be closest to philosophy of science approaches or sociology of science. There are two revenant departments, one at the Technical University of Budapest and the other at the Faculty of Sciences, ELTE Budapest. Their profile is rather based on philosophy and history of science with a focus on teaching history of science to scientists. In the field of sociology there has been an uptake of Latour, and social construction of science and technology. STS is often seen as a specialisation within sociology. In addition, there are few people abroad who do STS as PhD students or more established researchers. There are currently moves to strengthen the field in Hungary. First STS Workshop is to be held in a few weeks covering issues such as: What is STS, how does it relate to social science, what is its contribution, what is STS in an Eastern European context, how to look at STS in this context, what is next? At least 30 participants expected to the workshop from different backgrounds. The intention is to focus on dialogue, trying to build up links, not confine STS as a specialised discipline. The event is expected to create a loose network of academics working in different disciplines, including an email list. There are no plans currently for a membership organisation. Goal is to put STS on the map. It’s worth to mention that the Europe Institute of Innovation and Technology is based in Hungary, but it is isolated from Hungarian academia and policy.
Spain: Network for Social Studies of Science and Technology of the Spanish State (Red eSCTS) –http://redescts.wordpress.com/about/– has anetwork, horizontal structure with no directive committee. It is based on collaborative discussions and actions. Decisions are taken on an everyday basis. The group has a stable structure and yet it does not belong to a formal institution nor has a formal membership. There is an active mailing list, with around 190 members, covering news, jobs, papers, etc. The network started mainly from the social sciences. Anthropology and sociology are background disciplines for STS, which has, however, no proper institutional context. One of the main priorities of the network is to engage STS with other disciplines and extra-academic people. A meeting, whose registration is always free, is held once a year, since in 2011. The last meeting was in Barcelona: 178 participants: architects, hackers, social activists, public servants, sociologists, anthropologists. As a result of growing participation of people from outside Spain, the Network has formally decided to drop the “Spanish” definition in its title, which now reads, “Network for the Social Studies of Science and Technology”. The next annual meeting will be in Salamanca in June 2014. The network is committed to the idea of being as experimental as possible, not only in its content but also in its format. The network also maintains horizontal links with STS scholars in other countries.
Italy: STS Italia – The Italian Society of Science and Technology Studies (www.stsitalia.org/?lang=en ) – was founded in 2005 by established scholars in the STS field. There was no tradition of the field, but in a few years there was a growth of interest among young scholars as well as in the general society. STS Italia is a multidisciplinary society, although the majority of current members are sociologists. The larger groups of STS scholars work at the Universities of Padua and Trento, while all the other members are distributed throughout the country. Paid membership of STS Italia varies between 40 and 160 (fluctuating up and down). Every two years the society organises an international conference. The EASST conference in 2010 was a turning point for the organisation. The conference led to recognition outside the STS network. Other activities include a mailing list where news items can be posted; annual workshops and similar activities. Every other year there is an international summer school. The society has a journal: Tecnoscienza, Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies, now at its 4th publication year. Almost all content is in English language. The STS field in Italy is underdeveloped outside academia. There is no awareness of STS in terms of public engagement or public understanding of science; and no involvement within scientific advisory boards. Even within the academic sphere the STS field does not have strong recognition as Italian academia is organised according to traditional disciplines. Therefore, there is little acknowledgement for interdisciplinary fields and this makes it particularly difficult for STS to find new space inside Italian universities. As a result, STS Italia is the core locus where many young scholars working in different disciplines, especially early career researchers and doctoral students, can find recognition. It is also a link for Italian scholars working or studying abroad.
The overall picture
It is apparent from these reports that within these 10 countries there is a great diversity of organisational forms of national association. One is the subscription-based membership organisation. This is adopted in three of the countries discussed – Italy, Finland, and Switzerland. The paid membership numbers range from about 50 up to 130. The other commonest type is a list-based (free) participation model found in Spain, Germany, and Denmark. These involve numbers ranging from 190 up to 500. A third type is the interorganisational network found at national level solely in the Netherlands involving 190 individual participants. France also has such a network but it is city focused on Paris. A fourth type of national association is the senior network of key figures in the national field which is found in the UK and France involving between 10-20 people. Other associations are in a formative stage such as in Croatia and Hungary with participation of between 15 and 30.
Most national associations have links to wider national scholarly bodies mainly in sociology and humanities. The commonest activity is that of a national conference, annually in several cases. Most national associations are reasonably broad with links to different communites – e.g. organisation studies in Italy, innovation studies in UK, and Netherlands. Reports on the state of the field suggest growth in all countries of interest in STS from other academic fields as well as entry of young scholars into the STS community. Paradoxically this has been accompanied by instabilities and restructuring in some long established high profile centres. New agglomerations of expertise are visible in a wider range of institutions but express different organisational and academic complexions.
2. Discussion on possible actions in collaboration between national associations and EASST to strengthen STS in Europe
STS is an emerging, growing field. This represents various challenges, such as disparity in approaches, methods and empirical field, difficulties in defining STS and lack of institutional recognition of the field, etc. The field would profit from a shared sense of direction in Europe, including coordination of efforts across national organisation and EASST. The points below summarise a wide-ranging discussion.
Recognition of STS in National Research Councils
It is important for the field that STS is recognised by national research councils, i.e. that these have an STS code in applications systems. Reviewers are generally picked on the basis of disciplinary codes, and accordingly an STS code could secure reviewers of STS applications with actual competence in the field. Many research councils have thematic calls that are highly relevant to STS research, concerning innovation, encouraging interdisciplinarity etc. However, due to lack of STS codes, applications often come to be evaluated based on disciplines. In order to approach national research councils with suggestions to introduce STS codes, it would be helpful if EASST, in collaboration with the national associations, gathered some facts about the countries that actually do have STS codes.
Increased recognition of STS journals through citation and ranking
Journals are ranked according to numbers of citation by SSCI, Scopus, just as Google register citations. STS is a small field, and accordingly we have less citation than business papers, etc. However, through increased citation of papers published in STS journals it is possible to increase ranking of STS journals, and thus contribute to higher recognition of the field. National bibliometric schemes do not only follow citation indexes, but often enter other journals in their bibliometrics. A wide range of good STS journals are top-ranked in Denmark and SSS & STHV are top-ranked in Finland. This is not the case in some other countries. To increase the rankings of STS journals it would be helpful if EASST and national association in collaboration could gather information about the rankings of STS journals in European countries, along with experiences of how some countries have managed to achieve a high ranking for STS journals, and which infrastructures enable smaller interdisciplinary areas to suggest journals for high ranking. Commitment of STS scholars to enter bibliographic panels etc. is crucial. Also, with support from EASST some national organisations have managed to influence national bibliographic panels to take STS journals into account in their ranking. Moreover, views were expressed that STS scholars should leave the ‘distant judging observer’ stance vis-à-vis ranking systems and inquire how we can instrumentalise indicators in our own favour, i.e. “what is a good ranking system”? Some participants also felt that EASST could be more pro-active and develop explicit guidance as to where we expect experts in the field to publish their papers. Others thought this was too prescriptive but that as a community we should rather work for good journals and explain and promote them. An important additional question is also how national language STS journals can be supported.
Increasing visibility of STS experts
Journals peripheral to STS, national research foundations and other science foundations etc. sometimes lack knowledge of whom to include as reviewers of submissions from STS scholars. This could lead to misevaluation. EASST could provide a directory of experts in different fields on its website to improve the selection of appropriate reviewers. The registration of language proficiency would be important in such a directory, in addition to areas of expertise. In creating a directory EASST needs to be careful not to generate a ‘purification’ of the field (by taking an overly narrow/prescriptive view of the field). It would also be supportive of the field for STS scholars to act as reviewers across national borders, such as signing up as Horizon 2020 reviewers.
Affiliation between EASST and National Associations
EASST has previously looked into the options for developing shared membership between national associations and EASST. This appears to be too complicated given the varied organisational structures. A simple affiliation model between national association and EASST would be of common interest, such as referring to each other on our web-sites. Emphasising the coordination of STS scholars across Europe makes the size and importance of the field more visible for a wider public.
Non-conference year activities
EASST’s scheme of supporting smaller non-conference year activities has been successful. Small workshops are viewed as important in developing new topics and creating new communities within STS. They are also useful as a space for doctoral students to participate and to generate exchange within networks. Criteria for supporting events should be revised. Questions such as the effect of allocating small amounts for more activities versus more money for fewer events should be addressed. Outcomes such as videos, web-sites, publications etc. help create visibility.
Collaborative activities across National Associations
In 2013 the Nordic countries held a regional conference across these countries, which was a successful ‘middle range’ activity between smaller national meetings and EASST conferences. Such bi-or tri-national events may help co-ordinating regional development and visibility of the field.
Activities to support the career possibilitiesfor STS scholars are important in some countries. Introductory STS courses for PhD students may be helpful in countries in which no or little STS training is offered at a pre-graduate level. They could draw on approaches to course design developed in countries where STS teaching is more institutionalised.
Institutionalisation has its pitfalls as well as advantages. For instance, we need to be aware of tension between ‘defining the field’ to show distinctiveness and being inclusive of different approaches to show the breadth of the field. It migh also be helpful to show the influence of the field through inclusion of STS research going on in other fields where researchers might not see STS as their primary affiliation (‘friends of STS’).
3. Reports from European conferences on social sciences & interdisciplinarity
Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities for the future of Europe
EASST was represented at the European Alliance for Social Societies and Humanities in Amsterdam in December 2011. This was concerned with research funding within Europe, particularly in relation to the Framework programme. EASST signed their open letter which aimed to bring the concerns of the community to the attention of the European Commission and National Governments. A report by Harro van Lente of this meeting appeared in the March 2012 issue of EASST Review which can be downloaded as a pdf from the EASST website. Details of the Open Letter can be found at www.eash.eu/openletter2011/.
Vilnius 2013 / Horizon 2020 – EASST was represented at this meeting by Fred Steward. A report on the conference appeared in the September 2013 issue of EASST Review which can be accessed from the EASST website (www.easst.net/?page_id=1618). For further briefings on these issues see the following weblinks http://horizons.mruni.eu/document-archive/
Fred Steward raised questions about how the STS community should react to Horizon 2020. Formal commitments have been made by the EU about integrating the social sciences and humanities into research and policy making on science and innovation. However what has been emerging about what this means in practice is very uneven. STS scholars have been engaged in this research area for a long time, and it may be strategically important to be pro-active in the Horizon 2020 developments. Do we as European STS community want to engage in how Horizon 2020 is developing? One measure could be for EASST to host high profile workshops with EU participation focusing on these issues and promoting STS expertise.
In response to questions Fred clarified that he thought such workshops should focus on particular research areas – e.g. energy and climate change – and ask, within our own community, what would reorientation mean in this field. The aim would be to give a clearer steer to the Commission about what needs to be done to realise the objectives expressed in the Vilnius declaration. What issues have to be addressed, if the social and cultural aspects are to be included in the climate / sustainability / energy research?
There was discussion of the relative value of EASST doing such things within its own community – with the positives of taking the initiative and the potential downside of just producing a critique – or of targeting the EU / Brussels directly and working with existing contacts – with the positives of having more direct impact on what is coming out of the EU and the potential downside of just being reactive.