It has been roughly half a year since the 4th of November 2022, when Claudia Schwarz-Plaschg published her “testimonial on the Harvard STS Program”—a document that she explains was requested of her in light of the Program’s 20th year anniversary. In its 8min of reading length (according to publishing platform Medium), Schwarz-Plaschg narrates a series of terrible interactions transpiring in the context of this renown fellowship program. The reader gets a feel of how those events were experienced throughout the author’s one year of tenure at Harvard, but also learns about the ways their effects kept on reverberating and casting a long shadow over her life and career circumstances for years afterwards. It is not my place, and here is not the place, to repeat the contents of the testimonial. Suffice it to say the reader is given an early “[c]ontent warning [including]: Sexual harassment, abuses of power, disillusionment” (Emphasis at original, Schwarz-Plaschg, 2022: online).
The hashtag #MeTooSTS accompanied the testimonial to Twitter-land, only days before Twitter experienced the big academic exit of early winter 2022. But there are other timings to factor in the story. To the best of my memory and insight, I could not recall any other occasion that a #MeToo account has been shared in such a textual form and timing that on the one hand passionately reclaims membership in a community (this is after all a fellow’s testimonial, compliant to a formal institutional request), while in so doing subverts all expectations for how testimonials are to be delivered, used and valued in economies of academic prestige and credibility. Its upload to Medium (a public forum, instead of a submission at the Program’s inner bureaucracies) coincided with the opening of the celebratory panel discussions and so loomed over the spectacle of anniversary throughout that long weekend.
Captured at the space between #MeTooSTS and #WeDoSTS
But once the celebrations were done, STSers’ public commentary on #MeTooSTS seemed to better connect with the second hashtag coined by Schwarz-Plaschg at the time of the testimonial: #WeDoSTS is a call for critical self-reflexivity, premised on the proposition that “we as STS also need to do STS in our own community and not just talk STS to other academic fields to resist the reproduction of epistemic and institutional injustices” (Emphasis at original, 2022: online). With or without the hashtag, the uptake of WeDoSTS is interesting to observe and to consider against the backdrop of earlier propositions for how STS and MeToo are to strategically interact.
Any conversation would benefit from remembering that there is an earlier—a precedent of sorts for considering how to properly articulate the “we” of STS in either hashtag solidarity or institutional reform, in ways that speak directly to the concerns and demands of MeToo movements. Volume 37, Issue 3 of the EASST Review opens with a short overview of what many back then were framing “as the #metoo moment in the discipline [of anthropology]” (Criado, 2018: 5). Then editorial board member Tomás Sánchez Criado’s reading of the #hautalk discussions over power abuses in work and research environments culminates in a wholehearted endorsement of STS participation and solidarity, in the form of the question-and-answer duet: “Shall we? Yes, #wetoo” (2018: 6). A page later, Celia Roberts is the first to respond to this outward-looking endorsement, offering a reflexive re-cast of Criado’s answer (“[w]e-too?”, reads the title) and a care-ful provocation to “first try to sort out our own institutions by openly and clearly addressing issues of inequality and diversity” (Roberts, 2018: 8).
Four years later, and countless MeToo_Academia stories between 2018-2022, Schwarz-Plaschg’s framing of the matters at hand (how to see/hear them, how to react to them) introduced a space between the interpersonal experiences that informed #MeTooSTS and the institutional responses that made the coinage of the second hashtag necessary. WeDoSTS captures a movement away from the alleged events of sexual harassment and towards problematising the widespread abuses of power, discrimination and career sabotage inflicted upon academic community members “when one person is given too much gatekeeping power” (Schwarz-Plaschg, 2022: online). This move is consistent with how other MeToo activisms at Harvard, at their most successful, have escaped the confines of individualised cases against specific perpetrators and have instead established interventions at the level of collective action, targeting systemic vulnerabilities and building a discourse premised onto unique epistemic insights of victims and survivors of sexual violence.
It is nevertheless noteworthy that in Schwarz-Plaschg’s case the movement away from sexual violence and toward the operations of power was made explicit from the apparent get-go. The outlines of respective hashtag content and candidate constituencies for each were offered at the level of original testimonial. Separation was further enacted in choices over hashtag form and syntax. Unlike Criado’s and Roberts’s earlier iterations, WeDoSTS mirrors MeTooSTS in relative length (tripartite structure), phonetic (Me/We + Too/Do + STS) and syntactical (personal pronoun + activity + topos) composition. But I’d posit that, once removed from the context of the testimonial, not much of MeToo necessarily survives inside WeDoSTS reflexivities, unless labours are invested for painstakingly ensuring its continuous membership. This contribution attends to this dynamic as one that pertains to the politics of semiotics (Mol and Mesman, 1996: 421). The interconnectedness between two orders of content and legitimate membership become thus a matter of uptake, rather than principle.
Moreover, if one was to compare the definition of WeDoSTS vis-à-vis Criado’s gesture towards an older sister (for some in STS, mother-) discipline, it becomes obvious that the former significantly broadens the horizons of outward address (“other academic fields” STS is on speaking-terms with). Similarly, if one was to compare it to Roberts’ foci (inequality and diversity in our research cultures), WeDoSTS widens the scope of STS introspection and political responsibility to encompass all sorts of epistemic and institutional injustices. An expanse has been offered; navigating it is an experiment in doing STS in an accountable manner, “from somewhere for someone” (Jerak-Zuiderent, 2015: 414)—acknowledging that this will not be for everyone, making the “cui bono?” (Star, 1990: 43) still the principal stance in the politics of STS, including the politics of STS reflexivities. I therefore suggest approaching WeDoSTS with a certain weariness to “should” participation, and instead applying a care-ful investment and cultivating conditions of “could” participation (Singleton, 1996: 462).
Putting the we in #WeDoSTS
I want to start a short inquiry of how we(s) have been enacted in recent responses to the WeDoSTS call by foregrounding another’s question. Volume 41, Issue 3 of EASST Review was concluded with a statement by Maya Horst titled ‘Making STS better.’ Half way in, Horst puts forward what she views as the essential question of
how our STS community can become a space that does not address harm through exclusion and punishment alone, but that also fosters learning, remediation and growth, particularly when we are discussing more nuanced questions about what constitutes appropriate academic conduct (2022: online).
Tentative answers are shaping up in efforts to navigate the space between the two hashtags. It seems “we” are starting from our immediate vicinities (although the topology of closeness, immediacy or familiarity is otherwise explored across the three projects) and “we” seek outward connection, rather than mere self-reflection.
Network to network peer-links
One project that fosters widespread STS reflexivity stems from the 6th of December 2022 statement on behalf of the Science in Public (SIP) research network. For those outside the UK, SIP’s statement of committing to a process for “[b]uilding better research cultures that prevent harassment and bullying” and to “reporting back to STS and connected communities on this work” (Science in Public Research Network, 2022: online) might have gone unnoticed. In their statement a Network-to-Network topology is enacted, which one may consider as foregrounding the role of peer-links between networks for extending the “we” beyond local terms and conditions. An individual’s academic status and reputation make a difference along such topology, to solidify the claim to peerage. I have some reservations about whether peer-links, namely scholars who have established multiple, albeit partial membership across networks, can shoulder the project alone. However, it is remarkable that, among the public reactions so far, only an SIP member has publicly called upon the“[Science and Democracy Network] Council [for issuing] a public apology for the research culture along with a credible plan for reform” (Pearce, 2022: online).
Infrastructure meets infrastructure in relations of mutual use
For those who operate outside the German-speaking context or EASST, the “Keep the #MeTooSTS/#WeDoSTS conversation going” campaign announcement of the association stsing e.V. might have gone unnoticed. Their Best Practices working group (of which, I am member) launched a collaboration with the Network against Abuse of Power in Science (MaWi) based on the view:
that the question of how #WeDoSTS in Germany requires an understanding of how power abuse is facilitated and allowed to play out. Testimonies in this sense are evidence and deserve to be studied as such in order to find practical solutions and strategies. (Doing STS in and through Germany, 2023: online)
This epistemics-oriented campaign was the result of collaborative encounters with the MaWi during late 2022. In contrast with the first project, personal identity and professional status have not mattered here as much, and membership in both networks has not been observed. Trust that “we” can collaborate across respective infrastructures has been the key element. The project is underway in a radically distributed fashion (involving two separate operations linked via a secure channel for data exchange), with participants having topical responsibilities and coordinating over an opensource, instant messaging program. Probably nobody and no single communications- channel ever achieves an overview or could alone stir future developments. Due to its infrastructural affordances, this is another project which could develop in unexpected directions (, to the extent that “we” volunteer labour). For example, will this epistemic partnership also extend towards solidarity work for the current institutional and epistemic struggles of one of MaWi’s members and thinkers? I refer to Susanne Täuber, a Netherlands-based social safety expert and co-author of the viral notion of “academic bullying”, which is central for #MeTooSTS/#WeDoSTS. Täuber was fired in May 2023 from her position at the University of Groningen (Northern Netherlands District Court, 2023). In hashtag solidarity terms, one might as well ask: will the #WeDoSTS meet and talk views with the #AmINext campaign and the activisms that advocate for Täuber’s reinstatement?
Nested structures of student representation
Finally, if you are not affiliated with the Vienna STS Department, the students’ mobilisations under the social media username WeDoSTS_Vienna might have flown under the radar. Being among the first to publicly react, the account called out to central protagonists in the #MeTooSTS/#WeDoSTS conversation in a twitter thread. Considering their departmental affiliation and, as I recently learned, against the backdrop of academic labour protests in 2022, the students felt “like we can and should hold STS accountable to continuous reflexivity and attentiveness to power structures within the field” (WeDoSTS_Vienna, 2022: online). This type of intervention proved harder than initially anticipated. A fairly recent report narrates how the months between November 2022 and May 2023 saw debates and developments over student (self-)organized representation at the level of university politics, and the launch of a minor epistemic project in the form of an openly accessible padlet for submissions:
emphasiz[ing] that @WeDoSTSVienna remains fluid. We want it to remain flexible in order to foster continued discussion and are excited to hear your suggestions for what it can and should be. (WeDoSTS_Vienna, 2023: online)
Overall WeDoSTS_Vienna sustains itself along an ecology of nested structures, a “configuration of heterogeneous elements [that] gradually articulates the potentiality” (Suzuki, 2017: 140) of their agenda. Some of their unique values include, among others: rotating through tasks and responsibilities to prevent participants’ exposure and burnout, grounding WeDoSTS down to responsibilities of educators and supervisors, being care-ful for how the incoming cohort ought to be introduced to the departmental self-reflection processes.
Let me briefly return to Schwarz-Plaschg’s #WeDoSTS definition of “not just talk[ing] STS to other academic fields to resist the reproduction of epistemic and institutional injustices.” Ever since I read this sentence, I (obsessively, embarrassingly) wonder whether a comma should feature between “academic fields” and “to resist”. Syntax made me pay some extra attention to it. Does it claim that STS strategically talks other fields into resisting the reproduction of epistemic and institutional injustices? Or will this resistance be the unique accomplishment of WeDoSTS project(s)? And what does reflexivity have to do with either?
Where the two plausible readings meet, there lies a key articulation for the integrity of STS. One which considers STS’s participation in the politics of talk, and one which engages in a timely reflection over having adopted “…’public talk’ (that is, talk both by and about the public) [as] an important site for science and technology studies analysis.” (Irwin, 2006: 299) I draw on Kelly Moore’s approach to define our scientific integrity as construct-able (and revis-able) upon the dynamic alignment of two in-principle incompatible lines of action. One line of action appears grounded in the ability of STS programs to draw clear demarcation lines between scientific and non-scientific interests, and defend academic and cultural turf against other disciplines. Attentiveness to the operations of power along the networks and worldly projects of technoscience has been one way that STS has drawn own markers of academic distinction.
The second line of action focuses on how in order “[t]o reap prestige and financial support (from whatever source), scientists must also demonstrate that their work is ultimately objective and useful to a broad constituency.” (Moore, 1996: 1593) Will anyone be surprised to hear that it was Sheila Jasanoff, a scholar/personality central to the WeDoSTS debate, who first articulated how reflexivity can be strategically used to broker access to field sites and to develop politically influential positions and discourses? In her contribution to the capture by politics debate, Jasanoff posits reflexivity as “especially desirable when selecting sites for research, styles of explanation, and methods of articulating normative positions” (Jasanoff, 1996: 393). To fully comprehend how constitutive to Euro-American STS this proposition has been, one need only compare it with the relative abandonment of other candidate positions for putting the political capture anxieties to rest—namely, Ashmore’s thesis that reflexivity is useful because it is politically useless (Ashmore, 1996: 307) and Collin’s recourse to the ideal of neutrality (Collins, 1996: 222).
Jasanoff’s proposition on the strategic uses of reflexivity has been formative, even for STS programs that declare not vested interest in publicly speaking the idiom of coproduction. Whether stemming from dissatisfaction with the limitations of ELSI/A configurations in European research partnerships or from deep-seated anxieties disrupting ethnographic work (which was more of a German debate last decade, see. Niewöhner, 2016), notions such as making time-space for reflexive work (Felt et al., 2013: 5) or distributing reflexivity in co-laborative epistemic projects (Bieler et al., 2021) have functioned as credibility vectors (Shapin, 1995: 269) for STS: each has carried (perhaps differently) programmatic claims about how STS ought to be put in good use by politics, inside research and innovation cultures or in epistemic partnerships and emerging political agendas. In the German-speaking context, notions for how to do STS in politically-relevant ways have normalized a discourse of so-called “STS institutionalisation”—discourse whose contents or sentiment are barely recognisable in other European and especially non-European contexts.
In the key moment of WeDoSTS reflexivity, STSers could benefit from deconstructing, effectively “mind scripting” (Allhutter, 2012) our own investments into reflexivity as a powerful trope. The “we” I myself care to engage with would be willing to experience some necessary productive disruption onto established notions of our field’s institutionalisation pasts, presents and futures and, beyond that, would also be willing to discuss the shapes of STS’s useful-ness in the worlds of scholarship and politics. For that reflexivity won’t be the vehicle for navigating the expanse of how WeDoSTS, but rather the matter of care-ful attendance.
Early drafts of the contribution benefitted from the critical readings of Dr. C.G. Schwarz-Plaschg and Dr. M. Bister, as well as the proofreading labours and light editing guidance of the EASST Review editorial team.
1 This is a quick schema of a series of disruptions brought about by MeToo academic activisms in the spaces that traditionally are responsible for (and benefit from) assembling scientific integrity and academic autonomy:
Associations have put out statements and ponder the extent and the shape of their obligation(s) to their membership, leading to the creation of ethics policies and codes of conducts;
Departments are observing and establishing codes of conduct and recruit specialized offices/resources for student, faculty and administration use;
Research universities and institutes install oversight and dispute resolution procedures in compliance with local regulation and terms of funding contracts;
Ombudspeople or integrity officers are reconsidering the span of their activities and purview beyond established definitions of publication misconduct and research data accessibility;
Academic brands and research portfolios may now include the foregrounding of “diversity and inclusion” strategies; if it is a campus-based university then obligations to residents and users of the spaces are negotiated on the level of university management (often governed by a private entity) too.
These are some of the observed phenomena in countries where MeToo has set its stakes within the academic world, and they feature both widespread sociotechnical arrangements and cross-organizational or institutional commitments.
2 For an excellent sample of writing that achieves the described move, see. Twitter thread of first author for a synopsis of contents and background story:or find the letter here: https://portals.wetransfer.com/reviews/8f763bfa-f035-4145-8f9f-fea1ebee4304?item=3e214b04-2cd0-4184-8b2c-d10a80eae7d4
3 Pearce was effectively one of the first, if not the first, to publicly acknowledge the close intertwinement of the Harvard STS Program and the SDN, see. https://sts.hks.harvard.edu/about/sdn.html
4 short for: Doing Science and Technology Studies in and through Germany
Allhutter D (2012) Mind Scripting. Science, Technology, & Human Values 37(6): 684–707.
Ashmore M (1996) Ending Up On the Wrong Side: Must the Two Forms of Radicalism Always Be at War? Social Studies of Science 26(2): 305–322.
Bieler P, Bister MD, Hauer J, et al. (2021) Distributing Reflexivity through Co-laborative Ethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 50(1): 1–22.
Collins HM (1996) In Praise of futile Gestures: How Scientific is the Sociology of Scientiifc Knowledge? Social Studies of Science 26(2): 229–244.
Doing STS in and through Germany (2023) Keep the #MeTooSTS / #WeDoSTS conversation going | Announcement. Available at: https://stsing.org/keep-the-metoosts-wedosts-conversation-going-announcement (accessed 11 May 2023).
Felt U, Barben D, Irwin A, et al. (2013) Science in Society: caring for our futures in turbulent times. Science Policy Briefing 50.
Horst M President of EASST (2022) Making STS better. Available at: http://easst.net/article/making-sts-better/ (accessed 6 May 2023).
Irwin A (2006) The Politics of Talk. Social Studies of Science 36(2): 299–320.
Jasanoff S (1996) Beyond Epistemology: Relativism and Engagement in the Politics of Science. Social Studies of Science 26(2): 393–418.
Jerak-Zuiderent S (2015) Accountability from Somewhere and for Someone: Relating with Care. Science as Culture 24(4): 412–435.
Mol A and Mesman J (1996) Neonatal Food and the Politics of Theory: Some Questions of Method. Social Studies of Science 26(2): 419–444.
Moore K (1996) Organizing Integrity: American Science and the Creation of Public Interest Organizations, 1955-1975. American Journal of Sociology 101(6): 1592–1627.
Niewöhner J (2016) Co-laborative anthropology: Crafting reflexivities experimentally. Etnologinen tulkinta ja analyysi: Kohti avoimempaa tutkimusprosessia [Ethnological interpretation and analysis: Towards a transparent research process]. Ethnos.
Northern Netherlands District Court (2023) Permanently disrupted employment relationship, causal link critical article and request for dissolution does not mean an aggravated redeployment obligation, redeployment is not an obligation of result: 10244518 AR VERZ 22-92. Available at: https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/#!/details?id=ECLI:NL:RBNNE:2023:854.
Pearce W (2022) It takes work: Building reasonable research cultures in STS. Available at: https://socstudiesresearch.com/2022/11/16/it-takes-work-building-reasonable-research-cultures-in-sts/.
Schwarz-Plaschg CG (2022) On its 20th anniversary, my testimonial on the Harvard STS Program. Medium, 4 November.
Science in Public Research Network (2022) Building better research cultures that prevent harassment and bullying. Available at: https://scienceinpublic.org/2022/12/06/building-better-research-cultures-that-prevent-harassment-and-bullying/ (accessed 11 May 2023).
Shapin S (1995) Cordelia’s Love: Credibility and the Social Studies of Science. Perspectives on Science 3(3): 255–275.
Singleton V (1996) Feminism, Sociology of Scientific Knowledge and Postmodernism. Social Studies of Science 26(2): 445–468.
Star SL (1990) Power, technology and the phenomenology of conventions: on being allergic to onions. The Sociological Review 38(S1): 26–56.
Suzuki W (2017) Towards an Ecology of Cells: An Ethnography of iPS Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine. Unpublished dissertation manuscript, Osaka University.
WeDoSTS_Vienna (2022) @ViennaWedosts: “Dear @PsychedelicSTS, @STS_News, STS Harvard students, and STS community, we want to express our solidarity with those who have spoken about their experiences at the Harvard STS program. We feel shocked, disappointed, angry and upset when reading your texts. (thread)”. Available at: https://twitter.com/ViennaWedosts/status/1591078851362557952.
WeDoSTS_Vienna (2023) @ViennaWedosts: “1/14 After our first post in November, it has been a bit quiet on this channel. But that doesn’t mean that the discussion sparked by @PsychedelicSTS, @STS_News and others has ended: (thread)”. Available at: https://twitter.com/ViennaWedosts/status/1655861030130442240 (accessed 11 May 2023).
(accessed 11 May 2023).