Crossroads as Places

Crossroads as Places

In the last EASST review, Ann R. Sætnan reflected on truth, time, and place, and she invited a reader to serve as guest editor. It is the issue of place that I would like to take up here. What made me offer my guest editorship is connected to geographical bounding (me being based in the same university as Ann in the moment), but more so in my relation to the interest-bound virtual “community” of STS. My place within STS is on the crossroad with political sciences.My background is in political sciences and my ‘study object’ has been nanotechnology. Still – my relation to STS derives not necessarily from my interest in nanotechnology but from my particular approach to political science that is embedded in a movement gathered under the term Interpretive Policy Analysis (IPA). In this editorial, I would like to point out examples of the exchange between STS and IPA to further interest for this fruitful cooperation.

In June, the Sixth International Conference on Interpretation in Policy Analysis was held, with an astonishing 350 participants. Thus, the field has sextupled from its first gathering with about 60 attendees. Scholars pushing the IPA were among others Dvora Yanow, Frank Fischer, David Howarth, Marteen Hajer and Herbert Gottweis. STS and IPA come together, for example, in topics such as deliberative democracy or technology governance but more importantly in their theoretical approach and methodological mindset. Indeed, STS and IPA have been connected from its start. Drawing on insight from STS on the socially constructed and contingent nature of scientific knowledge (Gottweis 1998:11), a branch within policy analysis (which is here gathered under the term IPA) turned to emphasising “a discursive, contextual understanding of social knowledge and the interpretative methods [such as ethnography, the author] basic to acquiring it” (Fischer 2003:211).

At the last IPA-conference in June a few panels emphasized STS: Mara Miele and Joanna Latimer from Cardiff University chaired a panel on post(human) imaginaries for a politics of human/non-human relations problematizing the ontological divide between nature and culture. And William Housley’s panel (also University of Cardiff) sought to explore how STS-approaches can contribute to policy analysis acknowledging that STS-approaches can lend insight to understandings of policy-making and implementation.

Another forum of exchange between IPA and STS was, for instance, this year’s General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Sciences (ECPR) where Ingrid Metzler from the Life Science Governance Research Platform (University of Vienna) held a panel to show how STS-approaches can help interpretive policy analysis to bring ‘the material’ back in. Another place of exchange is the journal Critical Policy Studies in which, for instance, H. Collins and R. Evans picked up the thread of the debate on the ‘Third Wave of Science Studies’ from a political perspective in 2010. Maybe it is like a colleague of mine (from political sciences) once contemplated: “I feel like the STS-community is getting more and more political, while we are becoming more STS.”

Thus, an interesting exchange is in place from which – as we see in the examples above – on the one hand the IPA-community can benefit. On the other hand, exploring IPA can also provide inspiring thoughts for STS-scholars, particularly those working on governance or policy. I observed a tendency within STS to answer the question of ‘the political’ with a reference to B. Latour or G. de Vries. Another frequently chosen route is to draw on governmentality studies. With all due recognition to these valuable contributions, I would still like to encourage STS-folks to explore also other areas of political sciences for answering questions of the political. There is much more to the field of political sciences than preconceived interests, institutions or behavioralism, as can be seen in the positive example of the IPA. For those active in public engagement, for example in nanotechnology, I could recommend Chantal Mouffe’s work on the political. A reflection on her writings could stimulate discussions how much a strong aim to reach consensus might ultimately silence criticism by disabling it (Freeden 2005:132). Those who catch interest, I wish an enjoyable expedition in the world of political sciences and policy analysis!

In this issue of the EASST review, the question of place and community-building is also picked up in a contribution from Vincenzo Pavone (IPP-CSIC) and Adolfo Estalella (CCHS, CSIC) who report about a newly formed STS network in Spain. This text shows that the limits between geographically bound and virtual interest-bound communities easily overlap whereby one space is characterized as the invisible and the other as the visible in this text. In the second contribution, we meet the issue of the human and the non-human again as in the IPA-panel mentioned above. You will also find a report of the last EASST council meetings, announcements for call for papers and vacancies, as well as news from the field.


  • 6th International Conference in Interpretive Policy Analysis: Discursive Spaces. Politics, Practices and Power., last accessed 23 August 2011
  • Fischer, F. (2003): Beyond empiricism: Policy analysis as deliberative practice. In: Hajer, M.A.; Wagenaar, H. (eds.): Deliberative policy analysis. Understanding governance in the network society. Reprint. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 209–227.
  • Freeden, M. (2005): What Should the ‚Political’ in Political Theory Explore. In: The Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 13/2, pp. 113–134.
  • Gottweis, H. (1998): Governing Molecules. The Discursive Politics of Genetic Engineering in Europe and the United States. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  • Mouffe, C. (2005 [1993]): The return of the political. London/New York: Verso.