Since the very earliest social studies of scientific communities, we have known that words and worlds are bound together; that intellectual projects – this was an original insight of Steve Woolgar and Bruno Latour of course – are materialised in sentences, images, figures, texts. It remains the case that one of the most important ways to stabilise, organise and grow a laboratory, a group of scholars, even an entire intellectual community, is to write things down.
Over the last decade, social studies of science, including studies of biomedicine, have become some of the most exciting and cutting-edge areas in the social sciences.From human geographers working on animal models of human disease; to anthropologists writing about new ways of governing chronic disease in low-income countries; to sociologists charting the rise of new forms of cyborg embodiment – scholars across disciplines are researching at the frontiers of science and biomedicine, and using insights from these areas to innovate the field of science and technology studies (STS). Yet, in Europe, the monograph form in STS remains perhaps less developed to peer-reviewed journal articles and other kinds of publishing forms. And where book series focused on (or friendly to) STS do exist, especially in the American context of US academic presses, these typically gather under the sign of more well-established disciplines (history or anthropology, in many cases) or else around specific theoretical or empirical interests (experiments, technologies, bodies, and so on).
In 2019 with the help of Tom Dark, a senior commissioning editor at Manchester University Press, we initiated a new STS book series, ‘Inscriptions: Writing the Social Studies of Science’.The point of this series is to create new space for the monograph form in STS. As the books we have already published demonstrate the series foregrounds theoretically innovative and empirically rich interdisciplinary work that is emerging in Europe and beyond. Our series is self-consciously hospitable in terms of its approach to discipline (all areas of social sciences are considered), topic (we are interested in all scientific objects, including biomedical objects) scale (books will include both fine-grained case studies and broad accounts of scientific cultures) and authorship (it looks to first-time authors as well as to established scholars; to disciplinary newcomers to STS as well as to widely-known insiders).
For readers and writers, we hope the series signals a new generation of scholarship captured in monograph form – tracking and analysing how science moves through our societies, cultures and lives. Three observations make the urgent need for such a series apparent. First, it is clear that scientific and political transformations in the clinical and life sciences, and in other allied scientific areas, are bringing new technologies and practices, along with the everyday forms of embodiment they constitute, to the forefront of political and social attention. For example, genomics, the study of genes, has made it possible to predict, diagnose, and treat diseases more personally than ever before, leading to what scholars have called the molecularization of life. Similar observations can be made about recent transformations in the digital and informational sciences, in the psychological and brain sciences, and many other areas.
Second, the social studies of science have developed key resources with which to make sense of new advances in science and technology. Part of this comes from changes in scientific and medical practice itself, where social, ethical and political implications of new technologies are recognized as vital to creating productive relationships between scientific knowledge, technological systems, and society. While the social sciences might have been previously bracketed off as a separate ‘ethical’ concern to science, increasingly scientists and social scientists have been working in collaboration to get to grips with how science and technology come to shape law, politics, public policy, society and culture.
Third, there have been a series of wider shifts in the research funding landscape: an embedded agenda of ‘ethical, legal and social impacts’ has brought significant new funding-streams to social studies of science and biomedicine, while also pressing social science researchers against the face of cutting-edge developments in the natural and clinical sciences; at the same time, many European funders have dedicated new funding streams to critical social study of the natural sciences in general, and studies of the biomedical and life sciences (including clinical practice) in particular.
These transformations signal that it is a crucial time to bring together work that showcases these remarkable shifts. They also call for a renewed urgency in serious, long-form, interdisciplinary thinking and writing in STS – as well as to spaces that can hold such thinking and writing. The first volumes of the series are appearing now (by Anne Kerr and her colleagues, as well as Adam Hedgecoe, and Gill Haddow) with further volumes in the works; we continue to review proposals, and will be glad to hear from EASST members and affiliates.
This is an attempt at an account on the emergence and ongoing bringing into existence of something as abstract as a journal. The account is anthropological in the sense that it attempts to describe the journal as relation and relational. The intention is to give an adequate account of the journals partial, multifaceted existence. It is an account in which the journal is both cause and effect of relations. It realizes and is realized. It is parent and orphan. Its genealogy consists of ambitions, persons, platforms – digital and other –, financial means (or lack thereof) and layers of work.
STS Encounters is the journal of the Danish Association of STS (www.dasts.dk). It is a digital journal only. It does not come out in print and hard copy and this is a central aspect of its existence. The journal is not a body without organs in the deleuzian sense as an unorganized assemblage of multiple parts. It is an organ of a partially or vaguely existing body. But still, its body consists of the digital and contrary to some writers, that suggests that the digital is pure essence and light as air (see for instance Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2014), we, as students of STS, have, if not a full understanding, then at least a well-developed sense of the fact that the digital indeed has a weight. We have a sense of the enormous amounts of energy, buildings, material and work required for the digital to be ‘light as air’. But it is this layered and seemingly lightness of the digital that realizes STS Encounters.
The work and effort required for a paper journal to come into existence, the bundling of articles into issues, the many deadlines entailed in production, the work required in having enough, but not too many articles in the ‘pipeline’, and of course in the end, the paper and the ink, has been either ‘cut away’ or been redistributed to the digital in relation to STS Encounters. As a ‘real’ hard copy paper journal STS Encounters would not have lasted the first quarter. It would probably not even have made it into the printing press.
STS Encounters was not coined in a spirit of high ambitions and expectations. Rather it was conceived as a journal that should be inclusive and broad and be an accessible outlet for upcoming as well as established researchers. It was conceived in the spirit of the field of STS, namely as multifaceted and inclusive and where differences are welcomed and generative. Differences are invitations to think with and to be explored, instead of something to be policed. On the webpage of STS Encounters it is stated (and here reproduced in the same font):
“The aim of the journal is to stimulate quality and collaboration in Danish STS research as well as to make Danish STS more visible nationally and internationally. In this context STS is understood as a broad and interdisciplinary field. Encounters encourages submissions from all relevant fields and subfields of social and cultural inquiry dealing with scientific and technological matters. The editorial board emphasizes that the journal is to offer a broad and nuanced view of the Danish STS environment. This applies to theoretical and analytical frameworks, choice of method and substantive empirical areas.”
But STS Encounters is also an appendix. It is the journal of the Danish Association for STS (DASTS) which was founded in 2002. STS Encounters and DASTS are mutually parasitic and co-constitutive. As Bruno Latour argues, ontology is not binary and a matter of existence vs. non-existence, instead objects/subjects/actors/ come into existence and they may be partially existing or have fluctuating levels of existence (Latour, Bruno 2000). DASTS and STS Encounters gain existence through their mutual association. DASTS achieves existence as a national association by also having a journal and STS Encounters is not ‘only’ a journal, but the journal of the Danish Association for STS. The point being that different elements: an association with a board, a yearly conference, and a journal, are mutually co-constitutive community producing actors.
Going deeper into the genealogy of the journal thus implicates DASTS. DASTS was established as a platform for Danish STS research in the beginning of the 2000, at a point in time where STS was well established internationally, but still also a young and growing field. In Denmark at this point, STS research and teaching were scattered and took place only in corners of some of the universities in Denmark. There were no educational programs dedicated to STS. STS lived its life as subparts of programs taught and promoted by a few teachers and researchers around the country. But then these few people started talking to each other and they convened and decided to make an association, DASTS. This was taking place in an academic and political climate in which alliances, visibility and research strategies was becoming increasingly important given that basic research founding was being replaced by neoliberal principles for delegating research funding. But it was also simply a consequence of an experience of being associated with a field that was forming and being articulated. In the 00’ of the new millennium, people began to say and refer to STS in a somewhat monolithic sense and thus performatively articulate the field as well established and felt interpellated by others saying and doing “STS”.
The founding people, according to this author, was a few tenured researchers from Aarhus University, University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark. Among others, these were: Randi Markussen, Finn Olesen, Peter Lauritsen, Lene Kock, Christian Clausen and Ulrik Jørgensen. These established researchers were flanked by a group of upcoming scholars: Torben Elgaard Jensen, Julie Sommerlund, Signe Vikkelsø, Maja Horst, Casper Bruun Jensen, Henriette Langstrup, Klaus Høyer, Brit Ross Winthereik, Kristian Hvidtfeldt Nielsen. And further on there was a group of students and aspiring scholars, which among others included the author of this account and the members of the board of DASTS today. Many others could be mentioned and the general experience to this day – for better and for worse – is that the Danish STS community may be best described as “a party of cousins”.
In sum, DASTS and STS Encounters has grown out of an intellectual milieu and climate that can perhaps be described as a combination of the principle of the least effort, a strong sense of community and the will to – with no to little funding – build platforms that support a broad and inclusive, publicly engaging and intellectually stimulating research community of practice. As a consequence, the rate and amount of publications has always been uneven, with quiet periods. STS Encounters is indeed a percolating outlet and not a steady stream of publications. But of course, this has over the years also entailed a continuous concern with submission activity
Examples of articles published in STS Encounters
Anna Tsing: Alien vs. Predator
“…Let me begin right away with my point. Researchers must love their material to produce good research. Science studies researchers must get inside the science, learning to appreciate it with the passion of an insider. This is the mainly unrealized gift of anthropology to science studies. Immersion produces insight. Reifying theory as a higher life form gets in the way of love. Theory is a tool kit. We need to love our tools as they help us make things, not for themselves.” (Excerpt from the introduction).
Winthereik, Lutz, Suchman & Verran: Special issue on Attending to Screens and Screenness
“..In the call for participation the ubiquity of screens was described as one of the reasons cultural/media studies, design studies, science and technology studies, information studies and anthropology ought to be interested in this topic empirically and analytically. It was suggested that screens play an increasingly central role in a wide range of human practices relating to work, play, travel, care, learning, planning, monitoring, designing, coordinating and much else.” (Excerpt from the introduction).
Svendsen, Mette N.: The “ME” in the “WE”: Anthropological Engagements with the Personalized Medicine
“…What has spurred discussion is the government’s suggested organizational and ethical framework for collecting, banking, and using genomes from the Danish people as part of its realization of personalized medicine in Danish health care. The framing of “stealing” and the articulation of this project as “high risk” points to the discussion’s central issue of how to treat and administer genomes as concomitantly part of the “me” of the person and the “we” of the welfare state.” (Excerpt from the introduction).
Blok, Anders: Scoping Endangered Futures: Rethinking the Political Aesthetics in of Climate Change in World Risk Society
“… In this article, I engage a key claim of Ulrich Beck’s theorizing of global risks, to the effect that socio-political collectivities are currently being re-imagined through the anticipation of endangered long-term futures. Such dynamics of temporal reordering are visible, the article shows, in the imaginative politics of climatic projections.” (Excerpt from the abstract)
Irina Papazu & Christian Elling Scheele: (De-)Localising the Climate – The production of uncertain agencies through climate websites
”…This article introduces a devicecentred approach to the concept of climate engagement through a qualitative analysis of two websites: www.klimabevidst.dk and www.mapmyclimate.dk. While klimabevidst.dk represents a down-to-earth take on individual engagement with the climate, providing users with hands-on guides to green home improvements, www.mapmyclimate.dk seeks to increase the user’s awareness of the phenomenon of global climate change by demonstrating how the user’s actions impact the earth’s future.” (Excerpt from the abstract)
Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. 2014. The Second Machine
Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Techno-
logies. First Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Latour, Bruno. 2000. “On the Partial Existence of Existing and Non-
existing Objects.” In Biographies of Scientific Objects, edited by Lor-raine Daston, 247–69. University of Chicago Press.
STS has a relatively short history in East Asia—it was not until the 2000s that societies and programs that bore the initials “STS” in their titles were established in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Yet in just fifteen years or so East Asia has come to play an active role in the academic world and in the transformation of a flourishing East Asia via journals such as EASTS.
Historically, it should be noted that as an intellectual trend STS was introduced to this region far before its institutionalization. Compared to the intellectual orientation of its Western counterpart, STS in East Asia is more locally rooted and problem-based. While in Japan STS was impregnated with socialist criticisms of Cold War science and it directs increasing attention to alternative forms of social organization grounded in ideological pluralism, STS in China has inherited ideology driven, politico-intellectual traditions of “natural dialectics” (Zi Ran Bian Zheng Fa) and is backed up by state ideology. While the assessment of science and technology is a predominant component of China’s STS, Japanese STS scholars tend to oppose the government by promoting science for the citizen.
STS in Taiwan and Korea takes yet a different disciplinary orientation: both influenced by Joseph Needham’s account of science and technology in Asian civilizations (such as those in Science and Civilisation in China by Needham and his collaborators), in particular before the Western scientific revolution, and both developing their research agendas from the discipline of the history and philosophy of science, Taiwan and Korea have structured their criticism of scientific development as a necessary step toward democratization. The introduction of mainstream STS theories such as the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, Actor-Network Theory, Social Worlds Theory, and the Anthropology of Science and Technology did not erase these traditions; instead, introduced by East Asian scholars returning from Europe and the US, such theories have blended into existing traditions, stimulating the growth of new STS communities in East Asia.
EASTS’ inception can be understood in this light. Founded in 2007, EASTS started out as an intellectual network of scholars in the history and philosophy of science, mainly from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and what we used to call “outside of East Asia” branch, or “OEA” for short. With the support of Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology, EASTS aimed to be the first English-language journal dedicated to East Asian STS. The founding editorial board included Daiwie Fu as editor-in-chief, Chia-Ling Wu, Togo Tsukahara, Sungook Hong, and Warwick Anderson as associate editors, and more than forty editorial board members from communities covering not only traditional East Asia but also Australia and Southeast Asia, and covering various disciplines from the history and philosophy of science and history of medicine to public understanding of science and science policy. The journal itself came into being as the realization of this collective voice that was seeking the meaning of doing STS in and on East Asia.
As a quarterly, EASTS, like other academic journals, publishes research articles, research notes, review essays, commentaries, and forums. Even so, in order to make itself distinct, a large amount of editorial effort has been put into book reviews and the covers, which are perhaps marginal for an academic journal (see the assemblage of some covers in Figure 1). Since our inception, covers have been a colorful and artistic feature of EASTS. For each issue, editors carefully choose material that will be intellectually compelling for readers and transform it into a piece of visual art that faithfully conveys its nuances. With a team that consists of more than ten editors covering major Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) as well as French and German, in our Book Review section EASTS aims to be the gateway to East Asian STS, with reviews of books published in Asian languages as well as in English.
For those who want to understand the intellectual characteristics of EASTS in balancing the different origins of and ideas on STS, the quickest way is to read Daiwie Fu’s positioning paper “How Far Can East Asian STS go?” published in its first issue (1.1. It can be read or downloaded at https://read.dukeupress.edu/ easts/article/1/1/1/25936/How-Far-Can-East-Asian-STS-Go-A-position-paper?searchresult=1). By proposing EASTS to be a venue for “a distinctive EASTS study”, Fu called for a reassessment of existing interpretive frames (such as “center-periphery” models or post-colonial connections) and claimed an intellectual network that is made to set new parameters for studying East Asian STS. He also called for research agendas, such as focusing on socially embedded, situated technologies, in order to substantiate interdisciplinary and cross-cultural practices of STS. As Fu enthusiastically concludes, “East Asian STS will offer fresh STS perspectives because of its special local experiences, shared cultural and colonial histories, similar geological and meteorological makeup, and similar global positions… No doubt, East Asia has a lot to offer STS communities worldwide”.
During his six years of editorship (2007-2012) Fu’s efforts can be appreciated in thematic issues on gender and technology (such as 2.2) and traditional technology and knowledge (such as 4.2 and 5.2), as well as in forums on the 50th anniversary of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution (6.4), “Engaging Asia: A Forum on the History of Science and Technology” (6.2), and a panel discussion on the 2011 tsunami and subsequent Fukushima crisis in Japan (5.3). Further, EASTS has been open for different perspectives, and ways envisioning how EASTS could achieve a scholarship that engages not only people living in and working on this region but the global STS community. The issue “What Is Distinctive East Asian STS: Method, Assemblages, or Theories?” (6.4) was fully dedicated to reflecting on these perspectives.
It might be helpful to briefly review these visions. First is the relationship between science and the state. While EASTS is concerned with science policy, in particular deliberative democracy in science and technology, a more engaged
scholarship is needed on national policy toward science and technology in terms of R&D. For this, EASTS has achieved discussions in both a national and international context, such as China’s biopolitics (5.3.), Singapore’s Biopolis (7.1), and a comparison between Japan and New Zealand (5.4). Second, as the only journal in English on this area, EASTS has been expected to establish a scholarship that moves beyond “area studies” of STS. In addition to theoretical reflections, in its first decade the papers published in EASTS have brought up situations that challenge the meaning of East Asia and reframe the STS specificity. Reflecting the multiple origins of STS in East Asia, its papers belong to various disciplines, such as the history of science, sociology, technology studies, and anthropology. Nonetheless, together they exemplify efforts to expand the networks of STS beyond mainstream narratives in the Anglo-American context. A case for this can be seen in the issues on traditional medicines in East Asia (notably 2.4, 7.3, and 8.1). The theme is distinctively East Asian, yet capturing how these therapies travel around the world and changing ways of thinking about these living traditions is definitely a global question.
Chia-Ling Wu, editor-in-chief from 2013 to 2015, inherited the spirit of making EASTS an intellectual platform that thrives on harmony in diversity, yet without becoming some kind of STS “fox”—to use EASTS current associate editor Fa-ti Fan’s term—roaming through disciplinary, geographical, and intellectual territories (in his response to Fu’s position paper mentioned previously). While focused on East (and Southeast) Asia, EASTS is gradually expanding its geographical reach, publishing articles on South Asia (such as the issue on Indonesian STS, 11.1). We are also actively searching for articles in various disciplines to best present East Asia as both an intellectual subject and a meaningful method for doing global STS.
Though EASTS is still a young journal, we as editors are delighted that it has already become a permanent fixture in the networking infrastructure of global STS. A collaborative undertaking with the internationally renowned publishers Springer (from 2007 to 2011) and Duke University Press (from 2012), EASTS, like the landscape of East Asia, is always in transition. When the late Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) president Susan Leigh Star made mention of EASTS in 2007, it was as one of those initiatives not based in the traditional STS regions of America and Europe. With 4S inviting more non-Western involvement, and with EASTS advisory editors Kim Fortun and Ulrike Felt elected presidents of 4S and of EASST respectively in 2017, this seems to be the right time to renew EASTS’ road map. While looking back at the multiple histories of STS in East Asia, it must reinvent itself by introducing research agendas that push EASTS beyond existing framings, such as simplified dichotomies of West and East as “center-periphery” or “theory-subject”. We believe that this is why EASTS won the 4S Infrastructure Award in 2018, and we are grateful that our work with the journal has been recognized this way.
Ours is a fast-changing technoscientific world, and one in which East Asia isn’t an outsider but has a permanent seat at the table. EASTS doesn’t aim to provide the ultimate answers to all of STS’s questions; but we do believe that these answers—if they exist—can only be approached and set down on paper by making use of the expanding networks and evolving infrastructures of an STS community that can shape social agendas and create responsive scholarship. To borrow Confucius’ words, we strive for harmony in diversity.
Though we are indexed by Web of Science (SSCI and A&HCI) since 2016, EASTS equally treasures networks created via scholarly collaboration. We believe that any scholarly piece published in EASTS does not stand alone and will not fade away. So we invite you to join us in contributing your own work to the living archive that is EASTS!
The platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, is a strange critter. An egg-laying, duck-billed, semi-aquatic mammal with venomous ankle spurs and electroreceptors in its beak, the platypus is the sole member of its family and genus. Its physiology so challenged existing taxonomies that when European naturalists first encountered a specimen, they insisted that it had to be a hoax: a taxidermied amalgam of spare parts from various other species (Moyal 2004). Similarly, the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC) plays host to a deeply heterogeneous collection of anthropologists, media theorists, designers, and other scholars of sociotechnical systems. Their diverse theoretical commitments, methodological strategies, and empirical objects resist neat categorizations; their social networks and professional trajectories are no less singular.
When Jenny Cool, Patricia Lange, and Jordan Kraemer founded the CASTAC blog in 2012, their goal was not to prune these various weedy strands of inquiry, but rather to provide a platform for their cross-pollination and hybridization. When the team behind the CASTAC Blog decided to give the site a name, they chose Platypus in part to represent the variegated character of this assemblage. Beyond a mere symbol of our own professional eclecticism, however, the platypus is also a provocation: an occasion to think through the hybridity and complexity at the heart of scientific practice itself. At the same time, it is important to remember that it is precisely this hodgepodge of seemingly disparate features that allows the platypus, and hopefully Platypus, to succeed within its specific ecological niche.
As the current Editor of Platypus, I have attempted to live up to the morphological and behavioral creativity of our furry namesake. Practically speaking, this has meant that I have continued to treat Platypus as an experimental, messy space: a test-bed for anthropologists and designers to share work in progress, try out risky new concepts, or chew over current events. However, the blog is also home to more directly curated thematic series, intervening into areas of contemporary concern ranging from posthumanism, to designing for disability, to law in computation. These series are purposefully designed as intermittent and punctuated, carrying the conversation across months or years as their empirical objects and theoretical con-texts shift and develop.
Rather than any specific conceptual agenda, the blog has always prioritized its communal function: densifying the human-to-human connections that make up any vibrant scholarly community. Our blog has thrived in large part due to the unflagging support of CASTAC and its parent organization, the General Anthropology Division of the American Anthropological Association. Many of our readers still approach the blog through the gateway of the CASTAC mailing list. Over the past three years, however, our readership has exploded beyond both anthropology and the United States, mostly driven by our social media presence: today, the majority of our readers come from outside the United States, with substantial engagement from Latin America and Europe. We have recently started publishing bilingual posts, and welcome submissions in any language alongside the blog’s primary language of English.
Given the diversity of theoretical investments, professional backgrounds, and methodological repertoires of our readers and authors, the editors of Platypus have neither wished nor tried to enforce any sort of intellectual orthodoxy. We view our platform not as a pulpit but as a trading ground, where folks from across the globe and disciplines can meet to generate productive insights into our technological contemporary. However, despite the lack of centripetal efforts, the blog has seen the emergence and continual refinement of a surprisingly consistent approach to the study of science, technology, and computing. Rather than conceptual or methodological unity, however, our project’s coherence — such as it is — seems to lie in the specific way that our community blends the practical and conceptual repertoires of anthropological and design thinking.
As a corollary of this laissez-faire approach to intellectual curation, Platypus has also quite consciously resisted elaborating any specific, prescriptive political stance, beyond supporting our individual contributors when they choose to advance their own commitments. Beyond our reluctance to risk misrepresenting the complex and various political investments of our community, there are quite simply other platforms that do political work more effectively and more precisely than our assemblage could. That said, the blog does have a specific and coherent approach to using academic research to intervene into political discourse. Rather than targeting interventions at the level of either public discourse or policy solutions, our authors have tended towards focusing on finding new, orthogonal approaches to long-standing social problems. Whether through revealing new methodological strategies, furnishing conceptual tools, or building concrete alliances, these approaches have mirrored the intellectual approach of Platypus in their focus on engaging the design process behind both technologies and policies. Rather than trying to argue over what should be built, we try to open conversations about how we might build sociotechnical systems in more democratic and egalitarian ways.
This focus on process and design extends to our own sociotechnical infrastructure. The founding editorial collective was explicitly dedicated to building an editorial process and publishing infrastructure that would maximize community involvement and democratic decision-making about the direction of the blog. Over the past six years, this commitment has guided the evolution of our somewhat idiosyncratic editorial ecosystem: the Editor of the blog is responsible for recruiting and supervising ten Contributing Editors (CEs), who are in turn responsible for soliciting or writing all of our regularly-scheduled weekly posts. (When we receive proposals for posts, the Editor generally works with authors directly, or directs them to the CE whose research and publishing interests most closely fits with the proposed topic.) CEs perform first-line edits on posts they are curating, before passing it on to another CE who acts as a “first reader” for argumentation and organization. The Editor supervises this process, providing a final style and format edit, as well as directly handling the editorial duties for the thematic series.
This editorial approach places CEs, usually junior scholars, in relatively unsupervised curatorial positions that allow them to pursue their own intellectual agendas and build relationships with authors, who are as often senior scholars as they are peers. Hopefully, this structure both contributes to and reflects the primary commitments of the blog: providing a platform for coherent conversations to emerge among the multiplex strands of research and the heterogeneous social networks that make up the anthropology of technology, design, and computing. If you are interested in joining the conversation, whether as an author or a contributing editor, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Unlike our namesake, we are neither venomous nor predatory.
Limn is a scholarly magazine that focuses on contemporary problems arising at the intersection of politics, expertise and collective life. It is also an experiment in scholarly production in the interpretive human sciences that explores new kinds of collective work and publication. Limn is available both in an open access web format and in print. Each issue of the print magazine has a custom graphic design, with a range of imagery and graphic material related to the contributions.
We created Limn in response to a set of concerns that arose from our shared background in the rapidly changing field of American cultural anthropology during the 1990s and 2000s. At the time, the discipline encouraged individualized work on particular sites or multi-sites, and valorized virtuosic interpretation and writing, while leaving little space for collaborative inquiry or concept work beyond abstract discussions of “theory.” However appropriate these orientations were for anthropology as traditionally conceived, a different approach seemed to be required for studying some of the topics that were moving to the center of the discipline at the time, such as science, technology, bureaucratic rationality, and planning. Given this background—and against it—we were all interested in exploring how research on specific sites or multi-sites might be brought into communication, and what alternative models of inquiry, writing, and publication might foster collaboration.
Initially, we pursued these questions, both together and separately, through well-established vehicles of collective work, such as conference panels, workshops, collected volumes, and joint projects. Our first experiment with novel directions in collective work was the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory (ARC), a collaboration with Paul Rabinow. ARC was a setting in which we began to think about models of inquiry that would allow researchers working on disparate sites to explore common problems that had contemporary significance. In launching Limn as separate initiative, we were particularly concerned question such as: How to expand the network of collaborators? How to establish a distinctive approach to the anthropology of the contemporary while remaining open to cross-fertilization with other approaches? How to re-imagine what scholarly work and publication can be after the Internet and open access? And how might collaboration provide a fresh way to respond in a timely manner to contemporary problems?
The 2009 Deepwater Horizon disaster provided a push in thinking about these issues. In various problem-domains—from computer security, to pandemic preparedness, emergency management, and critical infrastructure protection—we had all been thinking about the renewed contemporary concern among experts and policymakers with the vulnerability of critical systems and had been in communication with colleagues working along parallel lines. We initially entertained the idea of asking some of these colleagues to comment directly on the Deepwater Horizon event. Eventually, however, we settled on a different approach: to shed light on the event by placing it in the context of other events, sites, and problem-areas that raised similar questions, and that pointed to genealogical framings that might help understand why it was being taken up, and responded to, in a particular way. This, initially, was what we meant by “Limn”: to illuminate the space around the event, to understand how it became intelligible, thinkable, and governable. Limn 1, the issue that eventually emerged out of these discussions, was centered on the problem of “systemic risk,” as well as the norms, such as resilience and preparedness, that are invoked in response.
In the course of work on Limn 1 we took note of a productive dynamic. Although we had started with a sense of a core problem that would shape the issue, the process of identifying a group of contributors, discussing possible contributions, and ultimately reading and commenting on those contributions broadened our frame of reference. In this case, it allowed us to think about how a concept from a particular domain—systemic risk was specifically a term of art in financial regulation—might illuminate a broader problematization of contemporary life. Many of our subsequent issues have settled on a term from a particular field that seems to illuminate a broader set of problems: disease ecology, public infrastructure, chokepoints, and hacks, for example. In other cases, we have adapted such “first order” terms to designate something pervasive but as yet unnamed: such as “little development devices,” the “total archive,” or “sentinel devices.”
This orientation to shaping shared problems has given rise to a distinctive work process. In considering proposals for issues, we undertake an intensive and sometimes laborious process—involving both the general editors and the “issue editors” who have made the proposal—of identifying the core concept or problems that should be at the center of the issue, and the historical framing that will bring it to life. A great deal of this work takes place in the crafting, revising, and narrowing of prompts which we use to identify and then invite particular people to participate in an issue. These prompts are not published, and the work that goes into them is not directly visible in the journal itself, though they often provide a first outline for the introduction or preface to each issue.
Limn has also been an experiment in scholarly publishing in a time of rapid and significant change in that world. Limn has built on various experiences: Kelty’s experience with the success of the blog Savage Minds, the collaboration around ARC, the rise and spread of open access, and the rapid change in the availability and suitability of technical tools suitable for both online publication and DIY print publication. Limn is also a reaction to the standardization and normalization of journals and article forms, to the disciplinary gate-keeping that often governs academic publishing, and the slow publication process and public inaccessibility of most disciplinary journals. Despite what might have been an obvious (and labor-saving) choice to go all-digital, we also recognized early on that the print magazine still commands a large degree of respect and authority among academics, and confers a sense that the endeavor is more than a blog or a kind of online confab. Our commitment to producing a bespoke design for each issue is both a tribute to the history of the small magazine (and a desire to preserve that form and practice in the face of digital dissolution), and an attempt to think about design, juxtaposition, layout, format as elements of a collaborative enterprise.
All the work on Limn is done by the three general editors (Collier, Kelty, and Lakoff), the graphic designer (Høyem), copyeditors and research assistants, and, crucially, the co-editors who work on, and have generally proposed, a particular issue. Thus far we have been lucky to have such input from Lilly Irani, Nick Seaver, Frederic Keck, Mikko Jauho, David Schleifer, Bart Penders, Xaq Frohlich, Boris Jardine, Antina von Schnitzler, James Christopher Mizes, Biella Coleman, Peter Redfield, Jason Cons, Townsend Middleton, Ashley Carse, and Alice Street. The bulk of the money we spend goes to the design of the print version. Thus far, there has been no marketing or promotion, and no involvement from any professional press or journal, and no managing editor; all production and distribution for the journal relies on other infrastructures (tools like Amazon’s CreateSpace or MailChimp), which are both liberating and at the same time, unstable.
Since the first issue of Limn in 2011, this labor-of-love, small-scale, outsider experiment has exceeded our expectations. As of this writing, we are about to release our tenth issue. We have published over fifteen hundred pages of writing by more than one hundred twenty contributors. Over one thousand subscribers are on our mailing list and our twitter account has more than one thousand followers. Anecdotally, our colleagues appreciate Limn as a welcome alternative to existing venues of scholarly publishing. Despite the fact that Limn offers none of the professional rewards of publication in standard academic journals, nearly all of the authors we invite to write for Limn agree to do so.
We reflect frequently on the kind of future we imagine for Limn—and whether, indeed, it should have a future, or should be concluded as a limited experiment that has run its course. What remains at the heart of the endeavor and keeps us engaged is the desire to find a form for collaborative inquiry that escapes the more stultifying aspects of normal university and disciplinary life, and that sustains and valorizes intellectual engagement. We continue to discuss Limn as if it were more than a magazine—as an umbrella, network, or platform—and frequently ask ourselves how the model might evolve. Are there ways in which a “Limn 2.0” might better realize those ambitions by opening up the editorial collective, or loosening our own sense of what this platform is good for? Might there be opportunities to explore collaboration with an established press? Or would the compromises (to accessibility, to format, to the genre of contribution) outweigh the benefits of greater support in editing, production, and distribution?
Our culture is a scientific one, defining what is natural and what is rational. Its values can be seen in what are sought out as facts and made as artefacts, what are designed as processes and products, and what are forged as weapons and filmed as wonders. In our daily experience, power is exercised through expertise, e.g. in science, technology and medicine. Science as Culture explores how all these shape the values which contend for influence over the wider society. The journal encompasses people’s experiences at various sites – the workplace, the cinema, the computer, the hospital, the home and the academy. The articles are readable, attractive, lively, often humorous, and always jargon-free. SaC aims to be read at leisure, and to be a pleasure.
So reads the mission statement of the journal since its foundation in 1987. The focus has been publicly important topics, especially ongoing controversies or potential ones. Such topics become the rationale for engaging with concepts from STS, cultural studies and wider political debates. These linkages have made the journal attractive to a broad readership across and beyond academic disciplines.
From Critical Theory to cultural studies and STS
SaC was the successor of the Radical Science Journal (RSJ), which had emerged from 1970s critical science movements. This flourished under the broad umbrella of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, which published the magazine Science for People. As its activists argued, technical fixes were defining societal problems in ways that strengthen elite agendas for class exploitation, gender oppression and environmental degradation, while technicising and thus depoliticising such issues (Bell, 2013; Werskey, 2007; see http://www.bssrs.org/home).
Contributing theoretical perspectives to those strategic debates, the Radical Science Journal drew on concepts from counter-cultural, feminist, environmentalist and alternative health movements. From Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School tradition, the key concepts reification and fetishism were extended to technique and expert knowledge. As already noted by historians, basic scientific concepts have always depended on old or new metaphors; RSJ analysed how these naturalise specific values as properties of facts or artefacts. The critique drew on Marx’ insight, ‘This fetishism of commodities has its origin in the peculiar social character of the labour that produced them…’ By analogy, scientific facts likewise were shaped by social relations of scientific labour yet were fetishized as products of Nature (Young, 1977).
Members participated in the Labour Process Group within the Conference of Socialist Economists, informing analyses of science and technology as a labour process. ‘Capitalist science’ resulted from a labour process constituted by capitalist social relations, e.g. a division of labour, professional hierarchy, proprietary knowledge, etc. (RSJ Collective, 1981; Werskey, 2007: 439). Together these concepts highlighted the implicit politics in elite agendas, while linking diverse cases around a common framework. Labour process perspectives were further elaborated in a two-volume collection (Levidow and Young, 1981 and 1985).
The Editorial Collective had close links with social movements and political campaigns, which generated topics for RSJ’s monthly series of public events. Members included academics (in the Sociology, Philosophy and History of Science), medics, science teachers, psychotherapists and various political activists. The Radical Publications Group provided a wider platform for regular discussions amongst critical journals on science, statistics, history, philosophy, social work, political economy, etc.
RSJEditorial Collective members also attended an annual international meeting of critical journals. These included Naturkampen(Denmark), Cahiers Galilee(Belgium), Science for the People (US), Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parshad (India) and Contrainformazione (Italy), as well as mass-circulation magazines such as Wechselwirkung(Germany)and Sapere(Italy). These annual discussions helped to sharpen critical perspectives on issues such as chemical disasters, automation, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, techno-torture, new reproductive technologies, etc. (Levidow and Vitale, 1981).
RSJ drew on perspectives from early STS, cultural studies and feminist studies. For example, a 1985 special issue analysed ICTs as Compulsive Technology, a title which has even greater relevance today (guest editors: Tony Solomonides and Les Levidow). A 1987 special issue explored how power is gendered and mediated through notions of science, technology and nature (Gender and Expertise, guest editor: Maureen McNeil). Meanwhile cultural studies were analysing how technoscientific developments set agendas for expert authority, social identity and social order. These interdisciplinary synergies provided a basis for the successor journal.
New journal: Science as Culture
For most of the UK’s critical journals in the 1970s, an Editorial Collective handled the entire production process including subscriptions and bookshop distribution. From the early 1980s onwards, however, Thatcher’s neoliberal Britain was closing down the spaces for such political alternatives and work modes. Critical journals depended heavily on substantial voluntary labour, which was becoming more difficult to sustain. For their public exposure and sales, they depended on bookshop distribution, but fewer journals were being stocked. For these reasons, most of the UK’s critical journals turned to commercial publishers, even whilst recognising that these might limit readers’ access through copyright restrictions and commercial pricing.
Given those general constraints on critical journals, alongside new opportunities for interdisciplinary exchanges, the Editors decided to replace RSJwith a new journal, Science as Culture (henceforth SaC). In the mid-1980s the Editors had founded a new press, Free Association Books, which now became the SaC publisher, but depended on at least five journal distributors across several continents. These arrangements were soon simplified by switching publisher to Guilford Publications (NY) and then Carfax (UK), which in turn was acquired by Taylor & Francis; its STS journals list helped to raise the profile of SaC.
Why science as culture? As noted in the first issue, our everyday mundane and aesthetic experiences are already mediated by technologies, becoming ‘so much part of household furniture that we no longer experience them as technologies’. Although technological applications were sometimes debated as issues of values and power, their design priorities rarely underwent such scrutiny. And scientific knowledge remained largely invulnerable to critique, especially in the wake of science popularisation.
The mass media eagerly cater for a growing market which looks to scientific knowledge for enlightenment, entertainment, diversion…. Thus we have an abundance of science-as-culture, but it is primarily for consumption, much less often for debate about choices of values and priorities. The alternative to science-as-consumption is cultural critique (SaC Editors, 1987).
Hence SaC has analysed ‘the production of meanings in scientific culture and in the broader culture as influenced by science’ (ibid).
Although now positioning itself as an academic journal, SaC articles always went beyond academic disciplines and issues. Articles analysed power relations, labour processes, cultural meanings, their naturalisation and societal conflicts in diverse forms and sites. SaC presented itself as an STS journal critically analysing technoscience in its many manifestations. Open to diverse disciplinary perspectives, SaC became a crucible for the interdisciplinary exchanges characterising STS.
Going further, the journal has had a transdisciplinary orientation to societal conflicts:
Transdisciplinarity explicitly orients its knowledge production not only around disciplinary problem-definitions but also around other definitions, derived from pressures, ‘applications’ or from societal stakeholders…. [Yet] different stakeholders may have different views about what the problem at stake actually is… (Maasen et al, 2006: 396).
Starting from such societal conflicts, SaC articles have analysed agendas for reordering society, their stabilisation through expertise, and their destabilisation through resistances including counter-expertise (e.g. Fortun and Cherkasky, 1998). This transdisciplinary perspective has many resonances with critical STS (e.g. Jasanoff, 2004; Jasanoff and Kim, 2015; Kleinman and Moore, 2014; Pellizzoni and Ylönen, 2012).
Beyond research articles and book reviews, SaC has analysed tensions within STS. According to one critic, STS epistemological debates about truth or objectivity obscure contests over power and alternative futures (Hamlin, 2007). Johan Söderberg (2017) contrasts a ‘political economy’ tendency with a post-structuralist one, while tracing their differences to legacies from 1970s Marxism. SaC welcomes more articles on such tensions, especially why these matter for practice.
For the journal’s remit on the wider culture, a recurrent focus has been popular media and exhibitions, particularly how they celebrate technoscience. A 1995 special issue analysed Science on Display (guest editor: Sharon Macdonald). Other essays on exhibitions include Angela Last (2017), ‘Making nature, making energy, making humans’. More such contributions are sought.
SaC special issues and Forums
Special issues have generated and juxtaposed diverse perspectives on a topic. Through early discussion with the SaC Editors, the guest editors have sharpened the conceptual approach, drawing on more critical perspectives from STS and beyond. Reviewers of the papers include fellow contributors, whose own papers have benefited as a result.
Amongst the most popular special issues has been ‘Energy Transitions’ (guest Editors:Clark Miller, Alastair Iles & Christopher Jones, 2013). As the guest Introduction argues, ‘the key choices involved in energy transitions are not so much between different fuels but between different forms of social, economic, and political arrangements built in combination with new energy technologies’. Across the various articles, socio-technological systems perspectives linked three questions:
“What does it mean that energy systems are at once relatively hidden from public scrutiny and yet deeply structuring of social and economic arrangements that can stifle alternatives without our realizing it? Who knows about energy systems, what and how do they know, and whose knowledge counts in governing and reshaping energy futures? And what does it mean to implement a just energy transformation that will neither perpetuate the existing negative impacts of energy production and use nor create new ones?” (Miller et al., 2013).
‘Agro-Food Crises’ (guest Editors:Anne Loeber, Maarten Hajer and Les Levidow, 2011) examined the late 20th century agro-food disasters that were experienced as societal crises. Key actors made sense of these crises through specific risk framings that linked social and natural (dis)order in new ways. Contributors took a discourse-analytic approach to those societal conflicts and incipient agendas for institutional change.
To sharpen debate, SaC Editors have introduced topical Special Forums. These bring together articles of under 6k words, many written by non-academics, with a fast review procedure. This format provides a flexible means to scope new topics, to gather multiple critical approaches and to highlight their political relevance.
Public unease or antagonism towards some technoscientific developments has been a recurrent topic in SaC. Readers showed great interest in an article by Ian Welsh and Brian Wynne (2013), ‘Science, scientism and imaginaries of publics in the UK: passive objects, incipient threats’. They argued that elite strategy has shifted away from incorporating public unease, instead treating it as politicised threats requiring state control or even suppression. This article became the focus for a Forum on ‘Publics as Threats to Technoscientific Progress’ (2015).
Forums have taken up several other topics. ‘Embedding Social Sciences?’ (2014) critically analysed policy roles of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). This started from an article questioning whether SSH were being appropriated for dominant policy agendas: ‘the call for “embedding SSH”, within lines of reasoning already predefined by sciences and engineering, translates a hierarchy and potentially limits SSH in developing its full potential’ (Felt, 2014). The Forum on ‘Contested Technology from the 1970s to the Present’ (2016) reflected on the 1970-80s radical science movements, drawing lessons for today’s analogous agendas. ‘Techno-Economic Assumptions’ (2017) analysed economic assumptions that pervade expert judgements about knowledge, technology design and government policy.
Future special issues will include the following topics: ‘Alter-Standardising Clinical Trial’s (guest editor: Achim Rosemann), ‘Techno-security Cultures’ (guest editors: Jutta Weber and Katrin M. Kämpf), ‘Urban Techno‐Politics’ (guest editors: Thaddeus Miller and Rider Foley) and ‘Justice and Counter-Expertise’ (guest editors: Sharlissa Moore and Logan Williams). This builds on a 1988 special issue, ‘Strategising Counter-Expertise’ (guest editors: Kim Fortun & Todd Cherkasky).
SaC is widely available through e-journal systems. Most publishers have shifted their business models from individual subscriptions to thematic ‘bundles’, e.g. STS and cultural studies, several of which include SaC. Its downloads have been rising every year; some papers of broad interest are available as free downloads.
The journal has two levels of organisation. Everyday operations have been run by four people: the Editor Les Levidow, two Associate Editors in Kean Birch and Uli Beisel, and Book Reviews Editor Martin Savransky (previously David Tyfield). Advisory Panel members play important roles in advising on strategy, publicising the journal and reviewing submissions. Advisory Panel meetings are held regularly at EASST and 4S conferences.
Both the special issue and Forum formats offer opportunities for early-career academics to serve as guest editors. They gain experience in editorial judgements and responsibility, working with the SaC Editors. Several guest editors have joined the SaC Advisory Panel.
The journal invites submissions and proposals for special issues or Forums. These usually begin with a set of potential papers from an academic event, as the basis to formulate an open call for contributions. Proposals should be sent to the Editor, L.Levidow@open.ac.uk
Levidow, L. and Vitale, B. 1981. International meeting of radical science journals, Radical Science Journal 11: 101-110.
Levidow, L. and Young, R.M., eds (1981) Science, Technology and the Labour Process, vol.1, London: CSE Books.
Levidow, L. and Young, R.M., eds (1985) Science, Technology and the Labour Process, vol.2, London: Free Association Books.
Maasen, S., Lengwiler, M., Guggenheim, M. 2006. Practices of transdisciplinary research: close(r) encounters of science and society, Science and Public Policy 33(6): 394–398, https://doi.org/10.3152/147154306781778830
The Russian-based journal “Sociology of Science and Technology” (SST) aims at international visibility and welcomes contributions in social and interdisciplinary studies of science and technology worldwide. SST develops a network of authors and reviewers and often experiments with special issues and guest editors in order to facilitate international discussion accessible to both Russian and non-Russian readers. The journal follows current turns in Russian social studies to science and technology studies (STS) and represents both conventional and new research agendas.
The SST journal is a quarterly professional journal, published both in Russian and in English. It was established in 2009 by the St. Petersburg branch of the S.I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Natural Science and Technology at the Russian Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with the “Nestor-Istoriya” publishing house. SST was designed as a platform for social scientists and researchers and to experiment with formats in addition to more classical types of publications. Despite its Russian-based origins, the journal strives for global recognition: the editorial advisory board includes scholars not only from Russia but also from European, Asian, and American countries. The journal collaborates closely, and develops partnerships, with related institutions and organizations, including international professional associations such as the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee 23 for the Sociology of Science and Technology. SST is now on its way to becoming an international publication platform following recognition in Russian journal rankings. It is experiencing a ‘rebirth’, in terms of technological changes and transfer to a new platform, in order to become more visible and appropriate for English-speaking audiences.
SST was intended as a platform for social scientists and researchers dealing with the issues of sociology, history, philosophy, and the anthropology of science and technology in general, and STS in particular. In order to serve the purposes and demands of the professional community and to remain on the cutting edge of STS trends, it is relatively flexible with formats and thematic issues. Traditionally, it collects theoretical and research articles, assembles topical issues and special editions, publishes conference papers, book reviews, conference reports, roundtables conversations, and interviews with scientists and researchers, as well as other open-ended contributions.
The major focus of SST is the social and interdisciplinary study of science and technology across a huge range of approaches, methodologies, and empirical results. The scope of topics includes problems of science and technology located in various areas, including: science, technology and society; science policy and science communication; science and education; technology and innovations; scientometrics and science governance; technological development and technology transfer; professional communities of scientists and academic mobility; gender issues in science and technology; social effects of technologies; the social role and status of scientists; and the sociology of knowledge and studies of expertise. The relatively recent (in Russia) turn to STS has facilitated the spread of interest in non-conventional and experimental writings, though the most frequent sections are still devoted to the history of science, science policy in Russia and abroad, scientific knowledge production, empirical studies, interviews with scientists, scientific life notes, and the first steps for young researchers.
The last special issue (No 4, 2015) gathered papers from the first St. Petersburg seminar which was organized by the Section for Sociology of Science and Technology at the St. Petersburg Association for Sociologists. The idea of the seminar was to bring together researchers from various institutions to represent the scope of studies and to facilitate future collaborations. There were eight articles devoted to information technologies, networks and flows, state and innovations, material objects in everyday interactions, comparative analysis of Latour and Lyotard, trust in science, and scientific boundaries. Other special issues have been devoted to “25 Years of Sociological Education in Russia” (No 2, 2014), “Russian-Chinese Seminar on the History of Science” (No 1, 2013), “Science, Technology and Social Processes in India: Sociological Discourses” (No 4, 2012), or the 100th anniversary of Robert Merton’s birth (No 4, 2010).
Our readers are students and scholars in STS, sociology, anthropology, history, and the philosophy of science and technologies; researchers dealing with various aspects of science functioning and technological development, governing of science and technology, and academic life and relationships with industry and government. Practitioners and policy-makers might also be interested in the journal articles, as they often represent the analytical and critical perspective of the current state of affairs in terms of science policy.
As the SST journal is on its way towards increased international visibility, it invites participation from a larger professional community of scholars working in the area of science and technology studies. The journal welcomes research in the areas of social and interdisciplinary studies of science and technology. Papers analyzing national aspects of science and technology development might be especially interesting in the framework of comparative studies. The SST journal seeks submissions that engage with traditional and shaping matters and welcomes participation in an ambitious plan – to construct a bridge between the global agenda in STS and its locally driven contributions with a Russian flavor.
Original manuscripts (either in English or in Russian) can be submitted via e-mail directly to the editor (email@example.com). Author guidelines are available on the official web-site.
Somatosphere is an online forum focused on medical anthropology, as well as the humanities and social sciences of health and medicine more broadly. The site aims to raise critical questions, debate and commentary about contemporary and historical matters of science, healing, illness, and the body. One of our key goals is not only to publish engaging essays, reviews, and new research in medical anthropology and social science, but to incorporate the flexibility and networking capabilities of digital media, generating new and rich links in and among ideas and across disciplinary boundaries. While there are a number of such disciplinary links and boundaries that we have actively worked around over the years, the relationship between medical anthropology and science and technology studies (STS) is among the most significant for us.
The site was founded in mid-2008 by a small number of then-fledgling medical anthropologists, including Erin Koch, Anne Kelly, Stephanie Lloyd, Todd Meyers, Matthew Wolf-Meyers, and me. We were impressed with the success of general anthropology blogs such as Savage Minds, and we all felt that medical anthropology needed a distinct space online. But it was also the case that most of us were inclined to a particular kind of medical anthropology: one that was closely engaged with questions of epistemology, history, and politics. For many of us neighboring disciplines and problem areas such as STS and the history of medicine were not only vital sources of inspiration, but domains in which we were interested in developing closer engagements and conversations. For some of us, working on the site also became a way of exploring both how medical anthropology was situated in a wider landscape of medical humanities and social sciences and thinking about what it could become.
Of course, by 2008 the relationship between anthropology and STS was well-established. Indeed, the relationship had been decades in development. Pioneers in feminist science studies included anthropologists like Emily Martin and Rayna Rapp, and anthropologists of biomedicine such as Allan Young and Margaret Lock were already engaging with science studies literatures in the early 1980s. If the 1990s had still seen the publication of works with titles like David Hess’s “If You’re Thinking of Living in STS….A Guide for the Perplexed” (1998) by the late 2000s many anthropologists were familiar with key STS scholars and texts. The broader project was no longer one of establishing connections but of asking new questions and developing new approaches on the basis of a medical anthropology which had one foot firmly set in the STS world. Indeed, new kinds of inter- and trans-disciplinary work was being proposed and carried out at the time, such as the Critical Neuroscience project, which drew partly on the tools of STS to enable both critique of and active engagement with the neurosciences. This kind of orientation to the horizons of medical anthropology has shaped the direction of Somatosphere from the beginning.
In the early days, the problem of finding contributions for the site was solved largely by drawing on our own networks of colleagues and friends, but as the readership for the site grew, we were increasingly able to use methods such as open calls for contributions and social media to reach scholars who had no prior connections to us. We also worked to expand the size of the editorial team. In 2014 we established an Editorial Collaborative of scholars who work together to develop the overall vision for the site. We now have an editorial team of some 50 rising and established scholars, and have published the work of some 500 contributors in all. We have one paid position, that of Managing Editor, currently occupied by the indefatigable Gregory Clinton, but otherwise all of the work put into Somatosphere is volunteered, part of the gift economy of the scholarly world.
While the website runs a range of pieces or posts, at its core are a variety of substantive pieces written by anthropologists and other social scientists, including research or fieldwork reports, conceptual pieces, interviews, and conference reports. And of course we publish many book reviews, thanks to the hard work of Seth Messinger, our book reviews editor. Substantive pieces are generally more polished than a typical academic blog post, with many undergoing several rounds of revision prior to publication. The site also runs monthly summaries of the latest academic literature in the social sciences of health and medicine (in a section currently edited by Anna Zogas) and a web round-up series which focuses on a different theme every month (edited by Lily Shapiro). Another popular series include “Top of the heap”, (currently compiled by Hannah Gibson) in which we ask scholars to recount what they have been reading or what they intend to read. Somatosphere has also increasingly taken on the task of facilitating current discussions and debates on the methods, arguments and politics of social science, both by extending discussions that occur at academic conferences as well as by publishing point-counterpoint pieces. Finally, in a series that was conceived of and is edited by Todd Meyers, we have been organizing book forums in which several contributors write open-ended responses to a recent book and the author responds. This has proved to be a very productive genre and we hope to run many more of them in the future.
I see the site as also providing a space for experimentation with form and genre at a moment when the ecology of academic publication and communication is rapidly changing. Particularly successful series in this regard have included “Commonplaces” – a series of short reflections on medical “keywords” written by leading scholars edited by Tomas Matza and Harris Solomon, and “The Ethnographic Case” – a series of short essays on the tensions between the general and the particular in the production of ethnographic knowledge, edited by Christine Labuski and Emily Yates-Doerr. Both of these series present relatively short, carefully written and edited reflections which are compelling to our specialist readers, but also, judging from the feedback we have received, very accessible to a range of non-specialists as well. We’re hoping to continue exploring the possibilities for online publication, especially in regard to the potential for employing multiple media, including image, video, and sound. Recent work that the journal Cultural Anthropology has been doing in this area is especially inspiring.
The speed of online publication allows Somatosphere and other similar venues to respond to unfolding events of concern in a way that is more challenging for traditional academic publications. To take one notable example, during the Ebola outbreak of 2014, Somatosphere ran a series of posts titled “Ebola Fieldnotes”. One of these pieces, a co-authored post by Almudena Marí Sáez, Ann Kelly and Hannah Brown, a group of anthropologists involved in conducting ethnographic research on the social, cultural, and material conditions shaping the outbreak, was picked up and reported on in an NPR (National Public Radio) Weekend Edition story titled, “The Experts the Ebola Response May Need: Anthropologists”. The Somatosphere piece was also later translated and published at La Marea, a Spanish-language news site. The reach of this piece highlights the site’s particular strengths: namely, as a web-based platform, Somatosphere is able to facilitate scholars’ interventions into public debate over compelling contemporary events in a timely way. The example of this piece about Ebola also speaks to the role of the site as a one of the public faces of medical anthropology and its neighbors. Many of our readers are non-specialists—whether scholars in other disciplines, clinicians, undergraduates, or simply readers interested in the perspective the site offers on issues of medicine, health, and society. In editing our posts, we try to keep in mind non-specialists and we encourage our contributors to write in a way which engages such readers.
In addition to our efforts to engage across disciplinary and specialist boundaries, we’ve made an effort to build a global academic community and facilitate conversation across national and regional boundaries in medical anthropology and adjoining fields, pushing against the insularity of many scholarly networks. I should add that this project is very much a work in progress. Most of our initial contributors were based in North America, and while we’ve made a concerted effort to assemble a geographically diverse Editorial Collaborative, and to solicit posts from scholars in a range of countries, there is still much work to do. We hope especially to expand our links to scholars in East Asia, Africa and Latin America, while continuing to work with those based throughout Europe. In addition to regular contributions, one of the ways in which we have attempted to do this is with a series called “Foreign Correspondents” edited by Stephanie Lloyd, which features reviews of significant books published in languages other than English.
While many of the pieces which appear on Somatosphere are invited, we always welcome unsolicited proposals for posts of various kinds, including (but not limited to) thought-pieces, essays, research reports, conference reports, interviews, photo essays, videos, and other multimedia projects. Not only are these great opportunities for students and young scholars to circulate their ideas and to begin publishing, writing a piece for Somatosphere can also be a first step toward developing an idea into a journal article. Indeed, a number of pieces which first appeared on Somatosphere were later reworked into articles for peer-reviewed journals or into book chapters for edited volumes. If you’d like to write a piece for Somatosphere, send us a brief proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following scenario is most likely recognizable to many readers of EASST review. You are with a group of colleagues and friends. You are possibly in a bar, in a basement, or a conference hotel. The voices heard in the room are deep in discussions about an obscure band from the 80s, the latest sci-fi craze or the interpretation of some French theorist. Critical voices delve into the state of the academic publishing system and university policies, as well as the prospects of achieving proper academic tenure any time soon. In sum, you feel slightly uneasy about the state of academia, STS and the world surrounding the ivory tower. The red wine, IPAs and umbrella drinks do nothing to help the situation. The next day you wake up with cottonmouth and a headache, but the world remains the same.
This was our situation, and of course, it still is in many ways. Four years ago, we decided to use the frustration as a catalyst for creative work. The outcome was the launch of what we considered a much-needed scientific journal, catering for the steadily growing, but somewhat disconnected Nordic STS communities, whose scholarship often falls outside the scope of disciplinary journals, while its Nordic field of enquiry sometimes come across as too exotic for the international STS mainstream. This is a paradox in a field where locally anchored and embedded knowledge has always been valued. While NJSTS is an internationally oriented journal, we also want to acknowledge that scholarship emerges from locally situated actions, networks and arenas, and that the importance of this for the scholarship produced should not be ignored.
Further, we wanted to construct an arena where upcoming and established scholars of the north could engage in each other’s work, as well as with the work of interested scholars from other regions. A related question that emerged was the following: is there anything distinctly “Nordic” about our shared breed of STS, and if so – what would this “nordicness” constitute? Thus, the idea of a Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies was borne.
Surprisingly, we soon learned that the formal requirements for establishing a scienti c journal were quite relaxed. They concerned avoiding institutional inbreeding, and setting up a peer review process. So we did it! At the first bi-annual Nordic STS conference in 2013, fittingly located in Hell (!), Norway, our journal was launched with serious academic discussions on the agenda. The real launch however, took place at late night hours in an overcrowded hotel room in the very same non-metaphorical Hell.
While the formalities of setting up shop are not an obstacle, we had – and still have – high ambitions for the contents of our entity. We wanted to make a journal like no other, with interesting content in innovative contexts. Now, in the journals fourth annual volume, we can look back at great individual articles and book reviews from scholars in close to all major Nordic STS communities and beyond, special issues exploring exciting themes, and interviews with big international STS-names. Our papers have spurred controversy, been debated, cited, put on curriculums and have been read and downloaded across the globe. In an age where the term “impact” seems omnipresent as academic currency, this is not too shabby for a small, independent journal. In the years ahead, we want to build on this, to make sure the journal stays an open, democratic and relevant arena for high-quality scholarly exchange in the Nordics and beyond, and an outlet that is open to engagement across arenas like science, the arts and industry. Open access on open platforms is key to this, a strategy we will continue to pursue.
To retain the vibrancy of the journal we are interested in manuscripts of different kinds. First, we seek theoretical or empirical research papers. As we do not doubt for a second that ‘the north’ is part of the globe, authors do not need to work in Nordic institutions or have a specifically Nordic focus to publish with us; we are seeking diverse scholarly contributions engaging broadly with both traditional and emerging issues in STS and surrounding scholarly fields. Second, we seek book reviews. On the one hand, we seek authors interested in reviewing specific books; on the other, we seek hints about which books we should explore. Thus, publishers and authors with new books at the intersection of science, technology, arts, media, society etc. should feel free to get in touch.
Thirdly, we are interested in more open-ended contributions. These could be short commentaries, essays, interviews, conference reports and other reflections – in principle imagination is what stops you here. Finally, we are always interested in dialogues about the possibili- ties of special issues, sections or other ideas that you might have. As a teaser, we can point out that a thematic, guest edited issue on feminist technoscience is on the agenda, so keep your eyes open for an exciting call for papers soon!
STS is increasingly becoming a global endeavor. At the same time, the local settings where STS is enacted, produce local variants, locally anchored traditions of methodology, theory development and analysis. We want contributions that balance the need to address a global audience, with care for the situatedness of the work presented. Thus, while we have mainly published contributions in English, we are also open for manuscripts in other Nordic languages.
We are a small journal, and we will not be able to compete with top journals on matters like impact factor or rating. However, we are dedicated to being better than such journals on matters of author communication, feedback and reviews. We are also quite friendly people. Therefore, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you want to discuss a manuscript or for any other reason!
Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience is a new online, open-source, peer- reviewed journal that has created a publication platform for the ongoing re- activation and remixing of the field of feminist science and technology studies. Catalyst explicitly embraces work that falls within the rubric of called feminist science and technology studies even as it propagates that work within a broader panoply of geographic sites and disciplines as well as through myriad practices, including art, maker culture, and new media praxis. The journal publishes both conventional monographic articles as well as a variety of experimental writings, roundtable conversations, and digital and new media projects. Moreover, Catalyst recognizes the dispersed, divergent, and intersectional political commitments that constitute feminist STS by purposefully moving beyond gender and sexuality as discrete topics to invite scholarship engaged with militarism, blackness, decoloniality, anti-racism, queer politics, political economy, and disability. The journal acknowledges feminist STS as an intersected, many-sited, under revision, and heterogeneous field.
This extensive vision of what might count as feminist engagements with technoscience is signaled by the journal’s name. Etymologically, the word “catalyst” is constructed out of the Greek word katálusis, which means “dissolution.” This sense of coming apart, or coming undone has been reversed in the contemporary usage of the term in social and political discourse, where to catalyze means to stimulate social change or precipitate an event. Catalyst embraces the word’s contradictory associations, including its use as a technical term within chemistry. In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction by changing the amount of activation energy required without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. The addition of a catalyst, in other words, sparks an alternative pathway for a chemical reaction to occur. In practice, this means that a catalyst can be used to trigger a reaction that would otherwise not happen because it requires too much energy. In other words, a catalyst stimulates other routes and relations. Drawing on this plurality of histories and meanings, the journal mobilizes the word Catalyst to describe the task of supporting the ongoing remaking of feminist STS constituted in the uneasy mixture of many trajectories of critical thinking, and towards the political project of a changed world. For instance, tracing an historical itinerary for the term “catalyst,” one could route through the work of the Scottish female chemist Elizabeth Fulhame, who in 1794 published An Essay On Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dying and Painting, wherein the Phlogistic and Antiphlogistic Hypotheses are Proved Erroneous, a text credited with the first description of a chemical catalyst. Aptly, Fulhame’s work in chemistry took as its experimental concern artistic practices, studying chemical processes used within photography, dying, and the creation of metallic fabrics. Thus, routed through Fulhame, the very genealogy of the concept of catalyst brings together the entwined histories of science and art practice, as well as the creation of technoscientific projects in the margins of imperialism and patriarchy.
The desire to create Catalyst came from the acknowledgement that scholars in feminist STS consistently struggled to find journals amenable to their work, and that this especially affected younger scholars who were often undertaking their research in the marginal corners of more conventional disciplines. Thus, it was important to the editorial board that Catalyst be a peer- reviewed journal that would strive to publish work at the cutting-edge of the field. With these ambitious in mind, Catalyst is also a project built out of the labor of a small circle of academic colleagues and graduate students who work transverses the areas of feminist, queer, postcolonial, and antiracist STS and media studies in the US and Canada. The development of Catalyst was not launched by a professional society or academic press, but instead was created out of the work and commitment of people drawing on local and ephemeral sources of funds at their various universities. The journal is made possible by graduate student labor and creativity from UC San Diego, NYU, Emory, UCLA, and the University of Toronto, as well as a modest one-year grant provided by the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S). Thus, the journal currently straddles DIY feminist praxis, where unwaged labor is mobilized to create possibilities otherwise institutionally foreclosed, and a commitment to scholarly rigor and recognition of work in the field.
We are keenly aware that our own composition of US and Canadian academics provides only a partial entry into the efflorescence of critical feminist STS work, and that our itineraries of feminist, anti-racist STS have emerged from particular resistances to American empire and settler colonialism, which are not necessarily the points of departure for critical, political, feminist scholarship generated in other locations. This self-reflection is another reason to embrace the name Catalyst, as a recognition that the work which is submitted to the journal may very well spark a rearrangement of the very terms and boundaries of constitutes feminist STS.
Catalyst publishes two issues a year. It launched its inaugural issue, which included a mixture of both established and newer scholars including graduate students, at the 2015 meeting of 4S in Denver. Its second issue, on Digital Militarism, edited by Lucy Suchman, Isra Ali, Marisa Brandt, Andy Rice, is about to be released in Spring 2016. The Fall 2016 issue, on the theme of Black Feminism and Feminist Technoscience, is coordinated by guest editors Kimberly Juanita Brown, Jared Sexton, and Cristina Visperas. In elevating the ongoing work of black captivity in a range of technoscientific practices, this special issue in particular provokes the question: “What would the end of the world of science – what would the end of science as we know it – do for feminist technoscience, and for science and technology studies more broadly?” A forthcoming special issue on “Science out of Feminist Theory,” guest edited by Banu Subramaniam and Angela Willey, begins from genealogies of postcolonial and queer theory to open spaces for reconceptualizing science itself. Here the contributors will shift the focus from feminist STS to how feminisms and feminist theory can be “generative sites for producing new imaginations and theories of science and the work of knowing our worlds.”
For each special issue, Catalyst has instituted a practice of putting out a wide call for papers that seeks to expand beyond collegial networks and invite interventions into the questions it poses. While all these special issues are purposely crafted to spark the ongoing remixing of feminist STS, Catalyst also invites the submission of individual papers and digital projects looking for a platform from which to stir up of technoscience, feminism, theory, and politics. We hope scholars at EASST and beyond will view Catalyst as a forum where they are welcomed and challenged to the continual remixing of feminist technoscience studies.