Tag Archives: Editorial

Neither one nor two: presenting our new editorial team

In this editorial from the new EASST review editorial team…Okay, that sounds a bit too classic… perhaps démodé…Let us start again. It is our pleasure to…even worse.  What if we cut this quick and collectively thank Ignacio Farias for the terrific job transforming the EASST Review over the past years? He has made it a much more central and contemporary communication platform for EASST and a great source for European STS info, including the new STS Live section to discuss contemporary issues. And of course also many thanks to Sabine Biederman and Anna Gonchar for their important work behind the scenes creating the reviews distinct style, and to the international editorial board members for their diverse contributions over the past years. 

That was the right start! Surely it is difficult to replace Ignacio, we know that and, thus… we have decided a transition towards an editorial team consisting of Sarah Schönbauer (Munich Center for Technology in Society, Technical University of Munich), Vincenzo Pavone (Instituto de Políticas y Bienes Públicos of the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid) and Niki Vermeulen (Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh). Niki was already part of the editorial board and as such it is very much our plan to continue and consolidate the current path of the EASST Review, but with some new faces and perspectives and with a special emphasis on the importance of collaboration in academia. 

In our view, the EASST Review is occupying an important space, in between the research articles in our STS journals and the activities of our local STS hubs, connecting the STS community on a European level. The section STS multiple is showcasing local groups and their programmes, and we would also like to use this section to showcase the various national STS associations and their activities. Cherish not perish is set-up to tell about new journals and alternative publication platforms relevant for STS but we aim to broaden this further and go beyond publications platforms. We also want to shine a light on the great variety of experiences and impact that STS scholars are having as part of their work as consultants, in political activities, among civil society organizations, in non-academic educational settings and elsewhere. 

STS Live is dedicated to developing contemporary themes and discussing current issues, whereby we invite a variety of scholars to contribute their work and thoughts. In our next issue (coming out in February) we will focus (surprise, surprise) on the impact of COVID on our scholarship and community, but for later issues we already have topics such as environmental pollution and toxicity, experiences and challenges of early career scholars, and the meaning of open science in STS in mind. But we also know that YOU have great ideas on themes and contributions and we welcome ideas and reflections from all EASST members to shape the future of the review. It is OUR Review, after all, and this is what it is all about. We want the EASST Review to be the journal you look out for and the place where you first send an idea or contribution when it pops up in your mind. Thereby we also hope to find new collective ways to expand our EASST online platform, facilitating the flow of information and posting about events, ideas, and contributions in a more immediate way and creating exciting interactions.

This current EASST Review is – as it is every two years – completely dedicated to our conference which took place in August, this time together with 4S. We enjoyed seeing many of you there on the various online platforms and of course we would like to thank the organising team again, as they worked wonders, transitioning from preparing a physical meeting in Prague to the hosting of an online version of Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and agency of STS in emerging worlds. The theme of the conference became even more relevant, creating an alternative conference format which allowed us to still gather in Prague, albeit virPrague. As such it might not be a coincidence that one of the organisers Filip Vostal suggested Kafka’s Runner (1907-8) for this issues cover illustration. For an account of his experience as conference organiser, please see his contribution which is accompanied by reflections of conference participants on topics or sessions from the conference. The first Vir_Conference has generated and shared much more than a huge amount of terabytes in videos, slideshows and image captures. This issue is showcasing some conference innovations, such as comics, podcasts and spin-off meetings, as well as crucial reflections on the effects of current times on academic labour, e.g. on how the digital conference experience can be combined with care. This latter contribution connects to our upcoming issue which hopes to take reflections on academic work in times of COVID further.   

Finally, we want to emphasise the importance of the roles that the EASST president and council members are fulfilling in our European STS community. We have therefore dedicated some space to the announcement of the upcoming EASST members meeting and the call for a new president and council members and would encourage all to consider putting themselves forward. We are looking forward to work with Ulrike Felt and the new EASST president, the EASST council and EASST members, and would welcome all your ideas and contributions to the review. You can reach us at: review@easst.net and we are looking forward to hear from you, as the EASST Review consists of contributions from the community. Next contribution could, indeed, be yours.  

Parting words, returning things

This has been quite a run. My tenure as the editor of the EASST Review began shortly after the EASST conference in Torun, basically with me asking Isaac Marrero to publish one of his photos of the fireworks (remember the fireworks?) on the cover of the following issue. It culminates here. After a fundamentally different, but equally successful conference – without fireworks, but with four times as much attendance and, yes, with productive questions about the role of STS in a fundamentally different world. 

When I look back at these six years, I first and foremost see the faces of two friends and colleagues, who have done most of the invisible work: Sabine Biedermann, who became editorial assistant of the EASST Review in 2018 and Anna Gonchar, who’s been its graphic designer since 2014. It’s great to know that you will outlive me in the Review team! 

A very special and wholeheartedly recognition and my gratitude goes also to Josefine Raasch, who co-edited the Review with me during the first year and then became part of the extremely generous Editorial Board we put together. Let me also thank each one of the members of the editorial board: Vicky Singleton, Tomás Sánchez Criado, Andrey Kutzenov, Liliana Doganova, Michaela Spencer and, of course, Niki Vermeulen, who will be part of the editorial collective taking over from now on – and which is completed by Sarah Schonbauer and Vincenzo Pavone. I am very excited to know the Review is in such good hands. 

I was also lucky to enjoy the unrestricted support and blind trust of two different presidents (many many thanks for that Fred Stewart/Sonia Liff and Ulrike Felt!) and two councils (thank you all of you! You’ll understand you are too many to be named here ϑ). In Salla Sariola, editor of our journal Science & Technology Studies, I found a partner in crime and so much inspiration in thinking about what the Review could aspire to be.

I should probably now write something about our accomplishments during these six years, give you some numbers, for example, or things like that. I won’t. In that line, I will just mention the thing I am happiest with, namely, the section ‘STS Multiple’. I think this is a true treasure. So long live STS Multiple. I would rather use this tribune to speak about the things not yet accomplished.

One major set of concerns throughout the last six years has involved the materiality of the Review as a digital object. I started out with the clear idea that the future of the Review could not be in a PDF-document sent out per email to EASST members. The first step, which we managed to accomplish, was to stop the embargo on the PDF and make it available to the whole STS community. But evolving from a PDF to another material and/or digital form was a cause I stopped to fight for, especially as so many people seemed to be so happy with receiving the PDF in their mailboxes. Be that as it may, the challenge seems still to be to device a better digital presence for the Review.

A second set of ideas and ambitions that only partially came to fruition was to transform the EASST Review into a space for experimentation with and reflection about modes of writing in STS. We had many inventive contributions that went in different ways beyond the minute-like reports of STS events and EASST conferences, and we managed to articulate lively conversations about current issues, such as ‘alternative facts’ and #metoo. But I always struggled with how to convince you, readers of the EASST Review, that this is the place to go with your experimental, inventive, speculative, overtly political pieces of writing. 

Finally, one idea we discussed many times over the years was the dictionary of untranslatable terms and conceptual equivocations. The question was how to account and reflect about the linguistic multiplicity of doing STS and the idea was to ask the national associations to create their contributions to such a dictionary. I leave it out there for whoever might want to make it his or her own. It’d be such a wonderful and interesting resource to expose and reflect about the politics of difference and translation in and through language. 

Be as it might: thanks for these wonderful years. Long live the EASST Review!

STS as participant in policy worlds

Fig. 1: People-place/policy landscape, Santa Teresa, Central Australia. Photo by Michaela Spencer

What happens when STS scholars become active participants in the emergence of policy worlds?

This question seems a natural corollary to the topic discussed in the last EASST Review editorial, where Andreas Kuznetsov (2019) suggested that there might be much that STS could offer when engaging with both science and social scientific research practices. It is also a question with which me and other STS colleagues working in a small regional university in northern Australia are frequently confronted with. This question worries in three directions. We worry about what happens to research and our responsibility to the academy, about what happens to policy and our responsibilities to members of government departments that we work with, and about what happens in the communities that the policies of those departments impact upon.

In our small regional university, research is intimately entangled with governance contexts. Much of our research funding is generated in partnerships with government and non-government organisations. It is also implicated in the policy challenges and problems that emerge when practices of Western governance and decision-making intersect with the vibrant and diverse sets of epistemic practices mobilised by Indigenous Australians, who are our close collaborators in urban and remote Indigenous communities. 

In this aspect at least our situation seems to differ starkly from European contexts. But does it? Perhaps considering the situation of STS in policy worlds in places that grapple with the aftermath of several hundred years of European colonising on a day-to-day basis might be useful for Europeans struggling to recognise and do difference in European policy worlds.

When science was the focus of inquiry in the emerging field of science and technology studies, focusing on the embedded participation of scientific researchers helped to query standard stories of representation (Latour and Woogar, 1986; Haraway, 1997). Associated with this shift, there was an implied call for scientists to become more overt about their complex and difficult work, admitting their participation in the emergence of knowledge claims and their complex hinterlands. Working as policy researchers, the implicated positioning we inhabit seems both similar and interestingly different. 

Recently, in the collaborative work negotiating how to evaluate government engagement in remote Aboriginal communities, we found subtle but significant controversies beginning to arise around the status of ‘evidence’ in our evidence-based policy research. We were involved with evaluating government policy practices around how government staff should engage cross-culturally (and in quite different epistemic conditions) in Aboriginal communities; places where Indigenous groups are collective landowners, and Indigenous forms of governance are recognised in Australian law. Our research contract assumed we would assess government engagement activities against processes and goals already identified as significant. However, the Indigenous co-researchers we were working with resisted this formation. They insisted instead, that it was the effective doing of engagment as partnership which itself evidences good engagement practices, and that it is this form of evidentiary practice that was approprate for policy reseach and evaluation. 

Around such seeming inconsistencies around what knowledge or evidence is, the whirring of gears around government policy implementation and evaluation seem to suddenly start to grind and slow, and even halt. If there is no representational gap between policy making and policy practice, or policy implementation and policy evaluation, how might we proceed? Here the particular and unique sensitivities of STS, and its attention to differences in epistemic practices, seem crucial if social science research and policy practices are to accommodate more-than-singular worlds (de la Cadena and Blaser, 2018), and the accountabilites of government departments are not to obscure other accountabiliites that are significant on the ground and in Indigenous communites. 

‘Back-then’ when STS spoke to narratives of scientific objectivity, there was a generalised sphere of understanding and practice to which this work was directed. If STS researchers are currently involved as social scientists entangled in policy worlds in the making – where our work involves discerning difference and ontological tensions – perhaps our interventions need to be more specific. Working at nodes of seeming disconnection, where epistemic practices meet and abrade (even though difficult to discern), attending to our responsibilities in the academy, as well as to funders and within community life may involve finding ways to recognise and work generatively with these impasses. In such work, there is also a commitment to maintaining and even magnifying the multiplicities revealed within the doing of resarch practices, as an outcome of engaged ontological work—making difference more discernable. This is to insist on valuing multiplicity as a policy good, and on finding ways for STS to participate and intervene in good, and less bad, policy practices (Verran, 2016).

 

 

References

de la Cadena, M., & Blaser, M. (Eds.). (2018) A World of Many Worlds. Duke University Press.

Kuznetsov, A. (2019) Changed but Undescribed? What STS Could Say on the Research Practices of Social Sciences. EASST Review, 38 (1).

Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Knowledge. Princeton University Press.

Haraway, D. (1997) Modest_Witness@Second Millennium_FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouseTM, Routledge.

Verran, H. (2016) Researching Policy Goods for Australia’s Northern Regions, People.Policy.Place Seminar Series, Charles Darwin University, 17 February, 2016. https://vimeo.com/156517454 Accessed on 17 April, 2019.

Changed but Undescribed? What STS Could Say on the Research Practices of Social Sciences

It’s amazing how much STS has to offer to say about contemporary social sciences. STS began as a vigorous and dynamic substantive field focused on the natural sciences and technology development and then expanded its scope to a variety of phenomena. Now it is considered not just as a subfield centered on some particular subject matter but a method providing a whole new approach to the ‘hybrid collectifs’ we used to call societies. STS has considerably changed not only the agenda but also the very practices of the social sciences. And, yet, isn’t it surprising that STS has invested so little effort in describing and understanding the practices of the social sciences? 

We barely have studies of social scientific knowledge production comparable to now ‘classical’ in-depth laboratory ethnographies like the ones of Lynch, Knorr Cetina, and Latour or the analyses of controversies and consensus formation in natural sciences by Collins, and Pinch. Where are the books, we could ask, that trace multitudes of actors and crucial practicalities behind social sciences big theories, research projects and historical diagnoses in a mode equivalent to Leviathan and the Air-Pump, The Pasteurization of France and other outstanding works that did this for the natural sciences?

In the early 2000s STS shifted their focus from ‘hard’ sciences to ‘softer’ forms of knowledge in medicine, finance, and economics. For some, economics counts as the ‘hardest’ and the most formalized of the social sciences. But what about sociology, anthropology, political science, and/or psychology? And what about knowledge practices in humanities? Sure enough, there are some individual research efforts (Lamont, 2009; Law, 2009; Maynard, Schaeffer, 2000). Yet a brief look at two flagship journals (Social Studies of Science, Science Technology & Human Values) and the last two STS handbooks (Hackett et al., 2008; Felt et al. 2017) suggests there is nothing like “social science studies” that could be recognized as a subfield within STS. Although already in the late 1980s Latour suggested that “social sciences are part of the problem, not of the solution” (Latour, 1988: 161) to understanding the contemporary world of science and technology, it seems that STS still hasn’t taken this part of the problem into account seriously enough. Perhaps genuine ‘social science studies’ do actually exist and it is my fault to overlook them. Perhaps a subfield like this should not exist in order not to reproduce inside STS the notorious bifurcation between ‘natural’ and ‘social’ sciences. But if it does make sense to talk about relative neglect of social sciences and humanities in STS as objects of research, then I would seize the opportunity to speculate on why it is so. Let me take my mother-discipline of sociology as an example. 

It may well be that the lack of STS research on the production of sociological knowledge is an expression of a particular politics of knowledge in which we are engaged willingly or unwillingly. Perhaps, we are following the lead of the powerful elites of the Euro-American world in their ambition to first control and govern resource-intensive ‘hard’ sciences and technologies and, more recently, manage risks intertwined with ecology, biomedicine, and digitalization. In this context, sociological knowledge production does not put much at stake for the management of science and technology. The discipline is not as demanding for money as physics and not as ‘risky’ as biotechnology. Indeed, unlike the natural sciences, sociology is considered a far less powerful tool for shaping the world. Sociologists do not produce weapons, pharmaceuticals, or gadgets. But what do social sciences actually produce or perform? Ideologies? Facts? Critique? Socio-professional categories? Self-descriptions of societies? Societies themselves? The question we need to pose is how do these ‘sociological entities’ circulate and hold us together. For this question we still have few empirical answers. 

Let me add that sociology is not just ignored in the contemporary apparatus of science and technology. In many parts of the world, sociology is at least since the 1970s recurrently under attack. These attacks are going from other parts of academia, from outside academia, as well as from within sociology itself. So, sociology as many other social sciences and humanities are not only ‘soft’, but also weak, ‘vulnerable’, and sometimes endangered sciences. To study its ‘mode of existence’ is to be engaged in a political epistemology that could have profound political implications for STS. It may go hand in hand with our reflections on new forms of interventions, and inventions in our field. 

Engagement with ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ sciences would definitely bring new conceptual challenges for STS. For a long time, both positivist and anti-positivist sociologists used a distorted image of natural sciences to define a self-conception of their discipline. Anti-positivist sociologists thought that sociology is special because unlike natural sciences it deals with interpretation, rhetoric, discourse, normativity, situatedness, as well as cultural and political contexts. But STS found all this at the very heart of the natural sciences. So how then to explain the seemingly obvious difference between social and natural sciences when previously held distinctions evaporate? And in what sense are our own studies ‘science’? Or are they not? But then again what is the difference? 

It seems then that until now STS has ‘only’ changed social sciences, in various ways. The point, however, is to describe them also. 

 

 

References

Felt, U., Fouché R., Miller C.A., Smith-Doerr L. 2017. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. The MIT Press. MIT Press.

Hackett, E., Amsterdamska O., Lynch M., Wacjman J. 2008. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. MIT Press.

Lamont, M. 2009. How Professors Think. Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. 1988. The Politics of Explanation: An Alternative in Woolgar, S. (Ed.) Knowledge and Reflexivity: New Frontiers in the Sociology of Knowledge. Sage, 1988. Pp. 155–176.

Law, J. 2009. “Seeing Like a Survey.” Cultural Sociology 3 (2): 239–56.

Maynard, D., Schaeffer N.C. 2000. “Toward a Sociology of Social Scientific Knowledge: Survey Research and Ethnomethodology’s Asymmetric Alternates.” Social Studies of Science 30 (3): 323–70.

Sites of intervention: Getting down and dirty

What is a conference for? We asked that question more than once when, as the Local Organizing Committee, we came together to plan for the 20th EASST conference that took place in July at Lancaster University. We met in a space away from the University campus where we imagined EASST 2018 as crafting, discussing and troubling ‘meetings’. This became our conference theme – a deliberately ambiguous and broad one. The theme captured our sense that often we see meetings as tedious, as encounters we would rather avoid than engage in. We wanted our European STS community to reimagine meetings, and to curate meetings of different kinds – between people, between things and people, between things and things, between those who identify as STS and those who don’t, and between different kinds of STS. We wanted EASST2018 to reclaim meetings as stimulating, productive interventions, which also take place in particular situations. We were acutely aware of the possibilities that meetings afford, given the long association of Lancaster with the Quaker movement, and given the tumultuous political times in which we find ourselves in Europe.

Reflecting on those four sunny July days in Lancaster, we think that we mostly succeeded in what we set out to do: around 950 delegates gathered in the sunshine and also in lecture theatres, seminar rooms, a grand Victorian hall, and a huge tent, for varied encounters. And, although it was the largest EASST conference to date, there was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere as delegates involved themselves in the academic, cultural and social programmes.

Two years ago, at the joint 4S/EASST conference in Barcelona, we heard about Politics by other Means. At Lancaster we found ourselves discussing the business of ‘getting down and dirty’. Throughout the conference we were to return, again and again, to questions of how we do research and politics in technoscientific imaginaries and materialisations of making and taking life. First, through reflection on 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then with soil itself, then with the efforts to actively resist fracking, and finally in relation to STS itself: who are STS researchers prepared to meet? How comfortable are we with moving from critique to normativity? How far are we prepared to go?

Working to make a conference of this kind was sometimes hard, sometimes fun and threw up all sorts of unexpected issues. The Local Organizing Committee often employed concepts from STS to describe what we were doing: we were involved in a sociotechnical assemblage of people and things, or perhaps we were performing a sociotechnical imaginary, and we engaged in our own sociology of expectations as we wrote scripts for our future delegates, and sought to bring into being our desired future. At the same time, we anticipated futures full of risk and ruin and wondered how we could build resilience or take pre-emptive action to avoid the worst happening. In the end, we came to appreciate that what we were doing first and foremost was a form of taking care: this was about making something for, and together with, our STS communities.

Alongside the academic programme, we were fortunate to partner with our colleagues at the University to arrange lunchtime activities, visiting the EcoHub, the wind turbine, and the IsoLab in the Department of Physics. Each morning also started with Tai Chi in the Square outside the LICA Building where conference registration took place. The Friday night social event featured the indomitable Paddy Steer, the Groovecutters and a wonderful display of European STS dancing.

And, as is often the case now, the life of the conference is not only found in the face-to-face interactions and encounters, but also online. More than 800 people followed the official Twitter handle for the conference and contributed an impressive array of duck photos and commentary on papers and events throughout the conference. As STS scholars, perhaps we should have anticipated the important role the ducks would play in the life of the conference, but we hadn’t, and we here formally appreciate that their participation enhanced the relaxed and inclusive atmosphere.

“A world can only be stopped by another world”

As some of you might already be aware, in the last weeks one of STS main disciplines, anthropology–or at least its English-speaking versions–imploded in a social media earthquake of giant proportions. The trigger for this have been a number of allegations of systematic exploitation and power abuse regarding HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory’s Editor in Chief. But the turmoil went way beyond this case, and quickly opened up a series of debates: both on the generic problems of academic institutions to deal with these issues, and a series of other reflections on the Open Access publication ecology (since another of the issues regarding HAU is its alleged transformation into a pay-walled journal after signing an agreement with Chicago University Press).

Interestingly, what came to be called in the social networks #hautalk unfolded into what could be called ‘a fractal socio-technical controversy,’ exploding exponentially in all directions, and opening up all kinds of academic issues:[1] Gendered and racialized power structures undergirding academic relations of prestige and credibility; precarious infrastructures of scholarly societies and work practices; the fragility of the ecology of open-access journals; or the problematic appropriation of indigenous knowledges in the journal’s naming and branding. In sum, a true event revealing in a cascade of reflections many problems of our academic ways of being in the world. Not for nothing, some have been addressing it as the #metoo moment in the discipline. However, following it, I was aware that this was not just a matter for anthropology but for many other social sciences, including STS, across the world. In fact, I was constantly reminded of these powerful words by Sara Ahmed, also written very recently:

“What was hard was the complicity, the silence. The institutional response to harassment – don’t talk about it, turn away from it, protect our reputation whatever the cost – was how the harassment was enabled in the first place. To be silent was to be part of the institutional silence.” [2]

In that blog post, Sara Ahmed, now an independent feminist scholar and former Professor in Gender Studies at Goldsmiths’, goes back to why she resigned from her position: “in protest at the failure of my college to address sexual harassment as an institutional problem.” Since then, intervening in those spaces has been turned into her primary concern, discussing in her blog and publications at length the issues and problems of how institutions deal with complaints of sexual harassment–together with other violent conditions deriving from gendered and racialized power structures. As she has forcefully put it, our academic environments, because of the role of hierarchy, prestige and power structures are extremely ill-equipped to deal with situations like these.

What can we in STS do about them? These are the main series of concerns that our contributors to a new installment of STS Live are addressing and raising: In this issue, different pieces chart out the impact that recent activist phenomena such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter in the English-speaking-sphere, or #niunamenos and #vivaslasqueremos in the Spanish-speaking one might be having in our discipline and our modes of accounting or describing it. From essays containing ethical proposals and reflections to concrete approaches to intervention[3] the corollary of the works here contained is, as I see it, that “a world can only be stopped by another world.”[4] That is, that beyond merely engaging in these matters in our everyday life, or as our STS topics, our discipline and scholarly networks should be involved in creating the conditions for such a world to start happening in the here and now of our departments, meetings and journals.

Shall we? Yes, #wetoo.

 

[1] You can find a summary of the events here. Also, the AllegraLab and Anthrodendum blogs have been publishing a series of essays on the topic, discussing (1) open-access infrastructures –such as Ilana Gershon’s ‘The Pyramid Scheme’ or Marcel LaFlamme, Dominic Boyer, Kirsten Bell, Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Christopher Kelty, and John Willinsky’s ‘Let’s Do This Together: A Cooperative Vision for Open Access’–, discussing issues of power abuse–such as in Emily Yates-Doerr’s ‘Open Secrets: On Power and Publication’–, or addressing the colonial remnants of the discipline–such as in Zoe Todd’s ‘The Decolonial Turn 2.0: The reckoning’..

[2] S. Ahmed (2018). ‘The Time of Complaint’.

[3] In line with resourceful projects such as USVreact (Universities Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence: Training for Sustainable Services).

[4] ‘Un mundo sólo se para con otro mundo’ a sentence written by Spanish poet María Salgado, and compiled in Hacía un ruido. Madrid: Contrabando (2016). The translation into English was done by Luís Moreno-Caballud, who dwells on the poem in his book Cultures of Anyone (2015, Liverpool UP).

Creating spaces for debate and action

This editorial is written in the middle of a strike in UK academia. I sincerely hope that by the time this appears, a satisfactory solution will have been found, but at the moment I am rather sceptical. The strike seems to be the culmination of a series of political events that have deep influence on academic life, and although the formal reason for strike is the proposed changes to pensions of UK academic staff, these pensions also represent broader problems in contemporary academia and its financing system. Next to pension problems sit vast increases in student fees and huge salaries for vice-chancellors (see also https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/mar/11/university-vice-chancellors-are-paid-far-more-than-public-sector-peers?CMP=share_btn_tw). This of course is all interlinked with forms of metric based governance, expressed in rankings, indexes and evaluation systems, including REF and TEF. These problems are specific to the UK while to some extent mirrored in other countries too.

Here is an important question that arose for me and my colleagues: How can we as academics effectively protest and change the ways in which universities are governed? Is disrupting teaching the most effective way to give a message to the management, or are there other ways to disrupt administration? In any case, with cancelled classes and supportive students, the reactions of university managers were often absent or remarkably slow. Some sense of urgency came only weeks into the announcement and the actual strike, but without any satisfactory solution so far. This is especially disconcerting since the university management is largely composed of academics and as such reflects some deep problems in our own community which already have been excellently addressed in recent Manifestos by colleagues from Aberdeen (https://reclaimingouruniversity.wordpress.com) and the Netherlands (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11024-015-9270-9).

In the UK action and debates took place in various spaces: on the picket line, through empty lecture halls and offices, during teach-outs, through the occupation of buildings, and on twitter. The strike was occupying the digital space too. Twitter was actually the best source of information on the strike, providing a value that is often unclear (see for many examples #ucu on twitter).

As an STS-er in another country, one is always somewhat of an outsider, while trained in ethnographic methods too, and as such I spent some time trying to understand the UK system in strike mode. My early field notes are full of surprise. Especially concerning the amount of rules and regulations that different parties stipulate. I will not go into detail here, but it certainly comes across as a very disciplined strike, in which different strike levels can be subscribed to, requiring careful registration. To me, this seems a bit against the idea of rebellion and unruliness that goes with striking, and I think I would prefer a simple strike: no work – none whatsoever! – till a solution is found.

Twitter was a means to check what actually happened. Here I could find information about motivations and actions, about the different organisations involved, about the ways in which my own university handled the situation, and what was taking place at other universities. These tweets are brilliant research material (who takes this up?), and show the emotional engagement – including anger, frustration, and hope – covered with some good sense of British humour. And even the negotiations were at one point arranged through a twitter exchange (see below), perhaps in line with contemporary politics but I could not believe my eyes.

negotiations through twitter exchange

The importance of (virtual) spaces for debates and actions also became a main discussion point during the meeting ‘Science, Technology and Public Value: Beyond responsible innovation?’ organised by the Biotechnology and Society Research Group at King’s College Department of Global Health & Social Medicine. In a wonderful meeting space called ‘Wallacespace’ in the heart of London, we gathered around tables to search for positive ways forward based on experiences with RRI type of research. We reflected on the importance of space for interaction, and how the spatial design can enhance both formal and informal exchanges. This connects to my own work on the Francis Crick Institute which is especially designed to enhance collaboration, and it is of course also relevant when thinking about interactions between (social)scientists, stakeholders and publics. What would be the way forward here?Do we need to complement common time with common space, or is it about inviting each other in our own familiar space, or creating a new common home? Another important discussion evolved around the occupation of epistemic spaces, and how the process of priority setting is an important place to analyse and influence (see colleagues Ismael Ràfols and Jack Stilgoe on priorities in biomedical research: https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2018/mar/16/who-benefits-from-biomedical-science).

Within our own academic community spaces for debate and discussion are crucial too. We need to, for instance, pay attention to the identity of scientists, and the education of new generations of researchers within transforming academic environments. The relations between community and identity in contemporary techno-science was on the agenda in workshop in Vienna last year, supported by EASST funds and reported on in this issue by organiser Karen Kastenhofer of the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) and the Austrian STS network (see also http://www.sts-austria.org/events/). One of its key members, the STS department of the University of Vienna is celebrating its 30th birthday with an academic party: congratulations Helga, Uli, Max and all colleagues!

Within a community that studies the interaction between science and society, it is no surprise that political and social developments are permeating academia. However, recent events such as the science marches (see colleague Bart Penders on this topic: https://doi.org/10.15252/embr.201744935), the UK strike and the effects of brexit do not only require action but also analysis and reflections. Thereby it seems important to have an academic platform outside of twitter, where discussions and debates on these developments can take place.

The British strike action fell together with what has been named, the ‘big freeze’, or the ‘beast from the east’ which added to disruptions in life, but at the moment the last snow is melting under the sunshine and we are awaiting Spring. Here is hoping for some positive (green)energy in the months to come!

Invention is not Intervention

In the last two issues, we had the first installment of our new section ‘STS Live’ dedicated to discussing the notion of alternative facts. We would like to thank the amazing group of colleagues that were willing to contribute to this conversation! The ‘STS Live’ section is not a fixed, but a recurring feature of the Review – we plan to curate at least one ‘STS Live’ conversation per year. The aim is to practice response-ability, to open up dialogical spaces where we can collectively reflect and respond to pressing matters of concern. We haven’t decided yet which issue to invite colleagues to address in 2018, so your ideas are extremely welcome (you can always reach us at: review@easst.net)

STS’ capacity to respond to current political developments in ways that are attuned to those who are also challenging the ‘reasonable politics’ of our ‘guardians’, as Isabelle Stengers calls them, is an old concern in our field. Notably, the last years have seen an interesting development towards more ‘inventive’ engagements in science and technology often based on collaborations with activists, artists and designers and aimed at prototyping alternative infrastructural arrangements and aesthetic articulations of techno-scientific worlds. Think of the success of the Making and Doing events at 4S conferences (http://www.4sonline.org/meeting/sts_making_and_doing) or the renaming of Goldsmith’s CSISP into CISP: Center for Invention and Social Process (https://www.gold.ac.uk/cisp/overview/). There are indeed dozens, if not hundreds of examples. But looking back a bit, I think it is fair to say that Bruno Latour’s exhibitions at ZKM have made a major contribution to open up STS towards such inventive engagements.

Here I would like to report on my attending to Bruno Latour’s lecture-performance Inside (https://vimeo.com/237215710/48cd03ffcd) and reflect on the challenges of STS inventions. Inside, staged by the French scenographer Frédérique Aït-Touati, with whom the Latours wrote the radio play Kosmokolos (http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/downloads/KOSMOK-JULIE-ROSE-GB.pdf), was presented last September in the context of the Festival Der Maulwurf macht weiter. Tiere / Politik / Performance [The mole keeps on going. Animals / Politics / Performace] at the beautiful theatre HAU, a true temple for experimentation in the contemporary performing arts in Berlin. My first surprise happened upon arrival to the theatre: I met only one STS colleague in the audience. The place was not packed with STS friends and colleagues, as I somehow imagined when heading to HAU, but with a mixed audience, whose exact provenience I cannot quite tell (although see below).

The second positive surprise was to see what Latour is up to these days. Long done with the writing of a non-modern Constitution and the staging of Gaia, Latour is now experimenting with the visual representation of a new cosmology. How to literally redraw the cosmos? Which alternative visual imaginaries are necessary to remap and represent our entanglements within and beyond the ‘critical zone’, which broadly equates to the ‘biosphere’? Latour’s project reminds me of the kind of intervention Alexander von Humboldt did with his drawings of the Chimborazo volcano and how these drawings were crucial for advancing his reinvention of nature and the cosmos. Indeed, Latour’s Inside lecture-performance achieved something that has been so difficult to achieve in the various ZKM exhibitions: engaging in the production of aesthetic forms that cannot be reduced to an illustration of theoretical propositions and that actually challenge the audience to come up with a different language.

Or so I thought… until the lecture was over and the Q&A began (not included in the video). It was a short, but catastrophic Q&A marked by three interventions. The first one was a confession of not having understood much and a request to explain what is a vortex – the key topological figure that Latour used to articulate this new cosmo-graphy. The second was a long rant about the lack of effort by “professors” to relate the broad public, by making interventions one could not just politically, but even discursively relate to, in the sense of understanding what it is actually being said. The third one was a rant about not allowing the previous person to continue her rant, for after she was given a response someone else took the microphone to ask something different – a meta-rant moment that led the chair to call it a night and invite everyone to continue the discussion over some drinks at the bar of the theatre.

The more general question, of course, is what are we aiming at when embracing invention as a mode of STS scholarship. Oftentimes STS’ inventive engagements are celebrated as a form of political intervention in public controversies and current affairs. But the difference cannot be overstated. When composing songs, writing poems, programming bots, designing board games, writing play scripts, curating exhibitions or drawing ethnographic comics, STS scholars do certainly address non-academic audiences. But to think that such inventive engagements can only be a means to articulating matters of public concern, to make things public, would involve underestimating both, the capacities of publics to engage with standardized forms of knowledge and, most problematically, the role of inventive engagements as a research method.

Indeed, the most interesting statement during the Q&A was none of the above. Asked about what kind of political intervention he expects these visual experiments to have in current climate policy, Latour, demonstrating his difficulties understanding the question, said something like: ‘What? This? No. I don’t expect it to have any impact whatsoever’. If we consider this statement problematic, the question is then whose problem that is, for equating invention with intervention seems dismissive of how different these research methods are (cf. Zuiderent-Jerak 2016).

O EASST Review lovers, where art thou? On STS as extitution

Let me begin with an announcement: in the next few weeks we will publish the yearbook Doing STS in Europe: EASST Review 2016 – a 250 pages book compiling all the contributions to the EASST Review during last year, including the profiles of four STS groups located in Europe and four STS publications platforms, as well as dozens of reports on STS events and EASST-funded activities, including two special features: one on Bruno Latour’s exhibition RESET Modernity featuring an interview with the author and three commentaries; the second one on the EASST/4S conference in Barcelona last year featuring over to 20 reports on specific sessions and panels. A digital copy of the yearbook will be downloadable for free from our website. And you will be able to buy print copies (yes, nothing like physical objects you can hold in your hands) from conventional online retailers.

Good news, right?

But the project has also confronted us with tricky questions. First we thought: well, we would then need to give authors a free print copy, just like the one you get from any other publisher. This would also put some print copies in circulation among our core audience (you!), who might then in future buy print copies of all yearbooks we publish, and start their own collection. But discussing the idea further a different proposal came up: we could send free print copies to STS centers and departments. The issue is still undecided and we do not know yet how we are going to handle this, but the latter suggestion made me ask myself two questions: first, have we seen in the last years an institutionalization of STS at universities and research centers? And, second, should the goal of our professional organization be to just reinforce that process of institutionalization?

Thirty years ago, there were only a few STS centers around and practically the whole field was based in sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and political science departments. But has this really changed? We had a look at the last ten issues of the EASST Review and the result is perhaps exactly what one would wish for a successful interdisciplinary field: an exact tie of 62 authors based or affiliated to STS departments or centers and 62 authors, for whom in their bios we mostly found other institutional affiliations. By the way, we also have 57 female authors and 67 male authors, which is not so bad either. But even if we included Russia and Israel as ‘non-European’, the percentage of authors based in non-European institutions is just 12,9%, which should maybe remind us all of the regional character of our association and its main outlet.

But coming back to the question of institutionalization of STS, as reflected in author affiliations in the last ten issues of the EASST Review, we need to be careful with the prima facie positive results presented above. To begin with, we need to take into account, that in mid-2015 we introduced the section STS Multiple, where we invite STS groups and centers to present themselves. The seven contributions included in our database average 4 authors each. So, we have about 28 authors that appear listed as STS-based authors, whom we explicitly invited and encouraged to publish here. This doesn’t speak against the strong presence of STS-based colleagues, for the important question is how are we collectively performing the field of STS, not what the field is in itself. But it introduces a nuance in the result.

A second consideration is how our list reflects different levels of participation and institutionalization of STS across European countries. Most authors are based in Western European countries: UK (30 authors), Germany (21), Denmark (12), Austria (10) and Italy (9). For these five countries, 58% of authors are affiliated to STS departments. The percentage appears as remarkably high, when compared with the 42 authors from the other 19 countries, of whom only 33% is based in an STS department. Taking all this into consideration, we can confirm the obvious: STS is highly institutionalized in a small set of Western European countries, whereas in the rest of countries STS is primarily practiced in the margins of non-STS institutions.

 

We come thus to the second and more interesting question: how to act as a professional association in this context? I have really never questioned the idea that a major goal of EASST should be to support the institutionalization of STS both at universities and in national research funding agencies. It seems pretty obvious that we aim for a future in which universities have centers or departments of STS, where you can get a job in STS in most countries, and where, when you apply for funding, you don’t need to crook your research questions or methods in order to make them fit in a disciplinary evaluation committee (remember Josefine’s editorial on the presences and absences of STS in grants applications and CVs? See Raasch 2015). I certainly still believe that these are major goals for our field. I applaud the systematic support that EASST has given to the formation of many national STS associations and networks. At the EASST Review, the sections STS Multiple and Cherish, not Perish aim precisely to make visible this process of institutionalization of STS across different countries.

But I think that we should equally make an effort to support a non-institutionalized STS practice, but not in order to help it to become institutionalized, e.g. to create STS centers, associations or journals, but to keep STS a minoritarian intellectual practice in the heart of social and political science disciplines. In other words, couldn’t also be the role of EASST to cultivate STS as a line of flight that effects deterritorializations of the institutions it departs from and that creates a highly experimental, speculative, but also committed intellectual space1? Or to put it differently: couldn’t also be the role of EASST to cultivate STS as an academic ‘extitution’?

I really got to understand this Serresian notion through the work of Daniel López. Two references are illuminating. The first one is a quote: “Institutions fragment, disaggregate, and separate in order to make visible the distinction. To build an institution is to constitute a Cartesian space, clear and distinct […] In contrast, the extitution is a social ordering that does not need to constitute an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ but only a surface in/upon which a multitude of agents connect and disconnect” (López 2006). As López further explains in a blog post from 2014 entitled ‘There is no extitution, but modes of extitutionalization’, an extitution is not just a different type of institution, one that could be more heterarchical or with flexible boundaries and that you can point to with the finger, but rather a process of deterritorialization or extitutionalization affecting institutions, contesting power arrangements, and opening up provisory spaces for establishing new connections.

Looking at the incredibly generative history of STS in the last 40 years, my sense is that this didn’t occur in spite of, but rather thanks to its lack of institutionalization; lack of institutionalization that has pushed STS scholars to always invent new connections, new vocabularies, new research objects, and new political commitments2. Might it be that herein lays the crux and paradox of our field, always in need of simultaneously striving for institutionalization and extitutionalization?

 

1 In ways perhaps related to how the Spanish STS network is currently being practiced and reflected upon. “What would then be prototyping an academic network? We don’t really know but we have decided to explore it through the figure of openness and experimentation: opening spaces of dialogue with other actors and institutions outside the academic environment; experimenting with our academic modalities of rationality and their spatial organization” (Estalella, Ibáñez Martín & Pavone 2013: 6)

2 See, for example, Tomás Criado’s (2017) reflections on his personal experience in both highly fluid and highly institutionalized STS spaces.

Politics by other means: Sitting at an angle

I understand the title of the recent 4S/EASST conference ‘Science and Technology by Other Means: Exploring collectives, spaces, futures’ as a play on Bruno Latour’s claim that ‘science is politics by other means’ (1988). The title draws our attention to the extent to which knowledge production and technological innovation is being seized by all sorts of citizens and activist collectives. The conference was crammed full of presentations, workshops and informal and formal discussions about science and technology being done and imagined in unexpected places, diverse collectives, multiple spaces and various possible futures. Latour’s widely cited phrase captured a subtly differently sensibility that was especially crucial to early Science and Technology Studies (STS). It reflected and inspired a wealth of work that exposes and explores science and technology as a deeply political achievement of assembling non-human and human actors in ways that create a ‘Centre’ and it’s ‘Others’.

Feminist Technoscience Studies (FTS) put more flesh on the bones of this work through attending to embodiment and situatedness in the processes of assembling, and to the differentially experienced effects, asking ‘Cui Bono?’ as questions of justice and to make other worlds possible (Star, 1995). F/STS is skilled in telling stories about the ways in which specific examples of science and technology build worlds. It attends to the multiple ways in which technoscience is embedded in the realities that we are coming to live with. Moreover, many of the stories at the conference participate in the collectives, spaces and possible futures they are engaged with in complex ways. In particular, researchers told stories that interrogate the objects enacted in technoscience as oozing essentialisms by way of critique, but also to participate in building more equitable worlds (Haraway, 1988). That is, the stories often explicitly consider what realities we would like to come to live with and how F/STS might contribute to their becoming. There is, it seems, a keen interest to explore the multiple ways in which F/STS is politics by ‘other’ means.

The walls of the conference, in Britain and in the US, parliamentary politics was extraordinarily visible and being done by very obvious means. That is, overtly and loudly by individual politicians proselytizing. I refer here to political debates around Brexit (British exit from the European Union) and the recent US presidency elections. These displays of politics have been full of stories that attempt to clearly define allies and enemies and they enact universals and polarisations. This is a deeply disturbing moment in which it seems urgent for our European Association for Social Studies of Science and Technology (EASST) to reflect upon how it should contribute to the making of the realities that are coming into being.

For me, some of the most inspiring theorising in F/STS is profoundly at odds with these recent events. This work appreciates the interdependency of human and non-human bodies and beings, in which connections and cuts are always in process, precarious and condensed to momentary stabilities. These insights challenge us to ‘stay with the trouble’, resist origin stories and remain curious and response-able. We need to tread care-fully so as not to flatten otherness but rather to seek ways of ‘doing difference together’ (Verran and Christie, 2011). It seems incredibly important right now to articulate the weights that are pulling against these sensibilities, inwards towards an illusion of the possibility of just and productive, stable simplifications. These weights are crafted from alluring ingredients – the possibility of durable solutions, obvious answers, so-called straight-talking and common-sense. This is evident in many spheres not only national government parliamentary politics. For example, Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) ‘Lean In’ campaign urges working women to ‘sit at the table’, both literally and metaphorically, in order to achieve success. Her book and TED talk is described by Time Magazine (2014) as a hugely successful feminist mission (Sandberg, 2013; see www.youtube/TED). At the same time some feminist academics are critical that it is an example of neo-liberal corporate feminism that appropriates feminist terms to achieve capitalist agendas and creates divisions (McRobbie, 2013). The ‘Lean in’ campaign is problematic but seductive. It is catchy ‘politics by obvious means’ that has gained huge support. I have an unsettling feeling that while I have been ‘sitting at an angle’ to truth-claims and definitive knowledge, exposing and challenging the practices of centring and simplification, leaning in, talking straight and making problems doable has gained widespread support .

It is the above disconcertment that promotes me to ask; should our Association ‘lean in’ and engage in increasingly obvious political activities, and what would this mean? Or, perhaps our Association has a more important role to play in ‘sitting at an angle’. What are the ways in which F/STS does politics? The 4S/EASST conference showcased multiple ways of doing F/STS and the EASST Review wants to facilitate different modes of writing and presenting the work of the European F/STS community. For me, sitting at an angle is my favoured positioning because I consider it to be itself an interference, not only an intervention. It is critical of looking inwards, of centring, as well as of what is on the table. Moreover, I sense that sitting at an angle facilitates ‘politics multiple’ – by various means including allegory, quietism and ambivalence. As I learned from reading Star, when we ask cui bono? it is in order to imagine what other worlds are possible as well as to expose what has been hidden or denied (Bowker et al., 2016). This is more difficult to do if we are leaning in. I invite us to explore what ‘leaning in’ or ‘sitting at an angle’ might mean as we imagine the future role of EASST.