Tag Archives: Lancaster

Cosmopolitical sensitivities in STS practice: How to continue a panel session after is it is over?

This piece reflects on the panel ‘Of Other Landscapes’ held at EASST Lancaster in 2018. Recognising the particularly warm, playful and yet serious atmosphere of academic exchange which emerged in this session, I raise the question of how do STS sensitivities travel? Are there ways that the particular spirit of this panel might be extended after it is over?

‘Where do worlds meet, and how? What count as good or bad meetings of worlds? And what are the implications of such meetings for analysis and politics?’ These were the questions that we posed in a panel jointly convened at EASST Lancaster by Endre Dányi and myself. The panel was called ‘Of Other Landscapes’ and we addressed these questions by focusing on ‘landscapes’ as both the objects of and the conditions for the meeting of worlds.

This panel topic was sparked by questions arising in our own research project called ‘Landscapes of Democracy’. Through this project (funded partly by the DAAD and Charles Darwin University), we’ve been able to travel between our current home places in Germany and northern Australia, learning about the places and material practices of democratic politics. Tracking back and forth, we have done ethnographic fieldwork in various parliamentary settings – such as the German Bundestag and the Northern Territory parliament in Darwin – and of situations where different ways of doing politics abut and abrade, for example, moments where government policy practices encounter Yolngu Aboriginal Australian practices of governance and law in northern Australia.

Within the panel session at EASST, there were many other experiences of ‘worlds meeting’ that researchers brought with them and elaborated in their presentations. Research ranged from issues arising in conflicts over land and resources in the Taranaki valley New Zealand to the lived past and present cityscapes of the AIDS crisis in New York, and the challenges of orchestrating experimental ethnographies of encounter on the island of Madeira in Portugal. However, what caught us pleasantly by surprise was the particular spirit of warmth, curiosity and generosity that seemed to pervade the room for the duration of the panel. This spirit seemed to emanate as much from the audience and their keen interest to listen and participate, as it was prompted by the presenters and their careful scholarship. It is of course very hard to capture elusive atmospheres like this on the page, but there are a few moments that stand out.

Displaying pictures of the Tunisian coast, Amade M’charek spoke to us about meeting Mohsen, a beachcomber and artist, who picks up fragments – shoes, water bottles, pieces of clothing – washed up on the beach near where he lives. This was the first time Amade had spoken about Mohsen and this stretch of coastline in front of an academic audience, and the stories were raw in their immediacy. In the audience, we felt a strong upwelling of emotions as Amade gently wove connections between bodies on the beach, rubbish piles in the sand, and memorial art pieces supporting acts of remembrance. We could see how for those lost on this coastline, the possibility of biography had run out; and yet, here before us and with us, other stories were persisting as we listened in gentle silence.

Soon after, Laura Watts invited us into electric worlds and imagined futures on Orkney Island. Here questions of translation and storytelling arose again, with the form and the style of the presentation pointing directly towards the insufficiency of (certain) academic words and texts. As the presentation drew to a close, the question for the audience was: how to respond? Sitting with the uncertainty of finding a way, Laura suggested that responses did not have to be in words, but could also take other forms. Without hesitation, Anna Mann, Laura’s sometime collaborator, put up her hand to ask a question. When it was her turn, Anna said nothing but quickly jumped up from the audience to give Laura a hug. ‘I’ll take that as a comment’ said Endre in his position as chair.

Then, towards the end Su Hu gave a presentation in which she showed us maps from a 1886 Chinese geographic publication, pointing out the multiplicities of a landscape arising in the mapping practices of Chinese cartographers. Responding to this material, Annemarie Mol posed a question which I think went something like this: ‘So while you have pointed to the Chinese maps as presenting geographies as multiple, surely both Chinese and Western maps embed both singularity and multiplicity. How do you account for this?’ Su paused for a second, and then unashamedly responded that ‘your question is too hard’. Laughing, we accepted that as an excellent answer. As did Annemarie, who encouragingly responded, ‘that’s OK, I’ll give you ten years,’ and by doing so helped to support a particular STS figure – one who does not have to be fully formed to be brilliant.

As STS scholars, we are interested in how ordering concepts and devices travel, what spatial relations they produce. Certainly, these stories and meditations emerged during this session at EASST, provoked by the panel topic ‘Of Other Landscapes’. However, the experience of being in the room for this lively and generous event seems to spark another question, namely how do STS sensitivities travel? Might there be ways to hang onto this this warm, playful and yet serious atmosphere of academic exchange, which appeared in such a welcome fashion on the final morning of the conference?

Having returned home to our respective places and academies, this remains a lively question for Endre and I, as we seek to continue on not just the academic program gestured to in this panel session, but the spirit of generosity and inquiry that it also seemed to provoke. For example, how might such a spirit be nurtured within an emerging STS Master’s program at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, as Endre continues to be involved in its development? Likewise, how might such sensitivities be nurtured within a new TopEndSTS group in Darwin, of which I am a part? Of course, the Landscapes of Democracy project will also continue on, and traffic will flow between Germany and Australia. However, through the experience of this panel, it has become clear that there are many more allies and contributors to this effort, and that it is through these links and connections, these supportive and collaborative efforts, that this STS sensitivity may continue to breathe and grow.

*Note: I’d like to extend my gratitude and thanks to Endre Dányi for his contribution to this piece, and to all the panelists and audience members who joined us for ‘Of Other Landscapes’. We hope to see you again soon.

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.

EASST Conference 2018 – Registration Process

Dear EASST members,

Greeting from Lancaster, UK. We are looking forward to welcoming you to Lancaster at the EASST
2018 Conference on 25th-28th July. https://easst2018.easst.net/ We are currently finalising the
conference programme and we are very excited about it. The array of papers, events, activities and
plenaries are impressive. Registration is open and early-bird rates are available until May 16

Here are some details about how to register (also on the web page):

  • Everyone wishing to attend the conference must register online and in advance. You do not
    have to pay at the time of registration; an invoice will be emailed to you that details
    payment instructions and deadlines.
  • Registration includes access to the opening reception, the plenary and sub-plenary sessions,
    panel sessions, the book exhibit, all the fringe events (e.g. sign up events such as tree
    planting and a visit to the University wind turbine), and tea/coffee during the morning and
    afternoon breaks and lunches. You will receive a printed conference programme on arrival.
    Registration also includes bus travel between the city and the University.
  • Please register for the social event on the Friday night. We have worked hard to organise an
    event that will be enjoyable for everyone. It will take place in a marquee on the University
    campus. Your ticket includes a range of international street food, a drink, music installations,
    live music and dancing, and more. There will be a cash bar serving locally brewed beers, as
    well as a gin bar and a cocktail bar. There is an extra cost for this event (note there is a
    concession rate) and you need to book this at the time of Registration.

Your EASST membership means you have a considerable discount on the conference fee.

The early-bird conference fees are:
EASST member: €280
Non-member: €360
Member concessions (student or low-waged): €160
Non-member concession (student or low-waged): €240
Social event: €45
Social event concession (student or low-waged): €30
Details about accommodation and travel to Lancaster are on the conference web page.

We are looking forward to MEETING you in Lancaster
Vicky Singleton and Richard Tutton
Chairs of the conference Local Organising Committee

Call for Application: Pre-conference Doctoral Workshop “Invent Your Job”

 

EASST Conference “Meetings” at Lancaster University

We invite early stage researchers graduate, postgraduate, and early-career scholars to apply to our workshop immediately prior to the EASST conference in Lancaster.

How can we translate STS knowledge, sensibilities and practices to the job market, or how could we create jobs to make place for these capacities? For many students this seems to be a real concern. The question is a hard one to answer, however, because fast-paced changes in society push the definition of work to new frontiers, and STS is a very diverse field. This is why in this workshop for early stage researchers we turn the question upside down and ask how STS knowledge, sensibilities and practices can help us invent/imagine/design jobs for the future! We will explore this proposition in three different settings, starting with:

  • A walk shop “Wild Ideas”. During an hour long walk in the beautiful surroundings of Lancaster, we will brainstorm in groups about what our capacities as STS scholars are and how they can be articulated into roles/careers/jobs.
  • A work shop “Prototyping Society”. With the help and guidance of two STS scholars who have developed their own, ‘unconventional’ careers, participants will develop speculative job descriptions and discuss ways of bringing these into reality.
  • A social dinner “STS Careers of the Future”. We will end the day with a dinner, where a group of students will be chosen as ‘Future-makers’ for having developed very unconvenitonal and inventive speculative jobs. As a reward, this group’s job desriptions will be published in the EASST Review.

What: A pre-conference workshop for Master students, PhD candidates and other early-career researchers to meet and share ideas, experiences, and enthusiasm.

When: July, 24th, 11:30 am – 20:30 pm

Why: Brainstorm about the jobs of the future and our place as STS scholars in that future. Network with an international mix of colleagues. Share refreshments and get to know Lancaster.

Cost: Free.

How: You will need to provide us with a short statement of motivation (max. 500 words) and upload your  CV (PDF or Word files only).
Apply online here

Application deadline: May 1st, 2018

We hope to accommodate all completed applications; however, due to venue limitations we are limited to about 25 participants. Applicants are expected to attend the EASST conference in Lancaster and be or become EASST members.

Remember you can also apply for an EASST conference fee waiver!

Please contact  Dara Ivanova (students@easst.net) with questions or suggestions.

Preliminary program 

11.30 – 12.00 Welcome and registration
12.00 – 13.30 Wild Ideas
13.30 – 14.30 Lunch
14.30 – 15.30 Prototyping Society I
15.30 – 16.00 Coffee/Tea Break
16.00 – 17.00 Prototyping Society II
17.00 – 17.30 Free time/leisure walk to restaurant
17.30 – 18.30 STS Employees of the Future Ceremony
18.30 – End    Dinner

6th Postgraduate STS Conference in Lancaster – Connecting Links in the North West

 

On March 21st-23rd 2016, the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University hosted its 6th annual Postgraduate Science and Technology Studies (STS) Conference. The event was supported by a range of academic departments and the Economic and Social Research Council North West Doctoral Training Centre in recognition of its increasing importance for the STS postgraduate community in Lancaster, and increasingly for the North West. For the second year, the conference invited students working on STS and related fields from the University of Manchester and the University of Liverpool. This invitation attracted students and academics from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives including Science Studies, History of Science, Educational Research, Geography, Management and Organisational Studies.

The conference was generously supported by academic staff and is entirely student led. Its primary purpose is showcasing postgraduate work-in-progress and opening it up for discussion. It thereby reinvigorates the North West STS community by offering Ph.D. students the chance to present their work and join the ongoing discussions about the field’s developments. The conference was opened with a keynote speech which this year was delivered by Gail Davies, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Exeter and member of the Home Office Animals in Science Committee. Professor Davies presented on “Economic values, animal affects, and the length of the (primate) working day” discussing her work on situated experimental practices, ethical debates of animal labour and the forms of animal agency associated with researching the neuroscience of reward using macaque monkeys.

The keynote speech was followed by two days of postgraduate presentations on their work-in-progress. Postgraduate presentations bring together academic staff from different departments to create one of the annual forums to discuss STS related concerns. In this respect, the annual conference reflects the interdisciplinary and engaged nature of STS work in the North West. The presentations are followed by commentaries and discussions that help to further research objectives and modes of inquiry in a supportive and engaging atmosphere.

 

Professor Law started his presentation by remembering his colleague Professor John Urry
Professor Law started his presentation by remembering his colleague Professor John Urry

 

We believe that scholarship is rooted in a continued interest in other people’s work, and to flourish we need to learn from each other as a community of scholars. This commitment is reflected in our review process, where each presenter submits a paper before the conference that is reviewed by both an academic and another student. Each reviewer gives feedback after the paper is presented, and once all the papers in a session have been presented, reviewers are invited to open a more general and wide-ranging discussion picking up on issues that emerge across the papers in that session. This system is popular with students and staff alike as students develop the vital skill of peer review, and receive more detailed questioning and suggestions compared to most conferences.

In 2016, the presentations charted a wide range of topics on the borderlands of established understandings of human, science and technology, which both necessitated and facilitated conversations across disciplines. Finding a common theme, as such, would be difficult. Student’s work addressed issues of how devices and bodies as diverse technologies, microbes, standards and screens are refigured when crossing the boundaries of not only laboratories or clinics, but homes, churches, farms, communities of amateurs, the “Global South” and the Iron Curtain.

While the diversity of topics could be seen as unusual in other disciplines, it displays how STS works across boundaries and draws together different connections. Additionally, the scholarly practice of unsettling research objects remains reliant on bringing heterogeneous cases together. In spite of this diversity, two themes seemed to surface in most of the presentations: (1) a troubling of and with method, where tools of knowledge-making, may it be our informants’ or our own, remain always problematic and open to questioning; and (2), a interest in displacement and how things, bodies and methodological tools ‘travel’, and how following these voyages enable problematisation.

In the last few years, it has become a tradition for the closing lecture to be delivered by a senior faculty from Lancaster, such as Professor Brian Wynne or Professor Maureen McNeil. In 2016, Professor John Law gave an account of his “journey through STS”. Professor Law touched upon both his engagement in developing actor-network theory and its successor material-semiotic approaches, and diagnosed some of the present challenges STS scholars can face in providing more symmetrical accounts of issues. More specifically, Professor Law discussed how knowledge making in STS remains bound up with Euro-American locations and tropes. Drawing on common work with Taiwanese Scholar Wen-yuan Lin, he explored how we can benefit from enrolling non-Western ideas into our analytical frameworks.

This year, the conference was suspended for an hour on receiving the news of the sudden death of Professor John Urry, a friend and mentor as well as co-worker to many conference participants. This enabled colleagues to assemble, reflect, tell stories and begin to grieve. He will be very much missed, but his legacy remains influential both in Lancaster and beyond.

The 2016 conference was organised by Lancaster research students in alphabetical order, Peter Fuzesi, Victoria Gorton, Jess Phoenix, Derly Sanchez Vargas and Andy Yuille. We extend thanks to the North West Doctoral Training Centre and Lancaster University for funding and supporting this event and hope it will continue to develop productive links between STS scholars in the North West and beyond.