Tag Archives: STS Multiple

Five recent play dates

An advantage of the playground metaphor is that it comes with the activity of going out on ‘play dates’ and developing friendships. In such playful relationships, there is always something at stake, but the interaction is also fun and inherently exploratory. In the following, we take a tour of five recent collaborative projects that the TANTlab has participated in. The projects differ widely and testify to different experiences with collaboration and intervention – from a data print on obesity with other researchers to a Facebook-driven intervention in Aalborg municipality’s primary school reform. Thus, we aim to illustrate what we mean by TANTlab as a techno-antropological playground.

Re-tooling cultural research on Instagram

A visit to the playground inevitably entails that one kid that brought along a cool new toy. She or he will usually succeed in getting the attention of most of the playground – for a while at least. While new toys, or tools, may cause frustration as they inevitably disturb the way play used to unfold, they can also lead to experiments that merge familiar games with new ways of playing. In our introduction, this genre of laboratory play was given the headline ‘Re-tooling ethnography’.

An example of such work is a data sprint in 2015 where we worked with an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the Governing Obesity project at the University of Copenhagen (http://go.ku.dk/) on how to appropriate the social medium Instagram as a tool for cultural analysis. A theoretical point of departure was the notion ‘obesogenic environment’ as “the sum of influences that the surroundings, opportunities, or conditions of life have on promoting obesity in individuals or populations” (Swinburn et al. in 1999), which has led to researchers study which and how everyday settings and practices relate to obesity. We drew on a harvest of 82,449 geo-tagged instagrams from the five local authorities in England that reported the lowest average BMI, and five that reported the highest.

In a subsequent paper on the sprint (Munk et al, 2016), we presented three suggestions for how Instagram data can be of use for cultural research on obesity. The two first approaches entailed traditional ways of conceptualizing the obesogenic environment. The first by encouraging researchers to view ’Instagram as a camera’ – as a way of gaining visual information about the environmental factors that might influence individuals. The second by approaching ’Instagram as part of the environment’ – as part of user’s everyday practices, almost inevitably leading to field research beyond the medium to gain information on how Instagram gives and holds meaning in everyday life.

The third approach, however, suggests that it is impossible to understand Instagram and its users as separate from their environments. Practices such as composing photos, tagging and commenting are not just content production, but analytical practices performed by Instagram’s users, thus working with ’Instagram as analyst’. We therefore moved from an exploration of the productions of individual users to an exploration of co-occurring hashtags (that occur in the same post). In such an exploration, a network of hashtag relations was generated, where the tags were interpreted as part of different communities.

The figure above shows such a network of co-occurring Instagram hashtags in the five high BMI areas. Nodes are colored by local authority (grey nodes representing occurrence in multiple authorities) and sized by degree (representing volume of co-occurrences with other hashtags). The graph was spatialized in Gephi with a force vector algorithm, showing communities of hashtags frequently used together as visually clustered. Especially those hashtags that were ‘media-syncratic’, i.e. used across all ten areas, proved an interesting qualitative context that speaks to a difference in what is instagrammable (deserving of these tags) between geographic sites. The approach provided a promising alternative method for obesity research on Instagram in a cultural analytical context.

 

 

Making the value of fine art visible: A datasprint with The Royal Theater 

In August 2016, we did a one-week datas print with The Royal Theater of Copenhagen. The background of the sprint was that the theater experienced a shift in the way they could account for the worth of fine arts in negotiations with politicians and sponsors. Whereas stories and anecdotes had previously been sufficient, the employees found themselves increasingly challenged to ’show’ their value. For instance, it was no longer enough to claim that the Theater ”occupied a specific place in the culture landscape” and had specific ”emotional bonds to its audience”.

 

The aim of the data sprint was to experiment with new ways of datafying such claims. Since both claims are relational – they say something about The Royal Theater’s position in a broader landscape – we thought that digital methods might offer more interesting forms of visibilities than the focus group, which the employees had previously worked with. More specifically, we thought that a visualization of the way Copenhagen’ culture users interact with Facebook content on culture, would be an interesting foundation for seeing relations in new ways.

At the sprint we tried out different ways of crafting a dataset that could underpin such a visualization. One of the prototypes comprised all posts and user interactions (such as likes, shares and comments) from the Facebook-pages of 550 cultural institutions in Copenhagen. We turned these interactions into a network of posts connected by shared user activity (shown to the left in the figure below). Each node represents a post and are colored by the page they were posted on (e.g. all pages from the music venue VEGA are orange). Nodes are connected if the same user has liked, commented or shared them and are stronger connected if this is the case for more users.

When interpreting the network we found that the cultural users on Facebook seems to be fall into the six clusters of interest written on top of the map. We thought of these as ’post-demographic’ segmentations of these users because they are build on interactions – not demographic variables.

A central part of the sprint was to use this map to ask questions and use quali-quantitative methods to zoom in on other interesting aspects of the network. The close connection between the jazz audience and the maker-space was, for instance, surprising and required attention. It is in such ’conversations’ with data that new visibilities can stimulate new modes of thinking and new forms of valuation.

For instance, the interaction with data made it clear that the employees of the Royal Theater sometimes had diverging interpretations of the cultural scene. Such differences became visible in mundane practices such a s pointing to places on the map, where they expected a specific cultural institution to appear.

TANT-Lab Publications on this sprint and the link between digital methods and valuation

Munk, AK, Jacomy M and Madsen AK (2017) Thinking through the data body. In: Mäkitalo Å, Nicewonger T and Elam M (eds.) Designs for experimentation and inquiry: Approaching learning and knowing in digital transformation.

Madsen AK (2015) Tracing Data – Paying Attention – Interpreting digital methods through valuation studies and Gibson’s theory of perception. In: Kornberger M, Justesen L, Madsen AK and Mouritsen J (eds) Making Things Valuable. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 257-277

 

 

The Twitter-thing

Parliaments could seem to be highly issue-agnostic places. All sorts of problems move in and out. But issues make cuts. Some parliamentarians become attached to specific issues.

What if the parliament was approached not as a representation device for the national population, but as an assembly of multiple and constantly transforming issue-oriented publics? What kinds of issues come to the fore, how long does this last, and who associate themselves with them?

The aim of the Twitter-thing is to trace the cuts issues make in a parliament. Each time a parliamentarian use a hashtag in a tweet, a link is created between that hashtag and the parliamentarian. The tool then generates a network visualization showing how parliamentarians group around topics and issues. The version shown in the screenshot below was developed in collaboration with the Danish newspaper Politiken, which featured the tool and accompanying articles on its website in 2016.

 

The resulting ‘issue publics’ – or things in the sense of a collective aroused by an issue – are also ‘data publics’ because they are not necessarily aware of themselves as publics. At the same time, it is possible to self-select membership of these publics by using a specific hashtag. This raises the question of what feedback loops are at work between visualizations and those being visualized. How might a tool like the Twitter-thing change (parliamentary) politics? More generally, the tool prompts us to think about the fate of issues in institutionalized democracy.

The Twitter-thing invites users to explore these questions by making the network available in an interactive format that makes it possible to zoom, search for particular politicians, parties or hashtags, narrow down the network, and follow it over time. It is part of ongoing efforts in digital methods to develop ‘datascape’ navigation tools.

Link to the interactive online tool: http://twitterting.cadm.dk/

Built with the Actor-Network NAvigator (ANna): https://github.com/bornakke/anna

Publications

Birkbak A, Bornakke T and Papazu I. (2017) The Twitter-thing: Retooling the parliament into issue publics. Exhibition presented at the Data Publics Conference, Lancaster, Great Britain. 31/03/2017 – 02/04/2017.

 

 

Responses to Airbnb: public issues and emerging policies

The rise of the collaborative economy has attracted a lot of interest in recent years, not least in relation to travel and tourism, with companies like Airbnb and Uber in the rise. In 2016, TANTlab participated in the production of a report on the topic to the European Commission. The project was headed by the Tourism Research Unit (TRU) at Aalborg University Copenhagen and involved researching and writing a so-called ‘impulse paper,’ which provides academic input to the decision-making process in Brussels.

The thrust of the TANT-Lab contribution was to utilize digital methods to map issues related to the rise of services like Airbnb. Airbnb is the most prominent example of how a shift towards a collaborative economy is changing tourism. A key question for the EU commission is how cities respond to this development, how they monitor and regulate this new type of business, and how they cope with or attempt to benefit from the new developments. Recently, services like Airbnb and Uber have caused a range of controversies, also in Europe.

In the impulse paper, we explore the issues that have arisen in four major European tourist destinations: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and Paris. We constructed data sets from Airbnb reviews, from Facebook, and from the news database Proquest. Based on the semantic analysis software Cortext, developed for research purposes by IFRIS and INRA in France, we constructed maps of the ‘issue spaces’ related to Airbnb and visualized how the four different cities were positioned differently in the maps.

 

 

The discussions and controversies in Paris and Amsterdam turned out to be associated more with tax issues, while Berlin focused more on land use regulation, and Barcelona was more strongly associated with an innovation agenda than the other cities. Each city is represented by its own cell in the visualization above, which uses a heat map technique in Cortext to show how each individual city is related to the overall issue space. The visualization was published as part of the 40-page report, which can be downloaded (link below) and consulted for a closer look at the visualization and the datasets and techniques behind it.

Publications 

Dredge D, Gyimóthy S, Birkbak A, Elgaard Jensen T and Madsen AK (2016) The impact of regulatory approaches targeting collaborative economy in the tourism accommodation sector: Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. Brussels: European Commission.

 

 

 

Engaging stakeholders in the implementation of a new school reform

How do you engage citizens and stakeholders in developing a crowdsourced policy for the future of the public school system in a municipality? This was the challenge facing local politicians in Aalborg, Northern Denmark, when they approached the TANT-Lab together with the consultancy AGORA. It had been decided in advance that the process would have to involve the social media platforms where citizens were already making the school their matter of concern – in this case Facebook – but it was unclear how a messy social media conversation could be fruitfully hardwired into more traditional citizen techniques for public engagement.

 

Anders Kristian Munk and Anders Koed Madsen present the first results of the hashtagged Facebook conversation between 1600 school stakeholders in Gigantium Aalborg on January 8th 2015.

 

Throughout the fall of 2014 we helped the municipality collect and organize interesting conversations from their Facebook page and gradually cultivated a practice of users hashtagging their contributions, according to the themes the discussion had a bearing on, as well as the types of stakeholders involved in it. A school teacher might for example hashtag a post about physical activity in the classroom #physicalactivity #classroom #teacher allowing us to identify emerging thematic clusters in the debate and emerging relations between particular stakeholder groups and themes.

In early 2015 the municipality invited 1600 teachers, pedagogues, managers, students and other staff to a day of collaborative work at one of the major sports arenas in Aalborg. Based on our experiences from the more open ended online conversations in the preceding months we devised a short catalogue of best practices when hashtagging Facebook inputs. Organised around 150 tables the participants were then asked to collectively author visionstatements for the future, post them and discuss them.

The result of this work was a database of approximately 1.000 vision statements hashtagged by their authors according to their themes. From the data we identified a number of overarching thematic clusters and central hashtags that were deemed necessary to include in a crowdsourced political vision for the schools. Based around this analysis the database with the full statements was made available and explorable to the 150 school leaders who would sit down and formulate the eventual 2-page policy document outlining the vision.

The process proved an interesting experience for the researchers involved. A major reform of the school system in Denmark had preceded the vision process in Aalborg, and the topic was still sparking intense controversy, both locally and nationally. One important feature of opening up a conversation on Facebook was that the roaming issue-public that had sparked around the national reform found a temporary forum in which to express itself. Another and somewhat contradictory effect of these controversies was the considerable political potential with which the conversation was charged, and the implications this had for those participating in the discussion. It was not without consequence to make your voice public under such circumstances. These and other reflections are currently the topic of several paper projects in the lab.

Playgrounding Techno-Anthropology

The Techno-Anthropological Laboratory (TANTLab) was founded in 2015 as a response to what we saw as a growing need to road test digital methods and its associated styles of analysis with non-university partners. Located as part of the Techno-Anthropology Research Group at the Department of Learning and Philosophy at the University of Aalborg in Copenhagen, and thus part of thriving research and educational programmes in STS, we had been developing an interest in digital methods over a period of five years. These methods were relatively new to STS, where they had been developed under headings like issue mapping and digital controversy analysis (Marres & Rogers 2005, Venturini 2010). At the same time, STS more broadly had been asking itself how it means business and what kinds of interventions it wants to make. Our intuition was that digital methods in STS were now coming sufficiently of age to answer some of these questions more directly and in practice.

From the very beginning we decided to signpost this mission with two words: laboratory and playground. We called ourselves TANTlab and we adopted the tagline The Techno-Anthropological playground. In the following we will try to convey our sense of what it means to be a laboratory-playground.

Labs and serious play

We live in the age of labs. For someone taking an outside look at Academia these days, it quite possibly seems as if we’ve all contracted a contagious case of ‘laborangitis’. A new lab springs to life almost on a weekly basis (Smith et al. 2013, Ehn et al. 2014). On the relatively small campus of Aalborg University Copenhagen, we can think of at least 6 entities that call themselves labs, including a biotech lab, a food lab and a lab for physical prototypes.

Visitors coming to the TANTlab are not greeted by classic lab equipment. We have no petri dishes or microscopes, no animal models or bunsen burners, and no strangely looking blackboxed pieces of equipment. The physical space of TANTlab is a relatively conventional place – a room with screens, tables and chairs. You will find students mingling with researchers, and academics mingling with practitioners. You will hear people claiming to be makers and doers first, and thinkers or critics second, people claiming to be designing things, prototyping things, exploring and experimenting with things, although often ‘digital’ things that are only visible on screens and on large print-outs attached to the walls.

When you walk down the hallway, you will see the lab’s tagline in bold print on the glass wall: the techno-anthropological playground. It is only fair to ask if it is all fun and games?

Our response is that laboratories are indeed serious business. But so are playgrounds. Anybody who remembers being 5 or sending their kids off to kindergarden for the first time will know this instinctively. The transition from playing on your own, or under the close supervision of an adult, to holding your own against peers your own size, age and ferocity is a tough and challenging experience. And it takes place on playgrounds.

At the techno-anthropology lab we contribute to a young degree programme – only 6 years of age, in the middle of kindergarden, in fact – and we face all sorts of formative playground trials all the time. Our students face them in the college bar late at night, or at the family dinner, talking to that friend or relative who got into anthropology proper or decided to become a doctor: ’So, what exactly is a ”techno-anthropologist”’? They face it at their job interviews and when they negotiate a semester project with a company or a public agency.

Our researchers face it when they justify themselves to their colleagues in more established disciplines. But they also, and increasingly, face it when they strive to translate the societal relevance of their findings and methods. And, not least, our collaborators and future employers face it when they have to decide if we are worth playing with?

An age old tactic of the playground is of course to rely on your friends and your older siblings, if you have any. At the techno-anthropology lab we draw inspiration and support from fields like Science and Technology Studies, Digital Methods and Co-Design.

The trouble with siblings, however, is that they are not always there. Try walking into a job interview and rely on Science and Technology Studies to cover your back. It’s not bullet proof.

We – students, researchers, collaborators – need to work actively with how we are playgrounding techno-anthropology. That is the idea of the techno-anthropology lab.

The benefits of playgrounds

Playgrounding, or playground design, is actually a sprawling professional field now. In a recent paper on ”The developmental benefits of playgrounds” Frost et al. note that:

“Among the benefits of unstructured outdoor play (…) are the abilities to make decisions, work and play within a community of others, and to try out ideas and explore the play environment. Also highlighted are the benefits of pretend play, which has recently been shown to further the development of brain synaptic connections. (…) “If children lack opportunities to pretend, their long-term capacities related to critical thinking, problem solving, and social functioning, as well as to academic areas such as literacy, mathematics, and science, may be diminished.” (Frost et al. 2004)

That is surely something worth striving for! As a collateral bonus, the authors add that:

“Besides the social and academic benefits of play, research indicates that children with play opportunities are not likely to be depressed and hostile and generally do not exhibit excessive fear, rage, and worry.” (ibid.)

What is not to like?

The crux of the matter seems to be that good playgrounds have to be thought through. A little bit of playground history is instructive here. The idea originated in Germany in the mid 1800s but only spread at the beginning of the 20th century. Here is what president Roosevelt had to say about the matter in 1907:

“City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools.”

You will notice that there is a classic dilemma lurking between the lines: How do you design something that is supposed to afford games, that are vigorous and likely to be against the law? Can you even design play?

Actually, we have quite a tradition for it in Denmark. The landscape architect Carl Theodor Sørensen pioneered the concept of the adventure playground, or junk playground, in the 1940’s. He wanted to create imaginative environments, building on the pragmatist ideals of John Dewey. As pointed out by Kozlovsky, in a paper from 2008, it was the imagination of the child, not the architect, what Dewey would have called inquiry, that was supposed to unfold. We believe that is a good ideal to adhere to for a playground.

Carl Theodor Sørensen later said that: “of all the things I have helped to realise, the junk playground is the ugliest; yet for me it is the best and most beautiful of my works.” (Kozlovsky 2008: 7)

It seems essential that playgrounding is about coming out. That it is about doing things with others, rather than on your own. At the lab we are trying to do that with our students, for instance, making sure not only that they work problem based – or simply with other people’s problems – in concrete collaborations every semester, but also that this work is sign posted on our website as part of building a techno-anthropological identity.

And of course, when you play, you get invited home on play dates. We see this as a great opportunity. One of the things we did was to assist the municipality of Aalborg in developing a Facebook driven vision for the future of their schools. Going to other people’s locations and work spheres means learning to play by other people’s rules while honing and fine tuning your own position. The learning potentials are enormous, we think.

Often times, and again this is conveniently equivalent to actual playgrounds, this learning involves the simultaneous development of our imagination and our motor skills. At the techno-anthropology lab we work with a range of cutting edge techniques for harvesting and analysing large amounts of digital online traces. That is an ongoing process of acquiring tools and skills, while constantly maintaining a critical and imaginative perspective on their potential applications. And that is best done in a lab setting. It is together with other people’s problems, so to speak, that the strengths and weaknesses of new methods can crystallize.

Styles of play

On playgrounds, including ours, certain styles of play tend to emerge over time. Sometimes these styles are clearly demarcated. Kids who play football would NEVER join the roleplay with their younger siblings. In our case, the emerging styles of play overlap both in terms of participants, tools and ideas. And yet we can distinguish at least four different genres.

Re-tooling ethnography 

This game explores how traditional ethnographic approaches such as interviews and participant observation can be enriched or challenged in conversation with analysis and visualization of large datasets, and vice versa.

Participatory Data Design

This game explores how digital methods can enter into collaboration with actors who are already substantially engaged in particular fields or issues. We engage the actors, whom we call issues experts, to understand the problem of the field, and together we explore. Instead of just looking at data together, we take inspiration from participatory design methods and pursue the idea that decisions about datafication, filtering, analysis and visualization are never ‘just’ technical but more often where the scope and limitations of the project is laid down and blackboxed. We work actively with the data sprint format to facilitate participation in the early stages of a data project.

Media publics and democracy

This game is about assisting democracy. It presumes that new media has a variety of consequences for democratic practice and the formation of public opinion, some of which are adverse. The game is about providing meaningful interventions. It necessitates an ongoing discussion about normative commitments to particular styles of public deliberation and the goods that result from such commitments.

Critical metrics in organizations

This is a valuation game. It is about providing alternative metrics to help organizations make the quality of their activities visible in new ways. It draws on valuation studies and the sociology of markets to assert that the perception of quality depends on the devices available to perform it. Under an evidence based policy paradigm, to be critical can arguably be done at a distance or in proximity with the business of doing evidence (cf. Latour 2005; Birkbak et al.). This game pursues the latter option and embeds with the organization to do evidence in new ways.

Snapshots from the playground

In the following texts we present a set of case examples that illustrate the diversity of play from our first two years of operation. We have selected them to provide a tangible idea of what our playgrounding looks like in practice – the collaborators we engage with, the digital tools we deploy, and the emerging styles of play.

Materiality, Politics and Infrastructuring work

Nowadays, social scientists frequently consider infrastructure analysis as a starting point for an in-depth disentanglement of the multidimensional process of technoscientific innovation and societal change with a particular focus on the social and material ecologies in which human behavior is embedded (Gillespie et al. 2014). Since the mid ‘90, interest in infrastructure has profoundly permeated social theory attracting growing attention from sociologists, anthropologists and ethnographers working in the multidisciplinary STS field. Conceptually speaking, infrastructure can be considered sophisticated socio-material entities emerging by means of the management of a “series of tensions (between local and global, today’s requirements and tomorrow’s users, research and development; between project and originating practices, implementation and maintenance/repair, individual and community; but also identities and practices, planned and emergent course of action)” for the purposes of ordering everyday life (Mongili and Pellegrino, 2014, p. xvii).

Connecting to this broad field of inquiry, over recent years PaSTIS has developed a solid interest in the study of infrastructuring, a dimension through which infrastructures are generated and performed in practice. More precisely, PaSTIS has carried out a constellation of research, academic events and editorial projects aimed at capturing and exploring design and shaping, use, maintenance and repair activities related to infrastructure and infrastructuring work (Denis et al. 2015; Balbi et al. 2016). In so doing, we have cultivated an analytical perspective oriented to scrutinizing infrastructure as ongoing and open-ended processes grounded around an ecology of cognitive, material, and symbolic resources enacted by means of situated practices (Crabu 2014).

The rebellious side of infrastructuring work

One of the main research projects dedicated to the issue of infrastructuring work has related to Wireless Community Networks (WCNs) construction and consolidation processes. Conducted in partnership with the University of Trento, this project focused on these grassroots and joint working infrastructures, generally built-up at local level by media-activists, hackers and ‘nerds’ on the basis of explicit political as well as civic beliefs oriented to opposing the neoliberal and hierarchical governance of the commercial Internet. In this sense, WCNs imply heterogeneous work in which technical practices require constantly alignment with symbolic, political and organizational activities. From this point of view, WCNs constitute an exemplary environment with which to investigate processes of heterogeneous ‘infrastructuring’ (Star and Bowker 2002) at the local level in the field of digital media technologies (Parks and Starosielski 2015).

Technically, WCN is a decentralized infrastructure consisting of interconnecting antennas usually set up on the roofs of participants’ homes or on those of informal groups or volunteer organizations. These decentralized networks are fully independent from the Internet, although in a few countries they were popularized as a less expensive alternative to commercial ISP connections. WCNs are mostly self-built as volunteers adapt existing software, hack hardware, set up coordination rules, and materially install antennas. In this sense WCNs are rooted in a radical critique of contemporary governance of the Internet raising awareness on a relevant issue pertaining to the reconfigurations of power relationships between citizens and governments and also regarding distribution asymmetries relating to the growing pervasiveness of digitally-mediated communication (Crabu et al. 2015). In other words, WCNs represent alternative approaches counteracting the pervasive practices associated with the centralized control of digital communications and therefore shaping more autonomous and self-governed digital interaction spaces.

This research was based on a qualitative case study on the Ninux.org project, the main Italian WCN. The empirical data was gathered via in-depth interviews, documentary analysis and ethnographic observation of online and offline interaction aiming to investigate how Ninux.org members’ identities and motivations, as well as material artifacts, play a role in shaping and sustaining infrastructuring work in unconventional innovation contexts such as “squatted community centers” or do-it-yourself environments.

This research work will focus in particular on the cultural, political, and technological issues rooted in the Ninux.org project highlighting the way these different aspects are strictly interwoven and can hardly be understood as separate dimensions. We thus unraveled the intricacies of the mutual relationship between the various actors involved in the project emphasizing that the WCN is an emerging outcome from the cooperation of members involved in a process of mutual-learning and sharing of academic expertise and political outlooks. Indeed, contemporary innovation in infrastructures is increasingly characterized by a close relationship between experts and lay people. Taking into account this crucial aspect, we have shown that the shaping of grassroots infrastructures implies a processual and in-the-making work of creation and maintenance developed outside predictable and conventional innovation settings (Crabu et al. 2016).

Overall, on the basis of this research project we have been able to argue that bottom-up infrastructures, or more specifically ‘inverse infrastructures’ (Egyedi and Mehos 2012), are the result of an heterogeneous innovation process in which technical, political, material and cultural aspects interact recursively with each other and in which the mutual engagement of media activists and scientists is crucial in turning a political project into an innovative digital infrastructure model.

Infrastructuring in Computing Design and Development

Another research project related to infrastructures carried out by PaSTIS has regarded design and development practices in computing. Drawing on seminal work by Gregory Bateson, Leigh Star (2010, 610) used to say that users and designers, especially in computing, are bound together by a “double bind”. In the digital environment, it is extremely hard to distinguish design from development in practice. Although the design-mode in computing is a strategic re-ordering, designers limit themselves in practice to assembling elements that already exist, only rarely introducing new ones. Many developers verify or produce interoperability among the elements which are driven to converge in a new device. Their job thus consists of prolonged use of tools, libraries, databases and materials at hand. This use is often inextricably intertwined with their main activity. Sometimes developers act as designers, changing the original project or writing pieces of software for the purposes of integrating the heterogeneous elements better (Mongili 2014).

In order to explore this designer-developer tangle in depth we carried out ethnographic research into an Italian company working in telecommunications, Internet connections and other digital services. We studied their design and development practices in computing and more specifically monitored the development of an application for video surveillance connected with a social network owned by the same company. In particular, we observed testing activities which were articulated in two main information specific tools, two defect tracking systems (DTS), softphones, a protocol suite (SIP), a camera and so on.

Testing practices move forward as contingencies emerge. The ability of specific actors to exploit unanticipated gaps in previewed practices can be crucial to progress following and accompanying testing, development and design aiming at interoperability (at least at demo level) between a camera, a social network architecture and SIP protocol. To achieve this, developers looked for a camera and developed patches on extant codes, achieving OS level. They also intervened within the DTS which we have considered information infrastructure here, playing around with their different versions, obliging them to include the SIP Protocol as a part of their routine monitoring, interpreting their reports and learning the classifications they operate with. Not infrequently they interpreted and tried to change the threshold proposed by the DTS.

In accordance with Leigh Star and many other scholars, we can consider any information artifact, which relates a human activity and forms a whole with it, as an information infrastructure thus emphasizing the relational aspect of this definition. Every information artifact can converge toward a specific activity, becoming an information infrastructure but not every artifact is necessarily an infrastructure. This convergence is relatively unstable and obliges humans to take care of the infrastructure nesting their activity as a normal routine. Therefore, the ‘infrastructuring’ process challenges the invisibility of these infrastructures, their taken-for-grantedness. And a multiplicity of actors intervenes continually to alter elements and fix them.

By focusing on designing and developing, any new device can be conceptualized as the emerging outcome of hybrid practices, aimed to manage adverse contingencies and any sort of tensions. Infrastructures intersect any activities but are also extremely fragile. Infrastructures contain relations, especially through the data culture that they express, which is based on forms of classification containing forms of hegemony. This is another crucial issue: infrastructuring is a field of heterogeneous activity at the very center of technological cooperative circulation and at the crossroads of contemporary innovation processes.

On the basis of this theoretical and empirical reflection, issues related to infrastructures and their design and development now represent a consolidated pillar around which PaSTIS’s research work is organized.

Techno-scientific Issues in the Public Sphere (TIPS)

The TIPS project is based on the idea of using mass media and online newspapers, in particular, as a source for analysing the way science and technology is represented in the public sphere in order to study the role of techno-science in society, its relevance and evolution. To fulfil these aims, TIPS is grounded on a purpose built ICT infrastructure. Its design includes a dedicated platform capable of collecting, sorting and automatically analysing the text of newspaper articles in their digital format. These texts are then indexed and stored in a database for research analysis1.

 

Fig. 1: TIPS platform’s porcessing workflow: from newpapers to data and indicators

 

The TIPS platform is currently monitoring the eight most important Italian newspapers and, in a time span ranging from 2010 to yesterday, approximately 1.2 million articles have been collected. In 2014 the TIPS platform also began collecting two UK, two US, one Indian and seven French newspapers thus adding a further 1.4 million articles to its database. By means of ‘classifiers’ specifically developed by the TIPS research group, the platform determines whether the content of each article pertains to the science and technology domain. Then each article stored in the database is ‘tagged’ so that it is available for further analysis with an even greater focus on specific research questions.

The TIPS platform also calculates ad-hoc techno-science presence indicators and metrics within the main Italian daily newspapers: its ‘salience’ (i.e. the relative weight of techno-science in all the published articles in a given time span), ‘prominence’ (i.e. its presence on the home page) and its ‘presence’ outside newspaper sections specifically devoted to science and technology. The platform also provides a ‘risk indicator’, a measure expressly developed to operationalise risk as an ontological analytical dimension of public techno-science related discourse (figure 2).

 

Fig. 2: TIPS risk indicator trends for three specific issues in the last 24 months

 

So far, the research on techno-science in the media has generated a great deal of work on quite a wide range of issues including, of the most significant, climate change, genetically modified organisms, cloning, stem-cells, digital innovation and health risks. A majority of these analyses has focused largely on a limited portion of news, i.e. those specifically regarding a given issue, even if, alternatively, there have been also studies based on samples designed to map the presence of techno-science as a whole and thus to study its representation as well as to outline the perspectives of the social actors involved.

By contrast, TIPS was designed to take a non-specific topic-oriented approach. Rather than focusing on a restricted set of research topics, the objective is to follow techno-science coverage as a whole over time, enabling researchers to examine specific topics of interest. Accordingly, one of the most important methodological novelties generated by the TIPS project regards its infrastructure. The latter was designed to collect and analyse newspaper articles on a daily basis allowing researchers to analyse whole sets of online newspaper articles and texts.

The TIPS project roots its epistemological assumptions in recovering STS key-concepts. As techno-science resumes all the elements interwoven in processes of science and technology production and circulation (Latour 1987, pp. 174-175), TIPS assumes it as main concept to orient its monitoring activities. Indeed, from an empirical point of view, considering techno-science as an epistemic category enables researchers to avoid the need for univocal definitions (Shapin 2008, p. 3), keep their minds open to those processes and be flexible enough to intercept emerging trends about what are not yet ‘scientific facts’. The approach chosen by TIPS – i.e. considering the news as a whole using automated content analysis, comparing the features of specific issues against those of other issues or against media coverage as a whole – offers a perspective which embodies these key STS assumptions. However, this ‘operational openness’ has to be balanced with robust classification criteria. Indeed, in so far as TIPS aims to monitor techno-scientific issues, it first needs to establish clear criteria with which to identify techno-scientific content in a newspaper article. STS concepts, such as science as situated activity, the agency of non-human actors (artefacts, research tools, infrastructure etc.) definitely contributed to setting up useful demarcation elements as a reference for building up the classifiers, the indicators and the metrics used by TIPS.

Early outcomes of the project have been presented in international venues such as workshops in Stellenbosch (South Africa), Salvador de Bahia (Brazil) and Istanbul (Turkey), besides STS Italia and International Sociological Association conferences. In these, indicators and indexes as well as research outcomes were discussed showing techno-science salience trends and selected issue coverage. The relationship between media coverage and public opinion has been also explored, as in the case of recently published work on the nuclear power controversy which compares TIPS risk indicators from newspapers with public opinion perceived risk data (Neresini and Lorenzet 2016).

The operationalization of STS concepts into a media monitoring project is a first step in the hybridization between different, even related, scientific debates. The entire research group, however is a hybrid. Within TIPS this partnership has moved it in the direction of genuine interdisciplinary project organization involving scholars with sociology, linguistics, social psychology, statistics and ICT backgrounds. As Evans and Aceves (2016) have recently argued “machine learning is enabling the translation of text into social data” and this is the perspective TIPS is exploring further. This interdisciplinary cooperation is taking technical aspects about how properly to clean and interrogate data, for instance, further by making machine learning features such as ‘topic modelling’ (Blei 2012), ‘Named Entity Recognition (NER)’, and ‘part of speech (POS) tagging’ available for analysis. This interdisciplinary environment has proved to be ideal for tailoring and validating classification tools in the custom development of TIPS infrastructure. Machine Learning tools such as the Support Vector Machine (Cristianini and Shawe-Taylor 2000), for instance, have been crucial to positively testing the trustworthiness of the TIPS thesaurus-based classification scoring system. Interdisciplinary cooperation has further web-data automated monitoring development potential.

Indeed, the research team is presently working on a variety of topics related to technical aspects of content analysis by means of text mining. A further future development is investigating the potential for including the ‘corpus linguistics’ approach (Biber et al. 1998) as a possible feature for cross-linguistic and longitudinal analysis.

The TIPS team is therefore actively dedicated to exploring how the so-called ‘data science’ epistemological discontinuity (Kitchin 2014) may bring a better understanding of techno-science in the public sphere. Future developments generated by this epistemic potential will relate to both cross-country and source comparison. For the former, automated text classifiers for English and French are already in the pipeline. The latter, which will enlarge the analytical spectrum to social networks and blogs, is at an advanced level as TIPS is presently collecting approximately a thousand blog posts per day.

The ever increasing volume of data available for the purposes of virtually analysing any topic whatsoever, not only those linked to techno-science, is a stimulating challenge that still requires multiple skills and in-depth cross-fertilization between concepts, theoretical models and approaches ranging across various disciplines.

The Padova University PaSTIS unit and the infrastructuring of STS research in Italy

 

 

The PaSTIS (Padova Science Technology & Innovation Studies) research unit was set up in 2008 as an attempt to unify and catalyze the research of a number of professors, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students in the social studies fields of science, technology and communication within the Department of Sociology at Padova University (http://www.pastis-research.eu). PaSTIS’s emergence is interesting not only in that it tells the story of a specific STS-focused research unit but also because it offers a glimpse into the path taken by the STS perspective in a country like Italy which was until recently at the periphery of the main European STS geography.

It is not far from the truth to say that PaSTIS is today the most important research center expressly devoted to STS research in Italy, although there are also other universities in the country with a STS milieu such as the University of Trento, where the last 6th STS Italia conference was held in late November 2016. Although not exclusively Science & Technology Studies focused – but also interested in other approaches to the study of culture and communication – PaSTIS today encompasses around 15 scholars mostly with a sociology background including full and associate professors, several post-doctoral researchers and a turnover of PhD students and research assistants. During its almost ten years of existence, the research unit has also hosted around ten foreign visiting scholars from Europe, the US and South America. This highlights the fact that PaSTIS is also a place where STS scholars from other countries can spend a period of research finding a collective and stimulating environment: we would be happy to receive further visiting proposals in the near future.

The chief topics addressed over the years by PaSTIS with its research and initiatives include a number of areas: the study of public communication in science and technology and analysis of media and public discourses relating to science, technology and the innovation (on this subject see the section on the TIPS project by Giardullo and Lorenzet here); analysis of information infrastructures and media technologies and devices (see the section by Crabu and Mongili); the study of scientific practices and laboratory work, especially in relation to the biomedical domain and the field of nanotechnology; research on media practices, with specific focus on the process of digitalization, the use of social networks, the emergence of new forms of sexuality over the Internet and the processes of consumption of cultural content. A pivotal point bringing together the work of PaSTIS’s members is essentially the idea that social and cultural processes today can be understood by looking at the way scientific processes, technological artefacts and infrastructures innervate contemporary social experience and are thus the core of the reconfiguration of the whole current set of practices, routines, values, meanings, emotions and the overall texture of everyday social organization.

 

Fig. 1: The PaSTIS people (almost all the members, with come guests)

 

However, more interesting than a plain description of PaSTIS’s activities is an examination of the distinctive conditions of the research unit’s development which has not been a top-down process sustained by ministerial or university inputs. Rather, the emergence of PaSTIS was actually a bottom-up process, a sort of alchemic blend, the contingent product of a work of ‘heterogeneous engineering’ which was the response to a situation, the Italian university system, in which research units are not official entities and – especially in the social sciences and humanities fields – still quite few and far between. Many university departments across the country have no research units whatsoever and still prioritise the idea of self-sufficient independent scholars working on their own specific academic interests. At the same time, the experience has been that the setting up of research units has been seen by many as an institutional innovation stirring up traditional power assets and localist logics. This is a distinctive feature of the Italian academic system as compared to other countries and it speaks volumes about the fact that doing STS today (and by extension, social studies as a whole) requires diverse efforts, tools and strategies in diverse countries in order to produce a fruitful alignment of research, theory and local institutional frameworks. The institutional rigidities and weaknesses of the Italian academic system (one which has, over the last decade, also experienced a shortage of new tenure-track positions, a lack of internal mobility, a massive diaspora of Italian scholars and, therefore, has one of the highest average age of professors – in 2013 the average age of assistant professors was 46!) was for us the stimulus to adapt, re-invent and localize the idea of ‘research unit’ seeing it as a crucial strategy in the search to develop new opportunities to deal with the troubles typical of our national academic system.

One of the positive circumstances that helped to develop and sustain PaSTIS has been the growing of a wider STS movement in Italy, making our local unit an intersection in a wider process of ‘co-evolution’ involving an entire national academic community. On one hand, our research unit has clearly been sustained by the broader Italy-wide STS movement which was given institutional form as a national STS society, STS Italia, in 2005 and also sponsored the creation of the ‘Tecnoscienza: Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies’ journal in 2010. Whilst even before the mid-2000s in Italy there were at least a few scholars linked to STS these were just individuals with no chance of giving a collective dimension to their work and thus having a stronger impact on the study of science and technology in the country. There are many accounts of the way PaSTIS co-evolved within the broader national STS community and, at the same time, also became one of the drivers of STS development in Italy: for example, in 2012, PaSTIS co-organized the 4th STS Italia Conference in Rovigo on ‘Emerging technologies” and in 2015 the 3th STS Italia Summer School on ‘Biomedical research’. Several STS Italia workshops have been hosted in Padua: focusing on creativity in 2009, on interdisciplinarity in 2013 and on biomedicine in 2014. A number of PaSTIS scholars played a crucial role in establishing and editing the Tecnoscienza journal and energised efforts to build up the main STS Italia initiatives organized elsewhere in Italy.

Hence, if PaSTIS has been an instrumental device in the process of STS community infrastructuring in Italy, our research unit is, at the same time, an emerging outcome of the broader establishment of a STS community in Italy, thus confirming once again that science, like culture and art, is a truly collective activity which involves not only, in our case, PaSTIS’s current members, but also a wider group of people as well as artefacts and infrastructures. PaSTIS, STS Italia and Tecnoscienza can thus all be understood as a creative – and to some degree ‘resisting’ – reaction to the limits, rigidities and constraints of our national academic system whose scholars need to open up their work to an increasingly integrated, competitive and fast-developing global scientific community.

Contemporary bioscience and its socio-historical analysis

Making Genomic Medicine 

Making Genomic Medicine is a Wellcome Trust funded project investigating the historical and social processes that have produced the current ferment of activity around genomic medicine. The project explores how developments in biomedical science have interacted with changing social and political circumstances – including research policy, the influence of patient groups, and the growth of commercial biotechnology – to frame genomic medicine as a field of scientific, medical and economic promise. The team pursue this research using a variety of different methods and sources including archival materials, analysis of grey and scientific literature, and interviews with key actors including genomic entrepreneurs, physicians, policy advisors, and biomedical scientists. The project is organised around three inter-related strands of research into the history of rare disease, drug discovery, and changing ideas of medical risk. Research Fellow Farah Huzair explores how new biotech-based methods of drug discovery and development have interacted with the chemical engineering approaches more typically favoured by big pharma. Koichi Mikami is examining the role of rare disease organisations in shaping medical policy and practice to promote access to innovative treatments. The third Research Fellow, Catherine Heeney, works on issues of risk in genomics, with a particular focus on how techniques and technologies for conducting genome wide association studies reshaped the field of the genetics of common complex diseases. Building on this research the team has also organised a series of witness seminars and policy workshops bringing together key actors to reflect on the past and possible futures of different aspects of Genomic Medicine.

In pulling together the rich and varied data from the three strands, project PI Steve Sturdy invites us to rehabilitate the idea, originally proposed by Barbara and John Ehrenreich, of the medical-industrial complex (Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich, 1969). From the 1970s, academic bioscience has become increasingly entangled with commercial concerns, especially through the new biotechnology sector and its ramifications into pharmaceutical innovation, diagnostics and informatics. This has been facilitated by favourable policies on, for instance, ownership of intellectual property and marketing of orphan drugs, as well as substantial public funding for genomics research and infrastructure. These policies have in turn been informed by expectations of economic growth among policy makers, and of new and more effective therapies among patients and consumers. More recently, healthcare systems too are becoming increasingly entangled in this biomedical innovation system as suppliers of medical data and clinical research resources. Making Genomic Medicine is documenting key aspects of the pivotal role that genomic science and technology have played, and continue to play, in the development of this medical-industrial complex.

Medical Translation in the History of Modern Genomics

Much of the context outlined above is also shared by Medical Translation in the History of Modern Genomics. Rather than focus on the eventual commercial and clinical applications however, it addresses how DNA sequencing projects – the raw materials of genomics – reflected different expectations of utility in medical practice. The PI has recently been joined by Giuditta Parolini and James Lowe as Research Fellows, and Mark Wong as a Research Assistant who will conduct bibliometric work in support of the historical investigations. Gil Viry, Niki Vermeulen and Ann Bruce, social scientists at the University of Edinburgh, will collaborate in the interpretation of the bibliometric and historical data. As this European Research Council funded project is set to begin in October 2016 here we can only share the preliminary findings of the pilot research.

The project’s primary innovation is to look across a range of international sequencing initiatives rather than focus solely on the Human Genome Project (HGP). It is not well known that at the same time as the HGP was being pursued by research teams in Europe, Asia and America, similar programmes were underway for both the yeast and pig genomes. Preliminary archival research has uncovered a wide variety of perspectives regarding how such projects should actually be designed, and these disagreements often revolved around the ultimate goals sequencing should serve. The possibilities of improving agriculture, developing recombinant vaccines, or achieving personalised medicine — a contemporary excitement that frames Making Genomic Medicine — initially shaped the organisation of the yeast, human and pig sequencing projects. Accordingly researchers focussed on sequencing those parts of the yeast, human and pig genome that seemed to matter most for human and non-human health, as well as the emerging biotechnology industry.

After a few years however it seems that selectively sequencing the genome for diagnostic or therapy significant information eventually gave way to the priority of completeness – full and systematic sequencing displaced medical translation. By looking across the yeast, pig and human genome projects as they developed alongside one another, the project hopes to uncover the common pressures to which these teams responded (or were able to avoid), re-telling the history of international sequencing projects as one in which resource availability and use forced choices between different goals and values. The project builds on an emerging historical interest in genomics, one that combines archival work with social science perspectives to unpack promissory discourses and the objective of medical translation. Its theoretical and methodological frameworks have been outlined in a recent publication by the PI (Garcia-Sancho, 2016).

Meanwhile, the decision to focus simultaneously on human and non-human genetics builds upon a line of research developed here at Edinburgh regarding the history of agricultural science. One of its most recent contributions is worth mentioning briefly as it acted as a springboard for the present project. Historicizing Dolly (funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) examines the history of animal breeding research in Edinburgh in the late twentieth century (García-Sancho, 2015). The project Research Fellow Dmitriy Myelnikov conceives of Dolly as a product of a number of social and historical processes, including changes in science policy which diminished the role for publicly funded agricultural science and had direct implications for the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (one of the institutions that was eventually recomposed into the Roslin Institute, home to Dolly). These transformations led Roslin to explore new potential commercial applications of their expertise, cloning being just one of a number that they pursued. Another less famous though vastly more significant effort, was the attempt to biologically synthesise useful quantities of human proteins in sheep milk for potential medical application. Here too then we see features that bolster the notion of an emerging medical-industrial complex towards the end of the twentieth century. The final project unpacked here also addresses the biosynthesis of materials as went on at Roslin, but through some of the most recent developments underway in the biosciences.

Engineering Life

The Engineering Life project is also funded by the European Research Council, and addresses the ideas, practices, policies and promises that together constitute contemporary attempts to engineer living things. While the project is therefore much more sociological in emphasis, one way to understand its particular take on biological engineering is through historical contextualisation. Again the historiography described above applies here, adding only that subsequent to the Second World War biological and biomedical scientists were no strangers to discussing developments in molecular biology in terms of ‘genetic engineering’, seeing the operations of DNA as systems, circuitry and networks available for manipulation. In the Engineering Life project, instead of dealing with the notion of genetic ‘engineering’ in an eliminative way (content with engineering’s significance extending only as far as rhetoric or pedagogy or poetry), the project asks what it might mean to engineer biology. It is prompted to do so because of the recent emergence of new communities pursuing synthetic biology. These communities are equally aware of earlier ‘engineering’ aspirations in biology, but often deliberately define themselves in distinction from such precursors. Synthetic biologists claim they are different because of a direct dependence upon, or collaboration with, engineers, engineering tools, techniques, and principles – a dependence that they argue was absent in earlier forms of biological engineering.

The project builds on work undertaken by Jane Calvert, Emma Frow and Pablo Schyfter, all of whom have been collaborating (and collaborating with scientists pursuing biological engineering) for almost a decade (Schyfter et al., 2013). Their backgrounds are diverse, as are those of the Research Fellows associated with the project (Deborah Scott, Erika Szymanski and Dominic Berry), ranging from law and geography, to rhetoric and science communication, HPS, and of course STS. In what follows we outline three of the key areas of research. As with all the projects surveyed here, the methods used are varied, including interviews, archival research, participant observation in science and policy spaces, laboratory ethnographies and art/design collaborations.

Engineering knowledge

One of the central interests of the project is the character of engineering knowledge. Despite extensive social scientific, historical and philosophical studies of scientific and technological knowledge, few projects have explored knowledge produced by engineers. Rather than assume that engineering knowledge is a form of technological knowledge, Engineering Life leaves the distinctiveness of engineering knowledge as an open question. In doing so it takes particular inspiration from Walter Vincenti, who argued that engineering knowledge is a distinct epistemic species. This exploration of engineering knowledge has led the team to engage with a diverse range of writing, including the philosophy of science in practice, pragmatist epistemology, and the sociology of technology.

Engineering organisms

Synthetic biologists work with or on a range of different biological materials and organisms. National, regional, and international institutions of governance are already examining synthetic biology, attempting to decide whether and how to govern those practices and products. Engineering Life is dedicated to exploring the implications, meanings, and effects of these interactions (Scott, 2016). With regard to laboratory ethnography, the project is focussed in particular on research surrounding yeast and plants, the former with an emphasis on international collaboration, the latter with a commitment to placing contemporary science in historical context. Attending to the relations between organisms and those who research them, organisms and their surroundings, and the organism’s significance in experiment, we are contributing to a long legacy of research that is at once social and historical (Clarke and Fujimura eds., 1992).

Reflexive questions

The project is also pursuing reflexive questions about the ways in which social scientists are being mobilised in attempts to engineer life. From the outset, scholars from the social sciences, arts, and humanities have participated in the development of synthetic biology (Ginsberg et al., 2014). This provides novel opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, but it also carries risks of co-option and capture. What roles are social scientists, bioethicists, lawyers, artists and designers playing in synthetic biology? And to what extent are these roles consistent with these researchers’ theories, methods, values, and goals?

Still growing strong 50 years of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh

 

A newly emerging field like Science and Technology Studies (STS) must find ways to navigate a space populated by powerful, typically discipline-based structures. Those involved in fostering STS centres and communities have needed ingenuity in working out how to do this in their particular national and institutional context. STS scholars have, in differing ways, learnt to spin a web at the interstices of disciplinary power blocks, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to navigate periodic radical realignments in this landscape.  In this sense the histories of particular STS centres are diverse, as amply demonstrated in this series of accounts of ‘STS Multiple’, even though they also exemplify strategies for tackling a broadly homologous set of problems.

 

Fig. 1: 2015 ISSTI retreat Newbattle Abbey 8th – 9th June 2015. Courtesy of R. Williams
Fig. 1: 2015 ISSTI retreat Newbattle Abbey 8th – 9th June 2015.
Courtesy of R. Williams

 

A tradition of breaking boundaries

Some parts of the Edinburgh story are well-rehearsed… The origins of SSU can be traced back to an initiative in 1964 to broaden the education of the university’s science undergraduates by the renowned geneticist C. H. Waddington (1905–75) and other leading Edinburgh scientists, including the physicist Peter Higgs. The Committee on Providing a Broader Basis for the Science Degree sought to reduce the separation between the ‘two cultures’ (of the arts and the sciences), which had been highlighted by C. P. Snow’s famous ‘Two Cultures’ lecture in 1959 (Henry 2008).

 

Fig. 2: Members of the Science Studies Unit in the early 1980s Back row, left to right: Mike Barfoot, Steven Shapin, Carole Tansley, Moyra Forrest, Andy Pickering, Dave Smith. Front row: David Bloor, David Edge, Barry Barnes, David Miller. Courtesy of Carole Tansley
Fig. 2: Members of the Science Studies Unit in the early 1980s
Back row, left to right: Mike Barfoot, Steven Shapin, Carole Tansley, Moyra Forrest, Andy Pickering, Dave Smith.
Front row: David Bloor, David Edge, Barry Barnes, David Miller.
Courtesy of Carole Tansley

 

David Edge, a physicist with a PhD in radio astronomy, but then working for the BBC Radio Science Unit, was enlisted to deliver this teaching.  He proposed a new undergraduate course for science students: “to remedy an ignorance … amongst science graduates of major aspects of civilisation,  such as literature, art, religion and philosophy, and of the strategic issues of science [editors note: this refers to the funding and organisation of science], and (b) to bring out the ways in which the development of science has influenced and is influencing, various aspects of human life…”1 David Edge also suggested the proposed new department should also have a research remit and outlined a number of issues that might be addressed. Funding was secured for 5 years from 1966 from the Wolfson Foundation to develop this work on an experimental basis. It was so successful, that, at the end of this period, the university took over funding.

David Edge made a series of inspired appointments: the sociologist Barry Barnes, the philosopher David Bloor, and historians Gary Werskey and later Steven Shapin. These turned  the Unit into an exciting site of scholarly historical and sociological research on science (Barnes et al 2003). Their foundational work established the sociology of scientific knowledge: the idea that the content of science itself, not merely its social context institutions, funding, personnel etc, was amenable to sociological enquiry. Their distinctive and influential ‘strong programme’ in the sociology of scientific knowledge became known throughout the world as the “Edinburgh School”.

David Edge committed his energy to creating a supportive space for this path-breaking scholarship at Edinburgh. He also supported the development of the field more widely, notably by launching (with Roy MacLeod) and editing for 32 years the journal Social Studies of Science.

This decisive step, in opening the production of scientific knowledge up for social scientific enquiry – was just one of a number of ways in which David Edge challenged established boundaries. He also emphasised an interdisciplinary approach that cut across divides between history and sociology –and also the boundary between natural and social sciences.

We recently rediscovered parts of this story. As part of our celebrations of the SSU 50th Anniversary we have been developing a Memory Collection – eliciting recollections from alumni and former colleagues. As we sorted though materials from retired colleagues we encountered other parts of the story that were about to fall out of the institutional memory. We were reminded that David Edge had collaborated with Harry Dickinson – a lecturer in the Electrical Engineering Department with an interest in developing countries. They secured awards from the (then) Science Research Council to fund PhD studentships and postdoctoral research fellowships  on Appropriate Technology. This programme was disrupted by Harry’s untimely and sudden death in the autumn of 1983. This example forces us to reflect upon the uneven processes by which past contributions may succeed or fail to become part of the historical record. We note that certain kinds of communal work, and the contributions of those who fall by the wayside, can easily be overlooked.

The growth of the interdisciplinary Technology Studies programme

Edinburgh’s interdisciplinary tradition took another radical turn in the 1980s, to encompass technology studies, inspired by the edited collection that Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman developed on  The Social Shaping of Technology (SST)  (MacKenzie and Wajcman 1985). Donald MacKenzie had fostered a group, including David Edge, Martin Fransman2 and Frank Bechhofer3, which secured seedcorn funding to create a post of coordinator of social and economic research  on technology, based in the Research Centre for Social Science. Robin Williams was recruited to this post in 1986 and led Edinburgh’s successful bid under a major funding initiative by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC): the Programme on Information and Communication Technologies (PICT). Its core group was extended to ‘the gang of six’ with the appointment  of Jamie Fleck (like Robin from Aston University Technology Policy Unit) to the Business School.

Edinburgh PICT ran from 1987 – 1995. It formed the core of a strongly interdisciplinary research programme into the social shaping of technology – and in particular Information Technology.

The technology studies research community grew rapidly through the 1980s with major awards from science as well as social science funding bodies.  European links – always strong – became increasing dynamic through Edinburgh’s involvement in a European COST Action – A4 on the social shaping of technology – which provided a platform for many awards under European framework programmes.

In the immediate aftermath of PICT, a number of more or less long-lived specialist groupings emerged such as Martin Fransman’s Institute for Japanese-European Technology Studies (JETS) in Economic and Alfonso Molina’s Technology Management programme in the Business School Innovation and Entrepreneurship group. Consequently, scholarly capacity was distributed across a number of specialist centres.

The Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation

A key strategic development was the formation in 2000 of the Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation (ISSTI). This initially brought togeter these specialist centres, SSU, Sociology and the technology studies programme based in RCSS. ISSTI was coordinated by Robin Williams and hosted within RCSS.

Specialisation has benefits but also brings risks of fragmentation of intellectual effort and duplication of effort.  By weaving these groups into a dense framework of collaborations, ISSTI worked to ensure intellectual cross-fertilisation and share the costs of support for the development, conduct and dissemination of research.

 

Figure 3: Science, Technology and Innovation Studies: Interdisciplinary Engagements across The University of Edinburgh Courtesy of R. Williams
Figure 3: Science, Technology and Innovation Studies: Interdisciplinary Engagements across The University of Edinburgh
Courtesy of R. Williams

 

ISSTI’s mission was to present Edinburgh’s work more effectively to external audiences (funding bodies, policymakers, private and public stakeholders) and above all to promote interdisciplinary research.  Aided by a flow of external research funding awards collaboration was extended right across the university. Figure 3 seeks to map some of these engagements.

A distinctive model for Edinburgh research

A distinctive model for Edinburgh research has emerged over recent decades. At its core is an emphasis, building upon the SSU tradition, on work that is empirically detailed and conceptually innovative. The continual engagement with new frontiers – empirically and conceptually – brings a sense of excitement, as exemplified in recent years by Donald MacKenzie’s adventurous intellectual journeys.

Our work has benefitted from The University of Edinburgh’s strengths in Science, Engineering, Medicine and beyond. The confident approach of leading practitioners to their own subjects of study facilitated cross-disciplinary dialogue (supported by Edinburgh’s distinctive collegiate ethos and University policies that strongly favoured interdisciplinarity). Particularly close collaboration was established over the last three decades with Stuart Anderson, Rob Proctor and other colleagues from Informatics in developing a profoundly sociotechnical understanding of how the design and implementation of computer-based systems could create solutions that were more dependable and better matched to user requirements.

Research extended into other areas, with major strands of work on energy,  environmental sustainability and life science innovation.

Fig. 4: Donald MacKenzie welcomes alumni and former colleagues to the Science Studies Unit 50th Anniversary Gala Courtesy of Anna Kuslits
Fig. 4: Donald MacKenzie welcomes alumni and former colleagues to the Science Studies Unit 50th Anniversary Gala
Courtesy of Anna Kuslits

 

Much of this work also involved new and closer kinds of engagement with policy and wider publics. In 1998, Robin Williams and Joyce Tait secured a Research Development Grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to establish the Scottish Universities Policy Research and Advice Network: Science, Technology and the Environment. This supported the expansion of Edinburgh research and stakeholder engagement into innovation in the life sciences (e.g. in medicine and agriculture). This paved the way for a successful bid by Tait, Williams, Wield and others for an ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics (2000 – 2012). The Innogen centre continues after the cessation of ESRC core funding with a focus on innovation generation in the life sciences.

Maintaining a vibrant research community 

A complex ferment has emerged of different kinds of work – ranging from traditional sole scholarship to more collective policy-oriented projects in which STS researchers collaborate with domain specialists and stakeholders. We have been able to foster a vibrant research community through a diverse research ecology of differently configured projects interacting together.

Growth based on external income poses particular challenges for investigators and especially research staff. There are acute pressures with policy-oriented research to meet the needs of government sponsors and innovation communities. Moreover research is shaped by a highly turbulent and increasingly competitive funding context that makes it difficult to develop expertise and reputation in a planful manner. Members of the Edinburgh community have had to learn how to play a ‘multi-level game’ – applying our own analyses of the challenges of interdisciplinary research and policy engagement to our own practice. Researchers, individually or in small groups, are encouraged to consider how meeting stakeholder needs can be combined with addressing personal scholarly goals in terms of building their substantive knowledge base, elaborating underlying conceptual frames and developing methodological skills, as well as advancing their reputation and personal publication record. This may, for example, involve building longer-term programmes of enquiry around a succession of shorter-term awards.

Though much of our work has emphasised engagement with policymakers and wider publics, Edinburgh researchers proactively discuss ways to avoid being cast into particular presumed roles by policymakers or practitioners.

A distinctively collegiate culture has been fostered over the years. Colleagues from different traditions are encouraged to join the weekly coffee meetings. In these and other informal spaces colleagues can identify and explore synergies between different analytical traditions and streams of research. As the various specialist nodes have grown, ISSTI has evolved into a network of research networks allowing specialisation around particular agendas to be coupled with benefits of scale and of scope.

To counter tendencies to fragment between different domains of study and analytical traditions – a key part of our intellectual life is the annual ISSTI retreat where 60 or so colleagues come together for 2 – 3 days – removed from the day-to-day grind of teaching and administration. The retreat involves external keynotes to inspire the community with new ideas; sessions designed to explore common interests and cross-fertilise between the huge array of research under way. These also serve to induce new colleagues and involve them in our distinctive collaborative culture and styles of work.

Wide ranging research engagements

Over the last decade Edinburgh colleagues have managed to establish sustained social science and interdisciplinary research engagements across a very wide range of areas. These include:

  • Social informatics –  close collaboration between STIS, Informatics, Business School  to understand the sociotechnical character and implications of the ICTs–with a closely linked Interdisciplinary Research Group in e-health convened by Claudia Pagliari. Recently this work is applying STS perspectives to understanding and informing the growth of data science.
  • Synthetic biology – STIS scholars like Jane Calvert have developed a close collaboration with synbio researchers.  Rather than becoming cast into traditional roles – for example as the people who address risk governance and innovation – we have sought a more open-ended exploration, working with scientists and also with artists, on what it means to engineer life.
  • Collaborations with Law – our involvement in the Scottish Centre for Intellectual Property and Technology Law led by Burkhard Schafer in Law led to our participation in the AHRC Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Industries: (CREATe).
  • Life Sciences – Gill Haddow collaborated with Graeme Laurie and Shawn Harmon to establish the Mason Institute: an interdisciplinary network aimed at investigating the ethical, legal, social and political issues at the interface between medicine, life sciences and the law, particularly in relation to biomedical research and innovation.
  • History of Medicine – the continued importance of historical studies at Edinburgh, also to deepen the understanding of contemporary work, is reflected in recent successes by Miguel Garcia-Sancho and Steve Sturdy in securing funding for the History of Medicine.
  • Science, Knowledge and Policy – Steve Yearley is working with colleagues from Politics in SKAPE – centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy to explore processes of knowledge production, translation and use involved in the development and implementation of policy.

Achieving sustained growth in a challenging environment

Edinburgh scholars have sustained a high level of external research funding. Our continued success has been facilitated by public research policies that have favoured interdisciplinary and collaborative research. This has opened up opportunities to secure research funding from i.a. the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering as well as ESRC and also to secure funding under EU framework programmes as well as from the European Research Council.

Research funding however provides a rather unstable base for growth in capacity. STS has been seeking ways to leverage strengths in research and teaching to substantially expand our community.

We have managed to take advantage of UK Higher Education policies. In particular since 1996, Research Assessment Exercises (RAE) that measures research excellence and rewards work of international impact. STS has found a welcoming home in Sociology at Edinburgh and nationally; work is returned within the sociology panel in the RAE and its successor the Research Excellence Framework. And Edinburgh STS scholars brought in significant Research Quality income.

Perhaps in parallel with this, the University of Edinburgh has been restructuring. Its previously successful model of supporting small experimental units, was seen as less able to achieve quality and international recognition. From 2000 the university strategy revolved around creating larger units. This came shortly after the failure of the attempt by SSU to establish its status as department within the Faculty of Science. This was a period of attrition – particularly after the retirement and tragic death of David Edge. Staffing levels fell as the turnover of core staff did not always secure replacement.

Across the University small departments in cognate fields were brought together in large multidisciplinary schools. SSU and RCSS became classified as Units within Sociology subject group in the newly formed School of Social and Political Science. To some, things looked bleak. However, these developments also saw a shift in the university’s resource governance systems that held the seeds of renascence. The new planning system in the University of Edinburgh allowed operational units to track income accruing from all sources – from undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, from research income, from the excellence and impact of research outputs. This had the paradoxical outcome of revealing SSU and RCSS as both generating substantial surpluses.

Though some objected that the new arrangements subjected operating units to market pressures, we realised that this exigency created scope to make new appointments for those able to project new income streams –in particular from postgraduate offerings. These formalised resource allocation criteria made us less dependent on diplomatic engagements with senior university decision-makers to advance the claims of STS in competition with established disciplines.

RCSS under the PICT programme had established one of the UK’s first doctoral programmes (the Doctoral Programme of Socio-Economic Research on Technology), convened by Wendy Faulkner. This post had, for administrative convenience, been located in SSU. Its success rejuvenated the SSU’s Doctoral Programme. The two programmes grew in tandem, and it became evident that doctoral students from SSU and RCSS could not readily be distinguished. Building on courses launched for the doctoral training programmes, a modular array of MSc offerings gradually developed. These developments encouraged increasing interaction between RCSS and SSU, despite their different histories and cultures.

The two centres had complementary strengths. RCSS brought in substantial research income and wider engagements, while the SSU survey courses, delivered to large numbers of science students, were suddenly revealed to be highly profitable as they received a higher level of government support than social science students.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) ‘subject group’

Robin Williams worked with John Henry, who had taken over as SSU Director and Stewart Russell4, RCSS Deputy Director, to explore the benefits of a closer relationship. The first move was the co-location of SSU in Chisholm House, adjacent to RCSS in Old Surgeons Hall. This facilitated intellectual integration.

Our PhD students were also co-located. They have thrived on close interaction with each other and with academic staff. With increasing numbers, research students have become important part of our lively culture: offering mutual support, a strong sense of shared identity. Their enthusiastic support underpins a range of activities including growing use of social media, and, most recently, our own Youtube channel with a growing library of video recordings of workshops and ISSTI retreat presentations.

Eventually RCSS and SSU merged in 2008 to constitute the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) ‘subject group’ within the School of Social and Political Science. This new status has enabled a more planful approach to career planning and capacity development – and in particular a strategy for growth based on new teaching development. We have sought to overcome the dichotomy in many UK universities between research fellows and conventional lecturers by creating research intensive lectureships supported by high levels of research income. STIS has a rotating headship. Its founding Head of Subject, Robin Williams was replaced by Steve Study and then Cathie Lyall, who is the current head. Today STIS has over 40 staff and a similar number of PhD students. STIS is the core, but only accounts for about half, of our total community of ISSTI scholars across the University of Edinburgh. This dual identity may seem confusing to outsiders, but is, arguably, key to our success. And by continuing David Edge’s tradition of challenging existing boundaries, building new relationships with colleagues from natural science and engineering, as well as social science and humanities, and by engaging with practitioners, policymakers and diverse publics we look forward to another half century of excitement and growth.

Building bridges: new realities, new education approaches and collaboration

 

BIHSENA

 

Since the 1990s, Eastern European societies and their respective health care systems have been undergoing a series of major transformations – some of the changes have worked out successfully, others have had minor positive effects. One of the reasons for lack of progress in the field of health care and the medical innovations is that Post-Soviet governance mechanisms are not well attuned to the new realities. We believe that intersectorial collaboration and new education approaches may help to overcome this problem, as it prepares researchers, professionals and policy makers for analysing and dealing with the specific problems they meet.

The project “Bridging Innovations, Health and Societies: Educational Capacity-Building in Easter European Neighbouring Areas” (BIHSENA) aims to respond to the lack of education opportunities in the interdisciplinary area of health, innovations and society in the two countries of Russia and Ukraine, and to bridge a gap between (bio)medical and social scientists, academics and practitioners in these two countries, as well as between local and international communities. The common history regarding the organization of health care system (by means of the so-called Semashko’s model), and the health sector more generally, as well as similar past attempts to redesign it, create a shared ground for Russian and Ukrainian partners to do research, design solutions and develop up-to-date educational programs.

The project has started at the beginning of 2016. It was supported by Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and brings together seven universities: Maastricht University (the Netherlands); National Research Tomsk State University and Siberian State Medical University (Russia); National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” and Vinnitsa National Pirogov Memorial Medical University (Ukraine); Plovdiv University Paisii Hilendarski (Bulgaria), and Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University (Poland). The project is led by Dr. Klasien Horstman, professor of Philosophy of Public Health at Maastricht University. The Policy Analysis and Studies of Technologies Centre (PAST-Centre) is a key partner in the BIHSENA project.

The BIHSENA project was conceived by a group of scholars who came together in Tomsk to take a part in an international conference Social Sciences and Medical Innovations: Doing Things Together in May 2015 (a report on the conference can be found here: http://www.medanthrotheory.org/read/5431/social-sciences-medical-innovations). In the course of the conference, it became clear that, among the various post-Soviet transitions analysed and discussed at the event, Russia and Ukraine face very similar challenges in the area of health and medicine, even though they have followed relatively divergent development trajectories after the collapse of the USSR. Two central issues were identified by members of BIHSENA consortium in both Ukraine and Russia.

 

BIHSENA group, photograph by author
BIHSENA group, photograph by author

 

First, important shortcomings for the health sectors of both countries result from their education systems. Specifically, there is a major lack of higher education programs and opportunities that would adequately prepare professionals – in the field of medicine, public health, social sciences and social policy – to work under conditions of transition, to effectively govern health reforms/innovations and to conduct the kind of interdisciplinary research that is needed to adequately inform policy- and decision-making for citizens’ health.

Creating educational opportunities to adequately prepare such professionals seems indeed crucial, specially for university-level teaching staff that requires an in-depth knowledge of recent approaches in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society, and varied and active modes of education that fit that content. Currently, however, education programmes in Ukraine and Russia hardly address intersections of health, innovations and society and rarely bring together insights from various disciplinary fields. Traditional formats of education, emphasizing lecturing, large student groups and face-to-face learning are dominant at the expense of more interactive, student-centred and blended learning approaches2.

Second, both countries lack opportunities and platforms for communication and engagement between (bio)medical and social scientists; academics and practitioners; scientists, policy makers and industry. Bridging disciplines, professions and sectors is necessary to early diagnose problems with respect to specific innovations and policies, and to promote more thorough and responsive approaches to health issues in the two countries.

The BIHSENA capacity-building project addresses both problems. In 2016 the BIHSENA team began work together and has already organised training programmes for 40 teachers from Russia and Ukraine in Maastricht University. The training enhanced the capacity of partner universities in Eastern European region to use active, interdisciplinary and blended modes of education, necessary for the development of new educational opportunities in the field of health, innovations and society. The issues, the training programme focused on, included: a. the productive use of Problem-Based Learning in practice; b. design and implementation of blended learning elements; and c. development and planning of active learning curricula. Special attention was given to ways of translating active and blended learning methodologies into different socio-cultural contexts. During the training period groups of teachers developed outlines of new interdisciplinary education modules, using the knowledge gained.

The next upcoming BIHSENA project event is going to take place in Bulgaria. During this event BIHSENA team will deliberate on the content of the new courses that are being developed within the framework of this project. The first part involves problem-based learning sessions, lectures and group discussions devoted to the recent insights from the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and societies. The topics include critical approaches to epidemiology and metrics of disease; current health systems transition; recent perspectives on definitions, processes and implications of innovations for health; developments in governance of health care; roles of publics in public health. The second part focuses on competence-based education and specification of competences for professionals working in health, innovations and society domain. The final, third, part of the workshop consists of presentations and discussions of the new course syllabuses being prepared by BIHSENA consortium members.

The new course syllabuses will be further discussed with healthcare practitioners, representatives of business and regulators to ensure that new education opportunities fit particularities and needs of local settings. Furthermore, in line with the philosophy of student-centred education, students’ perspectives and interests will be incorporated in the development and adaptation of these new educational opportunities. Thus, BIHSENA courses in the interdisciplinary field of health, innovations and society will be co-produced by project partners, students and those already working on the ground.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

PAST against the Clock — Centre for Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology, Tomsk State University, Russia

www.en.past-centre.ru

Mission and History

The mission of the Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology center (PAST-C) is to contribute to the development of the Science & Technology Studies (STS) in Russia as a research field and educational discipline. The main focus of the PAST-C research agenda is the study of technology in the context of non-Western countries, mainly in Russia, with the aim of making a contribution to global discussions.

The team’s chief objective is to establish PAST as the single most important ground for various activities related to social studies and policy analysis of technological change in Russia and in this way to contribute to a consolidation of research, to an effective communication of its results to a broader public, and to setting up educational standards in this field, rather novel for Russia.

Relying on the already established institutional resources and its network of domestic and international partners, and institutions, the PAST team constitutes one of few key hubs that carry out and coordinate the social studies and policy analysis of technological change in the country. A challenge for us results from the still marginal position of Russian social researches in S&T policy and the field of STS is just making the very first steps in its development.

PAST-C opened in 2012 with financial support from Higher Educational Support Program, Open Society Institute, as a part of collaborative project of European University at St.Petersburg (EUSP). The aim of the Project initiated by EUSP was to create sustainable pockets of growth in the new fields of social sciences in a number of regional universities in Russia. Now we are moving from the concept of regionally localized center to the idea of becoming a bridge connecting different disciplines, territories and institutions; science and education; researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. Initiated as a small local center at one of the oldest regional universities in the country, we have rapidly become an institutional landmark in the STS field in Russia. At the next stage our goal is to make more prominent contributions to global STS, producing, in particular, new knowledge on how politics works in science and technology innovation in non-Western countries.

 

 

Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author
Some of the events held by PAST-C, photograph by author

 

 

Research Agenda

Scientists in STS have long been interested in policy issues. Much work has been done by them on issues of democracy, its relationship with technoscience, accountability and public participation in the governance of innovation in rapidly transforming contexts. Many such studies have observed a reduction of nation-state centralized governance of science and innovation processes, while pointing to decentralized networks and power assemblages in the field of S&T governance (Jasanoff, 2004; Irwin, 2008). This growing attention to the processes of governance occurring outside of the official governments and nation states has contributed to a more reflexive understanding of the organization of innovation management and knowledge models inscribed in it. However, despite such meticulously implemented studies of democratic tendencies in technoscience development, the existence of other, non-democratic methods of governance and government signals the need for attention to differences within and between countries and their organization of innovation (for example, Rajan, 2005). While empirical work on politics and science and technology, as well as innovation, has been mostly focused on established liberal democracies of the West, the main focus of PAST-C research agenda is on how and by whom decisions on S&T policy are being made, represented and ‘framed’, what kinds of assumptions operate within these processes, how choices are being legitimised and stakes negotiated in various kinds of societies. Within this frame, PAST-C faculty works on different spheres:

 

1) Medical innovations beyond the West

Since 2015 we have been working with colleagues from Maastricht University on a collective monograph about politics and medical innovations in non-Western world (Zvonareva, Horstman, Popova). What types of power and conflict are dealt with in various societies beyond the Western high-income world, including those with transitional and hybrid political regimes without long established democratic traditions and institutions? What kinds of responses to the politicisation of (bio)medical science and technology are being constructed and institutionalised?

Several research fellows of PAST-C concentrate on studying medical innovations from the STS perspective. The first project is investigating social embeddedness of drug research and development in Russia (Zvonareva et al., 2015). The second one considers Russian maternity care system from viewpoint of interrelations between technology, state policy and doctor’s decision-making (Melnikova 2014; Borozdina 2013).

2) Innovation and Technology in non-Western world

We are also interested in studying the varying political features in different technology fields. Our research projects focusing on non-Western innovation system investigate, first, how Russian top-down innovation policy enforce close positions between academic and industrial partners, a development that is often discussed as ‘coerced innovation’ and, second, how the available technological equipment and how different human agents shape such innovation systems (Bychkova, Popova, Chernysh 2015; Popova 2015).

We are also conducting a 4-years project on academic journals as organizations. It studies how the dependence on professional, commercial and state resources influences journal’s organizational behavior in Russian sociology (e.g. the choice between networks and open peer review as different forms of governance) (Guba 2015).

Another direction of research is devoted to the issue of inclusion of marginalized groups of society in innovation system, i.e. informal innovation, problems with their recognition, institutionalization, and diffusion. The research has focused on India and Russia. This educed new challenges to inclusion connected with the specifics of each policy regime (Ustyuzhantseva O., 2015). Networking with scholars from China, Africa, India and Brazil allows extending this agenda for BRICS.

3) Urban infrastructural transitions in post-socialist countries

Another research field concerns end-user interactions with urban infrastructure in post-communist context. One research project on smart utility meters draws attention to the ways in which end-users of smart technologies in centralized city infrastructures can undermine the proposed policy tasks of ‘commodification’ of public utilities, i.e. transformation of these quasi-public goods into economic goods (Bychkova, Popova, 2016; Bychkova, Popova, 2011).

A related research focus lies at the intersection of STS (particularly ANT) and mobilities studies (Kuznetsov, 2015). The project City, Transport Mediation, Social Justice studies the practices of mundane critiques and justification within sociotechnical assemblage of marshrutkas (Russian type of collective taxis) (Kuznetsov, In print). Recently we launched new two-year collective project aimed at sociotechnical analysis of the consequences of public transport infrastructure transformation in the preparation to the World Cup 2018 that will be held in Volgograd in 2018.

 

Networking and collaboration

We collaborate on issues of science and technology policy with the Center for STS and Center for Governance and Public Policy of the European University at St. Petersburg. In field of technology assessment we have approached the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and the Perm Polytechnic University in the Urals (see: https://www.itas.kit.edu/english/2015_043.php). The main idea was to make pilot research on the topic of TA in non-western world. Two workshops devoted to grassroots innovation and public policy for inclusive innovation development were hold together with member of Science Policy Research Unit of Sussex University. Together with the School of Social Science of Jawaharlal Nehru University, PAST-C is currently exploring the possibility of implementing some of their courses for the Master Program being developed by PAST-C.

Aiming at consolidation of Russian research and educational community in fields of STS and related disciplines, PAST-C hold conferences with participation of leading researchers and most importantly we began an audit of interested parties in Russia (Popova, Simakova, 2013). Two conferences on «Social Studies and Medical Innovations” in Tomsk (O.Zvonareva, O. Melnikova 2014 and 2015) were held in collaboration with Department “Health, Ethic and Society”, Maastricht University (HES). The conferences resulted in establishing links and cooperation with the Siberian Medical University, the NGO Academy of Evidence-based Medicine, as well as technological companies in the field of health.

Summer Schools were hold to attract the attention of Russian young researchers to STS, focusing on “STS for Seven Days” (2013) and on “STS and Urban Studies” (2015). This year we prepared the summer school “Science as a form of life: Watching heterogeneous communities in the ‘field’” in collaboration with Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research (TSU), Centre of Excellence ‘Bio-Clim-Land’, Scientific Research Institute of Biology and Biophysics (TSU) and Plovdiv University. The school aims to train young scholars in applying new theoretical approaches in the anthropology of science, with the process of researching being conceptualized as a heterogeneous community inhabited by different types of agencies (actors) – human, non-human (domestic and wild natural beings), artifacts, and other technical facilities, which are included in various forms of association and cohabitation. It will explore the world of scientists that work at biogeochemical laboratories and will study their methods of remote environmental monitoring through in-city participant observations.

Well-known researchers and practitioners have acted as key-note speakers in different PAST-events: Arie Rip, Stephen Hilgartner, Steve Fuller, Ignacio Farias, Anil Gupta, Guy Ben-Ary, Klasien Horstman, Boel Berner and Jessica Messman.

 

Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Ivan Tchalakov, Senior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Katerina Guba, Junior Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Olga Ustyuzhantseva, Research Fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, a senior research fellow
Andrey Kuznetsov, Senior Research Fellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education and training

PAST-C supports student exchange program with HES, Maastricht University (UM), providing co-supervision of UM students’ Master thesis in collaboration with Tomsk medical organizations and sending local students to attend the spring semester in Maastricht.

In 2015 PAST-C began developing master program “Innovation and Society: Science, Technology, Medicine”. One of the program’s areas is dedicated to medical innovation and is held in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Siberian Medical University a collaboration that received a grant from the European Commission Erasmus+ (see: http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Main/Sitewide/News1/InternationalConsortiumLedByUMReceivesEUfundingOf865.000Euro.htm)

It is also important that following the spirit of STS of fostering a dialogue between and beyond disciplines, the Center also aims to work as a part of civil society. While contemporary Russian policy-makers generally are not open for dialogue with NGO and other non-political groups, PAST-C seeks to attract the attention of general public, politicians, administration, etc. to policy issues in the sphere of science and innovation. PAST-C events seek to secure the dialogue between the different groups involved, concerned and affected.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

The Plovdiv University STS Summer School

The highlight of the STS teaching program for B.A. Sociology students is the STS Summer Research Practice, which takes place alternatively in sites of large technical systems (dams and power stations) and big research infrastructures. The Summer Research Practice aims to mimic classical STS fieldwork (as done by Latour and Knorr-Cetina). Students immerse into the daily life of scientists and engineers for about a week. In groups of two or three students, they are assigned to a particular micro community and collect data about it. They use STS concepts and methods as a tool for understanding and describing everyday life of scientists and engineers. Since scientific research and engineering practice is widely unknown to the public, displaying its “essential” features is another key tasks of the students. The Summer Research Practice ends with a public presentation of the research papers written by each of the groups. Among the discussants are representatives of the studied communities.

The Summer School “Science and Technology as Way of Life and Identification: Observing the Practices at Confined Research Stations and Large Technical Systems in High Mountains”, held at the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory, Bulgaria, from 22 of June to 1 July 2015, was the first international edition of the STS Summer School, regularly held since year 2000. Sixteen Bulgarian B.A. sociology students took part in this, along with twelve anthropology students from Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research at Tomsk State University, Russia, whose travel expenses were supported by the project “Man in a Changing World. Problems of Identity and Social Adaptation in History and at Present” (the RF Government grant No. 14.B25.31.0009). The summer school was also awarded an EASST Network Fund.

 

Participants of the summer school
Participants of the summer school

 

The program included an introductory theoretical and methodological seminar on Anthropology of Science and Sociology of Large Technical Systems, a seminar on methodology of data collection, fieldwork at the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory and high mountain dam, assessment of the collected data and instructions how to prepare the research reports, data analysis and writing research reports (two months after fieldwork), the presentation of research reports at competitively organized student sessions (held in Plovdiv and Tomsk). The practice was supervised by Prof. Ivan Tchalakov (Plovdiv University), Associate Prof. Irina Popravko (Tomsk State University, Russia) and Dr. Tihomir Mitev (Plovdiv University).

During the program, students spent one week with the research community of astronomers and supporting engineering staff at NAO Rozhen – the biggest astronomical site in South-Eastern Europe. NAO Rozhen is managed by the Astronomy Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, which is involved in research in astronomy, astrophysics, as well as in the training of professionals and students interested in this field. The Institute has two modern observatories to conduct astronomical observations and research – NAO Rozhen and AO Belogradchik. NAO Rozhen provides observations on a wide class of astronomical and astrophysical phenomena – from dynamics and physics of bodies in the solar system to extragalactic research on asteroids and comets, star spectra of different classes and types of variability, star clusters, close and distant galaxies, quasars.

The observatory, its scientists and engineers, their everyday life, practices and overall work were the object of research. International groups of two or three students observed the daily work of particular researchers, conducted interviews, analyzed documents and technical artifacts, and collected photo and video data. Special attention was paid to practical application and use of semiotics in the analysis of collected data. In their research, student groups approached different aspects of the life of this heterogeneous community.

 

Student group visiting the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory
Student group visiting the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory

 

 

Some teams reflected on the changing position of these scientists, taking into account both everyday immersion in the studied community and public perception of astronomy. For example, analyzing the relationships between astronomers and their publics (citizens that every day visit Rozhen observatory, local and regional authorities in Smolyan region, public media), students reflected on Schütz’ distinction of three types of social knowledge – the knowledge of the man in the street, the expert and the well-informed citizen. Interestingly, these three types could not grasp the relationships students identified, since some members of the public, especially amateur-astronomers but not only, have acquired deep enough knowledge to erode the asymmetry between experts and the other two groups, as assumed in Schütz’ typology. At the same time, astronomers (and especially the Institute of Astronomy as an institution) lack the knowledge and skills to promote the significance and attraction of their research to the larger public and thus boost its legitimacy – what is probably due to its inherited tradition of being dependent on and working with top public authorities.

Others student groups described the similarities between sociology and astronomy, using Weber’s understanding of science as a vocation. They focused on the anthropology of scientific practices and turned their attention to problems that arose in this heterogeneous community by addressing a crisis that occurred during one of the observations, the ways of dealing with it and the links between the heterogeneous elements in the network by applying Latour’s Actor-Network Theory.

Many papers examined this scientific community as a network of actors, particularly with a focus on the interaction between humans and non-humans, highlighting the influence of change of equipment on the process of doing science. Finally, some papers traced the steps followed by an astronomer in order to reach his/her scientific goals, making visible the routes of translation in the work of the scientist, through the prism of Latour’s and Callon’s terminology, while simultaneously showing how science “reproduces” itself.