Tag Archives: STS Multiple

STS in South-East Europe: the Plovdiv University School

STS at the BAS Institute of Sociology in Sofia

The STS program at Plovdiv University is the offspring of an old academic tradition that emerged in 1960s from two separate research fields: the sociology of science and the history of science – the latter merged with so called ‘science of science’ or ‘naukoznanie’, both in Russian and in Bulgarian, and which has its roots in the works of John Bernal and Boris Gessen from the 1930s and received favorable development in former Soviet Union. During the late 1960s, Bulgarian social researchers such as Niko Yahiel, Nikola Stefanov, Benko Benev, Yulian Minkov and Viktor Samouilov, inspired by the international achievements in science studies, greatly contributed to institutionalizing social studies of science in Bulgaria. In 1968, simultaneously with the creation of the Institute of Sociology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS), the Department of Sociology of Science and Technological Progress (SS&TP) was established. Applying a Marxist version of systems theory, researchers from the SS&TP Department conducted several research projects dealing with epistemological and methodological problems of sociological studies of science, social relations in science, efficiency in the relationship between science and society, sociological aspects of scientific and technological innovations, as well as the social role of science and education. The Bulgarian communist government used some of the results of these studies for designing its national scientific and technological policy1.

In the late 1980s, however, a clear shift towards the study of scientific practices took place in Bulgaria. The renamed Department of Sociology of Science and Education (SSE) at the BAS Institute of Sociology initiated research projects on the structure and functions of Bulgarian scientific community, scientific policy issues such as brain-drain in science, science-industry relationships, as well as topics from classical (Mertonian) sociology of science such as scientific communication, scientific recognition, the mobility of scientists, etc.

In the beginning of 1990s, the public understanding of science became a key focus of the Department’s research activities. The complex relations between science and the public were for example studied in collaboration with British colleagues in an empirical comparative survey between Great Britain and Bulgaria, which showed that Bulgarians had a strong faith in the usefulness of science, a deep conviction that scientific knowledge brings progress and deserves society’s support, and a strange combination between the communist and liberal-democratic models of science (Petkova, Boyadjieva and Tchalakov 1994). Beyond this, the paradigm of Science and Technology Studies (STS) began to be adopted by a group of young researchers within the SSE department, including Maria Nedeva, Ivan Chompalov, Ivan Tchalakov, Vyacheslav Evlogiev and Vyara Gancheva, who focused on the study of scientific practices, paying special attention to the role of facts and artifacts in the maintenance of society.

However, the process of brain-drain that started in the Bulgarian academic community immediately after 1989 affected this group too. Only Vyacheslav Evlogiev and Vyara Gancheva remained in the Department, but Vyacheslav soon left for a permanent position in the Bulgarian government. Maria Nedeva moved to PREST, University of Manchester, UK where she completed her PhD and later took a permanent position. Ivan Chompalov moved to Virginia Tech in 1992, where he also completed PhD and remained as a researcher, collaborating extensively with Wesley Shrum. Ivan Tchalakov moved in 1991 to the University of Amsterdam, where he studied in the Science Dynamics Department.

From the three young researchers specializing abroad, Ivan Tchalakov was the only one to return to the SSE Department, initiating an ethnographic study of an holographic laboratory (CLOSPI) between 1993 and 1997 – the first STS laboratory study in former communist Eastern Europe. Tchalakov analyzed the laboratory practice of optical scientists, focusing on their everyday life among research objects and installations, as well as on their relationships with colleagues from the former Soviet Union, Germany and France since the late 1960s. Moreover, applying an ANT approach, the study also reconstructed the social, political, economic and technical history of the ‘holographic computer memory’ project, which never found its way to industrial production. Thereby, the study uncovered the formation and development of the laboratory in the whirlpool of interactions among the various involved actors, such as high rank Communist Party and Government authorities, international partners at both sides of the Iron Curtain, the local scientific community, the Department of Science and Technological Intelligence at Bulgarian State Security, which supplied pieces of latest Western research equipment through COCOM embargo, as well as various technical devices and artifacts. This study introduced the notion of a heterogeneous couples or micro-communities as comprising pairs of human and non-human actors constituted on the relationships of passivity and responsibility towards ‘non-human Others’ to the point that scientists become “hostage” of the nonhuman beings he or she discovers and gives names (Levinas 1972, Tchalakov 2004).

In 1999, the Technology Studies Group (TSG) was established within the SSE Department at the BAS Institute of Sociology. The group adopted ideas and methods of contemporary STS and developed a kind of Bulgarian tradition in Sociology of Science and Technology that, based on the concept of heterogeneous micro-communities in science and technology, pays special attention to the bodily (corporeal) and ethical layers of relationship between human and non-human actors. By focusing on everyday (language) practices inside these micro-communities with their specific slogans, nicknames and shifts of meaning, it has studied how the emerging properties of human and non-human actors are fixed for the first time and developed into notions and concepts. Graphic material and other visual data (both pictures and short movies) are also important objects of analysis in this tradition, allowing for a deeper understanding of interactions taking place inside such heterogeneous communities.

Researchers at TSG have conducted a number of research projects on the ecological sensitivity of industrial managers, engineering practices at hydro electrical systems, dual-use technology policy in Bulgaria (an issue which became particularly important after the events of September 11, 2001 in New York, when the relatively relaxed industrial and export regime on dual use technology in Eastern Europe, established after the dismantling of former COCOM commission, was strengthened again). They have also studied the transformation of Bulgarian scientific institutions and emerging innovative (including academic) entrepreneurship during the post-socialist transition, the causes and consequences of brain-drain in Bulgaria and the interactions between regional governance, academic institutions and the new private business in emerging regional innovation systems. An attempt at a Schumpeterian reading of the socialist planned economy was made based on case studies on specific sectors of Bulgarian heavy and light industry.

Besides this, the members of TSG work on different theoretical and methodological problems of the STS paradigm – including some limitations of Actor-Network Theory, the relevance of phenomenological ideas to STS, and the critique on the semiotic method (Tchalakov 2004, 2005, 2009, Mitev 2006). Between 1999-2001, TSG was the scientific coordinator of large comparative study of communication and information technologies in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Romania (TACTCIS project, INCO-Copernicus IV Program of EC) conducted with Michel Callon and Philippe Laredo at CSI, Ecole des Mines in Paris, France and Peter Burton and Georgi Nachev from Isomatic Lab, UK. Research was based on the Techno-Economic Network approach as an extension of network analysis to situations where technical change is a key variable.

Since 2000, four PhD students have worked in the Technology Studies Group at BAS Institute of Sociology: Todor Galev, today a research fellow at BAS, completed his PhD on Dual-use technologies in Bulgaria in 2006. One year later Tihomir Mitev, today an assistant professor at Plovdiv University, completed his PhD on Heterogeneous community in large technical systems: conditions for sustainability. In 2013, Martin Ivanov, also a research fellow at BAS, completed his PhD on Development of renewable (wind and solar) energy in Bulgaria. Only Mimi Vassileva still needs to defend her PhD dissertation on Regional innovation system in Plovdiv region, but she has been appointed at University of Plodiv as part-time assistant professor on Sociology of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


The Center for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) at Plovdiv University

Most of the members of TSG have gradually moved since 2004 to University of Plovdiv, when they established the Center for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) within the Department of Applied and Institutional Sociology. Currently its members are Prof. Dr. Ivan Tchalakov, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivo Hristov, Assist. Prof. Dr. Tihomir Mitev, Assist. Prof. Dr. Petar Kopanov, Assist. Prof. Donka Keskinova, and PhD Students Mimi Vassileva, Ivan Lazarov, Zornitza Tchakmakova. Plodvid has thus become a key place for maintaining and spreading STS as an academic discipline and advanced research field in Bulgaria.

Our current research activities focus on these fields:

  1. Classical studies of scientific and engineering practice – ethnographic studies of scientific laboratories, engineering communities and large technical systems;
  2. Sociology of innovation – innovation & entrepreneurship in late capitalism; national and regional innovation systems; financing of innovations; studying of radical innovations in space industry and additive manufacturing (see International Journal of Actor-Network Theory and Technological Innovation, 2015);
  3. Academic-industry relationships, i.e. crossing the gap between business & research
  4. Public involvement in science and technology policy and evaluation: energy; transportation systems; communication technologies; ecologically friendly technologies and products, renewable sources of energy, etc.
  5. Cognitive approach to social movements.

Hereby we aim to:

  • Improve the scientific level and teaching standards in the ‘Social Studies of Science, Technology and Economics’ module at B.A. curriculum in Sociology and M.A. Program on Management of Research and Innovation;
  • Integrate students into research activities;
  • Train graduate students – two PhD students (Ivailo Hristov and Elitsa Stoilova) have successfully graduated under the joint program with Dutch foundation for History of Technology and Technical University in Eindhoven;
  • Initiate fundamental and applied research in the field of STS, Sociology of Innovation and Economic of Technical Change
  • Provide expert support and consultancy services for researchers in natural and engineering sciences at University of Plovdiv and other universities in the region in science policy issues, especially technology transfer from science to industry, protection of intellectual property, science-society relationships, etc.

The STI Centre maintains collaborations with other research centers of the Faculty of Philosophy, as well as other research units of the University of Plovdiv, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and other universities in Bulgaria. The following partnerships have been established with fellow research units in Bulgaria and Europe:

  • Technology Studies Group, the BAS Institute of Sociology in Sofia;
  • The Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA)
  • Technical University in Eindhoven, The Netherlands (joint PhD Program in the field of History of Technology);
  • Centre of Sociology of Innovation, Mines ParisTech, France (collaboration in ATACD project, 6th Framework Program of EC),
  • Institute of Advanced Studies Graz, Austria (Joint Project on Governance of Socio-technical Change in South-Eastern Europe – ASO Sofia, 2006-2007)

Additionally, a good number of research projects have been conducted and/or completed recently by members of the STI Centre:

2006 Mapping Creative Industries in Plovdiv Region, British Council Sofia;

2006 SEENet-STS – South-East European Network for Science and Technology Studies: STS Contributions to the Governance of Sociotechnical Change, Program on “Research Cooperation and Networking between Austria and South-Eastern Europe”, Austrian Science and Research Liaison Offices (ASO), Vienna, Austria

2007 Mapping Creative Industries in Bulgaria, Bulgarian Ministry of Culture; Study on the Contribution of Copyright and Related Rights Industries to the National Economy Of Bulgaria, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

2006-2009 Production of Knowledge Revisited: The Impact of Academic Spin-Offs on Public Research Performance in Europe (PROKNOW) EC 6th Framework Program. The project analyses the positive and negative impact of spin-off firms on public research institutions.

2007-2010 A Topological Approach to Cultural Dynamics (ATACD), EC 6th Framework Program;

2008-2010 Europe goes Critical: The Emergence and Governance of Critical Trans-national European Infrastructures (EUROCRIT), EUROCORES Program of European Science Foundation

2009-2011 How the project “Bulgarian Power Hub in the Balkans” emerged? Plovdiv University Science Fund,

2009-2010 The Current’s Power: Transformation of Electric Power Industry in Bulgaria, “Riskmonitor” Foundation

2012-2015 Building the capacity for technology transfer at University of Plovdiv, Competitively Program of EC,

2015-2017 History of Nuclear Energy and Society (HoNESt), ЕС Horizon 2020 Framework Program project,

2015-2018 Bridging Innovations, Health and Societies: Educational capacity building in the Eastern European Neighbouring Areas (BIHSENA), Erasmus+, 2015-2018


Two conceptual contributions



(often used as a synonym of the slightly broader concept of ‘heterogeneous micro-community’)

Ivan Tchalakov first introduced this concept in mid 1990s when working on his holographic memory project and since then it has been further used and elaborated by some of his PhD students and colleagues when doing fieldwork on laboratory life and large technical systems. Below is the definition provided in an early publication (Tchalakov 1998):

My own ethnographic studies in the field of opto-electronic research convinced me that the “laboratory” is a too broad and “socialized” concept in which humans, nonetheless, dominate. The classic analyses of laboratory life of the 1980s reveal the wide variety of its subdivisions and zones —experimental halls and studying rooms, text processing rooms, offices and attendant services, and so on (Latour and Woolgar 1979; Knorr- Cetina 1981; Traweek 1988). Yet when observing the life in the holographic laboratory in Sofia, I was surprised that almost every researcher had a nickname that inevitably contained as an essential element the name of the objects he was studying (as semiotic characters). It seems that while communicating, the colleague’s most relevant characteristic is the name of his or her specific nonhuman partner. I also often noticed people in twos and threes seeking privacy to have an argument. Then they would be lost for hours and days in work around the optical tables and lasers, sometimes calling in a colleague of theirs to come to their aid. Observing all this, one is left with the impression that at least several sequences of events, at least several experiments of the type Latour speaks about, may occur in laboratory life simultaneously…

Consequently, I suggested introducing the concept of “coupling” to describe the “melting pot” processes occurring in laboratory life and considering emerging relations between researchers and the nonhuman agents they are studying as “heterogeneous couples” (Tchalakov 1998, 2004). In the context of the ANT, coupling can be defined as a process by which—during the process of research—scientists gradually emerge as “spokesmen” for the nonhuman agents they are studying, their messengers in the “large society”. In essence, heterogeneous couples are the “constituent elements” of the laboratory. They are elementary “micro-communities” which sometimes may be larger than the simple relationship between the scientist and the specific nonhuman agent he or she is examining (crystal, piece of DNA, etc.)2.

However, this definition describes the coupling from the outside. Although it reveals one key aspect of what is going on inside between the humans and the nonhumans — the mechanisms of “reciprocal taming” and the exchange of “features and properties” (Latour 1993) — it leaves untouched the problem of what cements concomitance in the couple, what supports and what stabilizes it. It seems to me that at this point, the semiotic analysis of the intimate relationship between humans and nonhumans with its “minimum ontology” (simple and plain assumptions about the world, which let actors speak for themselves) lands in a situation when actors do not speak and start concealing very essential layers of what is happening in life “inside.” We come up against a boundary, against non-transparency, and against “silence.”

The idea of coupling between humans and nonhumans could hardly have meaning if we stick to the activist schemes or if we stay with the actors, with their goals, plans, interests, translations, and so on. This process has already been sufficiently explored. The concept of heterogeneous couple has meaning only if it indicates a new type of relation, a new layer in the interaction between humans and nonhumans, which oversteps the activist ontology and, in a sense, founds it. Karin Knorr-Cetina hints at this type of relation, citing the analyses of Fox-Keller and talking about the relations of solidarity and mutuality between people and what she calls “knowledge objects.” She is talking about “unity” and “sharing” as well as about the “disappearance of self-consciousness” and about “subjective fusion” of the researcher with his knowledge objects, about turning the object into a subject. It is worth stressing Knorr-Cetina’s reminder that, according to E. Durkheim, unity and sharing can be both ethical and semiotic (Knorr-Cetina, 1999).

Hence the heterogeneous couple is constituted along two lines: first, it is based on the belief that the nonhuman exists and that one is facing a partner and not an illusion, and second, it is constituted through the distinction from the other people (colleagues), based on a different understanding of the hypothetical nonhuman agent’s nature, up to whether it exists or not. Getting deep into the “ecstasy” of the heterogeneous couple often means breaking standing relations with other humans and a disintegration of previously established “social” communities! At the same time this often means entering into new forms of association – with those who are ready to accept your arguments and proves. Depending on the events inside the heterogeneous couple, the human could “re-socialize,” could return to the previous social world, however, as a “speaker” or “representative” of the tamed nonhuman. He or she will be constituted again for the colleagues as an “other,” yet as a “displaced” and different other. Here an interesting phenomenon of two different types of responsibilities of human agents emerge that often clash between – the responsibility to your human fellows in the couple (and those outside it) and the responsibility to the nonhuman agent, whose existence is not certain at all (often questioned by the colleagues). Hence applying Emanuel Levinas ‘passive notion of responsibility’ we could also speaks about specific ‘humanism towards non-human Other’.



(related with the notions of passivity, responsibility, endurance, ‘giving oneself’)

This notion is based on the distinction between ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘enduring’ (earlier we called ’other’) types of science, Georgy Kapriev and Ivan Tchalakov introduced in a publication from 2009. This was further developed by Ivan Tchalakov’s paper The Amateur’s Action in Science (Tchalakov 2014), from which we quote a brief outline:

Since the early 1980s a number of remarkable researches have been carried out, which made actor-network theory one of the leading approaches in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). Applying this theory in my own studies since early 1990s, I came to the conclusion that its success was partially based on a key feature of modern science – the emancipation of and the increase of the proper role of methods and techniques of study in the process of research.

During the last forty years, this steady phenomenon reemerged in most of the studies of scientific practice – “strong link” is not in the ‘direct relationships’ between researchers and their research objects (nonhuman agents they were taming), but between researchers and the technical artifacts, equipment and procedures they are using in this process. This is a rather peculiar type of science indeed, which I named ‘entrepreneurial’ – here the mastering of specific method (tool) and its transfer into new area of research gives the newcomer competitive advantage to the indigenes of the field. Usually the ‘entrepreneurial’ scientists come to a field where the research problems were already articulated, the debates were going on, and the interested parties outlined. Coming with their new methods and techniques, the scientists in fact transform (or translate) the old problems – ‘translation’ always presupposes a text (or story) that is already available, an existing configuration of actors and interests. (Tchalakov and Kapriev 2005, 2009). Just like the entrepreneurship in the capitalist economy, described by Joseph Schumpeter and Israel Kirzner, this type of science does not consist in ‘simple’ application of the method and re-formulation of the problem. The translation, i.e. the turning upside down the existing communities by introducing new methods of study that make new actors to emerge out of nowhere or redefine the old ones, also requires “persistence, audacity, and precision” (Latour 1993). Yet being as fascinating as it is, we are facing here rather peculiar type of research. For the long period of time it has remained hidden from philosophers and historians of science, to be identified today by ANT and other STS approaches as a dominant type of science.

It seem to me, however, that the cases outlined in the previous section [the critique of Steven Shapin on Merton’s ‘moral equivalence’ principle and the widespread neglect of the scientists’ personal commitments to their deed as crucial for the progress of research, as exemplified by the practical dominance of the devoted amateur in modern science up to the end of 19th century] reveal another type of science we somehow have (almost) forgotten – a science guided by patient, laborious, and uncertain efforts for acquaintance of a new agent or unknown features of an existing agent and where the methods of study are secondary – often they need to be modified or yet to be invented in order to ‘match’ the supposed properties of those unknown creatures. This is a science, where you continue probing into your study when the colleagues you are working with are leaving in despair, or switch to other problems, or some of them even manage to prove that the elusive entities you are studying are nonexistent. This science is maybe not as successful as the ‘entrepreneurial’ one, but it is indispensable for the development of knowledge and for the evolution of human ways of engaging with the world. This was the science of Pasteur’s colleagues from the crystallographic lab that have remained there searching the problems interesting for their tiny community only. And whose efforts made possible someone like Pasteur ‘to come and go’, bringing with him the methods they have developed, or the new entities they had discovered and tamed. This science sometimes fails, but as Fox-Keller’s case of Barbara McClintock and my case with Bulgarian holographic scientists Methody Kovatchev suggest, it was worth the long years of efforts. Eventually they have achieved what they had strived for, and their opponents were to withdraw their critiques. So this is not a marginal type of science, although now it is almost forgotten. Rather, it refers to research practices, which have escaped the attention of mainstream STS and actor-network theory in particular – maybe because they have been exploited too much by the old epistemology and history of science.


Our Teaching Programs

After some of the key member of TSG moved from BAS to Plovdiv between 2003 and 2008, our teaching offer expanded from offering one single course in the B.A. sociology curriculum (1995 program) to teaching a whole STS module in the entirely new B.A. program in ‘Sociology of Law, Economy and Innovation’ in 2011 (together with modules on Applied Sociology and Economics and Law)3.  In the STS module, B.A. students of ‘Sociology of Law, Economy and Innovation’ study the following topics and analytical perspectives:

  1. Classical sociology of knowledge with its methods for studying traditional, everyday and other forms of non-scientific knowledge in the tradition established by Karl Manheim, Alfred Schütz, Gernot Böhme and Nico Stehr;
  2. The classical sociological approach of Robert Merton with its focus on science as institution;
  3. Semiotics as a tool for studying modern institutions, including techno-sciences;
  4. Sociology of laboratory life, where the key STS approaches are introduced: sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK), ethnographic studies of science Karin Knorr-Cetina and actor-network theory;

5.Risk society, innovation and entrepreneurship, and the economy of technical change where the understanding of STS approaches – such as social construction of technology (SCOT), Joseph Schumpeter’s approach to innovation and history of technology, and large technical systems developed by Tomas P. Hughes – is expanded to the analysis of different industrial sectors (power industry, machine building, pharmaceutical & cosmetics) and university-industry relationships (academic entrepreneurship and spin-offs).

The STS training program in Plovdiv combines theoretical academic courses with summer practice-based courses, or summer schools, where the students have the chance to expand and develop their understanding of contemporary Science and Technology Studies. One of the main research issues is to examine forms of engagement of human actors in laboratory science and large technical systems, as well as the emergence of a specific ‘mutuality’ and forms of ‘sharing’ between scientists and engineers on the one hand, and scientific objects and technical equipment, on the other. The program is attempting to establish the conditions that make a deeper ‘moral’ commitment towards the studied objects and served technical systems possible as a precondition for human agents’ responsible behavior in critical situations – such as technical breakdowns, emergency situations.

A relatively high number of graduate theses have been successfully supervised here. As a consequence of the good results in teaching, a new Masters Program on “Management of Research and Innovations” was established already in 2005. The teaching program focuses on contemporary research processes in natural and technical sciences and, specifically, on how these are interwoven with entrepreneurs’ activities and innovation. The program enables students to develop abilities for analyzing research and innovation activities, takes into economic norms and organizational regulations as key engines of social change. It provides practical knowledge about the principles of management of the contemporary innovative firm and trains skills for project management. Guest-lecturers as well as innovation experts and entrepreneurs deliver lectures and share their experience with the students.