This article focuses on the creation of the STS TURKEY network and offers insights from its foundational meeting, showing how it is part of a larger story of STS (Science and Technology Studies) in Turkey. STS TURKEY’s foundational meeting was held on 3–4 October 2017 in Istanbul, hosted by the Orient-Institut Istanbul, Turkey. The goal of the meeting was, first, to introduce scholars interested in STS in Turkey to one another, and secondly, to start constructing a common vision and road map that is based on the participants’ current scholarly interests. In total, there were more than 46 participants, of whom about 15 were graduate students. The rest comprised scholars, independent researchers and NGO representatives. Represented areas included Science and Technology Studies, Medicine, Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy of Science, History of Science and Technology, Engineering, Industrial Design, Science Communication, Law and the Life Sciences (“biolaw”). During the two days the participants introduced existing academic programs and current research in STS, forge a vision for STS TURKEY and prepared a road map.
The beginnings of STS TURKEY (which is of course not the beginning of STS in Turkey)
Our own little history of working in and helping to shape Science and Technology Studies (STS) in Turkey is not very old. While and after having been trained in STS at Sheila Jasaonff’s Program on Science, Technology and Society, Melike Şahinol, a German of Turkish origins, looked also for similar programs in Turkey – including ones dealing with Turkey-specific historical and cultural impacts. As she could not find similar programs, she began doing research in the field of biotechnology policies in Turkey, while at the same time looking for Turkish researchers doing STS around the world. In 2010 Arsev Aydınoğlu, an alumnus from Hacettepe University, Ankara (Turkey) but studying at that time at the University Tennessee, and Şahinol met at the 4S Conference in Tokyo, where they discussed how hard it was to find researchers doing STS in Turkey. They agreed upon the importance for such a heterogeneous country as Turkey to develop adequate methods in dealing with socio-cultural problems stemming from Science and Technology, taking into account historical, cultural and religious factors. Both agreed upon the importance of an STS network in Turkey to provide a collaborative research platform for like-minded scholars and to improve STS in Turkey – as they could not find any appropriate network. Aydınoğlu returned to Tennessee, and completed his research on interdisciplinary collaboration and Şahinol continued doing her sociological research on neuroscientific practices. In the following years, they continued to communicate about setting up a STS TURKEY network.
Şahinol’s first collaboration with a Turkish scholar was with Emre Sünter, another scholar from METU, followed after having met during a workshop in Heidelberg for 4S Fellows at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory | European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBL|EMBO) Science and Society Summer School entitled “The Human Animal: Scientific, Social and Moral Perspectives.” Later that year, Şahinol and Sünter embarked on their first collaborative work on Science and Technology policies in Turkey when they jointly presented papers at conference in Paris and Copenhagen (Şahinol and Sünter, 2012a, 2012b). Meanwhile, Aydınoğlu was doing his postdoctoral fellowship at the NASA Astrobiology Institute. He was involved with the Astrobiology and Society Focus Group where as a group they focused on the societal implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Aydinoglu organized a session at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science in San Diego, U.S. and presented a paper at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Association for the Advancement of American Science in San Jose (2013, 2015). Meanwhile, Harun Kaygan shared a rising interest in design scholarship in STS-based perspectives, especially the work of Latour and collaborators on the agency of non-humans. Kaygan completed his PhD at Brighton University in 2012 with a thesis on nationalism in technology development and design processes. He started working as an Assistant Professor in Industrial Design at METU, teaching ANT and feminist STS at graduate level, exploring the intersections of STS and design research (e.g. Kaygan 2016; Kaygan et al., 2017).
In 2015 Şahinol was hired as Research Fellow and Head of the Research Field “Human, Medicine, and Society” at the Orient-Institut Istanbul and organized STS-related lecture series and workshops (Lecture Series 2016/17: “Designing Nature, Upgrading Human Life? Reflections on how Medicine, Science and Technology Transform our Lives”, Conference: “Upgrades of Nature, Future Bodies: Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives”). Since Aydınoğlu was working as a Tubitak-Marie Curie FP7 Cofund Fellow at the Research Center for Science and Technology Policies (STPS) at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara (Turkey), they began making lists with people doing STS and searched again for STS programs. In the meantime, Kaygan had been in search for STS programs and scholars for interdisciplinary collaborations around design and technology development. Their first unofficial meeting together occurred in 2016. Until the foundational meeting on 3-4 October 2017, Aydinoglu, Kaygan and Şahinol identified a number of STS programs, fields including STS courses or STS networks, which have played a key role in Turkey: Ankara University, Science and Society Studies (Program on Science and Society in Turkish), Işık University, Science, Technology and Society Branch (in English), İstanbul Technical University, Science, Technology and Society (program in English), İstanbul University, History of Science Department (History of Science program in English), Middle East Technical University, Science and Technology Policy Studies (Economy and Policy based program in English), Özyeğin University, Design, Technology and Society (program in English), Bilkent STS Network (http://ge301.bilkent.edu.tr/bilkentstsnetwork/) and IstanbuLab (https://stsistanbul.org/). It turned out that ITÜ had started a STS program in 2000 within the European Master’s Programme on Society, Science and Technology, which was closed in 2005 due to limited interest, then restarted in 2015. Meanwhile, METU’s interdisciplinary graduate program on STPS that focuses on innovation, technological change, and science policy has been active for two decades.
According to the format of the foundational meeting that we, Aydınoğlu, Kaygan and Şahinol, had organized, several scholars from the listed universities above gave ten-minute talks about their STS programs while everybody else joining the foundational meeting gave brief 3-minute presentations on their topics related to STS.
STS TURKEY – Visions, Discussions, Extitutionalization
The meeting started with Şahinol’s opening speech. She thanked EASST for the funding, the Orient-Institut Istanbul for the support and many others who supported the founding of STS TURKEY, e.g. Harvard STS, STS-CH, DASTS, de-STS, etc. She was particularly grateful for Prof. Sheila Jasanoff for providing the first podcast message to STS TURKEY. She pointed out that Science and Technology (S&T) programs were important institutions for understanding how S&T shape society (and vice versa). She noted the implications of S&T for society with regards to one’s expectations and ethical responsibilities, in addition to how one could become responsible designers and users, and how this also affects any area of policy, consumerism, economy, agricultural production, and healthy lifestyles. According to Jasanoff, a systematic study of S&T through a network of dedicated scholars was an important way to tackle these issues. And since STS has no venues for interaction and academic exchange like those in the natural sciences, the network, STS TURKEY, would be a valuable experiment towardsthe creation of such a venue.
Şahinol provided the audience with the details of how the core group Aydinoglu, Kaygan and Şahinol developed their vision for the STS TURKEY network together, and came to organize the foundational meeting. Their goals were focused on the improvement of scholarly communication and exchange in the field of STS in Turkey and to facilitate contact amongst scholars, advocating an interdisciplinary approach to STS using multiple methods. Underlining the network’s supportive tension, they found it important to promote STS in Turkey by organizing conferences, as well as supporting various events and publications, and so increase the visibility and diffusion of the STS approach in Turkey. Another goal of the network is to stimulate and support teaching on the subject at all levels, to aid in the development of STS-related skills amongst researchers and PhD candidates, including theoretical knowledge and methodological know-how. Şahinol discussed the rapid developments in the fields of Science and Technology confronting modern societies with new challenges and creating sophisticated socio-technical, socio-cultural and socio-political processes.
The establishment of the STS network in Turkey, as Şahinol pointed out, is of particular value since Turkey, as a young and dynamic society, needs to find ways to deal with social and cultural problems arising from technology. Şahinol also stressed the importance of bringing together critical minds as an important first step in establishing the network of STS TURKEY. It is not only focused on critical thinking; it is also open to difference and values innovative approaches. Although STS TURKEY members come from different sub-fields and branches, they meet at the same point: Science, Technology and Society of Turkey. Anyone aware of the deep transformations of their own fields due to advancing technologies and interested in the social context of these transformations must go beyond standard thinking and value empirical engagement with the ethical, cultural and political problems associated within these transformations. STS offers the theoretical background and methodologies for developing innovative ways for tackling these problems, and for providing social solutions. However, since STS must first of all provide training and the educational background for understanding the relationship between Science, Technology and Society in Turkey, the pedagogical aspect of STS programs at Turkish Universities was of particular importance.
With this in mind, Şahinol, as well as many other participants, stated that STS TURKEY’s goal should be to support such programs, including providing international contacts and organizing annual meetings (in different Turkish cities), so that STS scholars and people interested in S&T could share and discuss their work. For providing that support, in both Şahinol’s and other speakers’ talks, the importance of creating a common vocabulary in Turkish for S&T issues was highlighted as a critical issue in order to enlarge the scope of such discussions within and beyond various existing academic circles. Şahinol concluded her talk by pointing out that STS TURKEY already had several social media channels where one could keep up to date with news and activities (http://ststurkey.net, facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ststurkey/, twitter: https://twitter.com/STS_Turkey, youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGOQGkzklf4arKB-CEQ_EEA/videos) and reported the actual number of members. Social media coverage and membership has since doubled.
Following Şahinol’s opening talk, the participants gave brief 3-minute introductions while Aydınoğlu acted as discussant. The group of participants was diverse and the debates were interdisciplinary, ranging from practitioners of medicine and biologists, to sociologists, designers, artists and specialists in law, the history of medicine, and ethics.
In the following session, the academic programs in Turkey relevant to broader STS topics were introduced by their department heads. Prof. Dr. Melek Dosay Gökdoğan talked about the newly established Science and Society Studies Master’s Program at Ankara University. Prof. Dr. Aydan Turanlı of Istanbul Technical University introduced their Science, Technology, and Society Master’s Program. The History of Medicine and Ethics Program (undergraduate and graduate) of Acıbadem University was presented by Prof. Yeşim Işıl Ülman. Lastly, Prof. Dr. Feza Günergun, presented activities and studies in the history of science and technology at Istanbul University’s Department of the History of Science. Each presentation was followed by a Q&A session.
The overall session was followed by a plenary discussion on the problems of academic programs in Turkey. The morning session drew a compelling picture of the multidisciplinary and emergent quality of STS teaching and research in Turkey. One sees that the programs and students are not few, but currently weakly connected via personal relationships rather than as a tightly knit, productive network that is supportive of research. Yet opportunities were similarly visible, towards establishing a uniquely interdisciplinary STS approach that can bring about and support research that can span historical and disciplinary barriers.
The afternoon session was problem-focused and topical, with medical issues emerging as especially relevant, as the Turkish government defined the goal of making the country one of the world’s leading destinations for medical services. Health policy and legal frameworks are also of interest, because these seem to be more accessible and broadly represented in Turkey. As STS is a field coming from a western perspective and primarily an Anglo-American based literature, translation, including cultural translation, is necessary for the Turkish context. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Rainer Brömer (Faculty of Medicine, Istanbul University) discussed the differences between Science and Technology Studies and Science, Technology, and Society (Jasanoff, 2016), how to handle translations into Turkish in STS and the importance of building a terminology – also medical terminology – in Turkish. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hakan Ertin’s (Faculty of Medicine, Istanbul University) presentation focused on the resistance of medical staff to collaborate with the STS community, and discussed translation and academic publishing issues, especially in regard to medical ethics. Prof. Yücel Sayman from Istanbul Medipol University made a provocative speech focusing on the relationships between law and life sciences, especially law and medicine. The categorical distinctions between, for example, person and thing, also with regards to biomedical hybrids was a core issue. Şahinol (“Human, Medicine and Society”, Orient-Institut Istanbul) briefly presented her research projects on Human Enhancement, Assisted Reproduction Technology and Enabling Technologies. As she pointed out, challenges and consequences of actual developments in S&T are rarely approached in Turkey. Therefore, there is a need to analyse these developments and interactions between science, technology, medicine and society in particular relation to the historical and cultural contexts. Finally, Zeynep Karagöz (designer, pro-maker) introduced her “Robotel” (Turkish: robot hand) initiative, which works with volunteers in providing 3D-printed rapid-prototype prostheses to young children. Robotel Türkiye is also part of the worldwide network “e-NABLE” and follows its motto: “Enabling the Future – Giving the World a Helping Hand.”
The first day was closed with a discussion session, which provided the participants with topics to discuss in small groups for the second day of the meeting. The outstanding issues that came up during the presentations and the Q&A sessions consisted of the following: institutionalization of STS in Turkey, issues of funding and academic legislation, and the need for catalogues and shared databases (such as news, paper repositories, dictionaries, etc.) as well as dedicated conferences and journals.
With regards to the institutionalization of STS in Turkey, we see STS TURKEY as an “extitution”, that is, “a process of deterritorialization or extitutionalization affecting institutions, contesting power arrangements, and opening up provisory spaces for establishing new connections“ (Farías, 2017: 6). Even though the positive atmosphere of the first meeting, which was focused on discovering collaborative potentials, did not permit discussions of past and current difficulties for science and scientists in Turkey, we find the idea that an interdisciplinary scholarly network can function at an “extitutional” capacity, an exciting promise. On the one hand, there is the question whether STS TURKEY can help scholarly work thrive even under regulatory and political pressures, as well as those from within the rigid disciplinary boundaries that guide scholars’ research and publication strategies. On the other hand, we are faced with the larger question: What does “Doing STS in Turkey” imply politically, socially and culturally?
The second day started with an overview of the first day by Kaygan. Following a heated discussion on the purpose of the kick-off meeting itself, participants gathered in two meeting rooms. One was dedicated to issues of vision and terminology; the other on preparing a road map. The sessions and a concluding session had the following short-term plans established, listed by date of expected accomplishment:
- Preparing an e-mail group following the meeting to facilitate planning and overall communication;
- Preparation of a thematic session for the EASST conference in Lancaster, due 1 November;
- Improvement of the STS TURKEY website to include links to news of events and publications, as well as related university programs and persons;
- Initiation of reading groups for key STS literature in the following months to help graduate students and interested scholars;
- Launching an “STS research methods in action” podcast in Turkish in the following months to help graduate students;
- Publishing an STS glossary in Turkish in the following months to help establish and disseminate a Turkish vocabulary of key terminology;
- Organizing a second meeting in September-October 2018 in Ankara in Middle East Technical University, possibly including a small conference and interest group meetings;
- Working towards an STS journal, possibly bilingual, to be discussed further by a smaller group of potential co-editors.
The participants have considered setting up an association. As a result of the discussions, it was agreed that STS TURKEY would continue as a self-organized network (see for other STS networks as in Spain; Estalella et al., 2013), depending on the efforts of its members (currently about 120). The membership in the STS TURKEY network is free and open to anyone interested in understanding the developments in science, technology, or medicine in relation to their social contexts. It was decided that an annually changing core team could organize future annual meetings. It was agreed that in 2018 the annual meeting would take place at the Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara and be organized by Arsev Umur Aydınoğlu and Harun Kaygan in collaboration with the Melike Şahinol (Orient-Institut Istanbul).
In the meantime, the founding group, namely Şahinol, Aydınoğlu and Kaygan, will be responsible for the coordination of STS TURKEY until an association is set up. They deal with correspondence, handle and distribute organizational tasks, and are responsible for managing the agenda. Activities, updates and further information are provided via newsletter and social network channels.
The Future(s) of Science, Technology and Society in Turkey
The STS TURKEY founding meeting was, in our view, a successful start for establishing a Turkish network among researchers with interests in the study of science, technology and medicine in society. This was the first event of national and international significance with an STS orientation in Turkey. The event itself gave an excellent insight into the current scientific programs and discourses on very different aspects of science, technology and society in Turkey. Every participant had the opportunity to present his or her research and interests related to STS. Finally, the participants have indicated a common vision and road map that is based on their current scholarly interests.
First steps were taken to improve scholarly communication and exchange in the field in Turkey, to facilitate contact amongst scholars, to promote STS in Turkey by organizing conferences, to increase the visibility and diffusion of STS approach in Turkey; to stimulate and support teaching on the subject at all levels, to aid in the development of STS-related skills amongst researchers and PhD candidates, including theoretical knowledge and methodological know-how. With this STS TURKEY foundational meeting, which completes the preexisting Mission Statement of STS TURKEY as specified on the website, the network has now determined its structures. STS TURKEY represents the Turkish STS community at the national and international level. It further promotes reflection on the ever-increasing importance of science and technology in our society by encouraging a dialog between the social and natural sciences and also between scientists and society. As the founding group, we are confident that this meeting marks the beginning of constructive dialogues amongst everyone studying or interested in science, technology and society of Turkey.