EASST Conference “Meetings” at Lancaster University
We invite early stage researchers – graduate, postgraduate, and early-career scholars – to apply to our workshop immediately prior to the EASST conference in Lancaster.
How can we translate STS knowledge, sensibilities and practices to the job market, or how could we create jobs to make place for these capacities? For many students this seems to be a real concern. The question is a hard one to answer, however, because fast-paced changes in society push the definition of work to new frontiers, and STS is a very diverse field. This is why in this workshop for early stage researchers we turn the question upside down and ask how STS knowledge, sensibilities and practices can help us invent/imagine/design jobs for the future! We will explore this proposition in three different settings, starting with:
A walk shop “Wild Ideas”. During an hour long walk in the beautiful surroundings of Lancaster, we will brainstorm in groups about what our capacities as STS scholars are and how they can be articulated into roles/careers/jobs.
A work shop “Prototyping Society”. With the help and guidance of two STS scholars who have developed their own, ‘unconventional’ careers, participants will develop speculative job descriptions and discuss ways of bringing these into reality.
A social dinner “STS Careers of the Future”. We will end the day with a dinner, where a group of students will be chosen as ‘Future-makers’ for having developed very unconvenitonal and inventive speculative jobs.As a reward, this group’s job desriptions will be published in the EASST Review.
What: A pre-conference workshop for Master students, PhD candidates and other early-career researchers to meet and share ideas, experiences, and enthusiasm.
When: July, 24th, 11:30 am – 20:30 pm
Why: Brainstorm about the jobs of the future and our place as STS scholars in that future. Network with an international mix of colleagues. Share refreshments and get to know Lancaster.
We hope to accommodate all completed applications; however, due to venue limitations we are limited to about 25 participants. Applicants are expected to attend the EASST conference in Lancaster and be or become EASST members. To apply, please provide us with a short letter of motivation (max. 500 words) and a CV.
Remember you can also apply for an EASST conference fee waiver!
‘Prototyping Intervention!’ was a two-day workshop devoted to a collective exploration of intervention as a form of research. The workshop was organized by Judith Igelsboeck and Laura Zoelzer as part of the post/doc lab engineering responsibility of the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS) at the Technical University of Munich. Researchers, designers, and artists met to probe and discuss different takes on intervention, and interrogate potential relations between intervention and investigation. Become witness of an exchange of letters between the organizers of the workshop two months after it took place!
_yesterday I went back to October 24th – mentally … for now – to when we met with 30 other people who were curious to explore what exactly Prototyping Intervention! could mean. All just because I found this residue of our workshop at „Import Export“ the venue of the first workshop day.
Today, 2 months later, I am still thinking about those intense two days, realizing, how much they influenced the way I ponder on various kinds of research methods. Well, probably I am most definitely late to the party, considering I only started my ‘academic career’ in my early 30s.
But you know how, after ten years of working in theatre and performing arts, I have been thinking and wondering about how those performative skills, once combined with social sciences practices, could become a methodological superpower and therefore something that I would call an Intervention!
How lucky, we invited Friedrich Kirschner, a theatre director and software developer from HfS Ernst Busch, who re-purposes video-game structures and technology to create participatory performances. I still remember how highly discussed his intervention was, when he played rock_paper_scissors with one of the attendees and let everyone bet on the outcome. What happened between all present, was an immediate evaluation process of the degree of discomfort.The urge to not look silly was just as perceptible as the drive to be ahead of the situation. It was so incredibly interesting to observe, not quite as covertly, how the Designers and STS researchers’ reacted to his explanations, as he spoke of ‘situated drama’ as an alternative setting for theatrical storytelling through which people actively negotiate the complexity of contemporary societies and deal with the fabrication of civil agency. For me it was rather special because, there he was, someone from this old habitat I once knew so well, suggesting and proposing practices that left the people from the academic world, I was hoping to become a part of, quite flabbergasted.
It only then occurred to me that my ambitious plan of creating an arts and science hybrid would firstly have to allow the very distinct and different incorporated logics of both of these systems, to tenderly approach each other, respectively observe each other just well enough, to maybe find a way of decoding the opposite operations.
During Friedrich’s Keynote, there were several questions concerning the ethicality of methods and various worries about the responsibilities that come with the irritations of artistic interventions. In response he asked: „What would these responsibilities be and do we really have to deal with them?“ – Isn’t it the participants own responsibility to lose or halt themselves in the artist’s created space of make-believe? And could this, in parts, be applicable to a scientist’s laboratory in which she tries to create (virtual) realities through ways of intervening? What could this mean for the researchers identities, referring to them as the main survey instrument. Maybe the scripts of actions could be rewritten, methods could be recombined and traces reassociated. Could we allow ourselves the audacity to lose ourselves in the anarchy of irritations and withstand the urge to stay safe and distant in methods and structures?
At the end of day 2, when we all got together to recollect the past two days, we concluded on some new characters we met along the way of Prototyping Intervention! We crossed paths with the “well-trained ape“, the “insider“, maybe remained “outsiders“, offered ourselves as “smugglers”, performed like “parasites”, and most likely sounded like “paradoxists”. My little performative heart raced during Angus Cameron’s talk on ‘imaginary economics’ – the decade-long project ‘Headless’ created by Swedish artists goldin + senneby. He performed from two perspectives: as an international spokesperson of the project and as an academic commentator who sees all economics as imaginary. In his Talk, he demonstrated how much the academic world relies on and only accepts realities that have already been validated and are linearly and causally in the right course of action.
Next time instead of booklets let us sew patches that carry some of his catchphrases. Because I agree: “Paradoxy is power“ and “Chaos is desired“. Just remember the quote from “Principia Discordia”, the little pamphlet I sent you the other day :).
“Seek the Sacred Chao – therein you will find the foolishness of all ORDER/DISORDER. They are the same!” (Wilson 1994)
When shall we meet again?
_thank you for your letter and for sharing this picture. It instantly sparked nostalgic feelings in me. Just this very week another workshop participant wrote a mail too. Xaroula Kerasidou says that she was still thinking about what she identifies as a sort of “STS awakening“ revolving along the lines of an “interventionist turn“ or “action-oriented STS“. How is this related to an anxiety to be demonstrably useful and impactful, she asks. And how might it be related to a desire to just “do something practical“?
Funnily, this somehow seems to feed into Peggy Phelan’s suggestion that “a new social, psychic, and political relationship of making itself“ (Phelan,1997:4) can be observed. Going back to the sexual revolution, she suggests that “the making in „making love“ marks an allegiance to nothing more and nothing less than the force of the desire to make something in the present tense.“ (ibid.) Is it this? Do we wish to make something in the present tense? Does the way we have come to perform STS research not feel alive enough to us?
Back then in the workshop we certainly avoided to start with a tightly pre-defined concept of “intervention“ because we wanted to see who actually would feel attached to the call for “prototyping intervention!“ As you know, it made me happy to see social scientists, designers, engineers, and artists (and not only ‘STS people’) responding to the call, and to see a great diversity of methods and approaches being represented. It was a pleasure to have Teun Zuiderent at the workshop and learn how he takes up some of Kurt Lewin’s spirit to set aside potential boundaries between knowing and acting, and showing that intervening in practices and developing a scholarly understanding of them are not mutually exclusive. His idea of “prototyping intervention“ varies considerably from Denisa Kera’s – a “science artisan“ who uses the design method of prototyping to perform material media archeology into the origins of our concept of innovation and future. This diversity makes it hard for me to pin down “intervention“ as a specific method, as one mode of knowing. Many workshop participants seem to share the idea that an “interventionist turn“ means cutting across the dichotomies of representing and intervening, theory and practice, thinking and acting, fact and fiction, basic and applied research, or knowing and experiencing. But I catch myself falling back to these categories. Sometimes I feel that I have to (e.g. when applying for funding). Sometimes it just happens, accidentally on the way.
In the meantime, there is some interesting boundary work underway. In the latest EASST Review, Ignacio Farías proposes to make a differentiation between “invention“ and “intervention“. As examples for “inventive engagements in STS“, he names the composition of songs, the programming of bots, the writing of scripts, or the curating of exhibitions. He stresses that these engagements were often misunderstood as science communication exercises or alternative ways of making things public – as ways of intervening in public controversies. I fully agree that this implies “underestimating both, the capacities of the public to engage with standardized forms of knowledge and, most problematically, the role of inventive engagements as a research method.“ (Farías 2017) So, Ignacio Farías points out that intervention and invention are not necessarily sharing the same aims. What do you think about this, Laura? Do you think we should have called the workshop “prototyping invention“ instead? Certainly, many of the “interventions“ presented at the workshop qualify as “inventive engagements“ – attempted to bring forth new realities by challenging the boundaries of facts and fiction in speculative and experimental ways rather than aiming to perform political interventions in public affairs in the first place.
What I like about both inventive and/or interventive engagements I have learned to know by now, is their modesty in regard to epistemic authority and control. Be it the intention not to impose normative goals onto a field (Zuiderent-Jerak), or the reminder that we cannot “consider ourselves authorized to believe we possess the meaning of what we know“, as Wilkie and coauthors (2017) import from Stengers (2005) in their guide to “speculative research“.
But such modesties are hard to live, aren’t they? During the workshop there was more than one occasion in which we tried to smuggle ‘STS-truths’ into other worlds. At the same time, designers and artists reminded us that STS researchers were often performing rather poorly when curating exhibitions, writing codes or scripts etc. “They could ask for help, we’ve also made some progress during the last 20 years,“ they would say.
For me, “prototyping intervention!“ was more than a collection of new methods or ways of performing research anyways. For me it is a way of reclaiming “scientific freedom“ in the midst of all the pressures to fulfill career scripts and trying to be a “good researcher“; a way of reconsidering what we are doing when we are performing research, and what we are doing research for. I caught myself looking up my h-index on google scholar during work lately. For no reason. Can you believe this?
So, I am really grateful for Friedrich Kirschner’s reminder that researchers are actors who are acting. To a considerable extent, we make the academic world in which we live. In this spirit, the best personal workshop moment was in the wrap-up session. Listening to the feedback and comments suggesting that this workshop might not have been “inventive“ enough, I suddenly found myself speculating about a future meeting in which fictional STS researchers from fictional places with fictional positions and fictional affiliations apply to discuss their fictional work or work together on a fictional project – a congress of social science fiction. Would you like to participate in such a congress? In any case, we should meet at the next EASST conference! Check out these panels 😉
Invested with ideals ranging from ‘the smart city’, ‘evidence-based policy’, ‘algorithmic governance’, ‘citizen science’, or ‘hack-tivism’, sensors have been widely foregrounded in contemporary debates about the role of digital technologies in addressing the big political challenges of our time. The idea of a workshop on the politics of sensing developed in discussions with our colleagues at the Munich Centre for Technology in Society (MCTS) about the need to take on the political and ethical challenges emerging in data-driven approaches to dealing with public issues and to challenge narrowly reductive and positivist accounts of ‘big data’ and informational politics.
The workshop was developed with three broad motivations: first, to address theoretical questions about how concepts of sensing might be used to freshly problematize recent political debates about the shape of public space and ‘data power’ in digital societies? Second, to bring together researchers in security studies together with participatory and environmental researchers to explore opportunities for collaboration between these fields. And, lastly, and somewhat opportunist on our part, to invite a diverse range of researchers and engineers who themselves are experimenting with sensors to Munich to explore with them whether and how the ‘proliferation of sensors’ might open up inventive approaches to social research.
Through invited keynotes given by Geoffrey Bowker and Jennifer Gabrys, we aimed to put into dialogue two leading figures in the social study of digital devices and data infrastructures. Both speakers engaged with the ways in which sensors not only produce ‘raw data’ but also often problematise the relation between epistemic practices and their environments. Addressing the politics and ontology of data infrastructures, Geoffrey Bowker turned to a provocation from a Business Week article claiming that “the earth will don an electronic skin”, mobilizing this fantastic-sounding proposition as a critical resource for attending to controversies around the uses and abuses of personal data. Rather than reducing the politics of personal data to issues about the rights of private individuals, Bowker proposed that researchers engage with how such controversies can also provoke reorderings between politics and its environments. Attacking the ‘misplaced concretism’ of epistemologies of ‘big data’, Bowker argued against falling into the trap of naturalising relations between digital infrastructures and particular forms of social and political order. In her keynote on environment data and data citizenships, Jennifer Gabrys discussed her work in the “CitizenSense” project by prototyping two devices, the dustbox and frackbox, and working with groups of activists to deploy them in particular environmental controversies. Highlighting problems around the calibration of many ‘off-the-shelf’ sensors, she drew attention to the complex data landscapes in which professional and amateur sensing practices take shape and intervene. Outlining a Whitehead-inspired conception of “environmental data”, Gabrys argued that the instrumenting of the planet with sensors not only brings environmental issues into politics but can also repose citizenship as an environmental problem.
Over two days, presenters engaged with a range of issues implicating sensing technologies and politics. The city as a setting where sensing projects are publicly tested, was explored by Nona Schulte-Roemer, Sara Degli Esposti, Claudio Colletta, Alexander Pólvora, Leslie Mabon and Gerard Jan Ritsema van Eck. A range of these papers addressed the role of sensing technologies in processes of public experimentation, in which urban infrastructure become sites for demonstrating the “eco-city” or “smart city”. Many highlighted that experiments with sensors can, in different ways, provide occasions that problematize the urban environment as a setting of political engagement; often indirectly resonating with Gabry’s proposal to understand citizenship as an environmental problem. Schulte-Roemer, for instance, highlighted the ways in which urban sensing projects can perform infrastructure such as street lights as multivalent in their relation to public space and not only mere instruments for governing it. Indeed, a similar point was made by Coletta who discussed an experiment with a sensor-network deployed in Dublin, highlighting – in contrast to reductive accounts of urban experiments as mere ‘scalable’ procedures – that the such experiments rarely domesticate infrastructure in the ‘low-cost’ way city authorities envisage and can effect the “accidental” emergence of unforeseen urban problems and publics. The provocation of urban publics was proposed as an active participatory design strategy by Claudia Mendes and Hannah Varga in their workshop on ‘prototyping publics’, in which they tested a workshop method to engage groups of citizens with the implementation of a ‘smart city’ sensor installation project in Munich. Pólvora too highlighted that ‘bottom up’ citizen science projects can not only be used to construct an ‘evidence-base’ for policy, but can stimulate broader engagements between art, design and technology in addressing issues such as urban air quality.
In contrast to such post-instrumental understandings of public experiment, a range of papers highlighted that urban sensing trials can in other cases perform more familiar modes of government and privatisation that have long been associated with the technocratic approaches of city management. Many of the presentations understood data produced in urban sensing projects as often highly biased and asymmetric in its political uses, highlighting how ‘data-driven’ initiatives can displace and marginalise issues such as urban poverty, community development or public ownership. Mobile apps encouraging users to report where and when they feel they are in an insecure or threatening environment, offer a powerful example for the manifold and contingent entanglements of sensors, publics and urban security. As Gerard van Eck has shown, this crowdsourced open-sourced content not only stigmatizes streets or neighborhoods (with all the socio-economic implications) but can be valuable for law enforcement agencies in deciding where to target resources. Raising questions on how to overcome what van Eck called an “evidence-based stigma”, Nikolaus Pöchacker also outlined how sensing in the field of predictive policing already assumes attributes connected to imaginations of (in)security where the data is given a specific voice through a complex apparatus of sensing and sense-making.
Questions about relations between ‘local’ sensing experiments and ‘global’ data apparatuses were addressed by several presenters. Christopher Wood´s work, situated at the intersection of artistic and scientific practices, focused on making geospatial infrastructures visible through experimenting with breakdown and infrastructural inversion in the built environment. Wood’s trails of satellite tracking apps with different collectives played with the personal relations of individuals to satellites orbiting above and the disruption of these relations as they individuals navigate through densely constructed urban settings. Moving from art to engineering, the following presentation by Godert-Jan van Mannen on “How to Hack a Satellite” step-by-step showed how it is possible to intrude a communication satellite and get access to radio or television streams using cheap and commercially available technology. This demonstration pointed to some of the often-overlooked vulnerabilities of techno-political infrastructures and the need for a much broader consideration of risk in discourses on sensing technologies. At the same time, it pointed to the manifold forms of resistance against forms of neoliberal sensory governance, e.g. when hackers used their capabilities to claim free access to television for all. Indeed, the ways in which security expertise are claimed and technical competences distributed was addressed by Becky Kazansky whose paper examined how activist groups are dealing with risks and threats of sensory surveillance. Adopting an engaged methodology in working with human rights activists, Kanzansky highlighted some of the different ways in which distinctions between technical and ethical responsibility get translated between what she termed ‘communities of security practice’.
Questions about how the construction of threats – digital or not – come to matter with sensors, their governance and in different forms expert practice figured prominently during the workshop. Ubiquitous sensor networks raised challenges for many participants about how we envision privacy, data protection and configurations of risks. Indeed, one of our central aims for this workshop was to connect the different engagements with sensors in STS, urban- or data studies, that are mainly focused on the level of ‘localized’ collectives to the foreign entanglements of sensors and their embeddedness in the global political economy and international relations. In an attempt to facilitate such a conversation between international security studies and STS, Philipp Olbrich discussed the politics of satellite observation of North Korea as the technologization of security governance. Here, the seemingly objective satellite´s view from above translates and black-boxes it into a socio-material mobile assemblage of satellite data, eyewitness accounts and other sources. In this way, satellite imagery closes off important controversies and political alternatives as it locks in a hierarchy of evidence that reifies an adversarial posture and discredits North Korea as a future dialogue partner in the context of international relations.
The relation between international sensing apparatuses and the politics of the ‘view from above’ was also addressed by Vera Ehrenstein in her presentation on the scientific and political challenges of producing epidemiological data about ‘African pneumococcus diseases’ caused by pneumococcus bacteria. Following the bacteria from international conferences to their collection by lab researchers and street recruiters in Burkina Faso to the offices of the European vaccine distributor that contract the lab workers, Ehrenstein described the challenges involved in translating bacteria from nasal swabs into data that can robustly represent a city population and its bacteria. Where epistemological treatments of epidemiology have long been described the role of this scientific field in making populations known and governing them, Ehrenstein argued that epidemiological measurement was much more a “patchy sensing” process than one of comprehensive surveillance. Ehrenstein’s appropriation of the concept of sensing to think politically about epidemiological measurement was a powerful example of what could be said to be at stake theoretically in choosing to foreground sensing technologies/practices and displace the priority of epistemology to sort out relations between data and politics.
Sensors are, of course, not new objects in STS research. Whether in the design of experimental apparatuses, the implementation of ‘large technical systems’ or the production of novel measuring instruments, sensors have been widely studied as ‘lively’ devices that detect, inscribe, capture and record; if not always as “sensors”. As workshop participants often reaffirmed, there are many good reasons we might want to be skeptical towards hyperbolic and positivist-sounding claims that sensors are now “everywhere” and that we live in an era in which almost anything can be turned into “data”. But the presenters at this workshop also highlighted sensors also offer opportunities for STS research to problematize and extend debates about data-driven politics and power in digital societies. As our MCTS colleague Tomas Sanchez-Criado (Tironi and Criado, 2015) has highlighted in his work on urban politics: even if we recoil at the corporate jargon of the sensor-equipped ‘smart city’, there may nonetheless be many reasons we might value the modes of “sensitivity” that can be occasioned in experiments to instrument cities with sensors. At the same time, the sense remoteness of the satellites that are orbiting above us, appearing as (re-)presenting facts from an allegedly neutral perspective, requires an enhanced sensibility towards the global socio-political, economic and cultural processes (as Witjes and Olbrich 2017) – or the foreign entanglements in Dewey´s sense – in which sensory networks and forms of their governance are embedded.
EASST Council is pleased to announce that we have redesigned our EASST Fund scheme in response to a steady increase of interest. We now launch an annual call for applications with a €1000 per successful application (in contrast to our previous biennial – non-conference year – scheme).
The scheme aims to promote national and cross-national community building within EASST, advance new questions, topics and perspectives in science and technology studies, as well as enable collaboration with non-academic actors publicly engaged in science and technology. EASST wishes to support a range of activities such as the organisation of conferences, network meetings, seminars, workshops, etc.
We welcome Network and Community-building activities organised by, or leading to, the creation of national and regional academic associations or other academic and non-academic initiatives committed to the promotion of scholarly and public engagements with science and technology in the European region. Examples of activities supported in previous rounds: STS Austria launch event in Vienna, Spanish STS network (esCTS) annual meetings, Technosciences of Post/Socialism conference in Budapest, Mattering Press open-access STS publishing initiative.
We similarly encourage the organisation of Workshops and Small conferences within Europe with the potential of making significant theoretical and/or empirical contributions to the field. Examples of supported activities from previous rounds: STS Perspectives on Energy conference in Lisbon, Does History Matter? Techno-sciences and their historically informed policies conference in Athens, STS and Development workshop in Amsterdam
Activities should start between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017.
EASST especially invites applications from parts of Europe where EASST activities and membership are under-represented (Southern and Eastern Europe). There is a total budget of €5000 for this call. By default we offer €1000 for successful applicants, but we also accept applications for smaller sums. The proposed activities can be fully or partially funded by EASST. There are no quotas for the announced support categories.
How to apply?
Applications can be submitted only by EASST members.
Applications should specify the category they apply for and include a description of the proposed activity, addressing the criteria below. They should also include the proposed venue, date, organisers and expected number and profile of participants (when applicable) along with a budget specifying how the funds requested will be allocated.
The key considerations in assessing the applications are the following:
Community building on the national and cross-national level, and reaching to a European audience. Particular emphasis is given to novel network initiatives, especially in countries under-represented in EASST (Southern and Eastern Europe).
Novel academic questions, new collaborations, and reaching beyond academia.
Innovative initiatives in academia (e.g., open access publishing) and public engagement in science and technology.
Open activities accessible for a wide array of participants and reaching a broad audience.
Feasibility and value-for-money. We particularly welcome initiatives with limited access to other potential sources of funding.
Communication of award is expected by 30 November 2016. Recipients should notify the Council their acceptance of award within 15 days after the awards communication.
Since only a small number of EASST members will benefit directly from the activities supported, an approx. 2,000 words report will be required from those receiving awards which will be considered for publication in EASST Review. Beyond this, EASST also encourages applicants to pursue further strategies to address or involve the EASST membership more widely (such as a video from the activity which can appear on the EASST web-site or an online discussion or a web-exhibition, Twitter hashtag #EASST).
EASST support should be recognised in the public dissemination of the funded activity. This could involve the use of the EASST logo or a short statement on publicity or event materials.
The awarded amount will be transferred against invoices after the event. In exceptional cases, full or partial pre-funding can be provided.