3:1 — Post-STS — 1 of 3

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For this 3:1, we consider “Post-STS,” not because we know what that means exactly, but as an experiment to explore what a Post-STS world might mean, signify, or imply.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a Post-STS world would be a mark of success. What I mean by that is that STS, from the start, to my mind, was always a little on the defensive and positioned themselves as self-proclaimed inhabitants of the margins. Merton, during the very first year of 4S, claimed that we were a rag-tag bunch, but that what we were doing – making legitimate space for social inquiry into science and technology – was possibly a little bit noble. The message to me what clear: we were doing what the social and political sciences weren’t; we were attending to science and technology.

When the interdisciplinary space of STS is framed like that, a few consequences emerge, in particular, when STS is not seen as marginal. I primarily think of a meeting a couple years back, a “Theory Talks” meeting organized by Peer Schouten and company, after a Millennium conference at the London School of Economics the previous few days. The point of the meeting was for a bunch of STS scholars to get together with a bunch of IR (international relations) scholars. The Millennium conference itself is an IR event, and this meant that we STSers were “invited guests.”

That it appeared that IR scholars were coming to STS scholars for new ideas, possible collaborations (we found Stef there, after all!), and fresh directions for inquiry in IR. This surprised me. Really. That STS would intentionally be injected into a major line of inquiry in Political Science was, in my naïve understanding at the time, truly surprising. “Wait,” I thought, “has STS made it?”

The inroads of STS into IR is not exactly a cake-walk, but the very idea of a field coming to us in STS for direction was thought-provoking if only to contemplate the following scenario: STS does not have many programs to train students, and, from my read of things, most of the scholars that have ever called themselves STSers hailed from “other” disciplinary homes such as sociology, history, political science, and so on (possibly an anthropologist or two in there). But IR folks, instead of jumping ship and joining the ranks of STS, apparently wanted to import some of the ideas, tends, and theories associated with the STS attitude toward inquiry into IR. Their scholars are not leaving IR to come to STS; they brought the STS to IR.

With that in mind, I provide my closing remarks: my read on STS is that from the start, scholars in STS have always dreamt of a world where STS isn’t necessary. I once read a book about heavy metal (music) that made much the same argument: a lot of heavy metal is about a world that does not need heavy metal anymore. I guess a Post-STS world, to me, would be a victory because we would no longer need to carve out “special space” to do STS in.

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About Nicholas

Nicholas teaches at Penn State University here in the states. His current work is mainly about understanding contemporary states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of goverance.

12 thoughts on “3:1 — Post-STS — 1 of 3

  1. Are we on the verge of stepping into a post-sts world then? It is kind of paradox: that success as a field (if that is what is necessary for another field to turn to it AS a field) moves it from the margins closer to the main stage, but only at the price of “unifying” the former heterogenous niches that we carved out so painfully.

    Just a sidenote: interesting use of words! That the inroads to STS are no cake-walk makes so much sense given the history of that phrase…:-) http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/12/23/256566647/the-extraordinary-story-of-why-a-cakewalk-wasnt-always-easy

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    • Indeed, indeed, that is the paradox I am — to some extent — grappling with.

      In fact, at one point, there was a story I heard about Tom Gieryn speaking at a conference about women in science, particularly, attending to a very 1980s idea that women, on account of having been marginalized in science, deserved not only fair and equal attention as compared to men, but also that there might be something special or unique about how women “do” science or “see” the natural world. On account of this, at the time, feminist thinking, Tom said “no,” or, at minimum, that this would be a dead-end. To clarify, he took a ton of slack for this, but he indicated that credibility based on exclusion did not work. The reason is that eventually, if the attention were granted to these excluded individuals, then each advancing claim they make would be less and less credible because their voices (or perspectives) would be more and more recognized.

      On Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 12:45 PM, Installing (Social) Order wrote:

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      • One more issue that I have been thinking about quite a lot recently is this: if the dream was always one of “a world in which STS would not be necessary” there is one thing that we have — despite our expertise on science — totally misunderstood. Disciplines are not only disciplining, but also as shortcuts for explaining what we do very useful in collaborative projects. Just imagine you try to build a project, say with someone from engineering or particle physics..what do you do to explain what you will do? Well, you give a very short description of what your disciplinary background is …

        Sociology, History, Anthropology,..well, they were hard to explain in 3 minutes. STS, at least at the moment where all the big funding schemes require those from the “hard sciences” to deal with social issues (ELSAs, in the words of research policy — Ethical, Legal, Social Aspects, horrible concepts for someone really IN STS), seem to be a very handy shortcut: we are the ones that are able to speak the sociotechnical lingo that ERC and NSF ask for. So maybe at least at the moment…we might need to stop dreaming that Post-STS dream…

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        • So that we can get money!? Further verification that the original project to overcome marginality has been, at least somewhat, solved.

          Still, the shorthand — that’s a solid point, and, pragmatically, a nice way to, for example, do sociology without calling it that to outsiders who don’t like sociology or other traditional disciplines in the social sciences.

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          • Sort of, yes, but I was not mainly thinking about money. Field access is what came to my mind first. But there are other pragmatic reasons for “relating” to a discipline (and be it an interdiscipline like STS), I assume. That is a strange thought for me as I have — until quite recently — not really felt the need for a disciplinary orientation. But I start to get it … at least pragmatically. In principle? Maybe never…

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            • Of course, I was unfairly pushing you into the money-corner (you did bring it up, those granting agencies!).

              Still, positioning — does it not matter anymore? I guess is matters in a million mundane ways like getting tenure, getting a job, etc. where those sorts of ideas of “is he really sociology” can be selectively used (for they are very flexible, indeed, in these postmodern times) to accomplish whatever end is wanted by the, say, hiring party or administrator.

              On Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 7:52 AM, Installing (Social) Order wrote:

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  2. one of the things that I appreciated in Peter’s pairing of ANT&Heidegger @ ANTHEM was that Heidegger’s anthropology of human beings as techne-ologists really open this up to a much wider realm along the lines of Rorty’s sense that we are always-already-manipulating and folks like Isabelle Stengers who remind us that there are always interests at play and so we are really looking into the workings of homo rhetoricus, all sorts of possible links than to Foucault, Arendt, Butler, the IR folks and all.

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  3. Pingback: 3:1 — Post-STS — 3 of 3 | Installing (Social) Order

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