How many (STS) waves does it take to create a (disciplinary) Tsunami?

The last two posts on a third wave of STS and on waves outside of STS made me wonder: How many “waves” of STS are there? And why? And how many will come? More that one group of scholars inside the STS community started labeling themselves as riding on a third wave, starting with Collins and Evans paper on “The Third Wave of Science Studies. Studies of Expertise and Experience” , published already in 2002. Collins and Evans argued that after a first wave (Kuhn and the like), a second wave (SSK), the study of experts, professions and the like should be the focus of what comes next.

That is nearly 10 years ago now. If we look at the landscape of contemporary STS today, there is the kind of research that Collins and Evans wrote about, for example in the contents of the PUS papers. There is also post/neo-phenomenology, Post-ANT, studies that agree to be After Method and there are a lot of papers published each year that try to sell you ten or twenty year old Ideas anew. I am not sure the Agora concept mentioned in Nicks post ist one of these, I cannot get the resprective papers from my university VPN. But it seem to me that after a third wave of STS has so often been acclaimed (see for example Hines “Not another case study” that links thirdwaveness with a turn away from case studies as the prefered approach) being sceptical of approaches that argue they are part of a third wave seems reasonable.

But then as someone interested in heterogenous coordination and in the onto-politics involved in buildung prism-like, opalacent objects I asked myself: There could be a another reason for the multiple faces of thirdwaveness. And I suspect it could as well have to do with STS as a(n) (inter-)discipline. Like Nick said in a post a bit ago: STS has accomplished many of its primary goals. It seems to me that it was able to do this by stabilizing itself as a hybrid, a quasi-discipline (to borrow Serres’ term) that gained stability without much coherence. One way of doing that was to focus on internal struggles, internal progress and internal waves. The waves of STS play an imporant role in doing exactly this. What is missing, at least to me, is a wave that manages to spill over: there is so much inside STS that is fruitful for a world ouside of STS, and so much outside that is fruitful for STS, too.  

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of 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 governance.

One thought on “How many (STS) waves does it take to create a (disciplinary) Tsunami?

  1. I wonder if any STS journals would be interested in a series of review articles about "STS outside of STS: <enter some stabilized area of inquiry such as org theory or sociology>"??? Could be a good way to spend a few months/years of scholarly work…

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