“Masters of Uncertainty”

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Phaedra Daipha’s recent (20105) book Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth (University of Chicago Press) is worth picking-up, if only to appreciate and better understand the odd practice-world of weather forecasting inhabited by individuals whose weather predictions feature so prominently in local and national news, and, also, because frequently their prognostications shape the timings of our daily comings and goings (especially when we trust them too much or too little). Here is an interview with Daipha to give you a hint of what’s in store for the book.

For social theory buffs, and especially for sociologists trained in organizational studies, cultural studies, and science and technology studies (like I was), this is a real treat. The bibliography is packed with the usual suspects: everything from heaps of Abbott, Fligstein, Barley, and Gieryn to Latour, Goffman, Giddens, and March, without forgetting Orlikowski, Perrow, Weick, and Vaughan. And there are many more I could gladly highlight.

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Teaching Paradigms

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Like anybody actively teaching STS, I imagine that you too reach back to teach a little of Thomas Kuhn‘s The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsWell, among the many other lessons about “normal science” relevant to students (periods of shared vision regarding what constitutes a “legitimate” scientific question, general consensus about “proper” methodological techniques, etc), how “anomalies” mount under the conditions of normal science until eventually scientists come to the realization that these “errors” or “unaccounted for findings” were a kind of data in themselves, and then, of course, all the insights about how entrenched scientists protect their privileged positions as purveyors of truth as more recently trained scientists make new, unorthodox, or counter-intuitive claims (in search of achieving their own legitimacy and recognition.

I have two examples to use in the classroom: one that I’ve used for years, and another I only learned about today (thanks Alexander Stingl).

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The Future Multiple

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New paper out that tackles a few issues about the ontological character of the future as it is enacted in practices of planning for it. Co-authored with Matthew Spaniol (see him here and here), an Industrial Ph.D. Fellow at Danish Maritime, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark. The paper is “The Future Multiple.”

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NatureCulture, Casper Bruun Jensen (Free On-line)

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NatureCulture is a new journal that is free on-line, which features articles from landmark STS scholars (Casper Bruun Jensen, Annamarie Mol, Christopher Gad, Marilyn Strathern, etc.), well-known in the networks of the Global North, alongside a fascinating group of STS scholars primarily in Japan (Mohácsi Gergely, Merit Atsuro, Miho Ishii, etc.).

The journal, after a quick perusal, is of high-quality. Rather than dense empirical work, the journal seems to feature relatively complex essays with a tone that shifts between conversational and erudite. Consider a great piece by Christopher Gad on the post pluralist attitude, an obvious nod to a previous work on the topic, another essay-form piece (Gad, C. & C. B. Jensen 2010. ‘On the Consequences of Post-ANT’, Science Technology & Human Values 35: 1, 55–80.).

While I cannot say for sure, the seeds for this project may well have been born from the 2010 4S meeting (held jointly with Japanese Society for Science and Technology Studies) … after all, Casper Bruun Jensen presented a paper title “Techno-animism in Japan: Shinto cosmograms, actor-network theory, and the enabling powers of non-human agencies.”

Infrastructure Toolbox

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This is a useful resource for anyone writing about or thinking about infrastructure from a big name (Gupta) and a rising star (Anand), it is the notion of an “infrastructure toolbox.”

One of the bottom-line insights appears to be that STS has had an impact on general thinking about infrastructure, in particular, legitimizing the “social” study of it (think: infrastructure ethnography, which I’ve discussed before too, especially in relationship to jugaad). Thus, we ask, what does infrastructure mean, even metaphorically, for “theory-making?”

Here is the opening passage (and it is freely available on-line): 

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Jugaad, Siqizai, Bricolage

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New article about jugaad, which we’ve discussed here a bit, by Pankaj Sekhsaria (a graduate student at Maastricht’s Department of Technology and Society) is available on academia.edu (note: if you click the link, you’ll find the paper starts on page 21 of the larger PDF file — the paper is short and to the point).

Anti-Crisis and Post-Crisis

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At fellow blog “Society and Space” a recent book is under review, namely, Janet Roitman’s Anti-Crisis (Duke University Press, 2014). This discussion dovetails nicely with some topics on Installing Order some weeks ago with guest blogger Peter Bratsis, wherein I was attempting to suggest that “crisis” is a concept that is sort of like a balloon with the air let out of it (or an “empty container” to mix some metaphors 😉 ), stating:

Living in a state of semi-permanent crisis can be construed as a license to do nothing. Fatigue sets-in. Apathy ensues. Inaction seems plausible.

In Luca Follis’s review of Janet Roitman’s Anti-Crisis we see something similar. This line sticks out:

But is this global state of affairs merely a reflection of a historical, empirical moment or is it an expression of the ease and haste with which we label events as critical (and by extension the way we approach the broader category of crisis)?

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“Infrastructural Lives: Urban Infrastructure in Context”

Line one of the foreword by Arjun Appadurai reads: “This timely book is sure to become a definitive work on the now growing literature on urban infrastructure” (xii).

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And Appadurai is not overstepping or overstating by saying as much. “Infrastructural Lives: Urban Infrastructure in Context” is edited by Stephen Graham and Colin McFarlane, both themselves big players in the academic discussion or urban infrastructure. McFarlane has a great blog, “cityfragment” that the book was recently showcased on. Some of the book’s materials are available on google-books here.

I’m reviewing the book this week, and will post commentary about it as I go.

Here are some thoughts and concerns about the foreword, and, thus, the project as a whole: Appadurai is an important figure for the burgeoning area at the intersection of sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, urban studies, and so on and so forth — many are invited to the table to dine on the topic of urban infrastructure. What makes this book extraordinary, Appadurai notes, is the approach:  Continue reading

3:1 Post 2 of 3: Post-crisis and poetry

Dichotomies can be helpful, and Peter Bratsis in his 3:1 on Monday put forth a productive one: Should we think of crisis as a repetition or an exception? I want to take this and riff in a slightly different, but complementary way. For me, thinking about crisis—the ecological one facing the planet—is especially important. The Guardian has recently launched a front-page campaign to bring climate change to the fore in mainstream news coverage.

They are following Naomi Klein’s lead and trying to turn a crisis into an opportunity. This includes calling the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest in fossil fuels and using the recent dip in oil prices to invest in alternative energy. At this point, we are blowing past a 2° C temperature rise (4° C seems likely) and even a 2° C rise will lead to CATASTROPHIC changes in our environment. Prepare for the worst, homo sapiens and all the species we are taking with us. Keeping the coal in the ground and investing in alternative energy is a step to mitigating the damage this economic system has wrought, but the hurt is going to come down. So the question becomes more about how we respond to crisis rather than argue about how we define a crisis, or how we might trace the word back to its true roots, or whether this crisis is quotidian or exceptional. Continue reading

3:1 — On “Decoloniality” (and the Nonhuman) — Post 3 of 3

This is the third post from the trenches of the Eastern Sociological Society’s conference in NYC this past weekend. The linked workshop entitled, “Decoloniality and the Social Sciences,” explored such diverse topics as floating medical clinics, non-GMO seed sharing, the high seas, cargo, zombies, pedagogy, dolphins, and derivatives.

For my part, I reflected upon decoloniality and the nonhuman. Elsewhere I have discussed the dolphin and posthuman security, and this topic has stayed on my mind. I recently visited Barataria Bay (home of the bottlenose dolphin, at least until the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and Venice, LA. I found it hauntingly desolate with a devastated post-disaster aesthetic; a place only a true ecologist can love—or an oil exec just off the heliport from the tour of his oil rig.

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Pictures taken by the author, Feb 2015

The decolonial literature is new to me, and as I did my due diligence with a literature review, I was intrigued by Mignolo’s insistence on “decolonial thinking and doing.” Decolonial thinking de-links epistemically and politically from what he calls “the imperial web of knowledge.”

In short, we must decolonialize our very ways of thinking and being in the world. This epistemic disobedience is necessary for acts of civil disobedience that transform the world. This means body-politics comes before disciplinary management, or more pointedly, decolonial thinking places “human lives and life in general first.” Mignolo writes:

De-colonial thinking presupposes de-linking (epistemically and politically) from the web of imperial knowledge (theo- and ego-politically grounded) from disciplinary management. A common topic of conversation today, after the financial crisis on Wall Street, is ‘how to save capitalism’. A de-colonial question would be: ‘Why would you want to save capitalism and not save human beings? Why save an abstract entity and not the human lives that capitalism is constantly destroying?

Returning to the nonhuman, can this epistemic disobedience be a tactic that aids in co-creating a more just and kind world for all species on this planet? To rephrase as Mignolo’s question: Why would want to save neoliberal forms of production that destroy the only livable planet accessible to us? Capitalism is destroying more than human lives. It is destroying the very biosphere that allows life to persist and thrive. How is this topic not all that we talk, write, and think about in all epistemic communities? 

In my terms, can decolonialty be used against a human centered politics that takes the biosphere as a place to colonize and deplete?

In many ways, decolonial thinking and doing could encompass the nonhuman. Bodies of color and gendered bodies have been animalized in colonial and paternal regimes. Woman are chicks, bitches, sows, cows, birds. Rod Coronado reminds us that the treatment of wolves in the United States twins the way indigenous people were (and are) treated during North American colonization. In human centered politics, non- human animals are useful only in their kill-ability/eat-ability and nature for its rape-ability/use-ability. They are use value only.

This is another kind of “colonial wound,” (regions and peoples classified as underdeveloped economically and mentally), as Mignolo terms it. If decolonial thinking can link diverse experiences and histories heretofore ignored in colonial/imperial systems of knowledge, can it also create an ecological thinking? If colonial ways of being still can’t allow humans to be full humans, how is it even possible to widen this to the nonhuman world? I hope so, but I also know that hope will wear thin with the changes wrought by the Anthropocene.

Be it trees, lemurs, bacteria, mosquitos, koalas or homo sapien sapiens, we should, as members of a shared biosphere, be able to thrive on this planet—even if the way we thrive is different for all of us. A new complex web of co-worlding—snatched from the imperial one—is the only answer. Accomplice networks must be created. 

References:

Walter D. Mignolo. Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom Theory, Culture & Society 2009 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 26(7–8): 1–23

3:1 — On “Decoloniality” — 1 of 3

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“Decoloniality” is our topic for the week. It is immediately important to note that decoloniality is not the political process of decolonizing previously colonized nations (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced process of decolonization); decoloniality is not the academic study of living, thinking, and acting in a decolonized land or producing theoretical models of it (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced to academic research in post-colonial studies); decoloniality is also not the equivalent critique of modernity that post-modernity offers either (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced to post-modernism because post-modernism was/is a critique of Western modernity from the inside).*

In contrast, coloniality is what Walter Mignolo refers to as the “darker side of modernity;” the idea that modern science, modern capitalism, belief in progress, gargantuan architectural and infrastructural advancements (the brighter side of modernity, one might say) all brought with them a few genuine liabilities such as major justifications for colonialism largely based on selective understandings of Europe’s “advanced place in history” and the advent of scientifically based racial hierarchies. Obviously, this dates as far back as the Renaissance.

Coloniality is a logic. We think and act through it; the logic is undergird. It lasts longer than the colonized peoples of a colonized nation are no longer colonized. It is a logic of many things, many things good and bad, for example, a logic of selective intervention, selective classification, de-personalized knowledge, and so on (this is quite complex, so, to those interested, this list will expand as you read more). The impact is long lasting, as well. When a panel of men determine women’s access to reproductive rights, we can see the logic — not in the outcome, but in the very existence of of such a panel being legitimate in the first place; we might say this is the colonization of reproduction (which is not to say that discussing women’s access to reproductive rights is wrongheaded, it is only to say that the idea of intervening into such matters for women or on behalf of women is perhaps not so legitimate as it may at first glance appear). Likewise, when poor individuals living in cramped urban environs, and the “right answer” is to start a war on poverty and intervene into the lives of people, build a massive public housing infrastructure and then step away from such matters, we might say that this is the colonization of poverty. This sort of coloniality is perhaps the most obvious when indigenous knowledge about the environment and nonhuman inhabitants comes into contact with outside forces like the state, for example, in this herring fishery controversy featuring fish, bears, aboriginal peoples, police at fishing docks, and more (one of the more difficult parts of this case is that the fishing industry is not pressing for fishing rights in these waters off of British Columbia and scientists seem to have heard and support local indigenous knowledge on the need to leave herring alone in these fragile waters). So, this is something of the lasting logic of coloniality as might be apparent even now in our postmodern times, and the pillars of science, the state, modern medicine, and the like help to produce the long-lived “colonial matrix of power” (along with all the distinctions Latour is happy to point out regarding the split between human and nonhuman, man and beast, culture and nature, and so on).

The goal of the decoloniality project (writ large) is to “de-link” from the colonial matrix of power by as many means as are possible, and so far, this has mainly implied decolonial thinking and doing (i.e., epistemology and political praxis, respectively). The goal is to identify “options confronting and delinking from […] the colonial matrix of power” (Mignolo 2011: xxvii).

This week, I (Nicholas Rowland), Stef Fishel, and Mary Mitchell, contributed to a panel session about decoloniality at the Eastern Sociological Society’s annual meeting (in good old New Amsterdam … er. New York). This week, we will be talking about the cases we shared at the conference to give readers a sense of what STS might be able to offer this line of research and research activism which largely comes from the non-Westernized world, the Global South, and academically speaking from the humanities. Also, we are deeply indebted to those who presented in the panel and specifically to Sabrina Weiss and Alexander Stingl for overseeing and organizing the panels!

*As you might note the wikipedia page for decoloniality is marked at the top by a message claiming that it is not balanced and fair by wikipedia’s standards. Given what has been discussed about the colonial matrix of power, this is both a cautionary thought and possibly evidence for the difficulties of de-linking from the colonial matrix of power (especially the critique that the piece is not neutral, with the implied message “it should be neutral,” given that neutral can be used precisely to neutralize political or radical ideas).

4S, reflections on Buenos Aires

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In this thoughtful blog post on CASTAC,* Luis Felipe R. Murillo (pictured, who is or was a grad student in anthropology at UCLA) reflects on the 4S meeting in Buenos Aires (this August) with special attention on the relationship between (American) anthropology and (nationality not defined) STS.

Some relatively fresh ideas include the notion of “fault lines” as a way to characterize cross-disciplinary work:

This is where we operate as STS scholars: at intersecting research areas, bridging “fault lines” (as Traweek’s felicitous expression puts it), and doing anthropology with and not without anthropologists.

The blog post reviews two sessions, mainly just relaying what was discussed and who does that sort of research, but the common thread pulled through all this description is an earnest inquiry into how do we do the anthropology/STS relationship and how should we do the anthropology/STS relationship. The piece closes with a somewhat haunting quote:

As suggested by Michael Fortun, we are just collectively conjuring – with much more empiria than magic – a new beginning in the experimental tradition for world anthropologies of sciences and technologies.

The blog supporting that post also has some cool posts about pedagogy and other research issues worth peaking through.

*Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing.

Latour on “Digital Methods”

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In a fascinating, apparently not-peer-reviewed non-article available free online here, Tommaso Venturini and Bruno Latour discuss the potential of “digital methods” for the contemporary social sciences.

The paper summarizes, and quite nicely, the split of sociological methods to the statistical aggregate using quantitative methods (capturing supposedly macro-phenomenon) and irreducibly basic interactions using qualitative methods (capturing supposedly micro-phenomenon). The problem is that neither of which aided the sociologist in capture emergent phenomenon, that is, capturing controversies and events as they happen rather than estimate them after they have emerged (quantitative macro structures) or capture them divorced from non-local influences (qualitative micro phenomenon).

The solution, they claim, is to adopt digital methods in the social sciences. The paper is not exactly a methodological outline of how to accomplish these methods, but there is something of a justification available for it, and it sounds something like this:

Thanks to digital traceability, researchers no longer need to choose between precision and scope in their observations: it is now possible to follow a multitude of interactions and, simultaneously, to distinguish the specific contribution that each one makes to the construction of social phenomena. Born in an era of scarcity, the social sciences are entering an age of abundance. In the face of the richness of these new data, nothing justifies keeping old distinctions. Endowed with a quantity of data comparable to the natural sciences, the social sciences can finally correct their lazy eyes and simultaneously maintain the focus and scope of their observations.

The 3:1 Experiment

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The 3:1 Experiment

An experiment in rapid, concept based, multidisciplinary digital conversations.

Who is invited?

Sociologists, theorists, anthropologists, archaeologists, political scientists, philosophers, economists, and everybody in between.

Why?

The experiment is transdisciplinary. No discipline has jurisdiction over this experiment; no discipline will receive the right to one-up another.

What is it? Dialogues, exchanges, conversations, texts, literature, journalism, poetry, and writing.

Most importantly, it must always be ephemeral, reactionary, and rapid.

The 3:1 Experiment is an investigation into rapid-fire trandisciplinary blogging.

3 writers: 1 concept … and we limit ourselves to 500 words each so each of the three writers must get straight to the point straight away.

Think of that feeling in the final two minutes of a presentation…

12 more slides left…

Just that last crucial point…

3…2…1…

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Installing (Social) Order is launching a new format in digital conversations called “The 3:1 Experiment” and it will take the format described above.

Three interventions: 1 topic

3 writers: 1 concept

3 bloggers: 1 blog

Three exchanges in 500 words or less

3…2…1…GO.

In the first round, we will introduce—without irony—posts about Posts. You know them; they’re all so Postmodern.

Post-method. Post-empire. Post-nature. Post-culture. Post-science. Post-irony. Post-revolution. Post-war. Post-state. Post-fashion. Post-horror. Post-nihilism. Post-future. Post-empiricism. Post-security.

So, coming-up next: Three perspectives on what happens after…

Blog a bit…it’s only 500 words.  Shot from the hip.

Interested?

Contact installingorderblog@gmail.com 

Law on fish ponds and multiplicity

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“A salmon is … ?” that is the ontological question. 

In this free paper, Jon Law addresses practice and theory, and he does it nice and slow with great care to unpack the context of this paper and the broader fields he contributes to, chiefly, of course, Science and Technology Studies. 

Of all people, of course, Law can direct readers through the maze of ANT, but does an even nicer job than usual. For example, regarding theory as coterminous with practice (rather than an appreciable divide):

… And that is the problem when we start to talk about ‘actor-network theory’, or indeed ‘theory’ tout court. Theory including ANT sounds – and often it is – formulaic. It is as if it were there, sitting in a box fully formed, waiting to be applied whole and ready.

Then he shifts gears and moves to “animals,” … “But let me come to the question of actor-network theory in a different way by thinking about how it relates to animals.” He reminds readers that the differences between people and things like animals is not “natural” so much as the difference is an effect of their relationality (and an important step away from “human exceptionality”). Instead of studying scallops (like Callon in 1986), Law studies farmed Atlantic salmon in Hordaland in West Norway. Still, scallops are not irrelevant: “Starting with a focus on multiplicity, I consider how ANT started to put entities such as ‘animals’ back together again after the 1986 relational storm. This, then, is an exploration of strategies for reassembling objects within the ANT tradition.”

I won’t ruin the concluding remarks for readers, but suffice to say, he concludes trying to answer the basic ontological question: “A salmon is … ?”

Prologue of “Sciencecraft”

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As promised, I will review the new-ish book Worlds of Sciencecraft bit by bit (the book is priced at a screaming-hot $100+ USD on Amazon.com).

Here is the first installment from the Prologue:

The book’s tone is personal, at least in the prologue. You get the feeling that you are sitting down with the three authors to engage in a discussion (although I’m not sure what the reader is doing beyond listening). The tone is academic but conversational; maybe an academic conversational tone. The prologue opens with a quote from Sal Restivo that is not from a book or article. It seems that in 2012 (Ghent, Belgium), he just “said” it — to whom we do not know, although it might be Sabrina Weiss, the other author of the chapter, but, again, we do not know.

The prose opens with a story about where the book came from:

The inspiration for the title of this work, “Worlds of Sciencecraft,” came from the popular massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft. This connection arose out of a series of discussions between Restivo and Weisss and only later was crafted as an homage to this title.

The game, to them, raised fundamental questions about humans and human interaction as well as human/nonhuman interaction. From there, the authors claim that they could reconstruct a Whig history of the title choice, for example, retroactively searching for explanations about how sociology is sort of like the Horde or how philosophy was like the Alliance and so on … but this would, as they say, “merely reflections (rationalizations) after the fact.” The book was born of conversation.

The personal tone is understandable in this context — “[t]his book was born in a contentious dialogue between two scholars who stubbornly argued their perspectives and who decided to seek coexistence through this book.” The book is conversational because it is dialogic in origin. But there is a twist. The twist is named Alex. “In the process of writing this book we acquired our own Third in the form of Stingl: in so doing we have managed to per formatively enact the shift from dyadic to triadic interactions, and we are richer for it.”

The level of self-reflective meta-reflexivity employed might engage some readers but it will no doubt frustrate others — it is honest, but it is also navel-gazing. Scholars no doubt are familiar with long discussions about reflexivity in STS — best handled by Ashmore early on (The Reflexivity Thesis) or Lynch’s reflections on reflexivity in 2000 (Against Reflexivity as an Academic Virtue and Source of Privileged Knowledge) or maybe even our recent paper about infra-reflexivity (Beware of Allies! Notes on Analytical Hygiene in Actor-Network Account-making).

After summarizing the basic aim of the book, namely, conceptualizing ideas about bodies, minds, and interaction beyond business-as-usual in sociology, philosophy, and STS, the self-reflexive discussion re-commences:

[t]his book emerges at the intersection of three different biographies, three different intellectual paths, three different educational and training regimens, and two generational trajectories … If you understand that our intersection is also the intersection of a postmodern moment, an inflection point, a cusp characterized by a movement from old to new cultural and epistemic regimes you will be better prepared for the journey you are about to embark on. In this liminal age, we have mustered all of the resources we have at our disposal to get a glimpse of what lies ahead in the post-liminal age. … This book is the story of three thinkers in search of a way out of the liminal trap, trying to find our way to some light at the end of the postmodern tunnel.

Thus, if you are “on board” for a personalized journey and some gilded language, then this is the book for you. As we shall see, things get better from here …

On (reading) the Inquiry into Modes of Existence

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There is a book that I try to read for weeks now. I always read a few pages, then put it back, pick it up again, read, shake my head and put it down again. You would probably not believe it, but this book is Bruno Latour´s “An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. An Anthropology of the Moderns”.

For those who have not touched AIME yet, Latour´s “new” book is not just a book, it is a book + website + collective inquiry, funded by the European Research Council and run by Science Po´s Media Lab. The printed version, the text, is supposed to be mainly a manual, not the report itself. The collective inquiry started somewhere in 2012, being first introduced at Azim Premji University some time before the french publication of the book in September 2012 and the launch of the platform in November 2012. Anglophone readers could join after the publication of Cathrine Porters translation in August 2013, a german translation by Gustav Roßler will be published this July. The project itself, maybe best described in a short piece published in Social Studies of Science, is what could be called a positive version of the, well, negative points made in “We have never been modern”. It is — finally — tackling a problem that accompanied actor-network theory since its beginnings (or at least: since its first movements outside the lab): If everything is made from networks, and “Nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else”: how to deal with what the moderns have called the differences of regions, spheres, fields, systems like science, law, politics, religion, organization? How can we flatten our approach without loosing our ability to account for the only kind of multiplicity that modernity has accepted, but continuously misunderstood as domains of knowledge? And what do to with what modernity has positioned at the source of knowledge — the self — or its object — matter?

Latour does that — Whitehead, Souriau, James and Tarde in his backpack and ready to dismiss the “Greimas” part of the “ANT is part Garfinkel, part Greimas” definition — by trying to sketch what he calls, borrowing a term from Souriau, “modes of existence”. Like the “regimes of enunciation” that populated earlier writings, especially those on religion and law and that have the same problem as Greimas’ actants, namely that they invoke a textual, discursive, narrative interpretation of what is at stake, modes of existence try to capture what “passes” through the various heterogenous networks that ANT had described. But of course, as in the case of science, the modes are not domains. There is more than passing reference in laboratories and more than politics in parliaments and more than religion in churches. The modes are the multiple forms of being, not essences — or, in Latour´s words, not being-as-being, but being-as-others — that populate the lab, the church, the parliament and that the moderns have crossed specifically and confused with the values they hold dear. The question that runs through the book is: can we find ways to speak with the moderns about what they hold dear without falling back into the traps that the modern constitution has put all over the landscape: the bifurcation of nature, the subject/object distinction, the crossed out god(s)?

As a long time reader of Latour´s work, I find the book both tempting and troubling, making be shift continuously between agreement and the feeling that something is terribly wrong with it. And since the moment I started reading the book, I am trying to find out what it is that produces that oscillation. I first thought it was the tone: the book is written in a very careful and modest, but at the same time educational, sometimes even cavalier style. But the tone, although puzzling at first, surprisingly funny after a few chapters. Then I thought it was the system of 15 modes and I felt the terror of reification and loosing not only the Greimas, but also the Garfinkel side. But no, that is not really the problem, as the inquiry is explicitly provisional. But the feeling that something is wrong remains. My current guess is that it has to do with the both too broad and too narrow definition of “the moderns”: what is said about religion is mostly about catholic christianity; what is said about law is mostly about discretionary adjudication, a very specific form of dealing with legal means in the Conseil D´Etat. The Moderns are at the same time “us”, “rich westerners”, “white moderns” and a species long gong. I guess expect more sensitivity and caution from something that calls itself anthropology. But I am still not sure that is source of my problem reading this book. Have you read it? Are your experiences similar? Thoughts?

 

It is in contemplating the impossible that one distinguishes advancing from declining societies.

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China Daily has reported that China is planning to build a high-speed rail from China to the United States.

A tunnel from the Bering Straits to Alaska under the Pacific Ocean is the proposal.

If the Channel Tunnel is a “Chunnel” (the 50.5-kilometre rail tunnel linking the United Kingdom, with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais, near Calais in northern France, beneath the English Channel), then is this is this Ocean Tunnel … an “Oceannel” of maybe Oceaunnel”?

Chinese Constitutional Politics

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The video recording of the conference, China-Constitution-Politics, is now available for accessing via mediasite. I was involved in the PM discussion; I reviewed Dr. Larry Backer and graduate student Karen Wang‘s paper “THE EMERGING STRUCTURES OF SOCIALIST CONSTITUTIONALISM WITH CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS: EXTRA-JUDICIAL DETENTION (LAOJIAO AND SHUANGGUI) AND THE CHINESE CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER” which is soon coming out in Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal; the AM session considered Zhiwei Tong (童之伟) and his new work “Two Issues.”

RECORDINGS: Entire Conference HERE: AM Session HERE: PM Session HERE.

The original schedule is here:

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Google Glass Goes Public: Not Exactly A Revolution

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Stef’s piece on “seeing” targets of drone strikes (as well as the metaphorical infrastructure that holds some of those practices together), along with some other posts are about seeing like a military, I cannot resist but to share this piece on google glass failing miserably. Marcus Wohlsome writes about it for WIRED magazine; also, if you recall, Mat Honan wrote a great piece before the end of last year, “I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass, which was a fun read too; still, some of you will remember Stef’s post about wearable technology and empathy for the other, if only because of its attention on “Glance,” which is an app for google glass (or smart phones) to observe you having sex with other people while they observe themselves having sex with you.

On the topic of google glass and its public sales: CBS reports that reception from the public was “cool” at best (and not the cool kind of “cool” either); the spin at USA today is that google glass “sold out” (so long as you only count the sales of white rimmed google glass, although there is a nice irony in using “sold out” there); and, of course, chief of overstaters these days (what has happened to this previously decent news source!) CNN reports that this is the dawn of a new age in wearable technology, hallelujah! (although, admittedly, it is on the opinion page … how couldn’t it be.) Still, the CNN piece is more interesting that it might appear at first blush. For example, it reports on a dress that becomes transparent when the “user” is aroused … using this might be a tough reality check for some folks.

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Critical Infrastructure and Climate Change

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Sometimes things juxtapose themselves. Dmfant wrote a reply about a terrific piece now available on-line, free, as an mp3. Backdoor Broadcasting Company’s academic broadcasts currently host access to the file, which is from:

The Political Life of Things: A One Day Workshop at The Imperial War Museum, London, UK; Nick Vaughan-Williams (Warwick) & Tom Lundborg (Swedish Institute of International Affairs): There’s More to Life than Biopolitics: Critical Infrastructure, Resilience Planning, and Molecular Security

The piece is about critical, self-healing infrastructure, and, of course, require this discussion requires significant use of the “human/non-human” distinction, if only to dash them to bits. Well, while this piece is years old, Dmfant just posted it in response to a previous post about an upcoming event.

There is a piece in the New York Times today about the third time that world scientists united in order to provide a broad response to the public about the realities of climate change. How these two pieces appear to be linked together so nicely is a claim made Tom LUndborg about how the linguistic turn in political philosophy has distracted us, on the whole, from the “social” concern over materiality and a full-fledged research base of studies on infrastructure. Tom goes further, though, claiming that the linguistic turn has made it much more difficult to be fully critical as theorists or, conceivably, as government agencies or even public citizens to take the next step … although, that is where the radio show ends.

PACITA’s 2nd European TA Conference

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PACITA’s 2nd European TA Conference

The overall aim of the conference is to take stock of and support the exchange on TA capacities throughout Europe. Following the successful meeting of researchers, TA practitioners, policy makers and civil society organizations at the 1st European TA Conference in Prague in March 2013 we look forward to continuing the fruitful discussions and networking at the 2nd European TA Conference in Berlin. The Conference is organized within the framework of the four-year FP7 project PACITA (“Parliaments and Civil Society in Technology Assessment”). Generally, the PACITA project and the Conference define “Technology Assessment” in a broad sense. TA comprises methods, practices and institutions for knowledge based policy making on issues involving science, technology and innovation, including TA-related fields such as Foresight, Science and Technology Studies (STS) and research on Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects (ELSA) of science and technology.

We submitted and we’ll let you know if we get a spot (along with some invitations).

Here is our submission:

Session Title: The State as a Concept In Practice

If it is necessary to reflect upon concepts that support democratic problem solving and decision making, then no concept is more important or central to this aim than “the state.” Over the last decade, scholars in science and technology studies (STS) have developed an innovative and useful model for understanding the state. In particular, they show how the state is an academic concept — a theory, to be specific — that is used routinely in the everyday practices of contemporary Continue reading

Presentation and Roundtable: Jan-Hendrik Passoth and Nicholas Rowland on “The Possibility & Contours of State Multiplicity: Preliminary Findings”

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Jan and I recently gave a talk at the School for International Affairs in the Law School at The Pennsylvania State University, which is available HERE.

The presentation, “The Possibilities and Contours of State Multiplicity: Preliminary Findings”, featured Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technische Universität Berlin), Nicholas Rowland (Penn State University) presenting their latest research work on state theory, and Larry Catá Backer (Penn State) as discussant.  The conference was recorded and all are welcome to watch and comment, engage.

Description of the talk:

For at least 100 years, scholars in law, political science, philosophy, international relations, and various branches of sociology have asked: What is the state? And, for at least as long, answers to that question have commonly taken the form of a petty and seemingly endless game of conceptual one-upsmanship. An alternative direction exists from the small world of science and technology studies. State multiplicity. The shift toward seeing “the state” as multiple implies that we understand the state to be, convincingly, both one thing and many things simultaneously. In this talk we draw on more than 100 years of research on the state to document the possibility state multiplicity and then we hazard a few tentative and counter-intuitive conclusions based on our preliminary findings.

 

The Passoth-Rowland Presentation and Roundtable may be viewed HERE (via mediasite) or on Penn State Law’s Multimedia Page.  It may also be accessed through the Coalition for Peace & Ethics Website: HERE.

Continue reading

Kyle McGee’s ‘Bruno Latour: The Normativity of Networks’

Thanks a lot to Philip for pointing us to Klye McGee´s new book, and especially to the three pieces on the AIME website:

There are three extracts from the book on the AIME website (registration required):
The co-presence of [pol] and [law]
The ontology of lawyer jokes
Legal reasoning as de-stratification

I am so looking forward to checking the book out. Or maybe i just wait for a review on: Circling Squares: Kyle McGee’s ‘Bruno Latour: The Normativity of Networks’.

Guest blogger: Endre Dányi for one time only

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Long time blog readers, you may recall that Endre was a guest blogger for us doing a great, great series on Parliaments (6 parts in all, count them, one, two, three, four, five, and six!). Looking back, the six posts make a nice collection.

He has been keeping busy lately in a project that was featured on the EASST website (for his collaborative work on “Mattering Press: New forms of care for STS books.”).

He will join us again for a blog post specifically about mattering press and perhaps tell us a little about a talk he recently did about open-access and samizdat.

As Endre told me:

The term ‘samizdat’, coined by the Russian poet Nikolai Glazkov in the early 1950s, means self-publishing and refers to both the various processes of producing texts unauthorised by the state, and the outcomes of those processes: mostly literary and political writings that could not have appeared in official periodicals.

Image from: http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BiIbVQSIYAAICQb.jpg

Surveillance Infrastructure Novel

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As weird as it sounds, that’s what “The Watchers” is, but it is also written by Shane Harris who has something of an academic/journalistic background, which the subtitle “The rise of the American surveillance state” clarifies.

The concept developed, the surveillance state, is not really developed for use in theory, but it does seem to have applications for the general public as a (new) way to think about these issues (that Foucault cued us to long ago). Likewise, the book is written in a novelistic style even though it is based largely (if not entirely) on first-hand accounts from people Harris has interviewed. Makes for an interesting discussion: is it worth using the novel format to learn empirical truths about the state, or does the style/format reduce the “weight” of the argument?

I don’t know, but the more our ideas here get in congress with dmfant’s, I wonder if “more useful” is not always better provided “still true” is the baseline.

Non-human persons are among us

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The dodo-community has a blog that utilizes some concepts we are generally interested in on the blog, for example, non-human. Check it out.

Some of the links are pretty incredible, like dolphin stampedes and so on. At any rate, it is an interesting source that I was not aware of. Might be more exciting or interesting if there was a more academic focus (that is, specifically interesting to me as an academic), but some of these issues, like the protection of animals, would suffer from a pedantic streak …

Legos Shutting-Down Gender Criticism?

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Girls, Blox, Bricks, and “Childhood Engineering”: We’ve written about the new craze for Goldiblox a bunch of times recently (here, here, and here), now that that young engineer from Stanford has formally “launched” the product. Legos appear to be joining the battle-cry … or they also might have started it (well, they seem to claim as much).

Here is some recent text I’ve been seeing all-over discussions about gender and, let’s say, “childhood engineering” (its a WYSK EXCLUSIVE — but seems to be difficult to load the stuff right now … not sure why). Here is the text, and above is the original picture:

“In 1981,” explains Giordano, “LEGOs were ‘Universal Building Sets’ and that’s exactly what they were…for boys and girls. Toys are supposed to foster creativity. But nowadays, it seems that a lot more toys already have messages built into them before a child even opens the pink or blue package. In 1981, LEGOs were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it’s the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender.”

Not sure if Legos has seized this little tid-bit trying to shut it down, and that explains why it is down, or perhaps the traffic to it is too high (though that seems unlikely, at best). Here is the piece, at least as I can see it from my facebook:

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If you can find it, check out the commentary. You could save this and write a modest piece in STS or even have students analyze the responses in an activity about gender and engineering…

 

Teaching the Public Understanding of Science with Ancient Aliens

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I have had unprecedented success with a new lesson in STS and I thought I’d share it with you all on the blog. NOTE: I’ve also got a sheet that can be used for students to follow along and it provides some questions to orient discussion after viewing (if you’d like it, it is like some others I’ve shared, for example, related to the “King of Kong” as an easy way to teach students about the scientific community and philosophy of science or a handout used to teach students about controversies in science through a documentary on intelligent design). So, every semester, the chapters on the “public understanding of science” in Sismondo’s introductory text end-up being sort of boring to students.

However, working with a student over the last year, we found another way to “get at” the information. Instead of dealing directly with some of the issues associated with the public and science through the typical lens of “understanding,” we look for the public and science through another lens, that of “misunderstanding,” in this case about what is and is not science.

Enter: Ancient Alien Theorists!

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Ancient Aliens” is a series on the History Channel, self-described as:

Ancient Aliens explores the controversial theory that extraterrestrials have visited Earth for millions of years. From the age of the dinosaurs to ancient Egypt, from early cave drawings to continued mass sightings in the US, each episode in this hit H2 series gives historic depth to the questions, speculations, provocative controversies, first-hand accounts and grounded theories surrounding this age old debate.

In class, we just watch one episode, and it has been an incredible source of discussion ever since. During Season One, the fourth episode (which is just perfect for this lesson) is called “The Visitors.” Here is the summary:

If ancient aliens visited Earth, who were they, and where did they come from? Possible historic evidence and beliefs are examined around the world. The Dogon people possess knowledge of a galaxy they claim was given to them by a star god named Amma. The Hopi and Zuni people celebrate Kachinas, gods from the sky, whose headdresses and costumes appear to resemble modern helmets and protective clothing. Halfway around the world, Chinese legends tell of the Han leader, Huangdi, arriving on Earth on a flying, yellow dragon. Was this dragon more likely a spacecraft? Ancient astronaut theorists believe that these are far from chance encounters and that extraterrestrials not only interacted with us, but changed the course of human history.

The key is to ask questions after viewing like:

1. How do these “theorists” use the tools, rhetoric, and, thus, credibility of science to launch their claims?

2. What statements might be made or what portrayals do you see that link ancient aliens to the scientific enterprise? 

After we watched this, understanding how the presentation of scientific ideas (in this case, non-science), the students have literally no trouble dealing with Sismondo’s chapter, which features the deficit model of public understanding and the presentation of science and the scientific enterprise by journalists. The real joy, though, comes when Sismondo starts to discuss how some scientists short-cut the journalism process and go to the public directly — often, out of desperation (enter, again: Ancient Alien Theorists!)

Again, write me if you’d like a copy of the sheet or to discuss the teaching idea.

Images from: http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Aliens-Season-One/dp/B0038M2AWI

A new direction in political sociology?

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These are the proofs for a new paper/article that I’m working on. The piece is based-off of a few new books in political sociology, which I review, tie-together, and then admittedly and self-servingly I use them to suggest that a little STS would help matters out in political sociology. It is a bit academic in places, somewhat nit-picky, but I tried to keep the tone at least a little playful.

Andrew Barry and the Function of Transparency

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A lesson in the function of transparency: In Andrew Barry’s masterful new book Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline he goes to great lengths to consider how “transparency” is employed, in this case, the voluntary pursuit of transparency as a means to rationally improve the experience of oil companies as they pursue transnational oil pipelines (for Barry, it is the BTC).

The basic rationale is simple. Instead of dealing with complaints, usually about environmental concerns (i.e., endangered species, etc.) or issue of public interest (i.e., land rights, etc.), the firm could offset those concerns, thus, front-loading as a means of obviating them completely from the process if only they could be transparent enough and maximize front-end accountability. As he writes, his expectation, which was consistent with the expectations of oil company elites at BP, was that:

transparency might … foster informed and rational debate while limiting the scope and intensity of controversy (182)

The manifest function of transparency appears to be an outward attempt to improve the public appearance of accountability and to intentionally limit or reduce the controversy downstream. This seems fully logical: transparency is a means to reduce controversy; to rationalize a process to the point that it appears that everyone is consenting after the fact. Such a logic is, for nearly anybody under the thumb of transparency, assessment, and accountability measures and measurements, something to concern yourself with; that transparency of assessment suffocates the hard discussions rather than engaging or enlivening them.

However, transparency has a latent function too; a function that is cause for hope. Barry warns us:

while limiting the scope and intensity of controversy [is anticipated], this does not occur as anticipated. For as the case of BTC demonstrates, the production of information — in the form of the evolving archive [the host for all matters transparent at BP regard the BTC] — had the effect of multiplying the surfaces on which disagreements can incubate and flourish (182).

Now, there are host of other arguments of vast utility in this wonderful book, but this one sticks out because of recent discussions about assessment, accountability, and transparency in higher education. What Barry makes nakedly plain is that transparency is really a process of deciding what to make present (i.e.,public and transparent) and what to make absent (i.e., not public or transparent, but not identified as meaningful un-present). Thus, transparency is not a thing; it is a (strategic) process of showing and telling as well as hiding and obscuring. However, the hope that shines through — and I am hopeful about this — is that the real solution is right there, in front of us, if know how to look for it. The key is to see assessment and transparency as processes and engage them so that you see them as a whole because only when taken-together will the absences be apparent, and it is with these absences that we might multiple the much needed discussion and discourse surrounding the transparency, accountability, and assessment that so often impose themselves on our contemporary work lives.

Actually doing something with sociology

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Making New York a better place through sociology? Apparently, it can be done. In 1975, Fred Kent (a former student of the wonderful W. Whyte) created Project for Public Spaces. His job? Take time-lapse films of public urban spaces with an eye to improve them. Better than any theory would be massive amounts of data. After all, rather than over-generalize Putnam’s “bowling alone” or agree too hastily with Turkle’s “alone together” thesis, he might be able to just study a spot and improve it with data and experimentation.

Kent challenges Turkle, in particular, stating that her sometimes casual observations about connection are simply no replacement for time-stamped, time-lapse data on human interaction. What’s missing, he says, is historical perspective. To avoid nostalgia for the past and the inevitable retrospective bias and attribution errors as we “remember” the past, we just need data and rigor.

Kent found some of Whyte’s old footage with an eye to recreate the research to achieve a time-place-specific reproduction for sake of comparison. Here is what he found:

… mobile-phone use, which Hampton defined to include texting and using apps, was much lower than he expected. On the steps of the Met, only 3 percent of adults captured in all the samples were on their phones.

People may decry human disconnect, but, according to Kent, 3% does not make sense as a rough count for the social armageddon that we are supposedly heading toward thanks to too much texting. Instead, he research reveals that people are more public, that is, they hang-out in public more than they did during the previously captured time period that Whyte recorded. Kent also noticed one big change: more women, many more of them. As he (nicely) puts it:

Across the board, Hampton found that the story of public spaces in the last 30 years has not been aloneness, or digital distraction, but gender equity. “I mean, who would’ve thought that, in America, 30 years ago, women were not in public the same way they are now?” Hampton said. “We don’t think about that.”

See NYT story about all this here.

Politics of the naked body vs. the Body Politic

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In this fascinating post, Andrzej Nowak, our friend and guest blogger for Installing Order, tackles a fascinating case of last resort for marginalized populations — the nakedness of their own bodies as a form of personal suffering and political protest. –Nicholas

Western feminism, especially connected liberal view is often quite paternalistic, when is speaking about women from Third World. Africa nations are our best example where colonial and post-colonial myths are still quite strong.

In particular, I would like to propose a short trip to West Africa. I am interest in very particular phenomenon – when naked body can be used as a tool of political action.

This phenomenon is sometimes called Anasyrma with reference to antic Greeks. But for me here more interesting is political use of so called “curse of nakedness”. Exposing of women naked body is, in West Africa, a strong political weapon, which can be used as a way to change course of politics.

It is interesting how body politic can literally be created out of naked bodies. Let’s look a little closer, what is this phenomenon:

We all come into the world through the vagina. By exposing the vagina, the women are saying: ‘We are hereby taking back the life we gave you,'” Turner says. “It’s about bringing forth life and denying life through social ostracism, which is a kind of social execution. Men who are exposed are viewed as dead. No one will cook for them, marry them, enter into any kind of contract with them or buy anything from them.

Very traditional cultural custom “Curse of nakedness” is often used as a  tool for political and economic  emancipation.

One of the best know example is a mobilization of women against Charles Taylor dictator of Nigeria. More details about this, You can find in this movie:

Other example is protest of Nigerian women against petrol companies in delta of Niger: 

And another example from Ivory Coast, when political women bodies meet body politic with deadly result:

Empathy for the Other through wearable tech?

My last post in December was a reflection on technology and politics.  How can we understand the connections between technology and politics, especially given that technology is generally understood as a tool of humans—either neutral as a mirror to our desires and interests, or as evil and uncontrollable progeny of humans as Creator? Think of the Cylons, Skynet, or Arnie as the Terminator. If politics and technology become entangled and rife with ethical issues and ontological angst at multiple levels what about bodies and technology?  What I think of as the “materiality of technology” is another topic that is buzzing through the webs this month….

Two things caught my attention along these lines: Oculus Rift and Google Glass.  Of course, neither of these wearable VR and computer platform, respectively, are new this month, but there has been some heavy rotation on the interwebs.  I guess I could add that I suspect the new Spike Jonze film “Her” has brought quite a few of the underlying issues about technology and our relations with technology to the surface.  Sexuality and intimacy and how they are enhanced or stymied by our tech are always top concerns.  Rightly so, of course, as more often than not plain old low (or old) technology comes along with them: misogyny, racism, sexism, criminality, etc. More broadly, the discussion in the case of “Her” has centered on our need to sexualize technology, to “weirdly” sexualize: is it “homage to form” when we assign inanimate objects gender stereotypes–as Isha Aran points out in her Jezebel essay–or a more disturbing and continuing desire to objectify and create subservient subjectivity for women?

Somewhat counterintuitively, I think that the two products above incorporate a need to both remove material barriers to our technology while creating new ways to materialize, or sexualize, this technology.  Ultimately, it may be more about sensualizing our experiences with technology, not necessarily sexualizing them.  They seem to represent a deep desire to remove “things” from between our bodies and our computers and information (mouse control, monitors, keyboards—ways of externally interacting with computers) with intuitive body controls. Think Robert Downey Jr. in Ironman (watch this) or Tom Cruise in Minority Report (2002). The drive is to interact with our information in radical new ways–in ways that mimic how we manipulate “things” in the world.

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Minority Report (2002) 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks Pictures (Remember how this movie blew our minds?  Especially when we found out that this was all kinda old tech?  And now we don’t need those silly gloves.)

This is added to an anxiety that technology is altering or complicating or potentially harming our relationships with others and ourselves.  While we want technology to operate seamlessly, we are wary of its possible pernicious effects.  This is not necessarily unfounded from a bodily point of view.  We are mammals; we need contact with other mammals to mature correctly and to be happy and healthy. Babies need skin-to-skin contact and the elderly who live with a partner, or dogs and cats, tend to live longer than those who live alone. This is not necessarily reductionist thinking, just a biological understanding of limbic connections. Ultimately, we are pack animals. Playing WoW all night and day might be unhealthy for lots of reasons—many of which aren’t necessarily the fault of technology.  Isolationist behavior in any form tends to be damaging if taken to an extreme.  This brings up the other reason I chose these two examples: another impulse that wants to use this wearable tech and less interface to share and swap experiences with others for greater understanding of perspectives other than our own.  To be able to see into the pot and past the steam, as Wittgenstein wrote, of another’s mysterious inner world.

More specifically, I want to discuss two applications of Google Glass and Oculus Rift, and in one case, a hack of these two pieces of technology. Let’s return to firstly to Google Glass.  These are wearable google interfaces to simplify your interaction with information and devices; they are wearable smartphones.  They allow a user to move away from a screen and use the technology without breaking contact with the “real” world.

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Sex with Google Glass is a recent app created that allows the wearer to watch and record sex from various angles.The wearer can also sync the glasses with lighting, music and to the Kama Sutra for “ideas”, for example.  It is private and all recordings are deleted after five hours.  Although Google has a strict anti-porn standing, this isn’t exactly watching porn–it’s sharing in its creation, perhaps? Sex with Glass can also allow couples to trade places and see what the other is experiencing.

This brings us  to Oculus Rift.  These are virtual reality goggles, originally funded through Kickstarter, and just out with the “Crystal Cove” prototype.  This prototype is the latest in immersive gaming and virtual experiences.

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BeAnother Lab is using the Rift to allow users to experience what it’s like to swap gendersto investigate embodiment, and issues like “Gender Identity, Queer Theory, feminist technoscience, Intimacy and Mutual Respect.” This is part of the The Machine to Be Another Project.  From the website:

More than individuals, we are part of a social collective called humanity. As members of this collective, the perception of our own identity is based on our relation with other people and our social environment: how people see us, how we do act and interact with them, and what self image we project to this society and to ourselves. As part of this collective society, it is clear the importance of understanding the ‘Other’ and ‘Each Other’ to better understand ourselves. This artistic investigation plans to use the recent neuroscience approach of ‘embodiment’ and apply it to investigate the perception and comprehension about the Self based on the comprehension of the “Other”.

While I am not enough of a tech follower to have an educated opinion on the specs and lifespan of these platforms,  what I find most intriguing are these examples of the application of these products.  They seem to be highlighting the desire to be able to experience what another sees and feels; to see through their eyes.  This is an interesting empathic impulse for tech and one that bears further watching and investigation.  If technology is never neutral, as I argued, in the last post, what are the opportunities we have for freedom and ethics within this medium?  If the medium is the message, how do these applications transform the material world?

For those thinking about “ding politik”…next time… the Internet of Things. A future where everything will have an IP.

Latour´s Cosmocolosse. A project of Gaia Global Circus

I am just listening to the german translation of the radio version of Latour´s first play “Cosmocolosse. A project of Gaia Global Circus (written with Frédérique Ait-Touati & Chloé Latour) that was just released in December. I remember that Paul Edwards told me about this being work in progress last summer – and it seems there is no english translation that you can listen to. But the text is available…and reading (to cite Niklas Luhmann´s comment on why he had no TV set) is much faster than listening or watching.

Easing Sociology into the Non-Modern World?

In a recent post on “Understanding Society”, Daniel Little discussed some recent development in the philosophy of social science: Analytic Sociology, Critical Realism and Actor-Network Theory. Here is how it goes:

Understanding Society: How do the poles of current PSS interact?

Start with a few resonances between ANT and CR. Both are grounded in a philosophical system (Deleuze, Kant), and they both make use of philosophical arguments to arrive at substantive conclusions. (…) But a point of contrast is pervasive: CR is realist, and ANT is constructionist.

(…) The anti-philosophical bent of AS makes it difficult for AS scholars to read and benefit from the writings of ANT scholars (witness, for example, Hedstrom’s dismissal of Bourdieu). The model of explanation that is presupposed by AS — demonstration of how higher-level entities are given their properties by the intentional actions of individuals — is explicitly rejected by ANT. (…)

Finally, what about the relation between AS and CR? On the issue of causation there is a degree of separation — AS favors causal mechanisms, preferably grounded in the level of individuals, whereas CR favors causal powers at all levels. (…) But here there is perhaps room for a degree of accommodation, if CR scholars can be persuaded of the idea of relative explanatory autonomy advocated elsewhere here.

via Understanding Society: How do the poles of current PSS interact?.

Somehow I felt a bit like I was suddenly in an academic version of an episode of Doctor Who, jumping back in time, stranded in 1992. In a paper that came out in parallel to the well know “Chicken Debate” (Collins/Yearly 1992; Latour/Callon 1992), but that was burried in a edited volume (McMullin 1992), Latour moved ANT explicitly away from what until then was called the “Social Studies of Science” and towards a framework to deal with the moderns. He wrote:

“A radical is someone who claims that scientific knowledge is entirely constructed ‘out of’ social relations; a progressist is someone who would say that it is ‘partially’ constructed out of social relations but that nature somehow ‘leaks in’ at the end. (…) a reactionary is someone who would claim science becomes really scientific only when it finally sheds any trace of social construction; while a conservative would say that although science escapes from society there are still factors from society that ‘leak in’ and influence its developmentIn the middle, would be the marsh of wishy-washy scholars who add a little bit of nature to a little bit of society and shun the two extremes.(…)” (Latour 1992: 277)

And then concludes:

“If one goes from left to right then one has to be a social constructivist; if, on the contrary, one goes from right to left, then one has to be a closet realist.  (…) It is fun to play but after twenty years of it we might shift to other games (…)”

Hmmm. Maybe it is not Doctor Who, maybe it is Groundhog Day and we are just waking up again at 6:00 to the voices of Sonny and Cher. Do we really have to have the same debate again, now not in the philosophy of science but the philosophy of social science? Maybe there is a reason to do that – after all, Phil Connors has to repeat his morning routine over and over again until he starts making himself a better man and finally finds a way to love and happiness. After all, Little does indeed think it is important to add “ANT to the menu for the philosophy of social science, at least as a condiment if not the main course” and there are others in that field today that share his opinion. Maybe if we don´t discuss those issues again and try to work diplomatically with the moderns (in this case: AS and CR…) on what they value most, we are selfish and grumpy fools – like the character that Bill Murray played so beautifully. But it is not tempting to know that the sound of “I got you babe” will be with us for a while. Is there a way out? A shortcut? A “shift to other games”?

Limn (4) on Food Infrastructures

Limn (“Limn is somewhere between a scholarly journal and an art magazine”), edited by Stephen J. Collier, Christoffer M. Kelty and Andrew Lakoff, just published its fourth issue on food infrastructures. Here is the opener, check it out:

Issue Number Four: Food Infrastructures

edited by Mikko Jauho, David Schleifer, Bart Penders and Xaq Frohlich
This issue of Limn analyzes food infrastructures and addresses scale in food production, provision, and consumption. We go beyond the tendency towards simple producer “push” or consumer “pull” accounts of the food system, focusing instead on the work that connects producers to consumers. By describing and analyzing food infrastructures, our contributors examine the reciprocal relationships among consumer choice, personal use, and the socio-material arrangements that enable, channel, and constrain our everyday food options.

With articles by Christopher Otter, Franck Cochoy, Sophie Dubuissson-Quellier,  Susanne Freidberg, Heather Paxson, Emily Yates-Doerr, Mikko Jauho, Kim Hendrickx, Bart Penders and Steven Flipse, Xaq Frohlich, David Schleifer and Alison Fairbrother, Javier Lezaun, Michael G. Powell, Makalé Faber-Cullen and Anna Lappé!

via Issue Number Four: Food Infrastructures | Limn.

Integrate the social sciences and humanities?

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One of the Horizon 2020 grand challenges for research and innovation is precisely that: Integrate the social science and humanities.

The value and benefits of integrating Social Sciences and Humanities
European Social Sciences and Humanities are world class, especially considering their diversity. They are indispensible in generating knowledge about the dynamic changes in human values, identities and citizenship that transform our societies. They are engaged in research, design and transfer of practical solutions for a better and sustainable functioning of democracy. Their integration into Horizon 2020 offers a unique opportunity to broaden our understanding of innovation, realigning science with ongoing changes in the ways in which society operates.


1. Innovation is a matter of change in organisations and institutions as well as technologies. It is driven not only by technological advances, but also by societal expectations, values and demands. Making use of the wide range of knowledge, capabilities, skills and experiences readily available in SSH will enable innovation to become embedded in society and is necessary to realise the policy aims predefined in the “Societal Challenges”

2. Fostering the reflective capacity of society is crucial for sustaining a vital democracy. This can be achieved through innovative participatory approaches, empowering European citizens in diverse arenas, be it through participation as consumers in the marketplace, as producers of culture, as agents in endangered environments, and/or as voters in European democracies.

3. Policy-making and research policy have much to gain from SSH knowledge and methodologies. The latter lead to new perspectives on identifying and tackling societal problems. SSH can be instrumental in bringing societal values and scientific evaluation into closer convergence.

4. Drawing on Europe’s most precious cultural assets, SSH play a vital role in redefining Europe in a globalising world and enhancing its attractiveness.

5. Pluralistic SSH thinking is a precious resource for all of Europe’s future research and innovation trajectories, if it can be genuinely integrated. H2020 offers this opportunity for the first time.


Conditions for the successful integration of Social Sciences and Humanities into Horizon 2020

7. Recognising knowledge diversity: Solving the most pressing societal challenges requires the appropriate inclusion of SSH. This can only succeed on a basis of mutual intellectual and professional respect and in genuine partnership. Efficient integration will require novel ways of defining research problems, aligned with an appropriate array of interdisciplinary methods and theoretical approaches. SSH approaches continue to foster practical applications that enhance the effectiveness of technical solutions.

8. Collaborating effectively: The working conditions of all research partners must be carefully considered from the beginning and appropriately aligned to set up efficient collaboration across different disciplines and research fields. This includes adequate organisational and infrastructural arrangements, as well as ties to other stakeholders in civil society and business. Budgetary provisions must be appropriate to achieve this goal.

9. Fostering interdisciplinary training and research: Integrating SSH with the natural and technical sciences must begin with fitting approaches in post-graduate education and training. Innovative curricula foster a deepened understanding of the value of different disciplinary approaches, and how they relate to real world problems.

10. Connecting social values and research evaluation: Policy-makers rightly insist that the impact of publicly funded research and its benefits for society and the economy should be assessed. Accurate research evaluation that values the breadth of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches is required to tackle the most pressing societal challenges.

Abandoned Places

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Abandoned places. Stunning visuals.

I am of the mind that abandoned places have something, analytically, to contribute to infrastructure studies. Once you click the link, you’ll see that the producers of this compilation (not sure how many pictures are truly “there’s”) suggest with the opening lines that this is something about what the entire world would like without people, which is sort of a pseudo-apocalyptic comment on global warming, the end of days, and curiosity about “a world without people” (anymore — or this documentary about life after people). The first lines read:

These real life ruins offer an eerie glimpse into a world without humans. Their dark walls inspire a sense of wonder like I’ve never felt before.

This should surprise no one. Perhaps the thought experiment is a good one for students, but generally thoughtful people don’t have to let their minds wander/wonder too far to know what a world without people would look like as our infrastructures remain slowly giving way to the elements.

What else might infrastructural relics like these tell us? Surely, it is fair to say that they would teach us something new every time we returned to them. However, one of the points that these might tell us, which archeologists and anthropologists have claimed for more than a century (and quite longer, I would guess), is that infrastructural remains indicate more than just “people” were here. Many of these remains (pictured above) are not ancient, either, so we don’t need to impose meanings on where these structures came from or how they were used in antiquity. These are contemporary ruins that sit precariously alongside “life as we know it” now. The point? Some, but not all, are state projects, meaning, of course, real people on the ground ultimately produced the structures that “remain,” but the attributional source of the work is a non-human entity called “the state” … these are pieces of evidence that the state exists somewhere, somehow. How to harness that insight for state theory would be a great bridge to infrastructure studies (and infrastructural relics might also be a nice play on literature for infrastructure studies that would sort of be like the relationship between STS and disaster studies, although, there is something really nice about a slow decay as compared to a momentary boom found in most disaster studies — exceptions, of course, exist).

Teaching STS: Teaching that time does not exist

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Times does not exist. At least, we think time does not exist.

According to Ferenc Krausz at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, time is unlikely real.

Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality.

Check out the original Discovery reading here. It is an easy read and would do well if presented students in-class to read on-the-spot and then immediately discuss it. It has worked well for me to get at issues of “reality” in a surprisingly concrete way. Admittedly, this might seem like a no-brainer for long-time friends of social constructivism. Still, time is generally a great concept for an STS class, especially issues of “standards” and so on. We’ve discussed it once before on the blog here.

One of the comments is particularly nice for students to chew on:

This article was written in 2007, and I am responding to it and commenting on it in 2013. Why? Because “time” doesnt exist.

Also, of interest: notice that you have to raise time as real to tear it down as not real, signifying the significance of real-time for understanding the un-realness of time.

Andrzej W. Nowak on “Ontological Imagination”

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Our colleague and friend Andrzej W. Nowak (see him on academia.edu) from Adam Mickiewicz University (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu) in Poznań, Poland, just put a new paper on-line and it deserves some attention.

His new paper “Ontological imagination: Transcending methodological solipsism and the promise of interdisciplinary studies” is available free here. This let’s the cat out of the bag, so to say, but here goes:

To conclude, without phronetic politics, ontological analyses are only an esoteric game, whereas politics and critical reflection are blind without a posthumanist, historical ontology.

Nice, no? If you don’t know Nowak or his work, we have mentioned him on the blog before with regard to our annual 4S meetings. This year, his talk at 4S with the long title “The fragile life of the state and its ambivalence: from the vaccination commando to the anti-vaccination movement. Merging Actor-Network Theory with World-system Analysis” was outstanding. At one point, the crowd was audibly gasping when Nowak discussed the state as akin to a jar of pickles — see the original slide below and then a follow-up slide where he makes the claim (in person) even more forcibly:

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At any rate, I will post about presentation as part of a series starting in the new year. So, his new paper. Here is his provocative abstract:

This text is a presentation of the notion of ontological imagination. It constitutes an attempt to merge two traditions: critical sociology and science and technology studies – STS (together with the Actor-Network Theory – ANT). By contrasting these two intellectual traditions, I attempt to bring together: a humanist ethical-political sensitivity and a posthumanist ontological insight. My starting point is the premise that contemporary world needs new social ontology and new critical theory based on it in order to overcome the unconsciously adapted, “slice-based” modernist vision of social ontology. I am convinced that we need new ontological frameworks of the social combined with a research disposition which I refer to as ontological imagination.

Andrzej wants nothing more than to slam together, with so much rhetorical force that they fuse, the likes of C. Wright Mills and Bruno ANT Latour. Do accomplish this, he follows the lead of Flyvberg, stating:

My starting assumption is that one of the problems plaguing the contemporary humanities and social sciences is their isolation from social problems (Flyvbjerg 2001: 166). … Today we know that these fictively-traced boundaries of modernity
cannot be upheld (cf. Beck 1992, Feenberg 2010: 181). The ozone hole, anti-vaccination movements, energy security, terrorism and religious revival do not fit simple modernist frames (cf. Latour 2011).

It initially reminded me of Latour’s Politics of Nature (which I reviewed), but as I read on, I am not so sure. In fact, I am now thinking that perhaps Nowak got it better than Latour did.  In the end, Nowak’s “ontological imagination” amounts to this:

The notion of ontological imagination is conceived as multi-faceted, and if one follows Mills and draws and analogy to sociological imagination, at least three main aspects thereof can be listed: methodological, sociological-historical, and moral-political. Let us characterise each of them. The methodological aspect of ontological imagination is, above all, the abandonment of the ideal of science as theory and letting go of the illusions related to humanistic fundamentalism (Abriszewski 2010: 143-157). Using ontological imagination requires noticing the complex network of actors that construct our collective, in accordance with the principle of symmetry, raised by Bruno Latour (Latour 2011). The second aspect consists in the response to the challenge posed by the so-called reflexive modernity and to the fears evoked by technoscience (Nowak 2012). It is the hope that disseminating such sensitivity and cognitive disposition will help to empower groups and individuals in the world of technoscience.

Check out the conclusion for the real push: to be ontologically imaginative will also require us to engage real social problems and perhaps engage in the social change we supposedly only study…

To be, for a moment, critical: The term “ontological imagination” (though sociological in form and function in Andrzej’s use) is not an original term; in fact, this idea has been used elsewhere, for example, in literature, on blogs, in books, and even lectures, often featuring pragmatist thinker William James who, it seems, is not featured in Nowak’s work.

Acting in IR?

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Recently, Jan and I completed a new paper about how the material infrastructure on states (and our actor-network state idea) might figure into contemporary theorizing about international relations. In particular, we are in the process of contributing to a book about the “human element” in IR, and the resulting paper now can be read, but it is only in draft form.

Check out the paper here or here; we do some of our earliest work on “state multiplicity,” play with decentering the human in IR, and we also dabble with non-scholarly state theorizing.

Fixing Peer Review

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This post is about fixing peer review. dmfant, who some of you might know from synthetic_zero, commented on a recent post on the state of STS scholarship, asking:

have you been following: http://www.cplong.org/2013/11/the-peer-review-coordinator-and-the-collegiality-index/ ?

Which is a discussion about making reviewers and reviews public (rather than granting reviewers anonymity). The idea is that we could improve reviewing scholarly work through a process of making it public and creating, in the process, a “reviewer score” for reviewers that would be known, esteemed, and productive. My response was so long, I will post it here for further consideration.

My response was (also, I write as a faculty member and about faculty issues, so it is a bit myopic in that way):

I’ve been critical of peer review for a long time, probably ever since I was “subjected” to it early on in my career. This new approach is not nearly as much of a solution as I think it is being presented as:

First, one of the few things that I like about PR is exactly that it is NOT a game of hierarchy. You might get a reputation with an editor, but that editor will be replaced eventually, so the influence of “being a good researcher” over “being a good reviewer” was primary.

Second, my guess is that this is just something that will further hurt in-coming scholars, meaning, it is precisely newer scholars that will need to be deemed “good reviewers” and it is senior scholars with tenure who are the most free to not care about being deemed a “good reviewer.”

Third, another problem will be: is this yet another thing I have to do in order to get tenure? Again, the young scholar is held to a higher standard than the senior scholars that will oversee their tenure file, and, again, the senior scholar hold the younger scholar to a higher standard for tenure than they themselves were held to. That, however, depends a lot on how university administrators see such activities: will young scholars be expected to be “good reviewers” as a part of the tenure decision OR will young scholars be rewarded directly for being deemed “good reviewers” in the form of larger raises? I would imagine that rather than being directly awarded for this hard work, it will be just another expectation for young scholars; it will be, in effect, just something that can held against a scholar (i.e., being deemed “bad reviewer”) than something rewarded (i.e., we expect our faculty to be “good reviewers”).

Fourth, the predictable counter-argument would look like this: “oh, silly Nicholas, don’t be so cynical, if we can “fix” the peer review process, then you’ll be able to publish even more research and publish it through a process that is more fair.” We all know that the publication process is unfair. It is a reality. We all come to grips with it one way or another. When I consider the work of my peers, I am able to keep this in mind. However, if we “fix” it, it will still be unfair (i.e., instead of a tyranny of advanced/high-prestige researchers having a strong voice in the review process, we will trade one tyrant for another, the good reviewer, and soon we will be forced to publish what they will accept) and there is no reason to think that “good reviewers” are going to be more fair, promote innovation, or let the author’s voice come through. We will just trade one set of intrenched values for a new set of values that will be intrenched later on.

Fifth, all of this would not work even if, by some magical coincidence it did align university officials, faculty members, and folks that populate promotion and tenure committees … its called “the internet.” Of course, whenever I get a paper, I could determine the author with stunning frequency by just looking-up the title of the paper, which was likely presented in some professional society’s annual meeting that I probably attended, moreover, most of the papers I get to review these days, I know them as soon as I see them because, if you’re an expert in a small area, you know all the main players already. If you want to promote their work, then you can. If you want to thwart their work, then you can. There is no reason to think that a new system should change this. We already know whose papers they are; anonymity for the author seems long dead among specialists. Then comes reviewers: “There seems to be widespread skepticism that peer review without anonymity can be both rigorous and fair” to quote the blog. The idea that anonymity allows one to be “fair” (i.e., fair being defined primarily in terms of being able to say difficult comments plainly) is just BS. There is no reason to believe that in the professional game of science that I (or any other reviewer) cannot be fully honest in a review. Some folks use it to be a jerk. I understand that. I am fine with that. The reason is that some people are jerks. They are jerks in the classroom. They are jerks in their correspondence. I guess I am open to the range of personalities and am not entirely sure that erasing this variation or marginalizing folks that don’t quite have strongly developed social skills or promoting reviewers with glycerine tongues (by rewarding them with higher education’s favorite currency, status) makes much sense. People fail. Editors fail scholars by not taking this into account. This is a human enterprise and because it is I think we need to embrace a level of uncertainty, improve the processes that we have instead of upending a tradition.

In the end, if you want to fix one thing, I would say that we need NOT better reviewers (after all, reviews are just what they are, reviews), but better EDITORS. Show me an editor with a real vision, one capable of making tough decisions, one that is not a total tool of the reviews, an editor that is not constantly looking for ways to reduce their workload and simply embraces the huge responsibility of selecting one paper over another or encouraging the work of a young scholar to develop or reject the sloppy work of a senior scholar whose work is popular among reviews.

NOTE: the picture is from http://kennyjonesradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/broken_window.jpg

Is STS a bordello or cabinet of wonders?

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This is based on some ruminations over the last year, which I’ve mentioned a while back casually and which our now full-time blogger Stef Fishel discussed more recently.

Here goes: Is STS a bordello or cabinet of wonders? (I write in the plural because Jan-H. and I were writing this together)

In STS:

… we recognize the unorthodox and outlandish agency of “nonhumans” like scallops, microbes, Portuguese sea-going vessels, and British military aircrafts. In fact, the way we just listed those example case studies into the minutiae of STS scholarship is more telling than it might immediately appear. You see, STS is populated by intriguing micro case studies, and, from a far, STS appears to outsiders like a “cabinet of curiosities.” Because our research is punctualized into individual case studies, and these case studies were so routinely juxtaposed with one another during the era of great edited volumes of the 1980s, a look back through history of STS research is akin to opening the door to a cabinet whose contents were filled with every manner of wonderful and ornamental trinkets that somehow capture the grandeur of other worlds even in their miniature size. Also, because this cabinet was populated  during the Science Wars, its contents are all the more precious, and, in retrospect, to this day provide a sense of nostalgia to the scholars who filled it, marking the discoveries they had made, as they passed it down both as a gift and a challenge to the students they trained.

Also, in STS, however:

Before we are accused of fickle sentimentality for our academic home, our cabinet of curiosities might just as well appear as a “bar à hôtesses” to some insiders sickened by the excesses of postmodernity, or the bitter, personality-driven, concept-oriented turf wars over aurthorial copyright that have come to typify STS <FOOTNOTE: At feverpitch in the early 1990s, … collins yearly / latour callon etc.> and, to this day, distract the field from sharing any semblance of unity with regarding agreed-upon phenomenon to study as a group, all of which might spell the end of STS in years to come. Thus, calling our cabinet a bordello might be warranted in certain company.

*This post was largely inspired by Fabio’s early characterization of STS as a “cabinet of curiosities,” which has, since I first heard it, stayed with me. As he put it, STS is:

very anti-normal science. You end up with a cabinet of curiosities than a deep and precise knowledge of a specific issue.

**The picture is from: http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=7p2FFa9Eveh4JM&tbnid=oxupV4E35lZsLM:&ved=0CAQQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fparismarket.blogspot.com%2F2011%2F09%2Fcabinets-of-curiosities-and-pretties.html&ei=pFuFUoT6NPHC4APa3ICABg&bvm=bv.56343320,d.dmg&psig=AFQjCNFDvgagsuepOr4mm7V0rPzbL4qZCQ&ust=1384557853106096

Latour’s honor being protested (update)

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Latour’s honor being protested … annually?

So, I just spoke with Dr. Ann Rudinow Sætnan (Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology) who wrote that article about how Latour’s recent Ludvig Holberg International Memorial Prize and how Latour’s honor has been protested.

Here is the update on the Latourian protester. I asked “Has the redux fizzled out on a new-ish science wars or have there been any notable developments?”

She responded:

As for what happened to the Science  War flare-up … yes, it fizzled. I just googled the theme to check whether anything new had been published in the debate since the pieces I cited. There was one more. This one was not so much a critique of Latour as a critique of giving prizes in general as a means of gaining public recognition for (social) science. The author of this last piece claims that giving away large sums of money to already famous social scientists doesn’t do much to advance the reputation of the social sciences, as evidenced by the small number of people who have even heard of the prize. He writes that the prize is almost most famous for Jon Elster’s annual protests of it and that if Elster had not existed then someone would have had to invent him in order to publicize the prize. … and there the whole debate seems to have ended. At least until next year when Elster protests whoever wins in 2014

If you are interested in the piece (and have a reading-knowledge of Norwegian), check it out here. The title translated (thanks, Ann) is “What price the Holberg prize?”

Here is the old post:

In an interesting essay from our friends at EASST (European Association for the Study of Science and Technology), documents a possible resurgence of the ‘science wars’ of yesteryear … at sitting in the cross-hairs is good old Bruno Latour, protested recipient of this year’s (2013′s) The Ludvig Holberg International Memorial Prize, or as some of you might know it, just the Holberg Prize. Check out the article; its free and interesting.