Uncommon Walking Tour of Bristol


In a fascinating post about walking, Will Self offers an uncommon walking tour of Bristol. According to Self, “walking was the way to break free from the shackles of 21st-century capitalism.” Walking tours, sometimes also called pedway tours, are growing in popularity; pedways are pedestrian walkways and they can be both above ground and below; they are sometimes discussed as a form of ungoverned or unplanned civil engineering.

Self, who guides the walking tours, gets meta pretty quick; he “began with a brief introduction to the situationists – the Paris-based artists and thinkers of the 1960s who championed the concept of “psychogeography”, the unplanned drifting through an urban landscape to become more in tune with one’s surroundings.”

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Presentation: 4S, 2015


4S 2015 Denver is our (Jan-H and I’s) presentation from, unsurprisingly, 4S 2015 (Denver), wherein we reflect on the trends and recurrent themes in our five years of organizing panels around STS, governance, and the state, which we are now calling simply “Social Studies of Politics.” We have a chapter summarizing a bit of this in “Knowing Governance,” but the paywall is steep, steep!

History of Technology: Call for Papers


Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), Annual Meeting – Singapore, 22-26 June 2016

Formed in 1958, SHOT is an interdisciplinary and international organization concerned not only with the history of technological devices and processes but also with technology in history, the development of technology, and its relations with society and culture –that is, the relationship of technology to politics, economics, science, the arts, and the organization of production, and with the role it plays in the differentiation of individuals in society.

See more at the website: http://www.historyoftechnology.org/call_for_papers/index.html

A Yelp for People?


Apparently, yes, according to the Washington Post.

It is called Peeple, and this on-line human-rating infrastructure is more or less the equivalent of rating a meal at a restaurant or a hotel stay. Fortune calls it “truly awful,” the always balanced BBC News says the app “causes social uproar,” while the Guardian suggests that of all apps this is the app “you didn’t dare ask for.” There are also worse things ( “creepy,” “toxic,” “gender hate in a prettier package”) being said about this admittedly odd idea.

For the moment, the promotional website (forthepeeple.com) seems to be dead at the stick. Continue reading

3:1 — On “Decoloniality” — 1 of 3


“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).

Latour Workshop


Latour saves the earth once again, this time, at a workshop. 

Bruno Latour and Environmental Governance

Call for Papers: submit abstracts by 16 March 2015
Workshop: 18-19 May 2015, Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, UK

Since the 1980s Bruno Latour has attempted to supplant the prevailing image of science by proposing a pragmatic and anthropological perspective. According to Latour, scientific practices forge ‘objective’ and ‘accurate’ knowledge that speaks on behalf of the world. Latour has written extensively on climate change and ecological politics, and on the challenges posed by the figure of Gaia for thought and for scientific and political practice. However, he has made limited reference to the specifics of the work carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and similar institutions involved in mobilising knowledge for environmental governance.

The IPCC is the leading international authority for the assessment of climate change. Formed in 1988 by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the IPCC produces reports that assess and summarise scientific literature on the physical science of climate change, adaptation and mitigation.

The two-day workshop takes as its starting point the idea the Latour’s work can be used to explain and understand the workings of environmental governance, using the IPCC as a prime example.

Slavoj Žižek on Kafka and Love

Slavoj Žižek explains his concept of “The Event” on Big Think; the event, get this, “retroactively creates it’s own causes.”

He describes how literary predecessors do this (i.e., it is only once the new author is established that the predecessors are obvious or “produced”) and how falling in love is a good example of an event (i.e., the lighting bolt of first love immediately revising all which came before it as merely a precursor for the moment which had not — until that moment — happened yet).

“You are not in love, you just make one night stands maybe here and there. You meet every evening with friends. You drink. You go to blah, blah. Then all of a sudden in a totally contingent way let’s say you stumble on the street, somebody helps you to stand up. It’s a young girl or boy blah, blah. And, of course, it’s the love of your life. A totally contingent encounter but the result can be that your whole life changes. Nothing is the same as they say. You even spontaneously perceive your entire past life as leading towards this unique moment, you know, the illusion of love is oh my God, I was waiting all my life for you. This – something like this would have been the love event. And I think it’s getting more and more rare today. “

Zizek has previously appeared in other Big Think videos like “The Purpose of Philosophy is to Ask the Right Questions,” and “Why be Happy When You Could be Interesting?

3:1 — Post-STS — 1 of 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

If Latour were a craft-beer-brewer, his name’d be …


… Steve Wright. Check out this innovative ANT account of craft beer tasting, now on-line, free of charge. Investigation into the flavor profiling of craft beers as well as auto-ethnographic blind beer tasting and tasting exams, this paper — and by paper, I am referring to a 277 page thesis — is replete with outstanding detail.

Also, upon even modest reflection, the teaching potential of this document is striking.

My favorite part is the explanation of language-sensory experience:

The historical construction of the contemporary language of sensory assessment supports the construction of the style guides. Once assembled into an information infrastructure the style guide is extended to act in multiple different ways: its propositions are translated into testable facts with multiple choices, it functions as a technology of material ordering and coordination, as a regulatory technology placing limits on how taste judgements can and cannot be expressed or recorded, and as a re-enactment and materialisation of individual cognitivist models of assessment.

Latour’s inconsistencies unveiled


In this terrific article in New Literary History, Graham Harman draws-out some of Latour’s inconsistencies in his shift from old ANT days (i.e., the early Latour) to the more recent emphasis on “modes” (i.e., the late Latour) related to his culture-nature rejection-reficiation (played with a few of these idea a decade ago reviewing his book PoN).

4S Newsletter Volume 02 Issue 03 (Summer, 1977)


Quote of the issue: “On 26 August 1975 … fifty scholars assembled … [to] declare themselves members incorporate in 4S” (August 26th is 4S’s birthday!) Aarnold Thackray and Daryl Chubin, 1977.

Issue in brief (PDF is here: 1977 Volume 2 Issue 3 Summer).

  1. Editorial on the origins of the professional society — interesting,
  2. Preliminary program for the 2nd annual meeting — at Harvard University. You’ll also note that in the elections for members, the status hierarchies of old are all represented,
  3. Fact Sheet for 2nd annual meeting — $15 pre-registration; $20 at the door … makes me wonder what a 1976-2014 registration fee chart might look like,
  4. Thought and opinion section about citation research with an odd opening remark that I think might be about Latour’s 1976 presentation at 4S (but I can’t be sure),
  5. David Edge offers a retort — an excellent one — to the (at best peripheral) acceptance of quantitative (co-)citation analysis in the sociology of science. Well done!
  6. Commentary on the Psychology of Science, which is a field no longer in strong standing (to my knowledge),
  7. A piece on teaching STS in Papa New Guinea — interesting,
  8. STS in the Netherlands,
  9. Excellent reviews of about Zuckerman’s Scientific Elite (a text that challenged the idea that scientists needed to have their great breakthrough by 30, but a book that also did not necessarily support Merton’s Matthew Effect among elites … where it was thought to be strongest), and
  10. The closing pages contain the freshly revised charter.

This newsletter contains information about the origins of the society. According to opening editorial, in connection with the Montreal Congress of the International Sociological Association (who knew?), the earliest foundations of the professional society were laid and an informal committee was established in 1974-75. On 26 August 1975, 50 members assembled in San Francisco to ratify a charter for 4S. Apparently, the 26th of August is 4S’s birthday!

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4S Newsletter Volume 02 Issue 02 (Spring, 1977)


Quote of the issue: “A new society resembles a new baby: all hope and weak sphincters,” (about the 4S professional society in 1977) Harold Orlans.

Issue in brief (PDF is here: 1977 Volume 2 Issue 2 Spring).

  1. The call for the second annual meeting (to be held in Cambridge, Mass.) is in here, but the real fun is in the “Thoughts and Opinion” section, which features:
  2. “Councillor’s Commentary: Nicholas Mullins”
  3. “On 4S: Harold Orlans”
  4. “The Internationality of 4S: Michael Moravcsik”
  5. “Retrospective TA: Ruth Schwartz Cowan, et al”
  6. “Letter to the Editor: David Bloor”

This newsletter (see the picture, as if it where signed by Trevor Pinch for us later on) is a nice historical piece. According to the council minutes, by January of 1977, 4S boasted 539 members (note to self: chart these). Council minutes also indicate that the professional society was still working hard to determine if a professional society journal partnership could be developed — candidates at the time were none other than the Social Studies of Science, Minerva, and Newsletter on Science, Technology & Human Values. I know that it is just part of training in STS, but we all develop early-on an appreciation for the question (roughly paraphrased here) “how did now-stable things get that way?” and (thank you chapter 7 of David Noble’s Forces of Production) “What roads were not taken?” … might be interesting, as a thought-experiment, to consider what STS might look like if the professional journal were Minerva rather than STHV …

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4S Volume 1 Issue 3 (Spring, 1976)

4S Newsletter

Issue in brief (PDF is here: 1976 Volume 1 Issue 3 Spring).

  1. Presidential Address by Robert K. Merton
  2. Preliminary Program for the first Society for the Social Studies of Science meeting
  3. Report on STS training in the US

This is the earliest issue of the 4S newsletter we have and it contains the preliminary program for the first meeting (ever) of the Society for the Social Studies of Science. We learned that the first meeting was delayed. The first meeting, which was held at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), was supposed to be in late October (29-31); however, because of funding (unclear precisely what the issue was other than lack of funding) the conference was delayed one week until November 4-6 (one week later, which is oddly unfriendly to international guests, although so is holding a meeting in Ithaca). Never heard of delaying a professional conferences, but, at the time, it was a very young organization with small enrollment so perhaps this sort of thing just happens. The first meeting was a joint meeting (4S, apparently, has always had a history of joint meetings); held conjointly with the Research Committee on the Sociology of Science of the International Sociology Association.

In the presidential address, by Robert K. Merton, we learn that the social studies of science had 300 members at the outset (which is possibly untrue, given details in the next paragraph). With eloquence common to Merton’s writing, he mentions something that I still find true today: that in STS, though we are drawn from numerous disciplinary backgrounds, we feel more at home with the rag-tag bunch at 4S than we do in our parent disciplines. It also reminds me that while interdisciplinary was big news in mid-70s, it no longer seems so subversive (although that is up for debate). Merton encourages members to “avoid the double parochialism of disciplinary and national boundaries” as part of its “originating efforts.”

In the preliminary program, we learn that 22 papers were to hosted at Cornell that year that would be selected by a committee of 5. The newsletters are also a resource for advertising other events, in this issue, the International Symposium for Quantitative Methods in the History of Science, PAREX (a symposium on the Role of Research Organizations in Orienting Scientific Activities hosted by Karen Knorr), and Sektion Wissenschaftsforshung.

There is also a ballot for council members and we see some familiar faces: Nicholas Mullins on the selection committee (who we see in the research notes) and Dorothy Nelkin for a two year stint. Also, in the council meeting notes, we learn that the professional organization was working with the now flagship journal Social Studies of Science for a reduced rate for members. Interesting to consider a time when our primary professional society was haggling with journals for better prices from printed materials.

The report on STS programs in the US is more preliminary than conclusive, but it does identify 175 STS programs in various forms even in ’76. The “Eclectic-STS” category is particularly interesting, and the programs are detailed in the issue.


The issue concludes with some recent publications, new job appointments (apparently, Paul Allison just landed his first job at Cornell that year),

What are you supposed do with unfair criticism?


What do you do with unfair or less than constructive criticism of your academic work? Let’s fix peer review!

We all know, some people are jerks, many academics among them, and that some folks use the anonymous system of peer-review in order to act however they like without the responsibility or accountability that goes with face-to-face or self-identifying criticism.

To me, this is just part of the job, or, at least, I tell myself that. However, while it is most certainly just part of the contemporary academic landscape, it still irks me — every time.

It is the worst when your realize that the reviewer simply does not “get” the point. Slightly less bad, but no less forgivable: the reviewer has not looked closely enough at your work, and, as they gloss over the details, you realize from their comments that their “this is unclear” or “this is inappropriate” is really just a sign that they have not read your previous commentary that explains it 8 or 9 lines ago.

Worse than all of this, however, is that editors rarely — at least, in my experience — take this into account when making a judgment on a paper. On rare occasions, a reviewer might be suppressed, but usually the editor just acts like some sort of conduit, relegating all responsibility in the process.

Has such an appeal to the unfairness of a reviewer worked for anybody?

Is this a sign of a deeper problem in higher education?

At any rate, what do you do with unfair criticism?

Just in: EASST deadline extended for Poland


Here is the message, as a session convenor, from EASST leadership; please consider joining us on track D3 at EASST 2014 conference, Track Title: STS and “the state”.


Here’s the message:

To all track convenors EASST2014 conference

After the close of call for abstracts last week we have reviewed the level of submissions.  We feel that the publicising and timing of the EASST 2014 Conference deadline has led to difficulties for many members of our community in submitting abstracts by the agreed deadline.  We are very appreciative of the efforts of those who did manage it.  However we have decided to extend the deadline until Friday 9 May to ensure that all of those who wish to present at the conference have the opportunity to submit their abstract.

As a convenor we are asking you to help in encouraging more submissions for your track.  We ask you to look at the current submissions … and identify any ‘missing’ individuals’ that you would have hoped to submit and then email them encouraging submission.  The goal should be for each convenor to attract one extra abstract. This could deliver on average an extra 3 or 4 abstracts per track.

We hope it was also clear that any papers you wish to present yourselves should also have been submitted within the system.

For guidance about the overall programming, we propose 90 minutes sessions of 4 papers.  24 papers should be the normal maximum in any one track.

You may also wish to advertise this extended deadline through your networks.


Are you guys getting academic spam too?


I just got this in my e-mail, which is lame-o academic-spam-turned-publishing-hoax. Finally, after getting a number of these, I feel as though academics have finally “made it”; our success is spam-worthy! Custom spam, just for us.

Are you guys getting more and more academic spam too? Why target academics for this sort of thing? Either we are too dumb/desperate to publish in main-line journals(?), or, perhaps, we are finally a market worth getting some serious spam(!). I try to be positive about it; after all, what really comes of getting angry about this sort of thing (besides nothing)?

Now, we hear about journal hoaxes all the time. For example, the recent case of the recent cancer paper that was a joke or Sokal Affair. Some of these cases, for example, the Sokal Affair are, it seems, hard to forget, given that they helped to trigger the “science wars” in STS.

However, what about journal spam? Is anybody actively researching this topic and publishing about it in legitimate journals (there is a post-ironic feel to that sort of work).

A brief review of the literature in STS, and the answer is, apparently, no. So the answer to the question “Are you guys getting academic spam too?” is surely “yes, we are;” however, we do not appear to be studying it.
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Google Glass Goes Public: Not Exactly A Revolution


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.


PACITA’s 2nd European TA Conference


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”


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.

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Hacker-Mullins Student Paper Award, 2014

March 15, 2014 is the deadline for graduate students papers for the Hacker-Mullins Student Paper Award, 2014. So if you know a grad student that published a decent paper in the last two or so years, nominate them … or, graduate students, nominate yourselves!

Hacker-Mullins Student Paper Award, 2014

The Science, Knowledge and Technology Section invites submissions for the 2014 Hacker-Mullins Graduate Student Paper Award. The winner will be honored at the ASA meetings in San Francisco (August 16-19, 2014) and will receive a plaque. The award also comes with a $350 prize. The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2014. Self-nominations are welcome. To be eligible, an author must be a student at the time of submission. Published and unpublished papers are accepted; if published, the article must have been published no earlier than 2012. This year’s committee members are Daniel Breslau (Chair), Erin Leahy, Dan Morrison, Elizabeth Sweeney, and Steven Epstein (ex officio). Please send the nominated paper and a brief nominating statement in one PDF document, via email, to Daniel Breslau at dbreslau@vt.edu.

Here are some past winners of the award published in SSS.

Guest blogger: Endre Dányi for one time only


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

Legos Shutting-Down Gender Criticism?


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:


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…


INFRASTRUCTURE FELLOWSHIPS: “Urban Infrastructures in Transition: The Case of African Cities”


There are 8 of them from the Graduate School for Urban Studies (URBANgrad) of Darmstadt University of Technology announces eight doctoral fellowships, beginning October 1, 2014.

For more information on the graduate program, please refer to: http://www.stadtforschung.tu-darmstadt.de/afrika/index.en.jsp

GoldieBlox stirkes again

Last night in the states, the NFL hosted the Super Bowl, a night when the game is watched nearly as closely by Americans as are the commercials. Surprising, to me, was that GoldieBlox, which we blogged about before and before that, was featured. It seems that that toy is really making headway and this probably marks the “beginning” for this concept.

Here’s to finally making some pro-engineering gender normativity — finally, “doing” STS out in the broader public (for example, perhaps about as much as these esteemed folks at MIT).

*PS: I finally learned to spell GoldieBlox correctly; thanks to all the viewers that let me know that I misspelled it incorrectly every time in the past entries. Mia culpa!

Andrzej Nowak joining as Guest Blogger


Our colleague and friend Andrzej W. Nowak from Adam Mickiewicz University (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu) in Poznań, Poland, is joining the blog as a Guest Blogger.

Please welcome him.

I’ll introduce him through a bit of information that he sent me recently. He shared with me this 3-min film, which briefly shows the police’s violence at the Economic University in Poznan, PL. The police attacked a small group of people peacefully protesting against a pseudo-‘scientific’ lecture (“gender as a destruction of the human and the family”) delivered by a priest (& lecturer from theology dept at Adam Mickiewicz University).

The event took place on 5th Dec. Unfortunately, Andrzej couldn’t find any news in English.

Andrzej is falsely accused in Polish right wing blogs as well as a few newspaper as a hooligan; someone who was main provocateur of this event. Just the right sort of company for us on the blog!


*And the photo above was taken at the event by one of Andrzej’s friends.

P.s., when I first asked Andrzej to join the blog he wrote back: “I don’t have time to make science when I really did STS and State exercise (batons, shield, electroshocks)” (!)

4S deadline was last Friday; we submitted


Here is our session proposals for 4S in Argentina next year; hopefully we see you there. I think leadership at 4S will select the sessions it wishes to host in about two or so weeks.


First name: Nicholas J.
Last name: Rowland
Co-authors: Jan-Hendrik Passoth
Session Title: STS and “the state”
Session Description:

Consistent with the general theme of the conference, “Science in context(s): Souths and Norths”, we encourage 4S and ESOCITE scholars researching the emerging intersection of STS and “the state” to submit their work. This jointly-held meeting affords us the unique opportunity to balance South/North perspectives on both “the state” and STS, which is a rare opportunity indeed, and will be the source of a rich discussion among participants.

We anticipate hosting a series of papers in a series of “Open Panels.” In particular, we are hoping to find papers that give rise to new dialogues and exchanges on the following four topics:

1. Empirical cases of “the state” as manifest in infrastructure or in everyday life: New and exciting work in infrastructural developments offer fresh perspectives and cases to reconsider dated theoretical approaches to understanding what the state is and what they state is becoming. Likewise, a new line of research in “the state in everyday life” offers a perspective no less fresh that gets at mundane experiences and routine activities that either bring us closer to the state or fend us off from it. How these differ in the North/South divide are of prime concern.

2. Empirical cases of “the state” as manifest in material or in environmental arrangements: State formation has been a perennial question in state theory. However, as scholarship develops, the old theories of the state, which emphasize war-making and international treaties, have given way to new research on the practical aspects of state formation, as in, how do you form a state. Chief concerns in this area are material activities associated with state formation and, crucially, environmental concerns related to forming states in the first place and sustaining them in the long run. Again, how these differ in the North/South divide are of prime concern.

3. Where is the state and where is not the state? State absense/state presence: This topic emerged organically from the last 4S meeting in San Diego, and while it is new to us and is far more experimental than the above themes, we consider it of vast potential. One way to re-think the state is to ask where it is and where it is not. Are there new boarders emerging between states? Are there areas inside of the traditional territorial zones that bound states where the state simply does not appear to be present? Is it possible that the state is present even in its absence, under certain conditions? We don’t know the answers to these questions; it is the most “open” of the open panels.

4. Theoretical approaches to the state and state theory: No doubt, state theory has odd and deep roots in the Northern tradition of scholarship. Ideas that need to be challenged. We anticipate this coming from two directions if we are sensitive to STS and the state. First, in the North, fresh perspectives on the state are emerging through the lens of STS. Second, in the South, fresh perspectives on the state already exist as alternatives to traditional Northern scholarship on the state (and, of course, STS shapes these discourses too).

Please consider sending your abstracts to our set of open panels. The multiple panel format ensures a sustained audience and prolongs the discussion of our work far beyond a single paper or a single panel.

Fixing Peer Review


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

Research at Cornell


Just last week, I visited Cornell University to visit Trever Pinch, a well-known STSers from the early days. Trever has been an active member of the two most important professional association in STS, the Society for the Social Studies of Science and the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology.

With outstanding luck for me, turns out Trever is something of a pack-rat too, and has original conference proceedings for every single event in the history of both organizations. I’m in the process of using them to chart how different topics have been used in the history of the organizations. After my initial run, they will be donated to their respective professional organization.

While studies of 4S seem relatively rare, there was a recent (and interesting) project reviewing EASST, which is here: EASST_conf_summary. Still, a couple of older 4S programs are available on-line. In what appears to be Sal Restivo’s personal program from the first meeting at Cornell University in 1976, available here: 1976 4S at Cornell, we can see into STS’s past.

During the 1976 meeting, Bruno LaTour (sic!), for example, was still a member of the Salk Laboratories presenting on citation analysis, which would later be the groundwork for Laboratory Life (which, in the 1986 edition, as a great postscript). S. W. Woolgar was present to, at the time hailing from Brunel University, discussing sociological analyses of scientific accounts. H. M. Collins attended, speaking about replication in science, which, as many of you know, would be the work that Woolgar, along with his student Malcolm Ashmore, would later bring Collins to task on in Ashmore’s incredible (and incredibly playful) The Reflexivity Thesis (read the preface for a hilarious letter from Woolgar to the editor). R. K. Merton gave the lunch talk. Karen Knorr gave two talks and John Law gave one on Anomie(? Anybody know what happened to that paper? Maybe it’s sitting in an edited book nobody reads anymore…).

At any rate, as these are completed by my assistant, I’ll occasionally a comment or two.

Latour’s honor being protested (update)


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.