Blade Runner is 2017?

 

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‘Blade Runner’s’ chillingly prescient vision of the future” offers a (brief) review of the 1982 Ridley Scott film and how much 2017 appears to reflect Scott’s portrayal of the human-machine interface. With ‘Blade Runner 2049‘ coming out soon (today, I think), the short piece is a nice opportunity to return to the 1982 now-classic film.

As a sidebar: In terms of visions of the future, it is always interesting to me that “vision of the future” is characterized here as “look, Scott got it more right than he might have known;” however, his view of the future, a strict prognostication or even foresight, is not really consistent with the academic study of the future (not that the author of this piece should be held to that standard). On balance, there are “ethnographers of the future” looking into science fiction too, but there is also a growing linkage between STS and a small world called futures studies, ontological research on the character of the future as a concept, and even scholars that do not owe much of their intellectual heritage to either tradition making serious headway into managing multiple futures. Getting past “visions of the future made in the past were right or wrong” as a framework might make for some interesting discussion in the public media realm, provided readers want something past the all-too-easy “they got it right!” or “ha! They botched it” critiques leveled safely from the sidelines in retrospect.

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On Retracting Papers

A

It is bad to demand the retraction non-fraudulent papers. But why? I think the argument rests on three intuitions. First, there is a legal reason. When an editor and publisher accept a paper, they enter into a legal contract. The authors produces the paper and the publisher agrees to publish. To rescind publication of a […]

Dovetails with concerns over peer review in general, related horror stories, and even the outer limits of the practice.

via why is it bad to retract non-fraudulent and non-erroneous papers? — orgtheory.net

* image from here.

Pickering Review … in 2017!?

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25 years after Andrew Pickering’s “Science as Practice and Culture”* was published, it was just reviewed. Helen Verran (History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne) just wrote a retrospective on the book that is worth the time to read and, even better, it is free to one and all: https://sciencetechnologystudies.journal.fi/article/view/65250 

* Casper Bruun Jensen noticed on Twitter that I wrote “Mangle of Practice” in the previous version of this post rather than “Science as Practice and Culture.” I guess I was showing my cards there in terms of preference.

ANT Multiple!?

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Just out:Mapping “the ANT multiple”: A comparative, critical and reflexive analysis” by Laur Kanger (University of Sussex Science Policy Research Unit Brighton UK; University of Tartu Institute of Social Studies Tartu Estonia) in The Theory of Social Behavior.

Abstract
Despite decades of development, ActorNetwork Theory
(ANT) continues to be characterized by a good deal of
ambiguities and internal tensions. This situation has
led to a suggestion that instead of one ANT it may be
meaningful to speak of the ANT multiple. Following
this line of reasoning, this article aims to create a map
of the variety of positions riding under the ANT banner.
Based on an indepth reading of ANT literature, seven
different interpretations of ANT are identified and sub-
jected to critical analysis; it also accommodates for the
concerns of ANT proponents about the way ANT has
been previously criticized. The results of the analysis
serve to increase the reflexivity of both sides of the
debate about their underlying assumptions, and provide
suggestions how ANT could be employed, developed
and criticized more productively in the future.
This is one of many times we have mentioned and discussed good old ANT and good old Bruno Latour: reflexivity, ANT and Foucaultpost-ANT, even the ANT of ANThow forest think, the Paris attacks.

Movement in Body Parts

See this terrific review of the interesting book, and there is a free introductory chapter for those interested:

Bronwyn Parry, Beth Greenhough, Tim Brown and Isabel Dyck (eds.) Bodies Across Borders: The Global Circulation of Body Parts, Medical Tourists and Professionals, 2015, 248 pp., Routledge, New York, paper $109.95 ISBN 978-1409457176.

*image: http://www.bioethics.com/medical-tourism

Prosthetic-War Nexus

Jennifer TerryAttachments to War: biomedical logics and violence in twenty-first century America, looks into the nexus of war, medical treatment, and prosthetics — looks promising.

And in lockstep with my last post and my continuing interest in the prosthetics of military violence… A new book from Jennifer Terry, Attachments to War: biomedical logics and violence in twenty-first century America, also due from Duke University Press in November: In Attachments to War Jennifer Terry traces how biomedical logics entangle Americans […]

via Attachments to War — geographical imaginations

Managing Concurrent Futures: Prospective Action in Cardiology Care

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There is a paradox in clinical uncertainty management. While contemporary medical education and training dismisses prognosis in favor of diagnostic and treatment skills, prognosis is ever present in daily medical life. In fact, physicians arguably engage in more prognostic behavior than most other professionals because, bound by their duty to heal, they are routinely called upon to concurrently navigate short-term and long-term care goals. With new accumulating evidence establishing prospection (i.e., the mental simulation of possible futures) as a central organizing principle of cognition and behavior, and with more clinicians warning about the central role of prognosis in clinical decision making, concerns about the relative neglect of prognostic training are becoming louder. Yet, although there is much writing and some fairly robust guidelines about how physicians should do prognosis, very little is currently known about what the process of medical prognosis actually looks like on the groundI begin to fill this gap in my forthcoming book How Doctors Make Decisions, based on a three-year ethnographic study of hospital cardiology.

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Doomsday Arks

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With a trillion-ton iceberg cleaving from Antartica, and debate over the exact causes seems never to end, I wonder “what is the infrastructural equivalent of it?” 

One immediate answer is found the giant, offshore seed vault Svalbard (Norway), which was colorfully referred to as one of the “Arks of the Apocalypse” in the New York Times Magazine. The anthropocene stirs, no matter what the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) suggests, and seed banks are a fascinating reflection of this transition for so many reasons. 

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US: D+

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We have written about this previously, the state of American infrastructure and the problem that is not appealing to the masses, and we can report that not a lot has changed. According to ASCE, the US got a 2017 report card for infrastructure and the outcome is pretty static … D+ (same as it has been for the past half-decade or more). Part of that story has to do with the grading system in the first place, but most (near all) has to do with the dwindling state of infrastructure in the past decade of austerity policy that effectively kicks the proverbial can down the road such that the next generation inherits suboptimal infrastructure in the US.

Ahhh…Seriously again? On “How French Postmodernism ‘Ruined the West'”

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We are living in a time of intellectual fights. As STSers, we sometimes feel like being pushed back into the 1990s, only that the strange debates we had back then on “Science as Practice and Culture” have made it onto the streets and into mainstream media. Sure, we have expressed many times that we love science and love technology and today we join (and even practically and intellectually lead) the “march for science”. But the shortcut “post…” -> “relativism” -> “danger” seems to be still in place. A recent piece on HOW FRENCH “INTELLECTUALS” RUINED THE WEST: POSTMODERNISM AND ITS IMPACT, EXPLAINED argued for that – again. We’ve written about postmodernism many times, even in a 1, 2, 3 set of posts, so there is – intellectually – not a lot to add to that nonsense. But maybe it is time to take that, well, personal again: If that attitude is still a guidance for the modern, for the west, maybe we should have ruined it when we had the chance. Or, if that sounds too offended, why we obviously never had the chance to do so.

Teaching Disasters

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With some success, I have been teaching Charles Perrow’s “Normal Accident” concept with “Engineering Disasters.” It is a show on the History Channel, which is itself an offshoot of Modern Marvels). Each show is broken-down into usually four or five vignettes that are essentially “case studies” in engineering accidents and disasters.

These shows can easily be harnessed to walk students through the normal accident concept by analyzing each of the case studies using a worksheet (I could share this with anyone that wants it njr12 at psu.edu) that distills normal accidents into a few component parts. See below. I use Modern Marvels Engineering Disasters 7 in my course and in the image you see the final two cases — Northridge Earthquakes in CA and the Underground Mine Fires in Centralia, PA — and they are cross-referenced with the three criteria that I use from normal accidents, namely,

  1. That there is a techno-human-nature interaction that is detectable;
  2. That the relational interaction is sufficiently complex (and/or tightly-coupled);
  3. That, with regard to the resulting engineering accident or disaster, it is not reasonable to expect the designing engineers to have anticipated (i.e., predicted) the issues that lead to the engineering accident or disaster in advance.

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The students, from what I can gather, enjoy doing this sort of detective work. After four or five case studies, the students typically know how to apply the criteria and, thus, the concept of normal disasters.

Infrastructure Field-trip

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Just thought I would mention that I am working on a field-trip project on infrastructure that takes students on a hunt for “signals” of infrastructure in New York based on a book we discussed on the blog a couple years ago. The book is finally for sale, and if you go to the purchasing site, you’ll find a new option to purchase a walking tour that accompanies a copy of the book. It is marvelous.

If you’re on the East Coast, and can get to NYC without a ton of trouble, this is a fascinating look at what the internet infrastructure “looks like,” illustrated with visual examples of what to look for to decode infrastructure cues.

e-Key: Security Infrastructure

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A new piece from The Conversation about security infrastructure investigating security options, including going back to the physical key as an alternative to password overload in online platforms.

The age of hacking brings a return to the physical keyby Jungwoo Ryoo, Pennsylvania State University

 

New infrastructure paper

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Introduction: Infrastructural Complications

Penny Harvey, Casper Bruun Jensen & Atsuro Morita

Over the past decade, infrastructures have emerged as compelling sites for qualitative social research. This occurs in a general situation where the race for infrastructural investment has become quite frenzied, as world superpowers compete for the most effective means to circulate energy, goods and money. At the same time, millions of people disenfranchised by trade corridors, securitized production sites, and privatized service provision seek to establish their own possibilities that intersect, disrupt or otherwise engage the high level investments that now routinely re-configure their worlds. The projects of the powerful and the engagements of the poor are thus thoroughly entangled in this contemporary drive to “leverage the future.”

Read the rest here.

Do search engines make cultural capital less valuable? 

A student of mine said something last week that gave me déjà vu. We completed our lessons on “social class” and the student was having difficulty with the notion of cultural capital.

In class, waving an iPhone in the air, s/he said:

“Why would anybody need to know this when you have the whole world’s knowledge in your pocket?”

The student was referring to the ability to command cultural knowledge (i.e., cultural capital).

Reminded me of this immediately: And a student said “Ah, so like, people with cultural capital don’t need Google…ohhhh, I get it”

Growing link between STS and Futures Studies

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There is a growing connection between a small research area in the business school literature called “futures studies” (wherein forecasting, scenario planning, etc.) and STS. Early thinkers in (what is now) this area are folks like Toffler; you might remember his books Future Shock or the Third Wave. In the link to STS, foundational thinkers that readers might recall are folks like Cynthia Selin (who I wrote about back in 2011).

Since then, I spent some time reading in “the sociology of the future” and we had a guest that spoke about forecasting (related to weather, Phaedra Daipha), although we have had some other perspectives, namely, some commentary about the future and rubbish.

Well, inspired by this, I started writing with a colleague at Roskilde University (Denmark) named Matthew Spaniol. Our first paper linked STS and futures studies through the notion of multiplicity in “The Future Multiple.” Our new paper, which is nearly out now, deepens this linkage, drawing upon some STS insights to address issues voiced from within futures studies about scenario planning, a process that unfolds, in the standard account, through a series of stages, phases, and steps. We offer a much more tentative understand of that process in “Social Foundations of Scenario Planning.”

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Map of Science

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This is cool. Click here for a map of science as we know it. Reminds me of a number of topics we have discussed here, namely, digital methods, maps of submarine cables, and cartographic narratives from the past.

The above image is just a snippet of the original, which is only one of numerous maps to help make sense of massive amounts of data at Places & Spaces, Curated by the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center.

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thesinkhole.org

130301151745-02-sinkholes-0301-horizontal-large-gallery*from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/28/asia/japan-sinkhole-fukuoka/

There is an odd combination of care and mockery with regard to infrastructure devoted entirely to sinkholes. Please, please go to thesinkhole.org and check them out. It is not a complex blog, but it is dead serious (for example, note that a number of the stories covered by the blog record casualties). A curious resource and one to keep your eye on.

High-Tech Nickel and Dime

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Hourly wages are being calculated in new ways, often, new ways that employees do not know about, thanks to human resources software changes over the past few decades. The punchline (no pun intended): of course, businesses nickel and dime hourly workers through the use of algorithms, and, because of the complex nature of pay stubs and direct deposit — and also that most employees do not calculate their time worked against their pay “by hand” — employers are getting away with a modest amount of earned income from any employee that stamps the time-clock.

This also has legal implications, but not the ones you’d think: the law is so antiquated — referring to time cards and time-keeping practices that go back a generation — almost nothing can be legally done to reverse it or even curb it.

That is a gist of a new, short piece on The Conversation by Elizabeth C. Tippett (University of Oregon) who:

In collaboration with fellow researchers Charlotte Alexander and Zev Eigen, I examined 13 different timekeeping software programs by reviewing software tutorials, technical support materials and promotional information. This gave us some insight into the features available through the software. Our findings were recently published in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology.

The piece is called How timekeeping software helps companies nickel and dime their workers.

* Image is cropped from the original article.

CfP: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs

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CALL FOR PAPERS

Science, Technology, and the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs

An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies

Northwestern University, Evanston IL 

March 30-31, 2017

Keynote: Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard Kennedy School

Organizing Committee: Kevin Baker, Savina Balasubramanian, and Omri Tubi

Scientists, state actors, international institutions, and lay activists vie for credibility and legitimacy to both frame and control global issues. Science and technology are routinely cast into a supporting role to bolster their claims. From nuclear energy in the battle against climate change to the politicization of “big data;” from new information technologies in emerging regimes of global surveillance to the use of randomized controlled trials in international development research – scientific and technological expertise operate as instruments of power and authority, which can serve to legitimate or contest new forms of global governance and intervention.

The Buffett Institute’s second annual graduate student conference will investigate expert knowledge in contemporary global affairs, looking at the ways this knowledge is created, invoked, circulated, and contested in the international political arena. We invite graduate students to present work that explores questions such as: How do various international actors attempt to position themselves as credible participants in global politics? Under what conditions does expert knowledge come to be seen as legitimate on the global stage? How and why do global issues become understood as primarily technical, rather than political? In what ways do international actors frame these issues and what must be done about them? How is scientific and technological expertise marshaled or ignored in processes of claims making and action to structure interventions into global “problems?” And, finally, how do these practices organize, sustain, or challenge structures of global inequality and power?

 

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • The politics of climate change, climate science, and environmental security
  • The rise of actuarial and genetic approaches to global crime
  • Biosecurity, global health, and the regulation of infectious disease
  • Globalized technologies of risk and quantification
  • The technologization of global finance and economic markets
  • The politicization of social and computational science in an age of “big data”
  • New regimes of information and global surveillance
  • The changing nature of international development interventions
  • The constitution of transnational lay expertise in global social movements

We invite graduate students across the humanities and social sciences to submit abstracts of no more than 250 words by December 15, 2016using the submission link on the conference webpagehttp://buffett.northwestern.edu/programs/grad-conference/. There will be no deadline extensions. Accepted presenters will be notified by January 5 and papers are due to faculty discussants by March 7. The Buffett Institute will provide hotel accommodations and will subsidize travel costs (fully for US-based graduate students and partially for international students). Please direct all queries to the Graduate Organizing Committee at: buffettgradconference@northwestern.edu.

Complexity management and the information omnivores-versus-univores dilemma

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I recently had the opportunity to see the film Sully (2016), which recounts the 2009 emergency landing of a jetliner on New York’s Hudson River. Despite some critical flaws, the film is not only a thrill to watch but also provides much food for thought to those studying infrastructure. Even the flaws are instructive. One of them – certainly the most discussed – regards the portrayal of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that, as per protocol, investigated the accident. Whether due to Hollywood convention or directorial choice, the NTSB team are neatly cast as the villains, out to get the story’s hero by discrediting his decision-making process.

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Creating windows of opportunity: Installing (social) order at the National Weather Service

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An often overlooked aspect of how infrastructures impose (social) order is through transforming time into a trusty ally. One of their essential functions is to afford  shared frames for enacting a window of opportunity. Like many out there, I have been watching with bated breath as Hurricane Matthew churns a destructive path through the Caribbean and, now, along the coast of Florida. Yet, by the time Matthew goes “live” on our news screens it is already too late to act. The window of opportunity is gone, and even emergency personnel must wait until it is safe to respond. The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS), however, has been closely monitoring this storm long before it became  “Hurricane Matthew” to us. Charged with protecting life and property, NWS forecasters all over the East Coast were anxiously (and excitedly!) poring over the model forecasts and other weather guidance from the National Hurricane Center, deliberating over the uncertainty of the storm’s path and pondering how and when it was going to affect their area of forecasting responsibility. Remarkably, despite the great excitement and responsibility involved, the demeanor of the entire agency through it all has been calm, measured, and deliberate.

We may take it for granted, but “speaking with one voice” represents a great sociotechnical achievement – at the NWS as well as anywhere else. As I discuss in my book, the NWS has cultivated sets of temporally judicious decision-making habits in its forecasters both by promoting expeditious meteorological skills and rules of thumb and by scaffolding the temporal architecture of a given task onto more or less fixed deliberation structures and technologically hardwired timing sequences. Specifically as it pertains to hurricane operations, NWS forecasters must abide by the storm tracks charted by the Hurricane Center and, in fact, cannot publicly divulge any information prior its official release to ensure “the issuance of information to all users at the same time on an equal basis.” As I had occasion to witness first hand, however, NWS forecasters don’t always agree with the  pronouncements of the Hurricane Center, or of each other for that matter. And so, Hurricane Center forecasts/warnings are issued one hour before NWS field offices are to issue local hurricane advisories and warnings. This hour is the window of opportunity during which NWS forecasters will deliberate (via prescheduled conference calls and (ad hoc) chat room discussions) with the Hurricane Center as well as neighboring field offices about possible local amendments to the intensity/timing/track of the storm. Local expertise (in microclimatic conditions as well as community needs) is considered an asset at the NWS, militating for the existence of field offices in the first place. But eagerness to save the day and “nail the storm” can lead to flip-flopping, over/underwarning, or even bouts of indecision. It is especially for those fateful moments, when successfully utilizing windows of opportunity becomes paramount, that the NWS has sought to mold time into an organizational resource and forecasters into poised decision makers.

When it comes to windows of opportunity, however, one size doesn’t fit all. Different time horizons call for different infrastructural regimes of decision-making action. Here I have only touched upon hurricanes, which are “long-fused” events. Forecasting tornadoes, or some such “short-fused” event, presents entirely different windows of opportunity. Predictably, therefore, NWS infrastructures during fast-paced scenarios call forth a set of skills and resources best suited for keeping up with the action, whereas slow-paced scenarios come bundled with an equivalent set of skills and resources, meant to elicit good long-endurance performance. In the end, time makes a fool of us all, of course; but, in the meantime, we might as well devise ways to turn it into our best ally.  

Guest Blogger: Phaedra Daipha

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I am pleased to announce that Dr. Phaedra Daipha, whose first book I wrote about and enjoyed, will be a guest blogger on Installing (Social) Order this month (October, 2016). She is going to be telling us about her recent work in a new post every week or so. Personally, I am excited to learn more about her work about forecasting (weather forecasting, in this case) and especially her re-thinking of decision-making that extends in new directions previous models of “decision science” from the business school crowd, organizational analysis, and organization studies.

Dr. Daipha a cultural sociologist working at the intersection of STS, organization studies, and social theory. Her research agenda centers on the nature, practice, and institutions of knowledge and technology production, with an eye toward understanding the development and transformation of systems of expertise and the emergence of new forms of coordinated action. She has employed a number of methods and data sources to examine such diverse fields of knowledge and technology production as academic sociology, weather forecasting operations, the commercial fishing industry, and medical care.

Despite the diversity of method and empirical focus, however, her work consistently pursues the following substantive themes: decision making in complex sociotechnical systems; visualization and expertise; object-centered sociality; and professional boundary work. She has pursued these topics in a series of papers, culminating with her recent book,
Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth.

She is currently in the process of completing her forthcoming book, How Doctors Make Decisions: The Role of Prognosis in Cardiology Practice, based on two and a half years of comparative fieldwork. This book builds on her previously developed model of the process of decision making to highlight the practical, materialist, prospective, and situationist character of clinical judgment and care. But it also considerably extends her earlier conceptualization by applying it to a decision-making field that is interventionist (rather than consultative), that relies on cross-functional (rather than single-specialist) teamwork, and that operates within a significantly longer window of uncertainty.

Welcome aboard! 

Incentivizing “Repair” in Sweden

This is an idea worth reviewing — imperfect, of course, but something of this ilk should be developed, at scale. You can see reports on this all over now: the Guardian, CNN, Washington Post, BBC, and so on.

This comes on heels of much needed attention to maintenance, especially in terms of infrastructure, but with a new mechanism for incentivizing these behaviors on a wide swath of products, which re-articulates attention toward “demand” in a fresh way and away from “demand” as merely “voicing political concern” (which seems not to work, other than verbally). 

Sweden proposes tax breaks for repairing things, extra tax on unrepairable things.

Demand for Infrastructure Essential

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After reading a short piece by Christopher Jones (assistant professor of history at Arizona State University and author of Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America, 2014), I was reminded of just how essential “demand” is when it comes to actually getting politicians to invest in shared infrastructure (rather than fall back on ill-advised cost-savings measures that delay or push-back maintenance).

The basic idea is that we are focused on “game changing innovations,” rather than the day-to-day maintenance of our infrastructure. For most of us, of course, effective roadways and public transportation are at least as important as ground-breaking innovations. But Jones goes a step further in our understanding of this, effectively suggesting that innovations primarily promote/aid/help the already wealth, monied upper-class elites who can benefit socially, politically, and financially from emphasis on innovation as opposed to maintenance on, for example, roadways, subways, waterways, and all manner of other ways.

Jones’s solution: Demand it! (after all, we once did, and worked out rather well). See his new piece “New tech only benefits the elite until the people demand more,” and start demanding!

Who Self-Driving Cars Should Kill

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Scholars from “MIT’s Media Lab, [in a group] called the Moral Machine,” are testing “a thought experiment that seeks answers from humans on how a driverless car with malfunctioning brakes should act in emergency situations.” Here is the piece.

These situations are bound to happen with self-driving cars. In this case, “The situations all involve the same scenario, where a self-driving car is traveling toward a crosswalk, and it needs to choose whether to swerve and crash into a barrier or plow through whoever’s at the crosswalk. The test is basically to determine what humans would do in these rare, life-or-death situations.”

 

NYC’s circulatory system and skin

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If you’re teaching infrastructure and you need some metaphors to communicate how certain kinds of infrastructure operate, consider this: Street as vein and skin. 

“Streets are both New York City’s circulatory system and its skin.”

Part of New York 101 from the New York Times, Why are the streets always under construction?” is a great short, readable resource for students about the “subterranean layer cake” underneath the streets of any major city.

 

“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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Why NYC Subways Don’t Have Countdown Clocks

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Great, quick read — possibly useful, in form and function, for generating teachable moments and useful learning projects.

Why New York Subway Lines Are Missing Countdown Clocks: “I honestly just wanted to know why the F train didn’t have clocks. I never expected it to be so complicated.”

*This is similar, in some ways, to previous posts on NYC and natural gas infrastructure.

Re-Using Nuclear Sites

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Logging and nudist colonies

It is an admittedly odd juxtaposition, but these two ideas landed on my desk this week. 

First, in an example of public participation in inquiry,Chornobyl’s urban explorers find evidence of logging inside exclusion zone” — logging glow sticks in the “zone of alienation” (thanks dmf). A group of “stockers” roams the zone of alienation and monitor it, and they have found some interesting things in their somewhat odd form of tourism. “The first time we saw forests and the second time it wasn’t there,” says Kalmykov. Chernobyl is having a birthday.

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Internet Railroad?

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I will return to this piece each year teaching STS. Living in Central Pennsylvania, we are sitting right on top of PRR country (Pennsylvania Railroad). It is useful for students to understand the sunk costs, the path dependency (literally, in this case), and the reverberations through history that simple technological infrastructure decisions can make. “How railroads shaped Internet history.”

Unintended Consequences Go Hog Wild

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If you find yourself teaching unintended consequences, consider this case “Radioactive wild boars rampaging around Fukushima nuclear site.” The animal population, which was previously hunted as a delicacy, has expanded dramatically (likely on account of nobody wanting to eat the radioactive meat); the hogs have pillaged the environment local to the Fukushima nuclear site, eating all manner of contaminated fruits and vegetables.

Infrastructure Game Changers?

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The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has a relatively new project called “Game Changers,” which (purportedly) captures and shares with viewers “successful solutions across the major infrastructure sectors to identify the most innovative #GameChangers. Imagine what more we could do if we seize the opportunity to replicate these engineering innovations.”

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New Essay: Hail the Maintainers

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“Hail the maintainers” — a must read.

Innovation is overrated. “Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more.”

* Image from original post: Workers at the Blue Plains Waste Water Treatment Plant, Washington DC.Robert Madden/National Geographic Creative

Infrastructure Collapse, India

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Collapsing bridges (again and again), this time a flyover under construction in Kolkata (Calcutta). “India bridge collapse: Kolkata rescue efforts under way,” “India bridge collapse: At least 23 killed in Kolkata,” “Kolkata overpass collapse kills 24; rescuers dig for survivors,” “India Kolkata flyover collapse: At least 20 dead,” and it goes on.

Uncommon Walking Tour of Bristol

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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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Call for Papers: 4S, 2016, Barcelona

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Consider submitting to our track at this year’s combination 4S / EASST meeting in Barcelona, August 31 – September 3! (submission deadline, fast approaching: Feb 21, 2016)

Title: Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means

Short Description: The challenge: to explore new ways of studying “politics as usual” by taking inspiration from the conceptual repertoire developed in STS for scrutinizing “science as usual”. We invite proposals for papers which mobilize STS concepts, methodologies, and practices in studying with “politics as usual”.

Long Description: The adage “technology is politics by other means” emphasizes that technoscientific practices contribute to the making of collective orders which are not given by nature, but made, involving decision, power, and authority. While the 4S/EASST motto “science & technology by other means” is meant to be a conspicuous alternative to laboratory and epistemic authority-based reality-making, it also provides an occasion to come back to “politics by the same means”. The challenge: to explore ways of studying “politics as usual” by taking inspiration from the conceptual repertoire developed in STS for scrutinizing “science as usual”. We invite proposals for papers that mobilize STS concepts, methodologies, and practices for studying and engaging with “politics as usual”. This includes actors, knowledges, institutions, discourses, practices, infrastructures, etc., that make-up what we “traditionally” call politics and the political process, but also those that are not on that traditional list. Examples include studies of publics, policy, parties, interest groups, social movements, terrorist groups, state and non-state agencies, political representation and communication, democracy and participation, parliaments and lobbyism, nation-states, populations and stateless persons, international relations, diplomacy and conflict, multi-level and global governance, protest and resistance. A general interest is with the tools and machineries of knowing and assembling governance, the epistemic and ontological practices that make these specifically political realities, actors, processes, powers, and modes of authority. Recalling the conference motto: what are we to do about the seemingly intransigent politics of re-assembling “technoscientific practices along routes that do not follow once established divides”?

Conveners: Nicholas Rowland (The Pennsylvania State University), Jan-Peter Voss (Berlin University of Technology), and Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technische Universität München)

Squirrels, Sharks, and Eagles, oh my!

While teaching STS, I was recently talking to my students about what constitutes an “internet attack.” The students arrived with clear examples in mind (and in hand, which was part of the assignment). The answers were primarily in the form of human-based hacking projects, and, as most of you know, they are abound. Giving the timing of the assignment, most of the cases had something to do with hacks against the US, hacks against power production facilities, and financial institutions.

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However, one student brought this: Sharks, replete with jokes about Sharknado as evidence of the prowess of the shark. Seeing as how a previous lesson was about ANT, with an emphasis on non-human agents as not-to-be-ignored agents in understanding social order, broadly speaking, this was a sign that at least one student “really got it.”

Another student brought in this: an eagle hitting a drone, hard.

Not a few days pass, and the blog’s oldest friend, dmf, sends me to a great website, half-serious, half-satire, CyberSquirrel1. The site is a terrific description of how our critical infrastructure is seemingly the most danger from other nation-states; however, the empirical materials do not seem to suss-out such an explanation; in fact, squirrels and other non-humans are responsible for more “attacks” than anyone else.

Makes for a great lesson if you want to find a fresh new way to bring infrastructure and the agentic role of nonhumans into the classroom in a way that is, to my mind, far better to the early discussions that Latour made about stop signs or door hinges.

NEW BOOK: Assembling Policy

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I am Sebastian Ureta and Nicholas has invited me to discuss my new (November 2015) book Assembling Policy.

Also, I owe a big thank you to MIT Press for publishing Assembling Policy!

For readers of the blog: Given past interest in Foucault, the origins of governmentality, and hybrid infrastructures, I thought the book would be of interest, seeing as how I mix classic STS with governmentality studies (among other things). I’ve published in The Information Society, Social Studies of Science, Organization, Public Understanding of Science, Urban Studies, and a few other places, if you’re curious about other work.

The case: I analyze the Transantiago, a mayor infrastructural policy carried out in Santiago, Chile in 2007 with utterly disastrous results. You can see the publisher’s overview bellow.

*I am happy to expand/comment on any of the book’s contents — please ask in the comments!

Publisher’s Overview:

Policymakers are regularly confronted by complaints that ordinary people are left out of the planning and managing of complex infrastructure projects. In this book, Sebastián Ureta argues that humans, both individually and collectively, are always at the heart of infrastructure policy; the issue is how they are brought into it. Ureta develops his argument through the case of Transantiago, a massive public transportation project in the city of Santiago, proposed in 2000, launched in 2007, and in 2012 called “the worst public policy ever implemented in our country” by a Chilean government spokesman.

 

Ureta examines Transantiago as a policy assemblage formed by an array of heterogeneous elements—including, crucially, “human devices,” or artifacts and practices through which humans were brought into infrastructure planning and implementation. Ureta traces the design and operation of Transantiago through four configurations: crisis, infrastructuration, disruption, and normalization. In the crisis phase, humans were enacted both as consumers and as participants in the transformation of Santiago into a “world-class” city, but during infrastructuration the “active citizen” went missing. The launch of Transantiago caused huge disruptions, in part because users challenged their role as mere consumers and instead enacted unexpected human devices. Resisting calls for radical reform, policymakers insisted on normalizing Transantiago, transforming it into a permanent failing system. Drawing on Chile’s experience, Ureta argues that if we understand policy as a series of heterogeneous assemblages, infrastructure policymaking would be more inclusive, reflexive, and responsible.

Co-opting Participation Infrastructure?

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Kenny Cuppers has a cool set of papers on the rise of shared “cultural centers” in major Postwar European cities. His is the first substantive chapter in a not-yet published book, which seems tailor-made for his research line, and which acts as a kind of companion piece for his published article “The Cultural Center: Architecture as Cultural Policy in Postwar Europe.”

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Infrastructural Lives, Reviewed

Add this one to your reading list: Steve Graham and Colin McFarlane have edited a book, which has just come out, Infrastructural Lives

Contributors include AbdouMaliq Simone, Maria Kaika, Vyjayanthi Rao, Mariana Cavalcanti, Stephanie Terrani-Brown, Omar Jabary Salamanca, Rob Shaw, Harriet Bulkeley, Vanesa Caston-Broto, Simon Marvin, Mike Hodson, Renu Desai, Steve Graham, and myself.  Arjun Appaduria kindly provided a thoughtful foreword for the book.

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