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 Published and unpublished papers are accepted; if published, the article must have been published no earlier than 2012.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…


A new direction in political sociology?


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

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

Integrate the social sciences and humanities?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abandoned Places


Abandoned places. Stunning visuals.

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

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

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

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

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

Is STS a bordello or cabinet of wonders?


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

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


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

Also, in STS, however:

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

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

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

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

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.

Is that really what is “wrong” with STS? Is there anything wrong?


Yesterday Nicholas posted a comment from org-theory that tries to grasp what might be wrong with STS. And although the discussion below that post is fascinating and thought-provocing, I am not so sure in more than two ways if the diagnosis is correct. First I do not agree that the focus on “authorial” concepts (the A->x structure) is really the way STS ticks. That “Latour -> actant” or “Callon -> Agencement” or “Mol -> Multiplicity” schema might work for attribution from the outside, but I am pretty sure Bruno, Michel and Annemarie do not really care. In fact: most prominent concepts have their “one-hit” appearance…for example “hybrids” in WHNBM, the “nonhuman” in the book on Pasteur. What is really at stake is the phenomena these terms try to capture: we have more than one concept to capture heterogeneity, more than one to capture instability, more than one to capture arrangements, more than one to capture translation.

And second I really do not agree that outside of STS the so called “Mertonian Model” is the model we find in practice of, lets say, organizational theory. One should take a deeper look – maybe an STS project on practice in org theory – to really make that point, but the latest prominence of “fields” -> Fligstein/McAdam, “networks” -> White or the classic ones like “garbage can” -> CMO, “embeddedness” -> Granovetter look pretty much like the A->x structure to me. That is no critique, but I doubt that the distinction between two modes (two cultures …hahaha) of scholarly practice really makes sense. I would prefer asking what role both modes (and maybe a few more) play in the production of science and technology and how one shifts from one to the other in practice.

Another take on the issue would play the old tune of reflexivity: As we are scientifically looking at science we cannot simply hammer variables down (as this is, as we have seen, not really what other scientists are doing anyway); nor can we just play the post-modern relativist (as this is disrespects the craft of science on so many levels). So what should we do? One way is to build up our own labs, our own inventory of used and not used inscription devices, some highly tinkered, some dusty, some in the center of the lab, some in the garage. Misunderstanding “concepts” (like agencement, actant, inscription device, lab, etc.) or styles (like the fictional observer in Lab Life or the “Voice of Aramis”) either as mertonian or as authorial is like treating a chromatograph as a scientific paper. They are devices, tools, workbenches to produce reflexive phenomena. Like the wonderful machines in biotech labs our devices might look strange to those not used to working with them on a day to day basis. Ours are cheap, at last…that is why we can dump them so easily and come up with another.

What’s wrong with STS?


Here is what’s wrong with STS. For a better STS, consider the following:

hmmm … My sense is that what’s “wrong” with STS is what’s “wrong” with a lot of organizational theory. There are no well-characterized phenomena to study (case studies are not phenomena, although they can lead to their discovery). Instead what you see is a proliferation of schematic “concepts.” In science, “progressive” cosmopolitan collectives build on phenomena and are pragmatic towards concepts and models (the one that provides a more satisfactory account of the phenomenon wins); “oppositional” enclave-based scientific movements deplore phenomena and focus on “authorial” concepts. Authorial concepts are those that are inherently associated with an author, who thus “owns it” (e.g. Latour –> actant). Because oppositional enclaves tend to be organized around “groups” and authorial charisma scientists do not compete to offer the best explanation of an explicitly recognized phenomenon (as in the Mertonian ideal type) but instead the incentive structure is biased for leaders of different subtribes to provide their own authorial concept. The reason is that without your “own” concept, you don’t have a reputation.

Thus, conceptual proliferation in oppositional enclaves is simply the outcome of a more basic underlying socio-structural logic. This contrast to the Mertonian ideal-type collective (which actually attaches names of authors to effects not concepts), which favors the proliferation of different explanations of the same (small) set of (clearly characterized) phenomena. Because authorial concepts, like all concepts, have the general structure (A as X) where X is the concept and A is some empirical setting, “progress” in oppositional collectives follows a “turf-war” model as you extend your concept to cover other realms, in particular realms that were previously covered by your rival’s own authorial concept (e.g. B as X and not Y, C as X and not Y, etc.)

This is not to say that well-characterized phenomena are absent from STS. Obviously one interesting phenomenon to emerge out of the STS enclave is what has become known as performativity (although Ezra might disagree as to whether this phenomenon is well-characterized), and not surprisingly, this is where STS has been the most influential outside of the enclaves. If you prefer the Mertonian model of science (and I’m going out on a limb here and presume that Ezra–who is a boy–prefers this model) then the good thing about phenomena (as opposed to let’s say “concepts”) is that they don’t carry authorial copyright, so that anybody can take a “shot” at (accounting for) them. Phenomena-centered science thus leads to cosmopolitan, interdisciplinary endeavors that follow more closely the “progressive” line traditionally associated with normal science. Given a phenomenon as a reference point, we can make a pretty good estimate of where we stand in relation to the immediate past.

Take for instance the phenomenon of “boom and bust” in industries (or organizational imprinting). You’d be crazy (or just uniformed) if you didn’t realize that we are in a better explanatory position in relation to these phenomena than we were let’s say a three decades ago. However, given a “concept” (let’s say “social structure”) no such “progressive estimate can be given, instead it seems as if we are stuck in second gear. Authorial concepts-centered science instead leads to either Spenglerian “coming crises” types of analyses or cynical, “nothing matters, there’s never progress, everything goes in cycles”(e.g. Abbott in Chaos of Disciplines) types of takes regarding the health of a given field.

It is obvious that STS is a “concept-based” enclave and the “system of thought” that governs most STSers is based on this make-a-”contribution”-by-offering-a-new-concept model. A typical example is Callon, who in a recent paper (2007: 140) argues that “Relying upon the anthropology of science and technology, we can define economic markets as socio-technical arrangements or agencements (STA) whose functioning is based on a set of framings concerning not only goods and agencies but also price-setting mechanisms(1).” Then if you have the patience to go to footnote one we get the definition of agencement:

An agencement is a combination of material and technical devices, texts, algorithms, rules, and human beings with their various instruments and prostheses. I discuss elsewhere the reasons why I prefer the French term agencement (which unfortunately has no equivalent in English) to assemblage or arrangement (Callon, 2007). Agencements denote socio-technical assemblages when they are considered from the point of view of their capacity to act and to give meaning to action. By defining markets as STAs we emphasize the fact that they are simultaneously malleable and capable of actions.

At this point, of course Ezra has already thrown the paper in the trash. Callon’s strategy here follows the template offered above (markets as agencement) But the main point is that throughout this paper, you will not find the usual Mertonian goodies; e.g. a characterization of a phenomenon, a specification of our ignorance regarding the mechanisms that generate it and the proposal of a new model of these mechanisms that does a better job of accounting for the phenomenon than other competitors, but simply more definitions, and stylized descriptions of sites that could be thought of as “agencements.” This is the style of thought characteristic of STS.

We can go hoarse trying to evaluate whether this is or is not a good strategy, but for now I’ll simply play the good anthropologist and say that it is “different” (I have been known to play both sides of this field) but in addition (and now putting on my more specific Mary Douglas hat) it should be noted that it is also exquisitely attuned to the social context within which it makes sense (enclaves where charismatic authority based on authorial concepts is the most natural reputational currency). Since, the main issue after reading this paper is that you come out with the impression that: agencement –> Callon so that you have to cite Callon (2007) if you want to use the concept (the same of course goes for agora, actor-network or what have you).

Please note: This is not my post; it is a recycled comment from orgtheory.net by Omar, a comment to a post that Fabio wrote about some eerily similar territorial scuffles I experienced as a guest blogger there.

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.

Follow-up on Goldiblox


Just saw this; more on actually doing something about gender in STEM, especially, engineering:

Fewer than 3 in 10 graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are women. And barely 1 in 10 actual engineers are women. Early in a girl’s life, the toys marketed to her are usually things that don’t encourage her to enter those fields. GoldieBlox intends to change that by teaching them while they are young that these fields can be fun — and apparently epic, by the looks of this super-genius 2-minute video. Watch and learn.

Check out the video on upworthy here. Also, a previous post about it here.

And a student said "Ah, so like, people with cultural capital don’t need Google…ohhhh, I get it"

The other day we completed our lessons on “social class” in introductory sociology. I present a number of basic models of social class in addition to the classics by Marx, Weber, and Bourdieu.

In the lesson on “cultural capital” one of the students did not seem to fully grasp the concept of cultural capital and did not fully understand what it meant for a person to have a command over valued cultural knowledge, styles, and practices.

To get started with some active learning, students take a mock quiz at the opening of the class; a cultural capital quiz, which they do not know is mocked, but of course it is rigged. For example, here is a slide from the quiz portion of the presentation about wine:


The student who had difficulty on th quiz and with the idea of cultural capital spoke with me after class twice in order to arrive at a better understanding of this idea, and it was during our second short meeting, when I returned to this quiz question that he said something peculiar. Here is the slide we were discussing:


I explained to him that as Bourdieu conceptualized cultural capital in the late 1960s until 1980s in France, a person with cultural capital would not really need to think to answer the questions contained in the quiz. To them, it would appear all too easy.

And the student said, “Ah, so like, people with cultural capital don’t need Google …. ohhh, I get it, they just automatically know shit and don’t really have to think about it.”

Not eloquent, surely, but it made me wonder. Surely you could agree with the student suggesting that Bourdieu implied and occasionally said that the elite effortlessly deploy cultural knowledge and styles because they know them so well; they were raised with them making cultural knowledge a second nature and their cultural capital reserves a “second inheritence.” On the other hand, the part about Google haunted me.

What role do search engines play in cultural capital? I wonder to what extent search engines (which supply relatively easy access to oodles of cultural knowledge) make cultural capital all the more useless. After all, what is the point of knowing a bottle of wine when I can just take a picture of its barcode and know detailed information about rainfalls in Spain’s Priorat during the 1996 season?