NatureCulture, Casper Bruun Jensen (Free On-line)


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

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

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

Pankaj Sekhsaria: Guest Blogger


Pankaj Sekhsaria (doctoral candidate from Maastricht University Science and Technology Studies) will join us for the next month on the blog. You might recall mention of research on jugaad, but Pankaj’s work is so much more than that. If you review the page, then you’ll see a substantial amount more about jugaad, including an engaging and well-read newspaper piece about the topic,  along with a piece in Current Science, India’s leading science journal, and there is also a chapter is an edited volume that is worth the read. Pankaj is also author of The Last Wave, a novel that is engrossing — I’m learning — and that was well-received on the topic of deforestation and, I think, finding meaning in a world ravened by capitalism’s insufferable appetite.

This is truly a joy to welcome Pankaj to the blog. Please join me in welcoming our guest.

New Zealand Grants River Personhood


Great ANT case for teaching: “New Zealand Grants River Personhood

Want to take it to the next level in the classroom? challenge students to understand how a person-like “state” (in this case, New Zealand) is apparently accorded the ability to do this!

Ask them, which is weirder, a river being a person or a state granting the personhood?

New paper on crowdsourcing

An interesting paper on crowdsourcing just came out in the “Computational & Mathematical Organization Theory” journal. “Maximizing benefits from crowdsourced data” by Geoffrey Barbier et al. explores how crowdsourcing can be used for purposes of collective action and problem-solving, for example, in disaster response and by relief organizations.
Here’s the abstract:

Crowds of people can solve some problems faster than individuals or small groups. A crowd can also rapidly generate data about circumstances affecting the crowd itself. This crowdsourced data can be leveraged to benefit the crowd by providing information or solutions faster than traditional means. However, the crowdsourced data can hardly be used directly to yield usable information. Intelligently analyzing and processing crowdsourced information can help prepare data to maximize the usable information, thus returning the benefit to the crowd. This article highlights challenges and investigates opportunities associated with mining crowdsourced data to yield useful information, as well as details how crowdsource information and technologies can be used for response-coordination when needed, and finally suggests related areas for future research.

Besides being a very useful reference piece by providing a state of coverage with respect to crowdsourced data – like where to find it and what to make of it -, the paper is also a nice illustration of how social scientists become more and more involved in leveraging “big data” from informational infrastructures and from web activity in general. Crowdsourced data but also initially a lot less directed, if not accidental, information flows appear to increasingly be data-mined for a variety of purposes, not at least by – oops – us.
Check out the paper here.

Forthcoming book "Man, Agency, and Beyond" and a sneak peek…

Edited by Daniel Jacobi & Annette Freyberg???Inan, Man, Agency, and Beyond: The Evolution of Human Nature in International Relations will soon go to print at Cambridge. The editors have, in all honesty, willed this book along; they were able to provide two rounds of reviews in two months! The book is built from earlier discussions from a 2011 Catalytic Workshop, which even has some good notes available on-line — interesting stuff.

Jan and I are contributing a chapter that draws on our interests in state theory (mainly from social theory and political theory, but also, with encouragement from the editors, literature from international relations too).

We ask a deceptively simple question: during international relations, who or what acts?

Here is an excerpt:

TITLE: Acting in International Relations? Political Agency in State Theory and Actor-Networks  

AUTHORS: Jan-H. Passoth, Department of Sociology, Bielefeld University; Nicholas J. Rowland, Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University


Who acts in international relations? From state theory generally, and the field of International Relations specifically, the readymade answer is: ‘states do’ – so long as we assume states to be the high-modern regime of nation-states that so dominantly sorted-out conceptual possibilities of political agency during the 20th century. An alternative approach to global politics, in contrast, searches for political power beyond the state. Contemporary shifts toward neo-liberal and other transnational regimes are reshaping the political landscape to enable entities beyond the state to gain importance in governance. We are, thus, left with two options: We see states as entities capable of acting on the stage of global politics, or we see states as one of many patterns through which political activity is enacted. This dichotomy neatly parallels how agency has been conceptualized in social theory: Either we swallow the bitter pill of essentializing a high-modern model of human nature to understand how actors establish, maintain, and transform political order, or we join the deconstruction camp and dissect the mechanisms, techniques, and discursive patterns that surround this model of human nature, which will then one day probably be ‘erased, like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea.’[1] We develop this tension in our paper about who or what acts during international relations.

[1] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Pantheon, 1970), p. 387.