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

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

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

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

Legit Infrastructure?

An interesting, new-ish scholar to look into is Ben Cashore, Professor, Environmental Governance & Political Science; Director of the Governance, Environment, and Markets Initiative at Yale (GEM) and Director, Program on Forest Policy and Governance.

Currently, I’m reading his co-authored paper on establishing legitimate non-state governance infrastructure, in his case, regarding the voluntary self-regulation for the development of forestlands and the sale of such harvests on the global market.

The paper is very similar to his other work, but it raises two great points worth considering:

1. While there is much ado about “governance without government” most governance seems to be about government in some way or another; put another way, most non-governmental goverance is in fact quite governmental in terms of its origins, functions, and composition. For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established by legitimate states and its body is mainly composed of individuals in or with strong ties to existing governments and it was established by states as a way for states to deal with international issues. This is good hidden-in-plain-sight observation: there is such a thing as goverance without government, but the “government” never gets too far from sight.

2. Because non-state mechanisms, such as voluntary self-regulation for the development of forestlands, have little or no power to enforce standards/norms and authority to penalize non-compliant firms, the legitimacy of these operations becomes paramount to understanding them. Their authority or power, which tend to be limited, are contingent on their legitimacy (note: this is a bit strong-handed, so please read the paper for a more nuanced interpretation).

Now, for the readers of this blog, this raises the issue of legitimate infrastructure. It is relatively rare to see work on infrastructure raise the notion of legitimacy, which is a concept that has many meanings and numerous analytical trajectories in various disciplines. In sociology, the new institutionalism is where I was first exposed to legitimacy arguments. Thinking back to Cashore’s work now, the development of non-state mechanisms such as voluntary self-regulation is influenced by the perceived legitimacy of the mechanism (and its relation to other mechanisms, conceivably), thus, might non-state infrastructural development follow the same underlying dynamic?

Govind Gopakumar on Water Infrastructure

At the 4S meeting, Jan and I met Govind Gopakumar, who recently published a book on water infrastructure in India named Transforming Urban Water Supply in India.

The abstract:

The absence of water supply infrastructure is a critical issue that affects the sustainability of cities in the developing world and the quality of life of millions of people living in these cities. Urban India has probably the largest concentration of people in the world lacking safe access to these infrastructures.

This book is a unique study of the politics of water supply infrastructures in three metropolitan cities in contemporary India – Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi. It examines the process of change in water supply infrastructure initiated by notable Public Private Partnership’s efforts in these three cities to reveal the complexity of state-society relations in India at multiple levels – at the state, city and neighbourhood levels. Using a comparative methodology, the book develops as understanding of the changes in the production of reform water policy in contemporary India and its reception at the sub-national (state) level. It goes on to examine the governance of regimes of water supply in Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi, and evaluates the role of the partnerships in reforming water supply. The book is a useful contribution to studies on Urban Development and South Asian Politics.

I’ve made arrangements to review the book for the Social Studies of Science, and I’ll post some preliminary comments here on the blog. Welcome aboard, Govind…

Thank you, Endre Dányi Welcome Karthryn Furlong!

Endre Dányi, a student of Lucy Suchman and John Law at Lancaster University’s Department of Sociology, joined the blog for the month of October into November wherein he shared six great posts about what I suppose we could call “the Parliament multiple.” A real highlight for me was Endre’s point about Parliamentary efficiency: “There’s a double demand here: the legislative machine should operate smoothly, but not too smoothly.” That is an idea worth developing in this age of hyper-efficiency and transparency! Bravo!

So, from Installing (Social) Order, thank you for your detailed and throught-provoking posts, and we hope you stay engaged in the discussions here on the blog.

Kathryn Furlong is the project director the “Water, Urban, and Utility Goverance” and assistant professor in geography at University of Montreal. She was first mentioned on the blog as a “new scholar to watch” because of her paper “Small technologies, big change: Rethinking infrastructure through STS and geography” published in Progress in Human Geography. The paper illuminates a few ways that STS might learn from geography, and the inverse is also presented. After our meeting at 4S a few days back, I am not convinced that STS has a ton to learn from geography on the topic of infrastructure. She is currently attending a conference, and will hopefully tell us a little about it and other topics over the next month or so.

Karthryn, welcome aboard!

Jan-Hendrik Passoth and I’s (Nicholas Rowland’s) comments at 4S

Jan and I organized Sessions 201 and 222 back-to-back on the topic of states, state measurement, and state theory. These talks and our comments were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Social Studies of Science in Cleveland, OH, November 05, 2011.

Session 201: Counting and Measuring

The relationship between science, technology, and governance is a relationship that shapes and is shaped by contemporary states. While this relationship has been influential in STS research on how contemporary modes of governance influence scientific practice and technological innovations, the converse question of the influence of both on governance is relatively underrepresented.

These sessions, therefore, take-up the task and explore this relationship and its depiction in history and social and political theory. The first session (session 201) is presenting a series of five case studies on the role of conflict, measurement and performativity for the enactment of stateness, drawing from rich empirical projects. The second session (session 222) is focusing on conceptualization and theoretical approaches, dealing mostly with the mechanisms and techniques of creating, maintaining and shifting the multiple ontologies of stateness.

Anat Leibler will show us the traditional science-state relationship, but from a new angle wherein the science of population measurement is embedded in states of conflict, in this case, being Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Hector Vera also emphasizes the central role of measurement, in his case; however, it is about measurement standards adopted by Mexico and the US, in a historical comparative case study approach.

Michael Rodriguez brings together the dual-tasks of counting and countings of populations, but on the level of micro-practices in his work on the role of “partnerships” with Latino communities that are often “undercounted” by traditional census techniques.

Keith Guzik returns our attention back to Mexico where rather than counting techniques or practices, he emphases the role of techno-infrastructure in his historical account of national security programs.

Daniel Barber also provides a historical view, but one more fine grained, drilling-deeply into the 1940s US Department of the Interior where two models of future energy use were evaluated quite openly; however, as we can all see, one of these methods has obviously become taken-for-granted.


Session 222: Theory and Ontology

Patrick Carroll shows us, through a detailed but theoretically oriented case study, how diverse, seemingly unrelated issues of water and water infrastructure became a – read, grouped or combined – political object of state governing.

Hendrik Vollmer describes another transformation which invokes the state; this time, however, through micro-measurement for sake of global comparison and regulation.

Erich Schienke grounds his paper in the fertile fodder of Ecocities in China, which do not yet fully exist (other than in discourse), showing how aggregated environmental indicators will be used, we think/he thinks, to re-position the Chinese state as an ecological civilization in the global theater of political action.

Kelly Moore’s (not in attendance) work challenges us to say “how does the state get into our bodies?” the answer to which turns out be a neoliberal story of government intervention into bodies through what she calls the promulgation of “pleasured self-discipline.”


Concluding Comments (once presentations end, and before questions):

All of the papers tackle the crucial, which we will crudely frame here as the classical concern over the relation between micro processes and macro entities. For example, the micro processes seen in Michael Rodriguez’s work on the day-to-day, on-the-ground counting of the undercounted, or Patrick Carroll’s work on water infrastructure where many seemingly distinct matters relating to people, land, and water where lashed-together and inverted to become one concern over water for some manner of macro entity usually referred to as the state. The relation between micro processes and macro entities is a debate worth studying.

And these presenters do much justice to this enduring debate by taking much more nuanced interpretations into their analyses, especially of counting practices, and their theoretical approaches to understanding where the state is and is not, and its multiple purported effects.

We observe empirically, and we all have seen this here today, that there are important similarities too between what we “see” on-the-ground and the conceptual tools we have inherited from our respective disciplines in sociology, history, geography, political science, and the like. The perhaps surprising link we speak of is between (a) the historically-embedded, highly-contingent, ongoing-accomplishments that we observe in our empirical investigations and (b) the conceptual apparatus that we invoke, as scholars.

To our minds, and this is our closing remark, which is perhaps c
ontroversial: it is of the utmost importance for scholars to remember that the concepts we make and their appearance and use in our field-sites are linked together. These are not merely opportunities to verify or reject our theories. Instead, they are valuable analytical opportunities to critically and empirically engage them.

Whether or not “the state” exists is a waste of our time; rather, it is precisely these ephemeral moments when, by whom, and how the state is brought into existence or invoked as a partner that we should direct our analytical and empirical attention to …  as we consider this a fertile site for STS’s group contribution to state theory.

ANT and Ethnography

Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz just alerted me to the fact that Qualitative Sociology is going to host a special issue on ANT and ethnography called “Reassembling Ethnography: ANT beyond the


Deadline for submissions: March 31, 2012 submitted directly to the journal.
Word Limits: 10,000 words (maximum) including bibliography
Queries: Gianpaolo Baiocchi (, Diana Graizbord
(, and Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz

Check out the full solicitation here:

4S in Cleveland, a first couple of notes

Since I am the only one of our little outfit to be still left in Cleveland I might just as well start off reporting from the 4S meeting with a couple of quick Sunday morning impressions.
As usual, the meeting as a whole was well attended, and the organizers did a good job of providing a well-balanced mix of themes and issues.
Before I get to the sessions organized by Nicholas and Jan, I should say that the “author meets critics” panel with Marion Fourcade and with Daniel Breslau, Mary Morgan, and Ted Porter discussing Fourcade’s book about “Economists and Societies” somewhat stood out for me. For one thing, the discussants provided excellent commentary, but more generally speaking, I just love this format. Rather than having four+ different papers cramped into 90 minutes, you actually get a couple of very smart people discussing the same piece of work. Maybe the organizers could think about making this format a still bigger part of the overall schedule.
Then, of course, the two sessions about “Seeing states and state theory in STS”, organized and hosted by Nicholas and Jan, were surely the place where things were happening with respect to the interests represented in this blog. The powers that be provided one of the finer rooms and a good crowd of people was present, despite the fact that it was Saturday afternoon. If I should pick a presentation that impressed me the most, it was the presentation by MIchael Rodriguez-Mu??iz. He is studying the work of census representatives in getting the cooperation of people whose data have to be collected. What I liked so much about this study is that it nicely illustrates the work that has to be done at the periphery to make a technology that is historically highly crucial for establishing state power work in actual practice. It turns out that sometimes, rather than the state being summoned as an authority to implement a certain obligation, the actual exercise of state power benefits from being dissimulated. Fascinating stuff right there.
Thanks to Nicholas and Jan for making it all happen! I sense an STS field in the making here and maybe a continuous series of sessions for future 4S meetings. And one more reason to look forward to next year’s 4S in Copenhagen.

Kathryn Furlong on infrastructure

A new paper by Kathryn Furlong is out in Sage’s “Progress in Human Geography” titled “Small technologies, big change: Rethinking infrastructure through STS and geography

The abstract reads:

Infrastructure tends to be conceived as stabilized and ‘black-boxed’ with little interaction from users. This fixity is in flux in ways not yet fully considered in either geography or science and technology studies (STS). Driven by environmental and economic concerns, water utilities are increasingly introducing efficiency technologies into infrastructure networks. These, I argue, serve as ‘mediating technologies’ shifting long-accepted socio-technical and environmental relationships in cities. The essay argues for a new approach to infrastructure that, by integrating insights from STS and geography, highlights its malleability and offers conceptual tools to consider how this malleability might be fostered.

While the author might be a little hard on STS, stating:

STS tends to privilege the technical and thus often exhibits less refined approaches to social, political, and economic processes, has little to say on the production of nature, and exhibits ‘a rather generic notion of space’ and place (Truffer, 2008: 978)

It is still well worth the read, especially given the necessity to consider geographic issues, which might be a way to consider the matters of scale we so recently discussed here.

Howard Silver, COSSA, and protecting NSF’s SBE

Recently, lobbyist and former chair of the National Science Foundation Funding Howard Silver commented on a post regarding the potential closure of the US-based National Science Foundation’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences branch.

Silver is part of COSSA (Consortium of Social Science Associations):

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) began in the late 1960s as an informal group of social science associations that met to exchange information and discuss common problems. In May 1981, the disciplinary associations, responding to disproportionately large budget cuts proposed by the new Reagan Administration for the social and behavioral sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), used the informal COSSA collaboration to establish a Washington-based advocacy effort.

Their website provides a number of interesting topics, but for me the consistent updates about the fate of science fuding in Washington on the homepage is probably what I’ll be checking each morning — a good place for updates on a fash changing subject.

Keep fighting the good fight, Howard!

An ANT Paper in Sociological Theory!

Just a short note: The recent issue of “Sociological Theory” features a paper not only based on STS thoughts but one that even has “Actor-Network” in its title. As I am not on the university VPN right now I cannot download it to review it, but judging from other papers I know from Hiro Saito it should be a good one.

A major problem with the emerging sociological literature on cosmopolitanism is that it has not adequately theorized mechanisms that mediate the presumed causal relationship between globalization and the development of cosmopolitan orientations. To solve this problem, I draw on Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory (ANT) to theorize the development of three key elements of cosmopolitanism: cultural omnivorousness, ethnic tolerance, and cosmopolitics. ANT illuminates how humans and nonhumans of multiple nationalities develop attachments with one another to create network structures that sustain cosmopolitanism. ANT also helps the sociology of cosmopolitanism become more reflexive and critical of its implicit normative claims.

An Actor-Network Theory of Cosmopolitanism* – Saito – 2011 – Sociological Theory – Wiley Online Library:

Third wave of STS studies and "Agora" concept

As many of you know, I study the spread and localization of packaged software such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in institutions of  higher education. In this line of literature, a new concept has emerged to discuss linkages between organizations called the “agora.” ERP, as a product, is specific enough for higher education as a sector, but generic enough that the systems need to be localized to some extent during implementation (Cornford & Pollock 2003:111; Pollock et al. 2007).

Software modules in ERP for higher education mainly include human resources, student information services, and financial operations, which handle tasks essential for running a university (like payroll and promotions) but have little to do with a university‘s public image (like professors and promotional websites). ERP’s primary advantages are related. First, data storage is centralized. Rather than having numerous databases, an ERP centralizes data storage into a single grid (Davenport 1998). ERPs provide “real-time” data to university officials. As a result, their decisions can be made with the best possible information, which improves upon previous systems where data were commonly outdated (Pollock 1999). Third, data are authoritative. With ERPs, data storage is centralized so that data can be accessed by any functional area with permission to access them. This eliminates the problem of “competing” data (Swartz & Orgill 2001:21). Lastly, students, faculty, and staff are turned into “self-service” users who monitor their own relationship to the university (in the form of scheduling, pay, payments, insurance, grades, etc.) rather than having those tasks administered by support staff (Pollock 2003).

Now, I first read about the ‘agora’ concept in Pollock and Williams’ (2008) newish book Software and Organisations on the “biography” of contemporary ERP. Their analysis, which spanned decades, multiple sectors of the economy, numerous suppliers and adopters of packaged software, which itself took on many forms, their respective support and implementation experiences, and countless additional actors — and all this happened in what they are calling an “agora.” Now even their broad analysis was conducted in segments and episodes, inter-related as they may be, from particular vantage points; each analysis adding another slice of the “agora,” a term borrowed from Kaniakakis (2006; 2008), which is:

an extensive, seamless web of social (or rather, socio-technical) relations over time; there are no walls or gullies that allow what is ‘outside’ to be reliably fenced out/factored out of the analytic picture … [which draws] attention not only to the heterogeneity of players but also the intricate and heterogeneous pattern of linkages that exist between these players (Pollock & Williams 2008:292).

Such dynamics cannot be captured by standard-fair STS concepts like “network builder” (Hughes 1993) or “heterogeneous engineering” (Latour 1987; Law 1987 [ch 6]) because agoras are of no one’s making and instead materialize from multiple linkages constituted by coordinated and uncoordinated events and actions over time. They are not really “just” networks or communities. They are not “just” markets or fields either. Instead, this model of organization contains and is constituted by organizations whose forms are not necessarily suboptimal and their behaviors are not necessarily strategic. Instead, the assumption is that they are all relationally defined and operate relationally. As such, their heterogeneous contents — machines, software, office buildings, offices, analysts, their publications, their publications in use, vendors, their support desks, their users, etc. — are held together by shifting “linkages,” which is not to say networks or communities because what binds them is not merely interest or commonality. The task then, is to search for “cues” Pollock and Williams (2008) say, cues for where to study these linkages (and when, given that they also theorize the significance of temporal aspects of design and organization in a non-trivial way). The emphasis on inter-organizational consequences and processes is appealing to me, given my commitments to new institutional theory, which appears to have finally arrived to STS.

This is a third-wave of theory for STS, and it is related intensely to the role of organizations and places their operations central to the field of STS. On the one hand, it is a beautiful view — multiple vantage points collected in differing locations at multiple times. However, is it a view of the kitchen sink? I am cautious to criticize this approach as I to believe it to be a significantly novel approach to STS that outside scholars could also take-up. Still, the concept was designed to overcome such naive notions as “actor-network,” in part, because the term has been used in so many competing (and often clumsy) ways, but also to get away from the idea that “anything” can be included so long as we follow the actors.

The “agora” is a somewhat novel way to rethink the linkages that bind groups, people, places, and things over times and in multiple sites through variously coordinated and uncoordinated ways … and it may one day find its way to org theory, if it has not (to some extent) already arrived.

Claus Rerup: Near Failures and Near Successes in the "Gray Zone"

Claus Rerup is an

associate professor of Organizational Behavior

at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario and

…his work

explores how coordination, politics, and

heterogeneous information influence the ways in

which employees and managers collectively learn

from (rare) events.  In most cases firms

learn from an accident or crisis after the fact,

but many organizations can also learn valuable

lessons from a near disaster.

A couple of notable things:

1. The notion of “near failures” requires a basic update to many of our STS syllabi which contain numerous references to technological disasters. Certainly, my courses on STS primarily designed for engineering students cover engineering disasters at length, but fail to feature or conceptualize “near failures” and “near successes” and what might be learned about them and from them.

2. And I’m thinking explicitly about his paper “The gray zone between mindful and mindless organizing” — the notion of a gray zone between careful, mindful organizing and reckless, mindless organizing is an interesting idea where a lot of “noise” could be captured if properly conceptualized.

Symposium with Isabelle Stengers, CUNY, April 9, 2011

Just came back from a week of travelling – we definitly need to have more people contributing, so feel free to get in contact with us – and found this in my mailbox. Again I wish I would be able to be in NY, now it is CUNY that hosts a great event. I am just reading Stengers Cosmopolitics (a review will follow), I am sure this will be a great event.


April 9, 2011, 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue, New York City

Isabelle Stengers will be visiting the CUNY Graduate Center on a rare visit to the United States for an International Symposium. Cosmopolitics, a book series by Stengers, explores possible nonhierarchical modes of coexistence. Stengers examines our entanglements—the diverging values and obligations that shape our practices. Cary Wolfe (Rice University), Natasha Myers (York University), Eben Kirksey (The CUNY Graduate Center), Matei Candea (University of Durham), Steven Meyer (Wash. University St. Louis), Lina Dib (Rice University), Joan Richardson (The CUNY Graduate Center), and Dorion Sagan (Sciencewriters) will also give lectures at this Symposium.

Charting the waters between the Scylla of established materialism and the Charybdis of romantic supernaturalism, Cosmopolitics gives us a frame for grappling with what has been created by science while foregrounding the fragile conditions of knowledge production, giving resonance to the unknown and the mysterious beyond. The University of Minnesota Press published Cosmopolitics I, the first book in this series, in 2010. Stengers has given the speakers at this CUNY Graduate Center conference exclusive access to the forthcoming English translation of Cosmopolitics II.

This event is sponsored by the Mellon Committee for Science Studies.

Details about the Cosmopolitics Symposium are on-line:

To schedule a personal meeting with Isabelle Stengers, contact: Eben Kirksey, 212-817-7094


ISA conference notes repost (sigh)

I am now reposting this after an unknown error occurred earlier today with the posterous template. So here we go again…

I am taking a day off at International Studies Association Annual Convention in Montr??al today, looking forward to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and see the Terracotta Army (the by now global presence of which might inspire a separate post in the future). To start the day, here are a couple of quick notes and early impressions from the conference.

To begin with, this conference is huge. The total sum of events and panels is 1,094, cramped into four days. This means that panels start as early as 8.15 in the morning, and up to 99 panels are on at the same time – at least that’s the high-score I was getting when browsing throught the conference program which, needless to say, looks somewhat like a phone book. I also got the impression that the organizers assigned panels which they thought would be crowd-pullers preferably to the early slots. Here’s a sample of panel themes which also gives you an idea about the variety of topics discussed here:

– Confronting the Transnational State

– Why Did the U.S. Invade Iraq?

– Intelligence Analysis and Decision

– Religion, Values, and Common Faith as Facilitators of Governance Mechanisms

– Making Offers You Can’t Refuse: The Art of Coercion in International Politics

– Natural Disasters and Political Unrest

– The Chinese Puzzle: Democracy vs. Autocracy

– Using Movies as Teaching Tools

– The Body in International Relation

– Choosing Terrorist Strategies: Outbidders, Specialists, and Two-Level Games

– Human Rights: The Hard Feminist Questions

– Piracy Studies: The Legalization of Contemporary Responses to Piracy

By the way, the general theme of the conference is “Global Governance: Political Authority in Transition”. The variety of panels also reflects the variety of sections within the ISA which range, as I found out just now, from Diplomatic Studies, International Ethics, Peace Studies and Political Demography to Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, Intelligence Studies, and to the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, & Allies Caucus”.

According to my little theory about the placement of panels within the schedule, the organizers must have considered the panel I was on mildly interesting, since it took place at 10.30 in the morning. As posted here earlier, the panel was on “Numbers in Global Governance”, and I think it went quite well. The papers from which I personally benefitted the most were written by the two organizers, Hans Krause Hansen and Tony Porter who reflected generally on the role of numbers in global governance, and by Lars Th??ger Christensen and George Cheney on the notion of transparency, and on the problems and paradoxes it entails. Overall, the panel was, I think, one of the few not dominated by political scientists who as a profession appear to be very much in control of the ISA. The discussion was generally sympathetic to the understanding shared by the speakers that tracking the circulation and use of numbers, ranking, ratings, performance measurements, and so on, is a critical element in understanding contemporary forms of global governance.

Our panel chair was Mikkel Flyverbom from Copenhangen Business School. I saw him present his paper on internet politics yesterday on another panel, and he might be an interesting colleague to watch with respect to the general interest of this blog. Actually, I asked him whether he would like to contribute to this blog occasionally. Mikkel is applying ANT to analyzing emergent forms of authority in governing the internet, and though he had a hard time to present his case effectively as one paper among six during the 105 minutes of the panel, and to an audience largely innocent of both ANT ire and ANT interest, he surely did leave a mark. He has a book coming out about his understanding of entangled authority that will definitely be worth a look.

Which brings me to pick up on our earlier discussion about good and bad conferences. It is hard but manageable to get four papers discussed in 105 minutes if the discussant is really well prepared and effective in addressing the papers, as Brad Epperly surely was in the case of our panel. Increasing the number of papers further however, as was the case in the “Getting to Grips with Internet Governance” panel that hosted six papers, must leave the audience somewhat disoriented even if the discussant somehow manages to address all of the papers in, say, 15 minutes. If any author on the panel additionally chooses to present an approach that is somewhat incongruous to the other papers (as Mikkel did with arguing along ANT lines rather than presenting another customized IR approach), this is very likely to be somewhat drowned out. So, I was asking myself, if you already have 1,094 panels to deal with in organizing a big convention, would it really hurt to have a couple of double panels to accommodate an effective discussion of all the papers which panel organizers have deemed interesting enough to have included???

There is also something to be said about hosting an event like this in a big corporate style hotel (or, as in this case, in three of them), with panels taking place in “hospitality suites” and conference rooms named after local heroes, politicians, business men, artists, or, most conspicuously, militarists, in an environment littered with all sort of “luxury” fabrics from deep carpets to table cloths which look more like curtains (not to mention that in the corridors of one of the hotels, you suffer from continuous exposure to “easy listening” elevator style music), and with, most annoyingly, having to wear your name badge all the time (since otherwise you are very likely to be asked by one of the very friendly hotel clerks to present them). The premises of McGill and a couple of other local universities are within a short walk of the conference sites, so why lock us away like this? Like he who shall not be named at this point, I would prefer to have outsiders in, and insiders out, at least to some extent. The latter I now happily implement immediately.

Paul Edwards: A Vast Machine – Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2010).

Paul Edwards is of course not a “new scholar to watch”, he is a well known scholar of infrastructuration. But he is also a Blogger, in a way at least. His recent book on climate data (which is already on my shelf, a review will follow) has its own blog, his research on cyberinfrastructures for scientific activity together with Geof Bowker, David Ribes, Steve Jackson, Tom Finhol and Chris Borgman also has a blog. And of course there is the old (last post form 2007) “Infrastructuration” blog.


A Vast Machine is a historical account of climate science as a global knowledge infrastructure. Weather and climate observing systems cover the whole world, making global data. This infrastructure generates information so vast in quantity and so diverse in quality and form that it can be understood only through computer analysis — by making data global. These processes depend on three kinds of computer models: data models, used to combine and adjust measurements from many different sources; simulation models of weather and climate; and reanalysis models, which recreate climate history from historical weather data. A Vast Machine argues that over the years data and models have converged to create a stable, reliable, and trustworthy basis for establishing the reality of global warming.


    Robotic Humanities?

    Inspired by Jérôme Denis‘s comments/posts on Latour’s play honoring Michel Callon, I tried to think back to an idea I recently read about out of Australia about robots and art, which might be of interests to STSers and those of us (like me) who have a background and/or interest in art and museums.

    So, ever heard of “robotic humanities”? Me neither, at least, not until reading this blog entry on the term’s potential origins with Chris Chesher (Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney).

    He writes:

    The motivation for mobilising the term ‘Robotic Humanities’ was an invitation to speak at an event ‘Digital Editing, Digital Humanities’, organised by Mark Byron, a colleague in the English Department. Digital Humanities is a relatively new name for an expanded version of quite an old tradition of using digital technologies in literary scholarship. Such work includes literary scholars analysing stylistic patterns algorithmically to discover patterns in the words in a certain author’s work. Others scan in notebooks of great writers, marking up the author’s corrections and annotations to create digital editions. The best of this work finds biographical and creative insights through this process. For example, Margaret Webby presented an analysis of Patrick White’s notebooks to show a direct link between White’s criticisms on seeing Ray Lawler’s play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (which he describes as banal) and new confronting scenes he wrote for his own play The Ham Funeral.

    His slide show also has a few provocative slides, perhaps none more so than the (11th) slide on the “fish-bird” exhibit wherein two robot-wheelchairs “communicate” or “interact” with one another and visitors through controlled movements and the presentation of written materials.


    Read about it here in a paper by David Rye, Mari Velonaki, Stefan Williams, and Steven Scheding (all at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems, Australian Centre for Field Robotics, The University of Sydney). Although the interplay between art and robotics is by no means new, this exhibit struck me.

    Anybody know when/where the first art/robotics show took place/showcased? Or, for that matter, good materials on the interplay between art and technology OR art and STS?

    New scholars and professionals to watch: Cynthia Selin

    A few years ago I was sitting on an exercise bike at a gym in Princeton, NJ, reading an article in STHV that used Latour’s much ignored model of diffusion to interpret the mobilization of “the future” in nanotechnology controversies. I remember thinking highly of the article at the time, and upon learning more about the “sociology of the future” realized that it was part of a growing movement in the social sciences, one that was far beyond (from what I understand as previous incantations of this) what Toffler was thinking about in Future Shock or the Third Wave

    The STHV article was written by Cynthia Selin and entitled “Expectations and the Emergence of Nanotechnology” and was published in March of 2007 (vol 32; issue 2). Her abstract reads:


    Although nanotechnology is often defined as operations on the 10-9 meters, the lack of charisma in the scale-bound definitions has been fortified by remarkable dreams and alluring promises that spark excitement for nanotechnology. The story of the rhetorical development of nanotechnology reveals how speculative claims are powerful constructions that create legitimacy in this emerging technological domain. From its inception, nanotechnology has been more of a dream than reality, more fiction than fact. In recent years, however, the term nanotechnology has been actively drawn toward the present to begin to deliver on the fantastic expectations. This debate over time and timing is loaded with paradox. This work examines how future claims work to define what counts as nanotechnology and reveals dilemmas that accompany temporal disjunctures. Science and politics converge in debates about the future of technology as expectations serve to create and enforce power and legitimacy in the emerging area.

    Cynthia now appears to be at Arizona State University’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society where, in addition to her research, she teaches on analyzing the future and even has/had a course of “Justice and the Future.” In addition to being a professor, she is also a “scenario practitioner” (although I’m not entirely sure what that implies) and a strategy consultant.

    Studying the future draws a lot of controversy, and I’d like to know more about it. From what I can tell, contemporary research often emphasizes the study of how “visions of the future” are used to mobilize networked-patterns of human behavior that characterize the present, and, therefore, there is no end to the number of applications.

    For example,

    1. How does rhetoric about the future of a software firm shape their present circumstances?
    2. How does rhetoric about the future of marriage or divorice shape their present circumstances? 
    3. How does rhetoric about the future of a nation-state shape its present circumstances?

    …and so on. To reiterate: it seems that there is no end to the number of potential applications. Still, as noted above, there is no absence of criticism to this type of work. I’ve heard it called everything from “non-science” to “poppycock” even during conference presentations about only tangential research regarding the future.

    I don’t have a strong opinion other than that the idea that current rhetoric about the future shapes the present is either (a) a hidden-in-plain-sight insight of considerable magnitude or (b) that this insight is hardly an insight at all given how commonsensical it appears to be — or is that just the right mix of the two?