Pickering Review … in 2017!?


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.

3:1 — Post-STS — 2 of 3

Do academic disciplines die? They are born, they are propagated, they are institutionalized. But can they disappear? While thinking about possible paths into a (hypothetical) Post-STS world, I tried to think of blueprints of such a path. There are some examples, yes, but none of them can really serve as a banner case: classic rhetorics, alchemy, classical (national) economy — sure we are post them, but what happened? Rhetorics? Still valued, but even in ancient Greece it has been a craft and a science and it seems that it today just embraces craft-i-ness. Alchemy? Well, yes, but that was, if you will, the lab work of natural philosophy and both lab and theory live on in modern chemistry and pharmacology. Classical (national) economy? Oh come on — that is not dead, it just serves as the dismissed precursor of neo-classical economy. So…do disciplines die? Well, we have talked about leftovers quite a lot and it seems part of the “dark side” of institutions is that it is hard to finally get rid of them.

That set aside: in a way I agree that the dream of STS has always been one of a world in which it is no longer necessary, but there are two versions of that dream. The first is mainly about the background of those who turned to STS: Wouldn´t it be great if sociology, philosophy, history and so on were more about science and technology? Isn´t STS sociology, philosophy or history how it should be? And would a world in which STS is no longer necessary not just a world in which the old disciplines finally noticed the importance of S&T for our contemporary world? The second is this: Wouldn´t it be fantastic if we could help technoscience to be so reflexive and aware of how they shape our world that no STS is necessary any more? And isn´t a Post-STS world just a world of upgraded technoscience? Both Post-STS worlds are incompatible as the success of the latter makes the former impossible: if technoscience does not need STS anymore, if sure does not need an upgraded sociology, philosophy or history of science or technology. But if technoscience still needs STS it would be counterproductive to disband the joint forced of our inter-discipline and talk different S&T related sociological, philosophical and historical lingo again, right?

Given these options, a Post-STS world would be one of failure, not of success. But on the other hand: given that the death of a discipline is a rather rare event, we can be pretty sure that STS will be around for a while. After all: look at Horizon 2020 (the current EU funding scheme) or similar statements of national funding agencies. The more they ask projects in particle physics or urban engineering to integrate ELSA (ethical, legal, social aspects), the more they strengthen the demand for sociologists, philosophers and historians who can help. In living the Post-STS dreams, it seems, we are strengthening an STS world.

3:1 — Postmodernity — 2 of 3


Growing up with Baudrillard, Lyotard and Luhmann as well as with Bobby Brown, White Noise and Twin Peaks it always seemed to me that the tenets of postmodern thinking are so deeply engraved into my perception that I can hardly distance myself from that. This is still evident whenever I see someone raising a point that just has the smell of modernism: “trust in the independence of science!”, “We can manage our natural resources in a rational way!” or “This is why Ukraine wants to turn towards the West!” As a well trained postmodern I cannot help myself, I have to utter at least a statement of doubt, if not disbelieve. I also never felt the need hide this well habituated scruples when it comes to modernism, as for me, feeling well aligned to a tradition from Weber and Simmel to Adorno and Luhmann the task of sociology has never been simply to understand modernity but to work on the intellectual tools to deal with the both the pleasures and the discomfort it creates.

On the other hand: raised in sociology just before the turn of the chiliad I also never experienced the playfulness that made postmodern thought so appealing to some that were trained just a decade or two earlier. It must have been liberating for someone raised to be a modern, serious sociologist in a time when quite obviously the principles of modernism were crumbling. But I never really felt the pleasure of pastiche, bricolage and of following the interwoven threads of intertextuality – for me what was most evident about the postmodern condition was the inevitable horror and the unshrinkable terror that Jean Baudrillard´s hyperrealism and David Lynch´s Blue Velvet captured so well. There it was again, the discomfort that I assumed early sociologists tried to deal with at the turn to modernity. Modernity was gone, the terror remained. For me postmodern sociology, like its modernist sibling, was damn serious.

Only that of course it was not. Diving into Cultural Studies and Semiotics, into Intertextualities and interwoven layers of denotation and connotations when I turned towards media studies I could not help it: All that emphasis on empowered readers and on the politics of pleasure that consumption offered seemed to me seemed to just cover the entrance to the limbo of our contemporary condition. The doubt about ways of the moderns — isn´t it also justified in the case of the postmoderns? If we have never been modern, have we ever been postmodern? My best guess is that we have not. We do not need to be. We need to take the achievements of both the moderns and the postmoderns serious: science, technology, politics as well as hyperrealism, simulacra and irony — without trying to be either modern or postmodern. And we are still in need on the intellectual tools to deal with both the pleasures and the discomforts that both modernism and postmodernism provided us with.

*image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/julie_coulter/5070699614 (CC)

Happy Holidays! See you all next year

This has been an interesting year for all of us at installingorder.org. We had a number of good topics this year and we are very happy that the blog is now way more interactive than it was before. We have been a little quite over the summer, sorry for that, but we are back since 4S 2013 in San Diego which was a great conference and a fantastic meeting for all who study societies sociotechnical nerves.

Stefanie Fishel joined us, first as a guest blogger, then as full time author. Thanks for the great input, Stef! Next year will see guest bloggers again, starting with Andrzej W. Nowak from the  Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. (See his TedXPoznan talk on youtube, sad that I don´t speak polish). We are looking forward to that! And there will be more! Expect 2014 to be as interesting as the last.

For the rest of the year we will, as most of you will too, take a little break and rest over the holidays. Have yourself a merry Christmas, if you want to have it, or happy Hanukkah, if that is yours, or a great flying spaghetti monster gathering. However you spend your days, think about Santa´s little elves at Amazon, FedEx or DHL and about the massive infrastructural work necessary to let you have some Eggnog, Chestnuts or that box of Breaking Bad episodes that you need for the upcoming festivities. See you all next year!

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.

Bogost and “Doing Things with Video Games”

What do video games do?


After our friend, Dmfant, posted about Ian Bogost who keynotes the 10th Anniversary Games for Change Festival.

I have recently reviewed How to do things with Videogames  (by Ian Bogost (Professor of Digital Media, Georgia Institute of Technology) Minneapolis / London: University of Minnesota Press, 2011, 180 pages, ISBN 081667647X). There is a copy of the book on-line here.

Here are some excerpts if you’re curious about the topic or the book.

One the one hand, it was oddly satisfying to read research about video games that was not mired in the woefully lame “do they cause violence?” trope. In contrast, Ian Bogost in How to Do Things with VideoGames shows how videogames have transformed society, arguing that games have shaped, in meaningful ways, essential facets of social life, ranging from exercise and relaxation to politics, travel, and photography.

            On the other hand, we all had the nagging feeling, while reading this otherwise fine book, that games – not videogames, specifically, but just games, generally, of which videogames are just one branch – are nothing at all new. When we step back and consider whether or not games have changed art or relaxation – or, more realistically, how games and society are a dynamic mutually shaping state of co-constitution – the question seems … well, silly. No doubt, games shape society and society shapes games … of course.

In general, the book was a fun and quick read; much like a video game itself. For scholars, however, here is the bottom-line:

where does this book fit on the library shelf? His past and future works hold together nicely. In Bogost’s 2006 Unit Operations, he shows us that games should be analyzed using the same techniques we would use to criticize architecture, a poem, or a sunset as a means to keep “game studies” from being ghettoized in the larger academic discussion of the role of games in our information society. His 2007 book Persuasive Games offers us an example of exactly what games can do: persuade; Bogost shows that games contain all manner of persuasive rhetoric, which has long-term potential to change the shape of society. Those two titles laid a solid groundwork for How To Do Things With Videogames and make the title more understandable once put in the context of his previous work. The shift in grammar – from “doing” to “how to do” – is anything but subtle, but rather than talk about video games – critiquing or lauding – this book is about what to do with them, and where, and the answer to the “where” question is, more or less, “anywhere and everywhere.” If Bogost gets his way, terms like “gamers” will be so ubiquitous as to hardly capture anything at all meaningful, and, instead, video games will take their rightful place at the center of popular culture (so long as Bogost is there to hold them up). In Bogost’s 2012 Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing – his most intense work to date –shifts readers away from doing things with games and toward trying to understand how things, such as games, are.


Greetings, with a broad introduction


Over the next month, I will share research from my book in progress, New Metaphors for Global Living. This research, through the hermeneutic potential of the life sciences and the theoretical insights of science, technology and society studies (STS) and new materialism, gestures toward an idea of connectedness of diverse bodies that broadens understandings of relationality, both as bodies in states, and as states in the international community. Specifically, I borrow genomic and immunological theory, as understood by new scientific research, to argue that heterogeneity is the condition of possibility for the production of new subjectivities and communities.  This is applied through metaphorical frames like the body politic and biomimicry.

A specific and central aim of this research is to apply sustained critical pressure to the individual and the state as currently defined in International Relations.  To aid in this critique, I create an analytical structure able to identify and celebrate plurality without erasing internal diversity, or coding the external as strange and dangerous to a perceived unity within.  I propose a pair of novel metaphorical framings to build a different conception of humanity’s myriad ties to world: Lively vessels and contaminated states provide new metaphors named for the processes that intertwine multiple bodies into composite ones.   These metaphorical conceits recognize that human agency is part of an assemblage of multiple actors, and called attention to the nonhuman beings that aid in keeping the human body, and its biosphere, alive.

International Relations joins in the dialogue between bodies and science by bringing the latter half its title to bear on the discussion: “relations” trumps the “inter-national” through the body politic as a nested set of permeable bodies rather than hard-shelled nation-states competing in anarchical conditions ruled by fear and exclusion. These metaphorical techniques, aided by STS and new materialism, create a language to discuss the processes that intertwine multiple bodies, both the social and the political.  It is crucial to rethink the politics that follow from these entanglements. The question then becomes: What kind of life is possible—what kind of body politic is neededif we think about “nestedness” and symbiosis rather than exclusion, competition, and purity?

Why are we using case studies?

One of the troubling features of STS for those in the “traditional” disciplines (in my case: sociology) is not so much its theoretical movements towards multiplicity, heterogeneity, symmetry and the like, but the fact that STS is doing theory not in specialized texts or on specialized conferences, but in the form of case studies. This is not my observation alone. John Law in his “On Sociology and STS” felt the urge to tell his fellow sociologists:

STS writing is not only highly theorised, but also works on and in theory. Its core concerns often have to do with epistemology (the theory of knowledge), and (more recently) ontology, the character of the real (I will come to the latter below). In theory it might make its arguments in an abstract manner (and there are some signs of movement in this direction), but its major mode of self-expression, discovery and exegesis has usually been through case-studies. (629)

John gives two reasons for this: It is because in STS theory and data are created simultaneously  and, more importantly, it is because STS works basically on the assumption that “abstraction is only possible by working through the concrete” (630). I am not sure if I agree: the masses of more illustrative than really empirical cases (for example: Portuguese vessels, keys in Berlin and keychains in Hotels in Paris, “Grooms” on strike or sleeping policemen) suggest that it might be the other way round sometimes and that in STS sometimes theory comes before there is data and sometimes data comes before theory.

But maybe there are other reasons for our love for case studies and I wonder if they are both the reason for STS´s success and for its incommensurability with traditional sociology:

  1. Case studies are hybrids: they allow the blend of empirical detail, conceptual work and methodological experiments in a single text. Take Aramis: a story about innovation in public transport (empirically), an argument for the temporal and relational coalescence of sociotechnical projects (conceputally) and a search (literally, remember, it is a mystery story) for interdisciplinary forms of reflexivity. Or take Aircraft Stories: a story about a failed military aircraft, about “fractional coherence” and about the impossibility to capture this with one method.
  2. Case studies are boundary objects: they allow heterogeneous cooperation between different disciplines and therefore interdisciplinary projects in STS because they are “weakly structured in common use, and becoming strongly structured in individual use” (Star & Griesemer 1989: 393). Cases allow a conversation about something very concrete (although it might be interesting for different reasons in different disciplines) while they are open enough to also allow very specific theoretical arguments (hidden in the empirical details and therefore not that bothersome for those not interested in them)
  3. Case studies are partial: their incompleteness (because one can always find out more about the case and tell its story differently) is a refexive argument. When science is a practice of turning matters of concern into matters of fact, there is no use of presenting ones own work as if it is part of a repertoire of STS-matters-of-fact.

Still I wonder: Can we find other ways? Do we have to stick with cases? What if we have a theoretical point to make — are we supposed to “make a case” then? Or are there other ways?

Microfoundations, institutions and two ways of studying technologies

Quite some time ago we had a couple of posts on the possible links between STS and Neo-Institutionalism (see here, here, here and here) and about how both camps can be fruitfully matched in their attempts to get a grasp a the black-boxed, taken-for-granted or institutionalized character of modern practices.

One of the basic lines of linkage we identified back then was this: while Neo-Institutionalism is great at pointing out the empirical details and explaining the diffusion and isomorphisms of patterns that are taken-for-granted (institutions), they lack (following Powell and Colways 2008) a perspective on the respective microfoundations. THAT on the other hand is something that (most) STS approaches are quite good at – but they on the other hand – see for example the underdetermined concept of black-boxing – lack an understanding of how the “functional simplification” (Luhmann 1997) that technology enacts is comparable to other forms of making something taken for granted: habitualization (in the bourdieuian sense), embodyment, signification, formalization, institutionalization.

After reading Barley´s and Tolbert´s 1997 paper in Organization Studies on Institutionalization and Structuration and after reviewing Barles´s research on technologies at workplaces I wondered a. if and how the Powell and Colways argument about the missing micro-foundations has ever been valid in institutional theory given the amount of thought that Barley and Tolbert are investing in designing their concept of scripts and the methodology to analyze them and b. why STS approaches to technology do not seem to play a large role in institutional analysis that deal with technologies on the one hand and why these institutional approaches to technology on the other hand do also not play a significant role in STS? Any thoughts?

Infrastructural relics and ruins, or: is durability a good thing?

Since the old times of “inscription research” or maybe even longer one of the main frameworks for analyzing the social and cultural shaping of technology, infrastructure and socio-technical arrangements is build on the idea that material enactments of ideological or normative patterns are at least adding one specific (mostly valuable, sometimes problematic) feature to these otherwise quite instable phenomena: Technology is society made durable (Latour 1991). This “Durabilty Bias” has made its way straight from Winners “Moses´ Bridges” to Latours´ “Sleeping Policeman” 


When I walked the streets of Athens last summer and especially the modern ruins of the 2004 Olympic Games stadium complex I started thinking about an interesting issue of that durability bias that emerges once you turn the problem upside down. All these massive and nearly unused buildings, the immense work of finding (valuable?) ways of reusing this wasteland of steel and concrete – it appeared to me that it is not a case of creative appropriation, but that the sheer stability of this infrastructural setting localized in a greek suburb is creating the need for keeping it maintained and used (and if only in trivial ways). The backside of infrastructural stability seems to be that relics and ruins of abandoned infrastructure are just not going away, their stability is a problem, not a sollution.


What if that is far more common issue? We all know about some similar effects: technological pathways for example or technological and institutional lock-ins. But the issues we decribe with that concepts have one thing in common: The are still with us (like the QWERTY keyboard) and we want to explain why other arrangements are not accepted. But if we start searching for lefovers, ruins and abandonded technologies and infrastructures…what could we learn from them? Are we living in a world littered with of institutional waste?

Water as a boundary liquid … ahhh…object

Good news for our friends in water infrastructure research (and for those interested in STS and state theory of course): Patrick Carrolls “Water, and Technoscientific State Formation in California” has just been published as an “online-first” by Social Studies of Science!

This paper argues that water gradually became, over a period of more than half a century, a critical boundary object between science and governance in California. The paper historicizes ‘water’, and argues that a series of discrete problems that involved water, particularly the reclamation of ‘swampland’ in the Sacramento Valley, gradually came to be viewed as a single ‘water problem’ with many facets. My overarching theoretical aim is to rethink the ontology of the technoscientific state through the tools of actor-network theory. I conclude with the following paradox: the more the technoscientific state forms into a complex gathering – or ‘thing’ – of which humans are part, the more it is represented and perceived as a simplified and singular actor set apart from those same humans.


Not an open panel…Methodologies and Theories of Scale

As CfPs for “Open Panels” at 4S/EASST are frequently flooding our email clients at these days a remarkable regular panel (I actually have just seen two of them) is focussing on a topic we have discussed a few times: “Methodologies and Theories of Scale”. As regular panels are such a rare thing this year, I would really encourage people to send in good papers for this one – I would love to see good talks and papers on that topic. And no: I do not know Max Liboiron personally, this is not a friend´s recommendation 🙂

CFP: Methodologies and Theories of Scale
Panel proposal for 4S Annual Conference
October 17-20, 2012, Copenhagen, Denmark

Scale is not about being big or small. At different scales, different relationships matter. In the last two decades, there have been heated contests over the meanings and methodologies of scale, not the least because our historical moment faces economic systems, power structures, and ecological problems at global and planetary scopes. In these contexts, the use of the term “scale” is often unreflective and scholars inadvertently create “scalar fallacies,” particularly in the realm of environmental advocacy and design, where the scale of the problem and the scale of the solution are mismatched. This panel invites scholars whose work explicitly deals with theories and methodologies of scale, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • the epistemological versus the ontological aspects of scale
  • how interscalar relationships are defined and investigated
  • the relationships between time and space at different scales
  • the implications of terms and ideas such as “global,” glocal” and “planetary”
  • problems presented by designing technologies or actions meant to address different scales
  • methodologies that test designs and actions for scalability
  • methodologies that address scalar politics, and/or the politics of scale
  • designing technologies, policies or actions for specific scales
  • innovations in scalar theories or methods

Please send a 250 word abstract and CV to max.liboiron@nyu.edu by
March 10th, 2012.

Note that acceptance onto this panel does not guarantee acceptance
into the conference, as the panel as a whole must go through the 4S
acceptance process. The title and description of this panel are
mutable, and we will adapt each to the types of submissions received.

Max Liboiron is a PhD Candidate at New York University in the Media,
Culture, and Communication Dept.

My Best Fiend lectures: Fuller & Oswell recordings | CSISP

Steve Fuller: ‘Bruno Latour and Some Notes on Some Also Rans’ (December 13th).

Who is my best fiend? S/he is someone who has got the right facts mostly right but draws exactly the wrong normative conclusion – or at least gestures in the wrong way. In my own career, Kuhn and Latour fit that description. These are two ‘Zeitgeisty’ figures – i.e. future historians will understand their disproportionate significance in terms of their eras, the Cold War order and the neo-liberal post-Cold War order, respectively. But if you want to think ahead of the curve – perhaps because you believe that there is some larger ‘truth’ that humanity is trying to grasp – then you will want to ask how can these very smart people can be both so persuasive and so wrong. (I recommend this as a strategy for younger scholars who plan to be alive beyond the year 2050.) Of course, I have been beset by other fiends in my career, but they are much less interesting because they are simply slaves to fashion/induction, taking their marching orders from high scientific authorities. (And here I mean to include just about anyone who has reacted violently to my support for intelligent design.) I’ll say something about them, if only because of their entertainment value.

Recordings (to be downloaded; these are not designed to stream)

1. David Oswell: lecture
2. David Oswell: discussion
3. Steve Fuller: lecture

Thanks to the ANTHEM Blog I saw this today and I feel sad that I was not able to be in London in December. Although the basic point Fuller makes sounds familiar, I remember reading it in Putnam´c comment on Rorty, it is a valid point. And Fuller is – although a bit strange – always an entertaining guy to listen to.

4S/EASST Open Panels: Program Practice

Copenhagen is coming closer every day – only 263 days to go until the next 4S/EASST joint meeting will take place this October. Nicholas already announced that we are going to organize a so called Open Panel on “On states, stateness and STS: Government(ality) with a small ‘g’?” which can hold up to 15 papers. I repeat the call here: we are still looking for good contributions – please feel free to contact us!


(c) Photo: Tobias Sieben

As there are 106 panels in 10 thematic fields many of you might have noticed the flood of emails with CfPs on the various STS lists. Although the list of Open Panels is included in the overall CfP many (we are no exception) felt the necessity to individually post the call. You might have guesses that this has to with promoting our own work, but well…no, that is not the reasons. The reason is: software.

Here is why: To submit a paper to an Open Panel the submitted has to tick a checkbox – that is how a paper proposal gets linked to a panel. The problem for us organizers is the following: we do not know what has been submitted yet – there might already be 15 papers, there might be none. We simply cannot see that until the call is closed. So: the only way to get informed is getting individual notifications from those who submit. I guess that is the “secret” reason for individual calls: To remind potential submitters of who is organizing which panel individual calls are one opportunity…we still do not know the exact number of submissions until March 18th, but we can try to get an approximation. So: you would do us a real favor if you could send us a notice when you submit a paper to our panel. Thanks a lot!

Job offer: Amherst: Science and Technology Policy

And a job offer that sounds interesting:

The Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (http://polsci.umass.edu/) seeks to fill a full-time tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor in science and technology politics to start in September 2012. The Department welcomes applications from political science, public policy, public administration, as well as from related disciplines.  Geographic, methodological and
science and technology specializations are open.

In recent years, the Department has nearly doubled in size largely through a Faculty Hiring Initiative. This search continues the department’s efforts to add to the strength of its diverse and growing faculty with scholars whose work addresses broad political
questions arising in one or more of the department’s thematic emphases on a) global forces; b) governance and institutions; and c) democracy, participation and citizenship.

The successful candidate will contribute to this trajectory, adding to our current strengths while broadening our reach into new areas. The faculty hire will teach four courses in the Department’s graduate and undergraduate programs. Successful candidates must have the Ph.D. in hand by September
2012. Salary and credit toward tenure will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.

The deadline for applications is October 15, 2011, but acceptance will continue until the position is filled.  The department strongly prefers that applicants submit their cover letter, curriculum vitae, and writing samples in electronic form through the Academic Jobs Online website athttps://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/917   and arrange for electronic transmission of three letters of recommendation to the same site.
Alternatively, printed versions of the application materials can be sent to Stephen Marvell, Office Manager, Department of Political Science/UMass, 322 Thompson Tower, Amherst, MA 01003-9277. Those who apply online should not also submit paper materials.  Inquiries about the position may be directed totechnology@polsci.umass.edu.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer.  It and the Department are strongly committed to increasing the diversity of faculty, students, and curriculum, and encourage applications from women and minorities

Call for Papers: Performing ANT ??? Socio-Material Practices of Organizing, 17-18 February 2012, St. Gallen

Just got that a few days ago and forgot to post it here – now as I am preparing for three weeks of “off-time” (meaning: a bit of traveling and weeks of being online only once every few days) I had to post it.

Reading that I thought: what does it mean that workshops that specifically use “ANT” in their title are mostly workshops for younger scholars? Just wonder…

Science and Technology Studies: Opening the Black Box

Somatosphere just posted a link to a set of video recordings from the STS – The Next Twenty Years conference in Harvard last April. I would have loved to go there, but unfortunately poor european scholars only have money to travel abroad when they are participating actively. But, luckily, the whole conference was on live-stream back then. I was not able to watch all of it so I am so very happy to be able to watch them now. Trevor Pinch´s “provocations” are STS at its rhetorical best – so watch, laugh and think.

Should STS articles have methods sections?

It has come to my attention that a good number of STS case studies contain no methods section, and some no mention of method at all (typically utilizing a case study approach). So, I asked today:

Should STS adopt the traditional social scientific methods/data/analysis sections, or is the implied case study methods acceptable, or perhaps a critique of science “as usual”?

So, should, for example, SSS or STHV require a methods section?

Greatest thing to happen to STS since the Bijker/Pinch paper

New interest in the micro-foundations of institutions has got to be one of the best things to happen to STS since the Bijker/Pinch paper…

The new institutionalism in organizaitonal analysis has been a well-spring for research. A quick summary of neo-I that Fabio Rojas and I wrote (in a paper on museusms):

The hallmark of the ‘new institutional’ school is the relentless focus on how life inside organizations is regulated by stable social practices that define what is considered legitimate in the broader external environment in which an organization operates (DiMaggio 1987, 1991, DiMaggio and Powell 1991b, Meyer and Rowan 1991, Scott 2000). The influence of institutions on organizational behaviour is supposedly most obvious in organizations like museums – organizations that new institutional scholars label as ‘highly institutional and weakly technical’ (Scott and Meyer 1991: 124). By this, scholars usually mean the following: that the organization’s leadership is highly sensitive to the expectations and standards of its industry; that the organization of work within the bureaucracy depends on broader ideologies and cultural scripts found in modern societies; that managers are likely to copy the practices of other organizations, especially high-status organizations; that professional groups are the arbiters of organizational legitimacy; that rational organizational myths and rules structure work practices; and that the ultimate performance of an organization’s set of tasks does not depend much on tools like assembly lines, computers, and the like (see also DiMaggio and Powell (1991a, DiMaggio and Powell 1991b).

The new approach/point of emphasis for neo-I folks is laid-out by Walter Powell and Jeannette Colyvas in their 2008 chapter in “the big green book” of organizations and institutions — copy of the paper is available in draft form at www.orgtheory.net right here.

And so the story goes:

1. Older research is cast as calling for “the need to make the microfoundations of intitutional theory more explicit” (p.276). This is something that institutional theorists have had much success with — positioning papers to create the feeling that this idea is both something new and exciting but also that the call for micrcofoundations is an old one (that we need to now make good on). The opening lines of D&P’s 1983 paper does a good job of saying “that was then” and “this is now.”

2. The upshot: “much analytical purchase can be gained by developing a mirco-level component of institutional analysis” (p.276) which would link “micro-concepts, e.g. identity, sense making, typifications, frames, and categories with macro-processes of institutionalization, and show how these processes rachet upwards” (p.278).The invocation of “hierarchy” or “upward” levels is somewhat disconcerting for those of us set on flatter analysis, but there is likely room to show (and convince) that even the tallest, most stable actors and actions occur locally and laterally on a flat surface of interactions.

3. How can we, in STS, get some purchase on this?

A. Emphasize the interpretations of contexual factors (p.277) rather than assuming them (as has happened now and again in organizational theory devoted to field-level analysis — these are assumptions that occasionally must be made in order to do the diffusion studies so common in neo-I).

B. Display the on-going micro-maintenances of apparently stable institutional forms in daily practice AND/OR discover how stable institutional forms in daily practice result in change over time such that they transform the forms they are intended (in the behavioralist sense) to prolong.

C. Enliven analysis of actors — old new institionalism (let’s say) emphasized two types of actors, “cultural dopes” or “heroric ‘change agents'” the reason being that action was essentially assumed to operate at a level unnecessary to fully capture during large-scale field studies (i.e., so managers simply sought legitimacy at all costs, we assumed, and mimicked their peers) OR in the move to caputre the actions of real actors (instead of assuming organizational entitivity) the studies overwhelmingly invovled entrepreueurs and celebrated/worshipped their field-altering accomplishments, respectively. The new emphasis (of, let’s say, new new institutionalism) sort of smacks of STS lab studies where we saw the how the mundane facets of scientists’ behaviors in labs resulted in field-altering science. Now, neo-I wants to avoid momentous events, or, at minimum, show how seeming huge events were a long time in the making and like all experiments involved loads of failure, which demands of writers the ability to show how local affairs prompt shifts in conventions (locally or broadly) (p.277).

Why is this so good for STS? We have already done much of this type of work, and have oodles of folks committed to these axioms for analysis. The only thing we really need now is a bridge between these two camps — while STS could not break into neo-I on the topic of technology, Powell and Colyvas might have just opened the door to an new institutionalism in STS…


What does the "knowledge myth" mean for SKAT/STS?

A colleague of mine wrote recently about the “myth of knowledge” in a nice blog post. Perhaps one of the most interesting and controversial (and most [overly] generalized) points was about Akido:

Because I am a behaviorist-leaning kind of guy, I would additionally point out that when behavior, talking, and thinking come into conflict, behavior wins. In my article trying to connect ecological and social psychology, I used an example out of Aikido, the martial art that prefers not to hurt people unnecessarily. Indulging in horrible generalizations: In the Western cultures – steeped in dualism and the myth of knowledge – we thinking that ‘knowing’ is about ‘thinking’, but in Eastern cultures this is not so. In Aikido, one of your goals is to blend with your opponent’s movements so you inflict minimal harm. Your goal is not to think about blending, not be able to explain how to blend, nor to be able to accurately imagine blending, rather your goal is to actually blend when the time comes. A person ‘knows’ how to blend when they do it without thinking, and regardless of whether they can teach how to blend or explain what they did after the fact. (By the way, that article is part of a 7 article discussion, including my latest addition now available online.)

One of the main points was the link between “knowing” and “doing” and from a behaviorist perspective in psychology, this is an interesting position to take on such matters. He provides a number of examples such as “how can a legless football coach know how to kick a football?”

Knowledge — beit tacit or explicit, fact-searching or its role in training scientists and engineers — plays a central role in SKAT and STS; however, I’m not entirely sure we’ve jumped on the behaviorist bandwagon just yet.

The ending question: what would STS look like without “knowledge” as a crutch during analysis?

the role of reviews in the social science

All this discussion of new infrastructuralism and the infrastructural relation between “black-boxing” and “institutionalization” makes me think about the role of reviews in social science.

The question is: is a concept what it is, or does how it has been used constitute what it (now) is?

I think this for the following reason: Latour, in Actor Network Theory and After goes into something of a littany regarding the ways that ANT has been used and abused over the years since he and Callon (and Woolgar, honestly) thought of it. Of his many points, a meta-point matters for this post: he basically states that as his ideas spread, they increasingly got used in ways he did not expect and then Latour makes something of a value judgment in suggesting that some research, which appears to be relatively more current as compared to his original works, don’t do ANT right. Of course, Latour takes some blame in saying that perhaps the entire moniker including, A, -, N, and T were not perfect, it still seems like an odd point to hear from Latour. About 120-ish pages into Science in Action, Latour reviews as part of the translation model of how things spread (i.e., diffuse, though he considers this a dirty word) he demands that spread requires change — that a technology, for example, must change as it enters into new hands. This was a counterpoint to diffusion of innovation literature (that he hardly cites) and their supposed assumption that diffusion, as an idea and model, only works so long as we assume the innovation is “constant” over time (meaning that it does not and will not change). Getting to the point: ANT was going to have to change to spread so widely, and the ideas would necessarily be used in ways unintended and perhaps unacceptable to its originators.

Again, then, the question is: is a concept what it is, or does how it has been used constitute what it (now) is?

Latour contributed to the notion of “black-boxing” as much as perhaps any scholar of the last 30-ish years, and given his disappointment with how some of us have used his concepts, does it really matter? (i.e., this value judgment) Or, does it matter more for science not to judge how concepts have been used and instead document how they have been used because the way they have been used is effectively what they are?

Returning full circle, in all this discussion of new infrastructuralism and the infrastructural relation between “black-boxing” and “institutionalization”, what would make the best review paper? Review the terms as if they are not artifacts changing hands in order to conceivably arrive at some core meaning of these concepts, or review how the terms have been used and that this will tell us more about the operational meaning of the terms? 

A Question of (STS) Style?

Many thanks to Fabio Rojas (whom I met for a sub for lunch in Bloomington back in 2005, but I don´t think he will remember) for letting the readers of orgtheory know about our little blog. We just started, they have tons of experience, so that is great!

The comment to that post made me think about our short discussion about STS, Latour and the uneasyness they seem to induce. Here is why: I always thought that this is due to a double characteristics of ANT (or STS in general) texts. They seem to fall in two basic categories: great conceptual ideas in an insider jargon on the one hand, great case studies that do not really care about theoretical purity on the other (I overemphasize, of course). You have to read both types to appreciate that.

But the comment made me think: wait, it is also a question of style? I could not believe that. But then I tested, the old normal science way: I fired up my reference manager, did a search on “(” in the title field and there it is. Really, nearly only STS papers use the parenthesis type title. These were the only non-STS papers I found:


Dandaneau, S. P. & Dodsworth, R. M. (2006). Being (george ritzer) and nothingness: An interview. The American Sociologist, 37(4), 84-96.

Hughey, M. (2008). Virtual (br)others and (re)sisters: Authentic black fraternity and sorority identity on the internet. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 37(5), 528-560.

Jessop, B. (2001). Bringing the state back in (yet again): Reviews, revisions, rejections, and redirections. International Review of Sociology, 11(2), 149-173

Why do we do that? We did it also, yes. Maybe for every single paranthesis we use, we have good reasons. The title of this blog for example is chosen due to the fact that we are not careless about terms, but in general quite carefull. What other sociological term could be more problematic that “social”? And once we start to ask how order in contemporary societies (again, a concept to be careful with) gets installed rather than “just” institutionalized, shouldn´t we be especially careful about calling it social order, then? But in sum it is true: STS texts are written in a certain style, a jargon maybe. Should we try to avoid it?