4S Boston: Graduate Student Organized Panels

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The department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a consistently strong showing at the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) Annual Meeting.  Even when the meeting is held outside of the United States, many RPI graduate students find ways of supplementing their meager travel allowance to attend our fields most important conference.  This year, our students have taken the next step and organized no fewer than seven panels for the 2017 meeting in Boston.  All of these are open panels, so if you have an interest in speaking on any of these topics, register for the 4S meeting in Boston and submit an abstract!  Descriptions are in the same order as on the 4S open panel website.

14. Booms, Buzzes and Busts in Science and Technology Studies

20. Can Improved Science and Technology Mean Progress? More Intelligently Steering Technoscientific Systems

37. Necropolitics

44. Making Sense of Autonomous Technologies, 40 Years Later

66. Making Sense of Practice by Engagement

87. STS in Practice

127. ‘Make Do and Mend’: How to Prepare for a “Post-Solar Flare Future” with and by Collaborative Practices


14. Booms, Buzzes and Busts in Science and Technology Studies

Organized by: Leo Matteo Bachinger, Lee Nelson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Surveying STS conference programs, one finds what could be described as ‘booms’ followed by ‘busts’ of areas of research. This track invites papers to reflect on this phenomenon and to address questions concerning the epistemological, political, and marginalizing implications for our field. Potential themes include: Conceptualizations – What is an adequate conceptual language to address such phenomena in their diversity, emergence and unfolding? Marginalizations & Boundaries – How do booms/busts allow for, open up, and foreclose fields of engagement? What makes some topics boom and sustain while others bust? And to what extent does the language of “booms” and “busts” itself co-produce and/or erode those margins and boundaries? Temporalities & Epistemologies – Does the field shift temporarily? Is there a lingering alteration to types of considerations required of the field? What makes objects of concern stick/disappear, to what consequence? Failure, Learning, Developing – Should “booms” be considered alliance and bridge formations, while “busts” are a failure of sustained engagement? Or do booms indicate ‘consciousness raising’ while busts indicate that lessons have been learned? Epistemological and Political Consequences – What happens when a field or topic is “mined off”? How does (over/under) saturation ‘matter’?  Hopes, Desires, Responsibilities – Do our booms and busts reveal disciplinary desires, and political and epistemological stances & responsibilities?  Rather than being a track on the phenomena of ‘the new’, we ask for contributions concerning the long term effects of the ‘booms,’ reflections on topics that ‘bust’, and assessments of the mode with which the field of STS shifts. This track hopes to integrate presentations with a workshop approach, prioritizing discussion.

20. Can Improved Science and Technology Mean Progress? More Intelligently Steering Technoscientific Systems

Organized by: Michael Bouchey, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Taylor Dotson, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Must technoscientific “progress” proceed so technocratically? Dominant innovation discourses implicitly support the view that scientific knowledge and technological innovation automatically translate into improved living. Such a view has led to the promotion of “permissionless innovation,” an ideology that legitimates a hands-off approach to the “disruptive technologies” designed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and freedom of research in their R&D departments. However, scholars have shown that sociotechnical innovations typically benefit some people and organizations more than others. Thus it is clear to many within STS that those wishing to enact non-technocratic visions of progress face social as well as technical barriers. To mitigate or head off the worst consequences of permissionless innovation and other discourses that naturalize the politics of technoscientific change, scholars must consider alternative ways of steering technoscientific agendas, aside from allowing small groups of politically and financially powerful elites to make most of the decisions. How might new technologies and research programs be shaped to be more suitable for public purposes before markets let them loose into the world?  The purpose of this panel is to explicitly examine what would be required to guide science and technology toward better fulfilling more humans’ needs more of the time.  Possible topics include, but are not limited to, mechanisms for slowing the pace of technoscientific change, addressing the privileged position of particular decision-makers, counteracting the subtle effects of “permissionless innovation” and other naturalizing discourses, and better enabling lay citizens and experts to critically probe the politics of innovation.

37. Necropolitics

Organized by: Mara Dicenta-Vilker, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Achille Mbembe (2003) used the term ‘necropolitics’ to account for the existence of ‘death worlds’ within postcolonial geopolitical spaces. While work in biopolitics has privileged the dynamics of ‘making live and letting die,’ Mbembe highlights the importance of both, extending lives and making deaths. Rosi Braidotti (2013) follows Mbembe and includes posthuman subjects within the politics of death. Contemporary Anthropocene — as a limit of total extinction provoking an intense scholarship around the boundaries of life and worthy lives — is not exempt from problems associated with Western notions of individualism and humanism (Haraway 2016). In certain ways, Braidotti’s approach, along with other vitalist materialisms such as the work of Bennett (2010) or Barad (2007), allow for the generativity of Life to be seen as a material ongoing force that usurps such Western tendencies. While they transcend the idea of death as an exceptionally human experience that conditions political existence, at the same time they tend to reduce processes of death into Life, or ongoing generativity. How can STS research and mobilize the production of boundaries between life and death, between Life as organic and that which is Non-Life (Povinelli 2016)? How can we account for processes of differential dying in more-than-Western, more-than-human, more-than-bios, or even, more-than-earth worlds? This panel looks for contributions around the material semiotics of death, dead subjects, and killing/elimination that engage with the processes by which they are maintained, resignified, or disrupted.  Welcoming fabulation, empirical, theoretical, or speculative communications.

44. Making Sense of Autonomous Technologies, 40 Years Later

Organized by: Colin Garvey, RPI; Langdon Winner

The 40th anniversary of the publication of Langdon Winner’s seminal work, Autonomous Technologies: Technics-out-of-Control (1977), provides an opportunity to reflect both on an increasingly automated Anthropocene as well as the field of STS itself at the opening of the 21st century. In 1977, when electronic digital computers still occupied entire rooms within the citadels of the military-industrial-university complex, AI and robotics were still largely arcane avocations of a few research teams and entrepreneurs. Today, smartphones with millions of times the power of those machines reside in the pockets of billions of people around the world; robotic beasts crawl over rubble to win prizes from DARPA; and consumer automobiles are (finally) beginning to drive themselves. Forbes magazine has already named 2017 “The Year of AI,” and China is poised to outpace the US and Japan combined in total numbers of industrial robots. R&D funding for autonomous technologies is at an all-time high, as are both optimism and fear about the futures they promise. Meanwhile, some of the world’s leading democracies struggle to function under conditions of electronically mediated information overload. How are we making sense of these technological transformations forty years after Autonomous Technologies? And how should we be? What still applies? What has changed? What have we learned since, and what remains insensible to us? This panel welcomes contributions on autonomous technologies, broadly construed to include historical and contemporary reflections as well as speculative and future-oriented pieces.

66. Making Sense of Practice by Engagement

Organized by: Karin Patzke, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Ellen Foster

Building on discussions and presentations from 4S/EASST in Barcelona as well as other recent conferences, this open (and experimental) panel seeks to create spaces for alternative knowledge practices that examine the epistemological and discursive methods of creating and implementing different ways of knowing and imagining the world. This panel takes seriously Shapin and Schaffer’s claim that “solutions to the problem of knowledge are embedded within practical solutions to the problem of social order” (1985:15). We ask, “how have collectives of practice developed and what are the futures that these collectives imagine?” In conversation with the 2017 4S theme of (In)sensibilities, we hope to engage ways of sensing and sense-making that often exist on the margins or at the boundaries of dominant practices within science and technology. We encourage work that examines how practitioners interpret their own work and if alternatives are indeed as radical as initially assumed. Are alternative knowledge producers in dialogue with hegemonic practices, or are practitioners engaging in novel ways of mapping/charting scientific and epistemic terrains? Most importantly, we expect presenters to abandon the formal presentation style and come to panels prepared to engage the audience in short 15 minute workshop-type experiments that directly communicate alternative ways of making sense of practice. Based on the success of a similar panel we organized last year, we are prepared to work closely with presenters to ensure – at the very least – only partial failure.

87. STS in Practice

Organized by: Alli Morgan, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

How are STS concepts and “thought styles” being relayed to emergency medical technicians, radiation health specialists, aerospace engineers, and other expert communities? How has STS been brought into K-12 and community education? Extending Science and Technology Studies (STS) research that has theorized and contextualized the emergence and organization of different fields of expertise, the proposed stream of papers and panels will explore how STS “thought styles” have been shared,  interpreted and taken up in diverse educational and expert arenas.  Building from the 2017 conference focus on contemporary (in)sensibilities in STS, contributions will interrogate the promises and challenges of developing and cultivating STS thought styles in different contexts.  Papers can focus on STS in public health and emergency response, law, engineering, urban planning, and data science, for example, describing how STS theory, empirical cases, and modes of making-and-doing are understood, cultivated, and are making different kinds of differences.  Together, papers can help build an analytic and evaluative framework for understanding STS in diverse instantiations and contexts.

127. ‘Make Do and Mend’: How to Prepare for a “Post-Solar Flare Future” with and by Collaborative Practices

Organized by: Yana Boeva, York University; Leo Matteo Bachinger, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The technological promises and desires to cure and solve instabilities in societies and systems recur with every new development. Nonetheless, contemporary techno-societies become ever more fragile in their dependency on global, techno-scientific infrastructures of information and communication, transportation and logistics, medicine, food production and distribution, etc. This panel assumes a highly speculative scenario: A solar flare triggering a geomagnetic storm, wiping out global(ized) electrical and communications networks on a large scale without a chance to recover it. With this narrative intervention serving as starting point, we seek to inspire questioning of globalized techno-social foundations, and their political and social dimensions. Confronted with a troubling future, this panel invites ideas for preparation, making do and mending. Extreme scenarios serve to reveal humanity’s inescapable reliance on technology in daily life, at the same time rendering us vulnerable. Narrative strategies such as this are not new to STS, related academic disciplines, or the realm of speculative fiction, and have produced a large array of countercultural ideas, guides and movements, from Steward Brand’s ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ (1968) and Buckminster Fuller’s unconventional constructions to contemporary collaborative technologies and practices involving non-experts and users. Starting from this proposition, the panel invites theoretical, empirical, artistic and speculative contributions that address everyday issues of our global techno-society implementing practices of self-sustainment such as do-it-yourself, tinkering, and care, and consider how these can generate theory through practice.

 

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