Interviews about STS interventions (iSTS)

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Paper presented by Teun Zuiderent-Jerak and Ernst Thoutenhoofd to the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, Saïd Business School, Oxford University, 18 March 2010.

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  • Gains: “At a theoretical level, what this is doing is allowing us to start thinking about science in its relationships to state industry, and publics, and social movements.  So, what we are interested in now is not the micro-sociology of the construction of knowledge, or the growth of heterogeneous networks. We are interested in the politics of what kind of knowledge gets selected to be done, and not done. What kind of technologies are built, and not built. And how networks are embedded in fields, and how these micro-sociological construction processes are embedded in the overall politics of agenda-setting. And that is my vision too, where I like to see the field go. I think there is quite a bit of evidence that the field is shifting in these directions, and then within it there are all sorts of pushes and pulls, about which types of concepts and methods are best for addressing these issues. The study of activism and social movements is part of a broader shift in the STS field, to look at the institutional relations of science.” (Hess)\n
  • Gains: “At a theoretical level, what this is doing is allowing us to start thinking about science in its relationships to state industry, and publics, and social movements.  So, what we are interested in now is not the micro-sociology of the construction of knowledge, or the growth of heterogeneous networks. We are interested in the politics of what kind of knowledge gets selected to be done, and not done. What kind of technologies are built, and not built. And how networks are embedded in fields, and how these micro-sociological construction processes are embedded in the overall politics of agenda-setting. And that is my vision too, where I like to see the field go. I think there is quite a bit of evidence that the field is shifting in these directions, and then within it there are all sorts of pushes and pulls, about which types of concepts and methods are best for addressing these issues. The study of activism and social movements is part of a broader shift in the STS field, to look at the institutional relations of science.” (Hess)\n
  • Gains: “At a theoretical level, what this is doing is allowing us to start thinking about science in its relationships to state industry, and publics, and social movements.  So, what we are interested in now is not the micro-sociology of the construction of knowledge, or the growth of heterogeneous networks. We are interested in the politics of what kind of knowledge gets selected to be done, and not done. What kind of technologies are built, and not built. And how networks are embedded in fields, and how these micro-sociological construction processes are embedded in the overall politics of agenda-setting. And that is my vision too, where I like to see the field go. I think there is quite a bit of evidence that the field is shifting in these directions, and then within it there are all sorts of pushes and pulls, about which types of concepts and methods are best for addressing these issues. The study of activism and social movements is part of a broader shift in the STS field, to look at the institutional relations of science.” (Hess)\n
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  • INVERSION of the diffracting mirror\n
  • INVERSION of the diffracting mirror\n
  • Original quotes in Dutch: “En zo ben je dus zelf ook een probe: doordat je iets doet komt er een reactie, en die reactie vertelt je iets over de situatie, of eigenlijk over de combinatie van situatie plus jezelf. Waar actor network theorie en co-evolutionaire theorie goed in zijn om dat aan te pakken, omdat daar het individu en zijn bedoelingen niet voorop staat. Daarom ben ik ook terughoudend om iets over engagement te zeggen. Want volgens mij, ja, sommige mensen zijn geëngageerd, anderen niet, dat is eigenlijk niet zo van belang”\n\nAnd:\n“Waar het mij om ging is dat je de structuur van de situatie leert kennen door reacties op insertion, op probing. Dus de situatie moet terugpraten.” (Rip)\n
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  • Interviews about STS interventions (iSTS)

    1. 1. Modes of interventionin science and technology studiesPaper presented to the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society,Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, March 18th, 2010Teun Zuiderent-JerakInstitute of Health Policy and ManagementErasmus University Rotterdamzuiderent@bmg.eur.nlErnst D. ThoutenhoofdVirtual Knowledge StudioRoyal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciencesernst.thoutenhoofd@gmail.com
    2. 2. “My biggest hope would be that non-violence activists could find some value in thesort of things I have been doing about tactics and strategies.”Brian Martin“I engage in trying to understand, in taking a stand myself; but I woulddraw a line between engagement and activism.”Helga Nowotny“I am reluctant to say much about engagement, since at the end of the day somepeople are simply engaged while others are not; that is no big deal.”Arie Rip
    3. 3. Overview of the presentation1. Intervention in STS2. The current study: interviews with STS scholars—the iSTS project3. The (non-)issue of constructivist epistemology for action4. Modes of intervention and their consequences5. Conclusions
    4. 4. Intervention in STSLong-standing commitment of STS to reflexivity, normativity and consequences has led tothe Captives of controversy debate. Normative calls for intervention have included: ★ social movements agendas ★ the ‘post 9/11 public intellectuals’ claimThere has been a series of events addressing this theme: ★ Unpacking intervention in action-oriented STS (Amsterdam 2005, Århus 2006) ★ Does STS mean Business seminars (2004, 2005) ★ INCITE ★ 4S/EASST theme and plenary (2008)Which have led us to undertake this current project (2007–2009), with the dual aim ★ to study how leading STS researchers construct intervention ★ to contribute to de-prophesizing intervention
    5. 5. PreambleWe find that once STS scholars start to empirically explore how their research mayintervene in the practices they study, this quickly turns into a normative plea for more ofsuch interventionist work and for getting real about the practical implications of analyticalwork.It leads to expectations for actors in the fields of study – already asking for prospectiveANT analyses – but also to claims that constructivist scholarly work should be combinedwith political engagement to be up to the tasks that face the research community andsociety at large.The alternative leads to the suggestion of “quietism or, worse, mere academicprofessionalism”. (Lynch 2006)
    6. 6. The debate then often takes a prophetic rather than an empirical turn. Prophecies suggestwhat STS (in singularized form) should consider as a next step, whereby non-followers’work is claimed to result in “banality [that] comes from recent attempts (…) to divestepistemology of any normative force” (Fuller 2002).One defensive response is to propose that the normativity of interventionist choices stemsfrom “other life-sources” rather than STS sensibilities (Lynch 2006).—But perhaps the dichotomy between constructivism and intervention is itself a problemto be addressed?
    7. 7. The current study:Interviews with STS scholarsThe research question with which we started was, what are the practical, empirical,theoretical and normative consequences of STS intervention practices?Most (of our) work on intervention has so far been based on reflexive analysis in individualcase studies.In this study we aimed for in-depth interviews with Wiebe Bijker, Stuart Blume, SimonCole, David Hess, Sheila Jasanoff, Brian Martin, Annemiek Nelis, Helga Nowotny, Arie Ripand Lucy Suchman.The interview questions were in each case based on pre-reading a number of theirpublications and not on a standard, pre-determined list.
    8. 8. Initial findingsOur initial findings suggest that constructivism is not a problem for action; but reportedinterventions show different modes that afford different repertoires of action.Intervention and engagement are not necessarily intertwined; freeing the debate onintervention from this normative weight is intellectually productive.
    9. 9. The (non-)issue ofconstructivism for actionIn none of the interviews constructivism was presented as a problem for action.Critiques that constructivism would provide weak grounds for action are— ★ empirically refutable ★ theoretically positivist: truth precedes action.Perhaps unsurprisingly given complexity of issues of cosmo-politics: as if epistemologicallysolid ground is available for others...In order for STS to be able to intervene in the practices it studies, neither added ethics norasymmetrical realism is required.
    10. 10. Modes of interventionand their consequencesThe modes we recorded in talk about intervention work included:Meta-activismBalanced engagementDiffracting mirrorSTS prophetMultiplicity and probesWith our reference to modes we do not propose a distinct topology but seek to open upthe somewhat closed notion of intervention for empirical diffraction.Modes support reflection on the contingency of scholarly practices, rather than apigeonholing device for classifying scholars in a hierarchy of modes: all but one of therespondents feature in the analysis of various modes.
    11. 11. Quotes from the interviews The following slides contain a selection of quotes by respondents that we haveassembled under the respective modes after coding the transcripts in Atlas.ti and notingin some cases how respondents talked about 1 how it helps to construct the field, 2 whichaction repertoire it captures, 3 what researcher role it supports, 4 which gains it producesand 5 what constraints apply.
    12. 12. Meta-activismMeta-activismWhat I have done in recent years is more to try and offer tools to people who want tointervene in debates. Years ago I did this booklet called ‘Strip the Experts’, and then Iedited the book called ‘Confronting the Experts’. During the last five years most of my workhas been on tactics and strategies. MartinConstructing the fieldSo I am looking more at ways that one can generate research that addresses issues ofwhat I call undone science. And to me that is the essential rubric in connecting sciencestudies and activism. HessRepertoire of actionBut my biggest hope would be that activists, non-violence activists could find some valuein the sort of things I have been doing about tactics and strategies. And if people in STS,or other campaigners, find something useful there too that is a bonus. MartinI am committed to developing a scholarly body of knowledge that could be of benefit togeneral efforts in society, to enhance democratic participation in science and technologypolicy. One way of achieving that is to develop a body of knowledge that theorizesactivism. Hess
    13. 13. Meta-activismResearcher role: split between academic and activist repertoiresIf I let everything come together, I’d probably go mad. And secondly […] it wasinstitutionally important to be clearer about what I’m doing here and what I’m doing outthere. BlumeKeeping things separated is a way to survive and not become schizophrenic. BijkerAims and gainsAt a theoretical level, what this is doing is allowing us to start thinking about science in itsrelationships to state industry, and publics, and social movements. So, what we areinterested in now is not the micro-sociology of the construction of knowledge, or thegrowth of heterogeneous networks. We are interested in the politics of what kind ofknowledge gets selected to be done, and not done. What kind of technologies are built,and not built. And how networks are embedded in fields, and how these micro-sociologicalconstruction processes are embedded in the overall politics of agenda-setting. (...) Thestudy of activism and social movements is part of a broader shift in the STS field, to look atthe institutional relations of science. Hess
    14. 14. Meta-activismConstraints: no ‘frictions within’ but performing an underdogThe main practical things that we said, such as “there should be a limited number ofcenters in the Netherlands doing it”, nobody was powerful enough and cared enough tomake that happen—certainly not the minister—to stand up to all the academic centers whowanted to do it. Blume
    15. 15. Balanced engagementBalanced engagementActivism is a commitment to a cause, and you pursue it with different means. (…) [Withinterventionism] I could not but take a stand, but I was able to keep the balance betweendistance and engagement. So I engage in trying to understand, in taking a stand myself;but I would draw a line between engagement and activism. NowotnyConstructing the fieldThat is one of the questions I often ask my graduate students, ‘what did you learn thatsurprised you the most?’ And if you are just too crowded with normative commitments,then you won’t notice the surprises, or you will screen them out. HessRepertoire of actionYou have to ensure that something happens, but you shouldn’t completely abandon yourirony. That’s why I always introduced the point of productivity and then always said: it isnot so clear what productivity is. That is something that you should thematize in itselfbecause otherwise you’ll short-circuit and you become a consultant or a technocrat andthat’s not the aim. (...) If it became too technocratic, I became ironic and if it became tooreflexive, I became productive, I focused on production. Rip
    16. 16. Balanced engagementResearcher role: no unified positionHow do you frame things in such a way that societal issues can float to the surface withoutdrowning out the science? NelisConstraints: restricting writing practicesI take [projects] so seriously, that I do not want to do anything that may jeopardize thoseinterventions. I mean, they are just much more important than writing about them. And togive it a sort of arrogant twist: STS colleagues could say, but you owe such an article tothe STS community. And I would say, well, I have done enough for the STS community,and I will continue to do that. Don’t ask me this at this moment, because I do not wish tojeopardise my work, even though that might be a bit of an overstatement. Bijker
    17. 17. Diffracting mirrorThe mirror and the STS-kissMy intervention increased in three stages. The first stage is only listening and beinginterested in observation, to the extreme. The second stage is holding up the mirror. (...)Now the third stage is not the mirror, but is the prince and the sleeping beauty: it is thekiss. BijkerConstructing the fieldOne thing I found useful, is to try to listen very closely to what the actors themselves seeas problematic. And tried to translate this into a language that they understand, and that Iunderstand. So to go really down to their level, and almost to ask: ‘what hurts you? Whatis it you are dissatisfied with? What would you like to change?’ (...) Talking to me aboutwhat hurts them, creates a kind of trust that is very difficult to reach otherwise. Whichmeans I have to be emphatic, I have to offer empathy: I try to understand, I try to seewhat the possible solutions could be, and so on. And once you have established this, it iseasier to move back to an STS perspective, and to say that from an STS perspective wewould see it in such a way; and then try to offer this to them in a way they are likely tounderstand. Nowotny
    18. 18. Diffracting mirrorRepertoire of actionSo, the intervention was to say, ‘Hang on! Do you realize what you are doing? You aredoing this and this and this and that is what I would call STS.’ And I explained why I wouldcall that STS and I tried then to show how, once you identified that as a unit of analysis,or a unit of research, or a unit of teaching, or of collaboration, how that then would opennew ways of collaboration and action. Bijker
    19. 19. Diffracting mirrorConstraints: finding a sympathetic ear?The top-CEO of DSM said to me recently, ‘But Miss Nelis, surely you are not merelylistening to the public? One should expect the public to start think more positively, thanksto your efforts.’ This was then followed by the rejoinder, ‘There is after all a great deal ofpublic finance invested in the Centre, so one would expect a return on that.’ With whichhe of course meant benefit for government and its citizenry. This was their idea of wheremy social accountability should be directed. And if I say that this is the mission of theCentre—broad participatory input—then you will probably have a particular idea that likelyaligns with my own views, namely that you would wish to provide input in such a way thatany issue can make it onto the public agenda, that the public agenda is shaped in ameaningful way. But for some people it simply means that genomics must be shoved intosociety unconditionally, and that it should count as something positive. Nelis
    20. 20. STS-prophetThe STS-prophetOne aphorism that I have come to understand deeply in my bones is why prophets arewithout honour in their own countries. (…) That aphorism can be quite usefully turned tothinking about our own sort of abrasive role in the intellectual communities in which welive, and it may help explain why, within our own contexts, for example me within theKennedy School, I am invisible, unrecognised, not known to ‘be worthy’. JasanoffConstructing the fieldIm trying to build up connections with anyone and anything that might find that a usefulmessage, that is sympathetic to that message. But who is that? Well, there aren’t many ofthem. Some of them are the people in Bilthoven, and one of my ex-research assistants isnow in the strategic planning division of the Dutch vaccine institute. So its basically thosefew institutions that there still are, and there are less and less of them by the year. Blume
    21. 21. STS-prophetRepertoire of actionIve begun to be looked at as a sui generis intellect who can speak quite comfortably on avariety of things, that kind of public intellectual. JasanoffI am interested in not having another George Bush administration, and in having anintellectual culture in which people will learn to recognise, in a down-at-the-bones way,that left to our own devices our political culture will lead us this way; but hang on amoment, cant we do something else? So that is the sort of change that I want to bringabout. Jasanoff
    22. 22. Multiplicity & probesMultiplicity and probesAnd like this you yourself are also a probe: through your action you get a reaction, andthis reaction tells something about the situation, or actually about the combination of thesituation plus yourself. Actor-network theory and co-evolutionary theory are particularlywell suited to address this, because there the individual and his intentions are not putcentre stage. That’s also why I’m reluctant to say something about engagement becausesome people are engaged, others are not; that doesnt really matter that much. RipConstructing the fieldYou get to know the structure of the situation by reactions to insertion, to probing. So thesituation has to talk back. Rip
    23. 23. Multiplicity & probesRepertoire of actionCase-based prototyping is about a performative understanding of socio-technicalrelations, of artifacts, of technologies, of their creation and use. So that the ways in whichthat kind of prototyping project happens -the multiplicities of it, the performativities of it -exceeds its representation. (…) Basically by developing more performative, processualunderstandings of what technologies are, and relations between humans and things, andso forth. SuchmanLook, there are components and elements you can mix and match; how you do it is still aproblem, but at least recognise that it is not purely hypothetical. These are real peoplemoving around with the same kinds of things, the same aspirations and so on, who areactually fundamentally organising things like reason and knowledge and uncertainty andmorality in different ways. JasanoffConstraintsThere is a recognisable process that takes place when people get tenure; they becomemore conservative when they are trying to get tenure (...) And I think that I, well… It is anoccupational hazard. Martin
    24. 24. ConclusionsGiven the sheer richness of our respondents’ accounts of intervention in STS, the idea thatconstructivism would be a problem for action can once and for all be retired.STS scholars not condemned to choose between value-free relativism by celebratingdifference, or entering a hubristic and vibrant future of making a difference.Engagement is only a minor part of some intervention modes, so neither a solution norsomething that can only be achieved by drawing on other life-sources—e.g.: the diffractingmirror.By disentangling intervention and engagement the important question about interventionistSTS becomes whether it is able to produce interesting findings that feed back into debateswithin STS.Modes of intervention are no pick and mix’ strategy consulting for STS interventionenthusiasts, since interventions are co-determined by, for example, the enactment of thefield and the STS researcher, the kinds of action they afford and the aspirations thatintervention work may have.
    25. 25. End of slides

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