Tag: STS

Critical Imagination at the Intersection of STS Pedagogy and Research

*This post was co-authored by Emily York and Shannon Conley* In 2017, we established the STS Futures Lab—a space to critically interrogate plausible sociotechnical futures and to develop strategies for integrating pedagogy and research. But why a lab, and why a ‘futures’ lab? In a broader societal context in which futures thinking and futures labs are often subsumed within innovation speak, entrepreneurialism, and implicit bias regarding whose futures matter, it might seem counter-intuitive to establish a futures lab as a space for critical pedagogies. And yet, it is precisely because of our concern with the politics and ethics of technological world-making that we are inspired to intervene in this space. A futures lab, as we conceive it, is a space to cultivate capacities for critical and moral imagination that serve to check dominant assumptions about the future. We believe STS pedagogies are at their best when they are at the same time critical pedagogies—connected to the politics of knowledge production (Freire, 2018), and congruent with education as a ‘practice of freedom’ (hooks 1994, 4). Moreover, STS understandings of the messiness of knowledge production align well with reflexive practices of learning with our students in the classroom. However, to develop critical STS pedagogies that effectively engage our students, we have to start where we are in terms of our particular location and the students with whom we are working. The STS Futures Lab is an example of how critical STS pedagogies can, and perhaps must, emerge as a situated practice. One of the factors that makes STS pedagogies such a rich and varied set of practices is that they are developed and implemented in a wide array of disciplinary, institutional, and geographically diverse spaces, often heavily shaped by these spaces as faculty attempt to make material relevant to their students and aligned with learning objectives. This is to say, the very factors that constrain approaches to implementing critical STS pedagogies also constitute an opportunity. (read more...)

Archiving for the Anthropocene: Notes from the Field Campus

On a chilly Sunday afternoon in March, our Field Campus group walked through downtown Granite City, Illinois. Located just 6 miles north of St. Louis, the downtown was a markedly post-industrial landscape. Many of the red brick buildings were vacant and showed signs of lasting decay. Weedy patches of open land occasionally provided views of a large nearby factory. It was hard to tell if coffee and sandwich shops were closed forever. The factory, a U.S. Steel Corps manufacturing plant called Granite City Works was founded by two German immigrants in 1896, along with the city itself. In 2009, the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) ranked neighborhoods in Granite City at the second highest risk for cancer in the country, highlighting the plant’s coke ovens as a likely source (McGuire 2009). Coke oven emissions include benzene, arsenic, and lead (Earthjustice 2019) – that people breathe, and soils absorb. Another source of toxic air pollution has been the NL Industries/Taracorp lead smelter. Before its closure in 1983, the smelter contaminated over 1,600 households in Granite City and beyond, eventually turning into an EPA superfund cleanup site (Singer, n.d.). The US EPA recognized that the highest concentrations of lead in the air are around smelters. Lead in the air means lead in the soil. Tearing down houses in “blighted” sections of the city exacerbates the problem since demolitions release the lead in the paint of older buildings (Blythe 2019). Granite City is certainly a hot spot. As we walked through Granite City, we were guided by our local collaborator and artist Chris Carl, whose work with the urban renewal group New American Gardening “explores garden making on vacant lots and post industrial land.” Chris led us to the particular plot, pointing to a number of concrete blocks scattered around the ground. One of the blocks featured a warning symbol etched into its top, the other had the letters ‘Pb’ scrawled upon it – which, as he informed us, is the chemical abbreviation for lead. The blocks were Chris’s “DIY version of a lead remediation,” an intervention he began after a project by the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and a visit by EPA officials who confirmed low levels of lead all over the area after conducting the requisite soil testing. The levels on the site we were standing on, however, had proven to be “off the charts.” Notably, both Madison County and the U.S. Steel Trust had provided funding for this pilot plot. (read more...)

Choreographies of Magic and Mess: AusSTS in Melbourne and Darwin

As the presenter encouraged the academics in the room to consider what it means for nanotechnology to sell itself as ‘magic’, boots appeared outside the window behind him. The presenter was Dr. Declan Kuch from the University of NSW and the occasion was the AusSTS Graduate Workshop, which was held on the 12th floor of Deakin Downtown in Melbourne. The provocation Dr. Kuch presented: ‘who performs the magic and for whom?’, was illuminated by the real time, situated magical performance unfolding behind him, as four high-rise window washers descended, each swiping and cleaning in hypnotic choreography. They wore orange helmets and gloves to keep warm, blue buckets clipped to their belts and bandanas protecting their faces from the water, or perhaps from us, as we smiled and pointed and ogled at their daring feats. It was an STS moment: the physicality of the window washers; the labour/danger dynamic; talk of magic and nanotechnology—science and humanities colliding in a discomforting dance. (read more...)

Students as laboratory labor

What is the role of students in universities? There are ongoing contentious debates and campus protests about whether graduate students should be considered employees with the right to unionize. Likewise, the employment status of student athletes receives intense discussion from the media and scholars. These questions concern whether universities should acknowledge students as contributors and not just consumers for the institutions’ missions of research and education. (read more...)

Anti-Queer Violence, Bearing Witness, and Thinking with Algorithms on Social Media

(Nota: Esta publicación está disponible en español aquí.) In early June 2019, news began to break concerning the death of a Salvadoran transgender woman, Johana Medina León, of pneumonia, four days after being released from nearly six weeks in ICE custody. Before long, my Facebook feed was filled with stories detailing the persecution Johana faced in El Salvador because of her gender identity; her dangerous journey to the United States to seek asylum; and her final moments as she struggled to save her own life, as it became clear no one else would. She might have saved her own life, if she’d been given the resources. In El Salvador, Johana was a nurse. Johana’s death is tragic for many reasons, not the least of which is that had it not been for social media, it likely would have gone unnoticed. (read more...)

Forecasting Earth Futures

This is the second in a series of posts by scholars who attended the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne, an event hosted in September by Deakin University as part of the larger Anthropocene Curriculum project. Over the four days of the Campus, 110 participants from 49 universities (plus several art institutions and museums) attended keynotes, art exhibits, field trips, and workshops based around the theme of ‘the elemental’. Read the first post in the series here. It is not difficult to recognize the ubiquity of nature forecasting in our world. Every day we hear some claim about the future of nature: what it will do, where its consequences will be felt, and by whom. Not only is mundane weather forecasting integral to daily life, even climate change is structured by experts’ claims about the future of oceans, temperature, and carbon levels. In the early 20th century, when weather forecasts began to share media space with economic digests, even the economy took on the language of weather forecasts and began to be described in terms such as “economic barometers.” The fundamental structures of society began to act like the weather; they too were liable to depressions and tempests. My intention here is not to make a forecast but to understand the process of forecasting itself. This means understanding how futures emerge and pass away, how they are discarded, mobilized, distributed, and enacted in the present. The future, in this sense, is not self-evidently given but is something that is brought into being; something that is achieved. (Listen Now...)

Of Camels, Platypuses, and the Future of the Blog

It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. We might think of the platypus in much the same way, though the key difference is perhaps that—as of yet—it is unclear what the Platypus Committee was trying to create. Regardless, the platypus has long been emblematic of the limitations of scientific classification. An egg-laying, duck-billed, poisonous mammal: the only surviving member of its species and genus. It is this persistent and natural spirit of disruption and provocation that led the founders of this blog to christen it with the name of this thoroughly confusing and fascinating creature. Its defiance of orderly categorization serves as both a metaphor and motivation for the continued intersection of anthropology and science and technology studies, sometimes considered strange bedfellows. (read more...)

How does a platypus taste? About the flavours of STS at 4S Sydney, 2018

The 2018 meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), was held from August 29th to September 1st, (mostly) in the International Conference Center (ICC) in Sydney, Australia, and was dedicated to the theme of TRANSnational STS. As Kim Fortun, the current president of the society, asked: What, How and Why TRANS? This four-day event, itself made of so many sub-events, was convened for in the Southern Hemisphere for the second time ever (the first was Buenos Aires back in 2014); it was also the second time the meeting was held in the Asia-Pacific Region (after Tokyo, in 2010). As its theme and location demonstrate, the annual 4S conference and the organizing society itself have been undergoing a transformation to include a more global community. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that STS itself is becoming globalized. As 4S 2018 revealed, this international expansion is part of (read more...)