Tag: STS

Surveillant Materialities of Migrant (Im)mobility: Reconceptualizing Border Technologies

After lunch on the day I arrived at Casa Begoña Migrant Shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México, Doña Paquita, a shelter director, came to fetch me from the comedor, or the dining space, outside the back of the shelter.[1]  “I want clear information so I know what to tell El Padre [the priest] in case he asks about why you are here.” She stopped walking once we were in the waiting room in front of the kitchen and quickly pointed to the video camera at the left corner. “El Padre sees everything. The camera is always on, it’s recording and transmits to his office.” (read more...)

Science and Justice: “Impartial” Water Monitoring and Resistance to the Escobal Mine in Guatemala

Editor’s note: This is the third post in an ongoing series called “The Spectrum of Research and Practice in Guatemalan Science Studies.” A water monitoring process conducted around a controversial mine site in Guatemala highlighted the central, but also contested and indeterminate, role of science in environmental struggles. Groups with competing aims, and distinct conceptions of science and politics produce (or influence the production of) distinct forms and interpretations of science to ground their claims and shape the outcome of environmental conflicts. (read more...)

A coincidence is a strange type of fact

At the top of Václavksé náměstí, the central artery of Prague, in a solemnly gray but geometrically dynamic Socialist Realist hotel that today is jammed between currency exchange windows and fast-food restaurants, up one floor from the busy street and the purple velvet lobby, a young laborer is trying to make a fidget spinner move with just his mind. He looks at it intensely, with sadness and urgency in his face. He looks at it like this for about thirty seconds, then releases his gaze, relaxes, blinks purposefully, restoring his energy, and resumes his effort. Sometimes he twitches but the fidget spinner never spins. And sometimes during his breaks he apologizes to his audience – me and, also, the coordinators of Paranormální výzva, a collective of Czechs who are testing claims of paranormal ability. (read more...)

Honey, let we tell you! A speculative trans-species storytelling of the Maya Forest borderlands

Editor’s note: This is the second post in an ongoing series called “The Spectrum of Research and Practice in Guatemalan Science Studies.” Previous scholars largely confined their studies of European honey bee (Apis mellifera, including Africanized hybrids) communication to the waggle dance, with the communication range limited to food gathering, hive site selection, and other simple collective tasks. Recent advances in therolinguistic interpretation have demonstrated that a hive structure’s 3-dimensional matrix, including differentially-deposited pheromones and scent signatures laid in wax, contain additional, semi-permanently recorded content, though without a functional grammar. Rather than fully-articulated communication, the hive contains references to broader concepts—such as joy, woe, growth, care, loss, hunger, abundance, battle, defense, and so on. Reading waggle dances in hive context reveals that basic communication is often interwoven with broader narratives. (read more...)

COVID-19: Views from the Field

COVID-19, or the vernacular “coronavirus,” hardly needs an introduction. By the time of this writing, there are over 1.2 million active cases spread across nearly every country worldwide. There is hardly an area of daily life that remains unchanged by the new and unfamiliar terms of coping and coexisting with a pandemic. Social relations are disrupted, mobilities once taken for granted are halted, forms of connectedness have suddenly become threatening. Social scientists have been quick to respond; our expertise enables us to contextualize novel, emergent events with theoretical insights from mundane life. Much of the focus has been on the indeterminacy of the present moment, and the uncertainties of pandemic life. Academics, of course, have not been immune to those interruptions and uncertainties. For ethnographers actively conducting fieldwork especially, the cutting off of social interaction forces a renegotiation of their place in “the field.” Some of us find ourselves sheltering (read more...)

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. “In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits…. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.” (Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Operating Instructions”)   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

Editors’s note: Click here to read the author’s MA thesis expanding on this topic. 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...)