Distraction Free Reading

Spotlight! “Global STS: Transnational Network Building – Asia, Oceania, and Beyond” hosted by the STS Futures Initiative

This week as part of our “ReAssembling Asias through Science” series, we would like to highlight an event held by the STS Futures Initiative last month. This panel (whose second part is forthcoming this fall) brought together a range of academics and graduate students to engage substantively with what might be termed a ‘global turn’ in STS scholarship, characterized by a greater attention to knowledge production and scientific practices outside of Europe and North America. Interested in both the theoretical possibilities of, as well as the practical aspects and skills necessary for transnational network building, the panel raised a range of questions around the possibilities for and challenges inherent to collaborative research and forms of decolonial practice and knowledge production across institutional and national contexts. As moderator Dr. Kathleen Gutierrez put it in her opening remarks, “Who is doing the work? And more importantly, who is building the networks with other STS inclined scholars in the world areas in which we work?” [0:01:18].

Participants in the panel included Kim Fortun (Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Irvine in the U.S. and former President of 4S); Thao Phan (Postdoctoral Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute in Australia); Grant Otsuki (Lecturer in Anthropology at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand); Casper Jenson (an independent scholar based in Phnom Penh); Aalok Khandekar (Assistant Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad); and Fadjar Thufail (Indonesian Institute of Sciences). The full recording of the conversation is available on youtube, as well as at the conclusion of this post.

A shot from a zoom meeting containing six people and a banner reading STS Futures Initiative

STS Futures Initiative. Screenshot by author.

The panel opens with presentations from Casper Jenson and Fadjar Thufail who characterize and elaborate on both the theoretical/conceptual implications of asymmetrical conditions of global knowledge production, as well as the impact this has on the shape, reach, and (dis)connections across various networks and scholarly communities. The panel then moves into a conversation around a set of questions posed by moderators Jaimie Morse (UC Santa Cruz in the US) and Kathleen Gutierrez (UC Santa Cruz in the US), namely: “How do we do the work of transnational network building?” How to identify the need for new connections or the development of a regional network? What kind of programming can/should these networks pursue? What forms can these networks take and what is their relationship to existing institutional and disciplinary structures? What are some of the major challenges to building, growing, funding, and nourishing these networks and spaces? What kind of role might international professional organizations play? How might these questions impact our approaches to teaching, research, and publication?

Thao Phan offers poignant reflections on their involvement with the creation of the AusSTS Graduate network – an organization that supports graduate students and early career scholars in social studies of science and technology. Thao reflects on how the creation of this organization was catalyzed through a community that was brought together through the labor of organizing the 4S conference in Sydney in 2018. Thao also notes how while excellence in STS scholarship from Australia is recognized, it is rarely the case that university departments are organized around STS, meaning that people don’t often come to STS through formal disciplinary structures, but rather wander into it instead. Under these circumstances – which Thao describes as creating a double-edged sword whereby the lack of legibility to funders, institutions, and management has allowed space for experimental practices – Thao offers suggestions and examples for new ways to program conferences and meetings, such as: 1) shorter research papers and an emphasis on staging conversations rather than sharing or presenting research products; 2) actually doing collaborative experimental practice during the conference, such as field workshops, podcasting, museum trips, etc.

Grant Otsuki offers a way of thinking about interstitial network building and its relationship to formal institutions and networks by positing that we think of network building as both ‘parasitic’ and ‘scrappy’, [00:52:00], and reflects on the outgrowths and afterlives of the 4S Conference in Tokyo 2010 for STS communities in Japan. Kim Fortun reflects on her time as the president of 4S and how these parasitic and scrappy outgrowths can loop back to change institutions themselves. Kim points out [00:55:32] how many of the institutions we engage and journals where we publish claim to be international and value the international, recalling her commitment to the mandate in the 4S charter that it is an international organization and asking: “What would it take to actually do that? To actually reflect that promise?”

Panelists reflected on a range of major challenges that confront these aspirations. Grant calls attention to major frictions around issues of language and translation that present significant barriers on both sides of any given language interface, noting how particular academic genres of English present barriers to entry, while infrastructures of translation may limit the ways that certain research and data may be able to travel. Casper offers reflections on what he denotes as the parallel worlds of anthropology in Japan (which ends up more localized/nationalized) and ‘global’ anthropologists coming to Japan to study Japanese things, noting how important work happens in both of these worlds, but different infrastructural and institutional incentives result in an unfortunate separation of these worlds – how might we create bridges across these worlds and what might those bridges look like? As Casper suggests, using contexts and situations in a country or place for theoretical innovation is a very different project from the work of building the networks and reach of intellectual communities in those same places [1:08:44]. Fadjar offers an important reminder that different institutional contexts situated within different geopolitical locations bear different relationships to the historical legacies of disciplines and disciplinarity. As such, scholars in certain contexts may have to balance different kinds of local demands that others may not. “How to balance local demands, local pressure, epistemological pressure with the need to build transnational connection?” [01:13:20] Fadjar reminds us that different places have different disciplinary structures and legacies. As such, advocating for interdisciplinary work in an imaginative or theoretical sense is different from doing the work of figuring out how to break down those disciplinary boundaries in context in order to make such work more possible or structurally incentivized.

Finally, the panel moves towards its close with a discussion of publishing. Kim reflects on (1) the Transnational Bibliodiversity Project, a resource for global STS syllabi; (2) the importance not only of open access journals, but the need for us to move towards ‘open science’ and the development of infrastructures to support collaboration throughout the knowledge production process, and not only at the back end (dissemination of data or results); and (3) a transnational STS working group meeting that took place in New Orleans in 2019 bringing together over 40 publishers, which resulted in a forthcoming series of crosstalks between Tapuya and EASTS (which are both managed by different publishers). Grant asks us to be critical and intentional about how we engage with a field as polyvalent as STS, with an awareness of how the question of what STS is might affect publishing choices and standards. Thao closes with the notion that changing what counts as academic practice is mutually embedded with the question of who counts and is recognized as an academic practitioner, reminding us of a fundamental tension that in many cases is a result of institutional pressures and academic precarity. How do we balance between creating spaces to connect, experiment, and play with the need to prove our value back to institutions, funders, or local demands? [01:30:00].

Check out the full panel and be sure to follow the STS Futures Initiative for information about how to participate in the next part of this conversation!

This post is part of the series “(Re)Assembling Asias through Science.” Click here to read the series’ introduction and contact editors Chunyu Jo Ann Wang (chunyuw@stanford.edu) and Tim Quinn (quinnt@rice.edu) if you are interested in contributing!








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