4S/EASST 2012: Zine

Every four years the US based Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) host a joint conference. The 2012 edition of the discipline’s largest conference took place in October at the Copenhagen Business School under the theme of ‘Design and Displacement: Social studies of science and technology’.

Science and technology (STS) scholars, particularly in the Scandinavian tradition, have long been interested in design as an explicit intersection of technological and social construction. In science and technology, ‘design’ implies the re-arrangement of materials and ideas for innovative purposes. When newly designed scientific and technical objects enter the world, however, their initial purposes are often displaced.

For decades, STS researchers have been following the practical and political dimensions of science and technology. By focusing on concepts and practices of scientific and technological design at their sites of construction and on their multiple displacements the 2012 conference continues this tradition. By bringing together ‘design’ and ‘displacement’ we aimed to highlight how scientific and technological design engages with existing socio-technical arrangements in both planned and unplanned ways, facilitating both collaborations and contestations, and generating both order and disorder.

Drawing on the conference theme and a long standing interest in the intersection of design, art and science and technology studies (STS), Nina Wakeford, of Goldsmith, and Alex Taylor from Microsoft Research Cambridge invited proposals for an experimental pre-conference workshop. Whereas STS scholar’s traditionally have taken design practices as their subject the proposed workshop aimed to explore how STS could not only study design practices but learn from the ways in which designers and artist do research. Confronting design and art practices with those of STS research is still a novel approach but the implication that research can be understood as an explicit intervention resonates with work in the feminist tradition that often emphasises that research always interferes with its subject.

Intrigued by the opportunity to explore how methods that are traditionally associated with art and design practices can contribute to the study of science and technology Julien McHardy (Lancaster University), myself and Laura Forlano (Design, Illinois Institute of Tech) applied. We were shortlisted alongside Dehlia Hannah (Philosophy, Columbia University) and Hannah Star Rogers’ (STS, University of Virginia) proposal and asked to organize a joint interdisciplinary one-day event.

Putting together an event with people that you don’t know and who are spread out across two continents and a range of disciplines was certainly challenging. A flood of emails send across three time zones later, and only two weeks prior to the event the call for participants went out. We invited participation in an interdisciplinary one day hands-on workshop on emerging methods of critical practice in science and technology studies, in particular methods that engage with art and design as well as performance and exhibition. We aimed to refine our understanding and also intervene in the way that objects can stimulate and embody critique in STS. Despite the tight timing we were quickly oversubscribed with a diverse range of international applicants from art, design, architecture, sociology, anthropology, engineering and philosophy.  Thanks all those that joined us for the workshop, the funders and the team for making it such a productive day.

For a more detailed write up of this event see here