Summer School 2014 with Professor Gary Downey

Gary Downey Anchor teacherGary Downey, Virginia Tech, USA

LocationStudy and Conference Centre Soeterbeeck in Ravenstein

For more informationDr Teun Zuiderent-Jerak and Dr Geert Somsen

OrganisationMarjatta Kemppainen

What is STS for? What are STS scholars for?

With professor Gary Downey, Virginia Tech, including contributions from Stuart Blume, Erik Fisher, Brian Martin, Jessica Mesman, Sheila Jasanoff and Teun Zuiderent-Jerak

The issue

The field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) has had many successes critiquing the diffusion model of knowledge.  Yet this model, which assumes separate phases of creation, dissemination and utilization, provides a safe haven when STS scholars assess and celebrate their own work. We highlight the production of articles and books for academic audiences and many of us hope our messages travel beyond the boundaries of the field to have consequences, whether modest or profound, among other audiences.
The asymmetry is striking: if the practices we analyze turn out to rely on more dynamic models for successful knowledge production and transfer, then why not so for STS? Do STS notions – whether we prefer ‘translation’, ‘(social) construction’, or ‘socially robust knowledge’ – only apply to the fields we study?
They don’t. Many STS scholars develop practices that help them to make a difference beyond the field, in both academic and non-academic arenas. Many such practices are crucial to the production of STS knowledge and expertise, yet the community of STS scholars rarely gives them privileged attention. They get bracketed and subordinated rather than empirically unpacked in our writings, discussions, and annual meetings.
This Summer School moves these practices to center stage. What can we learn from analyzing what STS scholars do to produce their knowledge and techniques and make these count in public debates, policy practices, scientific controversies, pedagogy, or technology development? To what extent have STS scholars been able to scale up their knowledge? How has this affected practices within STS itself? And how does it affect our understanding of STS as a scholarly discipline? What can we learn from this to address the twin, almost-existential questions that frame this Summer School: What is STS for? What are STS scholars for?

The anchor teacher

These concerns have been at the heart of the scholarly contributions made by Gary Downey over many years. His own empirical work has focused on engineering studies, a sub-field within STS he has helped to develop. His key works include The Machine in Me; An Anthropologist Sits Among Computer Engineers (Routledge, 1998) and Cyborgs and Citadels; Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies (School of American Research Press, 1997, with Joe Dumit). He is founding editor of the journal Engineering Studies. Moreover, the questions raised during this Summer School are central to his presidency of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). The theme of this presidency is “critical participation.”

The contributors

The questions mentioned above become more interesting when they receive many different answers and reformulations. For this we rely on you in interaction with senior contributors. Some of these will be physically present, others will join via Skype, but in all cases your questions will guide the discussions. Confirmed contributors are Stuart Blume (University of  Amsterdam), Erik Fisher (Arizona State University – Skype interlocutor), Brian Martin (University of Wollongong – Skype interlocutor), Jessica Mesman ( Maastricht University), Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard University – Skype interlocutor) and Teun Zuiderent-Jerak (Linköping University).

Why join?

The questions raised in this Summer School fit cutting-edge developments that seek to travel across the boundaries of the field in ways other than the diffusion model proposes. All generations of STS scholars are involved.
By joining, you will gain a chance to be part of these developments. You will experience focused opportunities to formulate and share what makes STS meaningful to you, as well as what else you might like it to be. By wrestling with the twin questions, What is STS for? What are STS scholars for?, you will challenge yourself to reflect critically on your expertise, identity, and commitments in STS, while also helping others (including the anchor teacher and contributors) do the same.
In addition to working through these issues, the Summer School will include skill-training activities, including practice at articulating research-based analysis with scholarly activities that critically inflect arenas beyond the field.