Environments of care: understanding and shaping care by other means
Location 133
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1


  • Cristina Popescu (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) email
  • Laura Centemeri email

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Short Abstract

From an ecological perspective on action, the session addresses care in its close relationship with design practices.The contributions address issues regarding care, health and technologies and enlarge the cross-disciplinary dialogue between sociology, health studies and environmental studies.

Long Abstract

Initially applied in the research fields of health and medicine, the concept of care raises central topics concerning multiple ontologies and normativities in situated practices across STS (Mol 2002; Mol, Moser and Pols 2010). In current science and technology studies, care addresses both a mode of "engaging" with materiality and environment as well as a way of "enacting" bodies and technical artifacts thus pointing at the "ontonorms" involved therein (Mol 2012). The session acknowledges and further develops the analytical potential of understanding care from the perspective of an ecological approach to action that especially underlines the evaluative dimension at work in human-environment interdependences.

Starting from this understanding of care, session contributors discuss, theoretically and empirically, issues regarding care and technologies and enlarge the cross-disciplinary dialogue between sociology and health studies, drawing on seminal insights from environmental studies. More specifically, the session addresses the concept of care in its close connection to design practices. This approach brings to attention the particular affordances on which care practice relies in order to shape forms of (beneficial) mutual adjustments between interdependent beings, objects and places.

A special accent is put on the distinctive temporality and inner fragility of these adjustments and their normative profile, as identified in multiple situations of questioning, criticizing, and re-arranging care. By pointing at the material embedment of care practices, it is then possible, following the conference's theme, to analyze how this perspective can explain the need to perform science and technology "by other means".

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Care and normativity. Exploring a relationship's career

Author: Stefan Nicolae (University of Trier)  email

Short Abstract

Addressing situated care practices brings up questions related to both ontology and normativity. Drawing on the studies of Annemarie Mol, the contribution reconstructs the analytical connection between normativity and care and argues for a plurality of formats in dealing with this relationship.

Long Abstract

Strongly connected with the work of Annemarie Mol (2002, 2008, 2012), analyses of care enable a switch from a discussion on encompassing care standards towards the practices in which care is done. On the one hand, this means focusing on the particular ways in which medical practitioners and patients engage with and differently enact their material environment along caring practices. In a theoretical perspective, care thus relegates to the ongoing discussions on ontology in the STS (Woolgar and Lezaun 2013). On the other hand, studying care also enables STS researchers to draw on questions regarding values and (e)valuation considered analytical approachable in situated practices of care. In a methodological perspective, care rendered the background for conceptualizing "ontonorms" (Mol 2013) or "intra-normativities" (Pols 2010) as normative stances informing practices.

Nevertheless, reflections on normativity are unequal developed. While the importance of a normative reference for understanding multiple ontologies is intensively addressed in STS, the bonds between care and normativity are seldom thematic. My contribution takes up this second point and aims to indicate different modes in which normativity can relate to care. I explore the career of this salient relationship in a concentric format: I firstly point at the initial relevance of bridging between normativity and care; I then follow Mol's attempts of grasping normativity beyond care practices; and against this background I finally argue for both possible extensions of normativity in the study of care and for alternative options in dealing with this relationship.

Digital adjustments and reconfigured learning environments for students with disabilities

Author: Cristina Popescu (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales)  email

Short Abstract

Accessible and adapted digital technologies configure a new environment for students with disabilities. This presentation therefore focuses on multiple and complex adjustments at work in a particular infrastructure of care.

Long Abstract

This research shows how "care" plays an important role within new technologies design for students with disabilities. It underlines a new way of constructing knowledge about disability and special needs into education through the association of researchers, caregivers and people with disabilities during an experimental process.

The empirical part is based on qualitative data collected through ethnographical fieldwork including participant observation within schools or specialized institutions and semi-structured interviews with caregivers and students with disabilities. A discourse analysis is also made. It incorporates the virtual space of forums talking about school for children with disabilities. Threads about the use of digital technologies and their possible influence on the future of this category of students are taken into account.

Findings demonstrate that the experimental process provides the infrastructure (Jensen, Morita, 2015) allowing digital artifacts and people to meet. Furthermore, the way in which adapted technologies are made participate to the "configuration" of the user (Woolgar, 1991) by including mainstream or specialized affordances (Gibson, 1977). In the same time, the relationship between the object and the user gains in being understood as a complex adjustment process (Winance, 2010). Care then appears as a reciprocal movement. On one hand, caregivers and families engage into "improving the future" of students with disabilities by guiding them during the learning of adapted or accessible technologies. On the other hand, young people with disabilities tend to adopt these new artifacts in order to become autonomous and therefore facilitate the others' efforts and intervention over time.

Narrating the environment of birth

Author: Cecilia Colloseus (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz)  email

Short Abstract

The contribution addresses the concept of care in the field of childbirth by taking into account women's birth narratives. It will be discussed how narratives can be a means of understanding and shaping care.

Long Abstract

Over the course of the last thirty years, birth culture in western societies has undergone a steady change from medicalization, over biomedicine criticism, to remedicalization. The concept of care has also been part of these changes, that is, the profession of the midwife, the involvement of the partner or even technologies of pain relief.

My contribution will discuss empirically how women today experience childbirth against the background of advancing technologies, staff cuts in birth clinics, and the recent changes in midwifery (given the the example of Germany). For this purpose, I will present a collection of birth narratives from an Internet forum for maternal interests that discuss the issue of care during birth. It will be asked how the interdependences between the birthing women, their partner, obstetricians/midwives, obstetrical devices and the birth clinic itself are discussed and narratively framed in the women's stories. Furthermore it will be discussed if taking "narrative" into account could be an "other means" to shape care.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.