(Techno)science by other means of communality and identity configuration
Location M212
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1


  • Karen Kastenhofer (Austrian Academy of Sciences) email
  • Sarah Schönbauer (Technical University of Munich) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Niki Vermeulen (University of Edinburgh)

Short Abstract

By analysing the formation, performance and transformation of (techno)scientific identities and communities, we aim to deepen the understanding of change, stability and difference related to 'newly emerging sciences and technologies'.

Long Abstract

While there is up to now plenty of evidence for new socio-epistemic configurations in technoscience (including analyses of the synthetic biology iGEM competition, DIY or citizen science) and general analyses of the changing nature of (techno)science have been put forward (see for instance Shapin 2008, The Scientific Life), the question of whether and how contemporary scientific communities and identities are subject to change on a meta level is largely underexplored. How are (techno)scientists' identities formed and performed in potentially new ways (e.g. iGEM competitions adding to or even replacing the enculturating role of university curricula)? How are contemporary (techno)scientific communities structured and performed (e.g. are new transdisciplinary research fields, collaborative research projects and clusters of excellence adding to or replacing disciplinary structures)? What role do (global) communities and (local) institutional structures play in the emergence of contemporary (techno)sciences? What is the role of funding programmes and media representations in these institutional re-arrangements (e.g. have hypes replaced the role of disciplinary structures in pre-defining technoscientific problems)?

This session focuses on analyses targeting phenomena of stability and/or change in the sciences and technologies on this meta level. Invited contributions address and discuss (trans)disciplinary, patchworked, networked and (trans)national identity and community within newly emerging sciences and technologies. In the concluding discussion, we will compare the findings of the different case studies and re-address the meta level of whether we have to conceive of identity and community in a fundamentally different way.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Funding communities: a case study of synthetic biology in the making

Author: Celso Gomes (University of Sheffield)  email

Short Abstract

The role of funding in the making of communities in science is understudied. I explore some of the ways through which funding at a European level makes community in synthetic biology and put a particular focus on scale, homogeneity and temporality.

Long Abstract

Communities as social units have been a topic of considerable theoretical interest within STS. The emergence of such communities, however, has been the object of far less investigation. Likewise, the importance of shifts in funding practices in knowledge production has been well established, but the ways in which funding arrangements and scientific communities are entangled remain understudied. In this paper I contribute to closing those gaps through investigating the role of research funding at a European level in establishing particular communities in synthetic biology. I do so by drawing on an empirical study of a collaborative project funded under the European Union's FP7, which proposes to use synthetic biology for the production of a microbial biofuel.

I link the increasingly instrumental role for science as an economic driver in the European Union with changes to funding patterns; and trace how that role bleeds into the work programme and the funding scheme under which the project was supported. In particular, I argue that the funding scheme's constraints prescribe bigness as a way of working; and explore the ways in which the focus on tangible outcomes exacerbates the heterogeneity of the community, promoting an assemblage that does not neatly fit along epistemic and ontologic divides.

I contend that this heterogeneity, coupled with the idiosyncrasies of project-based funding renders such communities temporally fragile; but that communities do not unfold without leaving epistemic and material residues in the (potentially multiple) communities they may dissolve into.

Research collaborations: from practices to technoscientific communities and back

Author: Alexander Degelsegger (Centre for Social Innovation GmbH)  email

Short Abstract

STS research on the emergence of technoscientific fields has so far not considered the question of collaborative research as a relevant layer of social organisation. I argue that bringing them into focus improves our understanding of the emergence and adaptability of technoscientific communities.

Long Abstract

During the past decades, STS scholars have analysed the appearance of a series of areas of research that not only transgress traditional disciplinary boundaries in science, but also basic distinctions like those between science and engineering or basic research and technological development. STS researchers studied a variety of socio-economic configurations in these technoscientific fields. Aspects of interdisciplinarity and the epistemic orientations in a variety of technosciences have also been scrutinised. A question that remains unanswered, however, is the interplay of epistemic and non-epistemic practices of technoscientists as well as their relation to organisational forms and regulatory setups in technoscientific knowledge production. Addressing this is crucial for our understanding of the emergence of new fields of research beyond traditional disciplines and mission orientation.

Using synthetic biology as a case study, I mobilise empirical material from semi-structured expert interviews to approach this question. In studying ways in which synthetic biology research is organised and the meaning assigned to various sorts of collaborations, I am able to show how technoscientists manage to accommodate epistemic practices with non-epistemic work, and how funding regimes shift the boundaries between these aspects of research practices. I argue that specific forms of inter-institutional research collaboration are not only performed to reconcile requirements of inter-disciplinary technoscientific knowledge production with policy imaginaries and funding technologies in the field. They are also a relevant layer of research communities' social organisation that is so far too little understood. Considering this layer improves our understanding of the emergence and adaptability of technoscientific communities.

'Big interdisciplinarity' and what it does to group-minority perception

Author: Bettina Bock von Wülfingen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses differences in group perceptions amongst a large international and multi-disciplinary research community with the explicit aim of bringing natural sciences and humanities together in joint experiments. Who wins, when disciplinary borders fall?

Long Abstract

A large German based "interdisciplinary laboratory" involving about three hundred researchers at one research site and over thirty disciplines from the natural and social sciences to the humanities and arts is the object of study for this paper.

The ambitious aim of this interdisciplinary community, funded by the scheme "Cluster of Excellence" by the German Research Foundation since 2012 is to produce knowledge and applicable technology "by other means: through experiments in which science and humanities interact, while the cluster understands itself as an experiment which comprises self-reflexive feed-back structures.

This empirical study of the forms of knowledge, practices and behaviors that intersect with differences of cultures, disciplines and gender in this community is part of these self-reflexive structures.

The results show that this new form of structure of 'big interdisciplinarity' offers the formation of new (collaborative) identities to those involved. It changes, how people are "recruited into categories" who still make surprising "choices in the subject positions" (Choo & Ferree 2010, 134).

What becomes relevant in this interdisciplinary structure is, that there are "myriad ways that disciplinary members maintain other - and sometimes competing - memberships in other cultural groups and subgroups, which include but are not limited to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, region, age, marital status, or even additional professional training or experience" (Reich & Reich 2006, 54).

New forms of group minority and majority understandings emerge, which, in contrast to the expectation of the Cluster at the beginning don't seem to advantage usually disadvantaged identities in science.

"I am a biochemist by training": identity in systems biology

Author: Karen Kastenhofer (Austrian Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Systems biology is analysed not as a new phenomenon in itself but as a manifestation of broader shifts in the contexts of talking, doing and being in (techno)science. This presentation focuses on socialisation and enculturation within university education and beyond.

Long Abstract

STS scholars have been struggling for a while now with how to conceive of new phenomena such as systems biology and synthetic biology. Do these represent "empty signifiers", "buzzwords", "emerging research fields" or new disciplines? I argue in my presentation that all of these attributions are neither completely wrong nor completely right; rather, they do not represent new phenomena in a ceterus paribus environment but should best be understood as manifestations of a changing technoscientific context, in which 'emergence' is perpetuated, 'futures' are frozen, discourse has gained a new, reflexive role and disciplinarity is re-invented via new modes and conditions of enculturation and socialisation.

In short, the changing interrelation of research and education (abandonment of the Humboldtian model), changes in socialisation processes, changes in the funding regime (to a 'label-oriented' funding programmatique) and changing institutional landscapes result in the need to re-think our understanding of (techno)scientific identity, community and practice.

In my presentation I aim at addressing these contextual changes in of doing, talking and being in (techno)science by highlighting the continuities and discontinuities in one specific case, that is the trans-national emergence of systems biology and its local repercussions within the Austrian academic landscape (with some comparisons to the UK and German context). I draw on interviews with contemporary systems biologists, biologists from earlier generations and actors involved in the funding and regulation of systems biology. The thematic focus of this presentation will be on changed modes of socialisation and enculturation within university education and beyond.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.