Situating Solidarities: social challenges for science and technology studies


What are the pillars of stability and endurance of sociotechnical networks? Studying research and innovation in post-communist transitions

Location Economy 16
Date and Start Time 17 September, 2014 at 10:30


Ivan Tchalakov (University of Plovdiv) email
Evgeniya Popova (Tomsk State University) email
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Long Abstract

This track addresses the role of human actors in maintaining stability and endurance of sociotechnical networks. There is a powerful STS trend - Actor-Network Theory and Sociology of Large Technical Systems as two examples - assuming that 'taming' of nonhumans do require devotion and hard work of humans, yet without the fusion of these efforts with the rock-solid materiality of the objects the sociotechnical networks are constantly under threat of dissipation and decay. However, in some specific circumstances humans should also be considered as 'the most reliable link in the chain'. When studying researchers or high-tech entrepreneurs in post-communist transition - where the inherent uncertainty of research and innovation was accompanied by financial crises, legal and political anomy, degradation of research and technology infrastructure, breaks in supply of information, equipment, materials, etc. - we found that research and innovations often progressed because of the inability of humans to surrender to the circumstances.

Strangely enough, when applying ANT 'symmetric anthropology' in the study of research and innovation under difficult societal conditions, new asymmetries emerge that call for refining some of Actor-Network Theory key concepts. These asymmetries go beyond the old Cartesian schemes, inviting ANT to possible dialog with other schools of thought. To mention just two of them, being a 'spoke-person of nonhumans' means not just 'translation' and 'alignment', but also endurance, 'passivity and responsibility' of human actors' (Levinas) to their non-human fellows, as well as awareness about the 'insurmountable depth' of the objects and their interactions (Harman).

The papers will be presented in the order shown and in one session

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Living with a dam. (A case of care practices in large technical systems)

Author: Tihomir Mitev (Plovdiv University, Bulgaria)  email


The paper discusses the problem of safe working of large technical systems (LTS) and questions what are the principles of "operating and living together" of heterogeneous communities. It argues that personal interactions between humans, nature, and technology are ultimate for the sustainable working of socio-technical systems.

The paper presents some results from an ethnographic case study carried out in one of the biggest hydro-energy systems in Bulgaria, that of "Kardzhali dam". In order to make clear how an 'intersubjective' (or inter-actantial) space between humans and non-humans is being formed and how it could bring a sustainable functioning of the dam, the paper explores the micro layer of actors' interactions, i.e. the co-existence in everyday life. Particularly, it is focused on the experience of the dam's chief Ivan Delchev who has spent in diligent work over 40 years (most of his life and the whole life of the dam), living with the technology. Such long lasting dwelling in common space and time brings to the forming of specific "heterogeneous coupling" (Tchalakov 2004), in which caring of Other (non-human) could not be explain just as "trials of strengths" (Latour 1988).

Searching for pathways for possible dialog between Actor-Network Theory, phenomenology (Schutz, Levinas), and contemporary french philosophy (Serres, Nancy), the analysis reveals in what way "growing together" with technology and "feeling its own rhythm and its own breathing", in the words of the dam's chief, have a crucial contribution to the safe operation of the whole hydroelectric system.

From non-humans to humans and back: Redistribution of morality by Marshrutka Door (The case of Volgograd, Russia)

Authors: Andrey Kuznetsov (Volgograd State University)  email
Denis Sivkov (RANEPA, Volgograd branch)  email


"Where the missing masses of our societies are located?" Bruno Latour asked once. If the answer is "in non-humans" then we are confronted with one of the biggest misunderstanding of ANT. Such an answer incite us to conceive ANT as a "sociology of material objects" and to think in "either/or" logic: either it is the humans (or produced by them meanings) that are the most stable and reliable link in chain or it is tamed non-humans that are bulletproof part of sociotechnical assemblage. We suggest that the crucial point of ANT is that missing masses are not in non-humans (or material objects) themselves but in the whole chain of translations from humans to non-humans through signs/symbols and back. So delegation could be made in both directions.

We will show this through the case of opening/closing of marshrutka doors. By marshrutka we mean a type of urban mobility (fixed-route taxi) performed by a certain type of mini-vans (Gazelle). Unlike doors of traditional urban public transport marshrutka doors are opened/closed by passengers themselves. Some work necessary for conveyance was delegated back from non-humans to humans but we can't say unambiguously that this sociotechnical assemblage become less stable. Rather morality, and human and non-human competencies were redistributed. This redistribution partly lead to a bunch of consequences. 1) Marshrutka become an area of multiple moral contradictions and conflicts with a door as an epicenter. 2) Marshrutka door became more closer to text than to machine because it allow simultaneous presence of enunciator and enunciatee.

The amateur's action: On the limits of actor-network account about resistance and endurance in scientific research

Author: Ivan Tchalakov (University of Plovdiv)  email


The paper analyses the problem of the resistance and endurance of scientists in the process in scientific research. It outlines the deficiencies of actor-network approach in treating symmetrically the human and non-human actors in the heterogeneous actor-networks of emerging technologies and (radical) scientific discoveries. The paper also question the popular ANT theses about the special role of non-human agencies and artefacts ('hybrid entities') in maintaining stability and durability of the actor-networks.

The paper argues about the existence of genuine asymmetry between actors in the networks, and where in particular situations the human agencies possess properties and reveal type of behaviour the ANT notion of 'translation' fails to grasp. In fact this notion reifies the scientific action to 'expertise' and neglects of the phenomena of endurance and resistance of scientists and engineers in their work. Departing from Steven Shapin arguments about the close link between vocation (calling) and amateurism in the development of modern science, the author explore the idea of science based on solidarity, mutuality, and on relationships of intercorporeality. Some recent studies of amateurs' actions in science (Meyer 2008 and 2012, Callon et all 2009) are discussed, together with original data from participant observation of research practices of professional astronomers and astronomers-amateurs at Bulgarian National Astronomical Observatory at Rojen, Rhodope Mountains.

Russian hi-tech entrepreneur: Love the technology, God or fellow man

Author: Evgeniya Popova (Tomsk State University)  email


What makes an innovative SME ? Responses of different theorists and practitioners are over diverse. Marketing textbooks tell us that it is a team of people associated with one idea. M.Weber and his followers look at it wider and said that faith in God and the adoption of related standards of conduct generates the modern entrepreneur the type of economy. B.Latur talks about love and passion for technology as well as delegation of social action to material objects. S.Wayet and E.Simakova with C.Koenen talk about metaphor and the role of discourse in the emergence and promotion of researchers and new technical objects.

Pulling these perspectives on the biographical stories of directors of Russian hi-tech companies we realize that none of them is a sufficient explanation for the occurrence of such phenomenon as a hi-tech entrepreneur. But each of them captures the different stages of company emergence. That description of the ways of emergence and maintain identity of the hi-tech entrepreneurs and innovative companies through them biographical stories was the subject of our study in Russia.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.