Situating Solidarities: social challenges for science and technology studies


STS and "the state"

Location Economy 55
Date and Start Time 17 September, 2014 at 10:30


Nicholas Rowland (Pennsylvania State University) email
Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technische Universität München) email
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Long Abstract

For "Situating Solidarities," let's return to classic issues of science, technology and politics. Normative answer exist: of how science, technology and politics should be related. However, we have seen a rising interest on how the practices of governing and "the state" are interwoven with science and technology. We would like to see:

1. Empirical cases of "the state" as manifest in infrastructure and everyday life: Recent work on

infrastructural developments offers cases to reconsider theoretical approaches to understanding what the state is. "The state in everyday life" offers a perspective that gets at mundane experiences and routine activities that either bring us closer to the state or fend us off from it.

2. Empirical cases of "the state" as manifest materially in institutional arrangements: State formation has been a perennial question in state theory. However, as scholarship develops, the old theories of the state, which emphasize war-making and international treaties, have given way to new research on the practical aspects of state formation and transformation.

3. Where is the state and where is not the state? State absense/state presence: This topic emerged organically from the last 4S meeting in San Diego, and while it is new to us and is far more experimental than the above themes, we consider it of vast potential.

The papers will be presented in the order shown and grouped 4-4 between sessions

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


The center of election - Bureaucratic practices at a Danish municipal election

Author: Anne Kathrine Pihl vadgaard (IT University of Copenhagen)  email


Election Day is often considered a celebration of democracy in which politicians and voters alike partake in the festivities. They vote, campaign discuss, and engage. Election Day is, however, also the culmination of months and months of preparation behind the scene. In the bureaucratic engine room - the election office - every little step towards this celebratory day and the subsequent counting of the ballots are planned meticulously. By following these often mundane and ordinary practices at a Danish election office this paper discusses the bureaucratic infrastructures, in which electoral and democratic issues come into being. Thus this paper reconceptualizes democracy as embedded in practices by investigating the making of an election in a Danish municipality and through attention to the technical and bureaucratic tools through which democracy emerges.

With insights of Bruno Latour and other scholars of science applied to elections and the election office I explore the office as a center for the extended network of polling stations and election officials. In this, the different methods and technologies used to orchestrate Election Day are highlighted. The argument draws on Latour's concept of Centres of Calulation (1987) to describe the relation between the central engine room and peripheral polling places and throughout the paper I will explore how acting at a distance is done in practice. Furthermore, instances when acting at a distance is challenged are discussed as these moments point towards discussions of accountability and control with remote bureaucratic sites.

Absence and presence of "the state" in sociotechnical imaginaries of search engines

Author: Astrid Mager (Austrian Academy of Sciences)  email


Search engines like Google are developed in the US-American context, but are used around the globe. Their business models are based on user-targeted advertising. They collect, profile, and sell user data to advertising clients. Not least since the NSA scandal practices of user profiling are critically discussed. This particularly applies to the European context with diverse data protection laws, a historically shaped notion of privacy, and different tax systems. The reform of the EU data protection law is an interesting site where tensions between US-based search engines and national policy, legal frameworks and cultural values can be studied. But search engines are not only governed by formal policy and law, but also by technical standards, terms of conditions, user contracts, international agreements, etc.

This poses interesting questions for STS researchers: How can big, universal search technologies be governed in Europe and what role can "the state" play in search engine governance? To answer this question I draw on qualitative interviews with Austrian stakeholders including policy makers, EU parliamentarians, data protection advocates, net activists, and experts from consumer protection. Using a discourse analytical approach I will identify "sociotechnical imaginaries" (Jasanoff and Kim 2009) guiding search engine governance, trace the absence and presence of "the state" in these narratives, and analyze how Austrian imaginaries and European visions (articulated in policy documents) challenge, contradict, and reinforce each other. I finally discuss what we can learn from this case study regarding complex relations between global search technology and national, partly European, sociopolitical cultures.

Reproducing citizenship: Challenges of cross-border surrogacy to the nation-state

Author: Daniela Schuh (University of Vienna)  email


In recent years there has been a growing debate concerning children born from transnational surrogacy and how conflicting national legislations can lead to a legal limbo which leaves children in uncertainty with respect to guardianship and nationality. This paper focuses on transnational surrogacy with a particular interest in challenges posed to citizenship as tech-nology of state-building in our globalized, technoscientific world. Anchored in a particular ge-ographic and political community, citizenship encompasses individual rights and duties in relation to the state but also evokes notions of belonging, national identity, sovereignty, and control. It will reflect on how scientific insights and technological developments in the area of human reproduction, on the one hand, and citizenship in all its dimensions, on the other are co-produced. These reflections will be illustrated by turning towards Germany's legal struggle over the nationality of twin-boys who were regarded as stateless for more than two years due to their birth by an Indian surrogate mother for German parents. In its theoretical approach, my paper offers a co-productionist analysis of this case, drawing also on concepts such as "bioconstitutionalism" and "sociotechnical imaginaries" as introduced by Sheila Jasanoff and fellow writers. Aspiring toward a better understanding for the ways in which desires and vi-sions of collective social order are bound up with attempts to govern citizens' engagement with technological practices in a globalized setting, I also draw attention to lawmaking and adjudication as powerful institutions that enact and reproduce elements of prevailing national imaginaries.

Ni con cola: How agencies give state surveillance the slip in Mexico

Author: Keith Guzik (University of Colorado Denver)  email


During his term in office, Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a number of programs—the Personal Identity Card, the National Registry of Mobile Telephone Users, and the Public Registry of Vehicles—that sought to utilize surveillance technologies to disrupt drug cartels and other organized criminals. In other work, I have referred to the governmentality operant in these emergent state technologies as prohesion—a specific approach to ordering the world that focuses not on monitoring individual subjects, but redesigning the links between different entities, even nonhuman ones, to re-circuit collective agency through the infrastructure of the state. “Ni Con Cola”, adopted from the Spanish phrase “no pega ni con cola”, which literally translates as “it doesn’t stick even with glue” but means “it doesn’t go together”, focuses on the difficulties experienced by the Mexican government in implementing its surveillance programs. These include popular resistance, Mexico’s federalist political system, competition between political parties, state bureaucracy, design flaws, and errors. While some of these factors—the inefficacy of surveillance technologies and the resistance of civil society to state ordering projects—have been noted in past research, this paper stresses how the institutional forms of previous modes of governmentality impede the establishment of new forms. Thus, in contrast with studies that presume the state to be a unified, efficient, and powerful agent, “Ni Con Cola” evidences how historical forces can conspire to render it divided, ineffective, and weak.

Is the state an actor or not?

Authors: Jeffrey A. Knapp (Pennsylvania State University, Altoona College)  email
Sarp Yanki Kalfa (Pennsylvania State University)  email


Our claim: Debates about whether or not the state is an actor are as old as state theory itself, and, to wit, have a home even here in STS. Perhaps no scholar in STS is more critical of the idea of the actor-state as Patrick Carroll whose vision of the state as a plexus -- or network of networks -- has now become iconic of the STS view on the state. However, for all his support of the plexus-state idea, his rejection of the actor-state idea is not buttressed with near as much support. We conclude that answering the question "is the state an actor or not?" is better formulated if asked "when is the state an actor and when is it not?" which is a classic STS move.

Our evidence: We present a case study of the 1974 "Cyprus Dispute" as depicted in newspapers in the US, the UK, Turkey, and Greece. In our emerging analysis, we pay particular attention to headlines (i.e., titles of journalistic accounts) for hints of "state entitivity" (i.e., that the state is an actor). We explore how and when the state is and is not depicted as an actor with the backdrop being a multi-national conflict over Cyprus. We also notice that depending upon the news sources, some states seem more like actors than others.

Our conclusion: No matter how vigorously claimed, the rejection of the state-actor idea does not match our findings.

Situating de-solidarities: State as a container and container settlements as an "exception state"

Author: Andrzej Wojciech Nowak (Adam Mickiewicz University)  email


In my paper I propose a metaphor of a "container" as a description of State, following Latour's metaphor of "pasteurization of France", Taylor's concept of "state as container" and "actor-network state" idea (Passoth, Roland). Concept of a container suggests that "state" as a "vehicle" of human agency is an ambiguous way of stabilization (pasteurisation) of fluid relations network. Through this process collective micro-actors transform themselves into macro-actors. State as container stabilizes reality, but the consequences are ambiguous. I analyse ways making state-container a form of "power of demography" (Foucault). I also describe unexpected results in producing solidarity, which is produced by state-container in such processes like mass vaccination, taxes, public schools and public health insurance - power and solidarity were ambiguously allied. That changed in neoliberal era: state-container is using power to produce de-solidarity. Neoliberal state-container is actively decomposing its parts: reality starts to became fluid, unsafe, and open to processes of self-organization and entropy which create de-solidarity and anomy.

I use an empirical example: container settlements in Polish cities. This settlements are laboratories of neoliberal state and social machines for producing situated de-solidarity. Lack of social housing in Poland is a serious social problem recently. State is not able to fulfil its modern promise and secure basic needs as housing, instead is moving the poorest of families to container settlements. They create exception state zones which generate a need for "special" citizens ("parasite"). This demand is fulfilled by criminalisation of residents of public housing and creation new "dangerous class".

A menu for state multiplicity, in alphabetical order

Authors: Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technische Universität München)  email
Nicholas Rowland (Pennsylvania State University)  email


Our claim: If economic theory is an engine and sociological theory a camera, then, after careful review, we conclude that state theory is an "engine-camera" whose surfaces multiply descriptions of the state like a mimeograph. The result is a mass of descriptions that populate the interdisciplinary world of state theory, which are not merely synonymous or conceptually equivalent copies. "More than one, less than many" is the oft heard description of multiplicity, and we apply this notion to the state as it appears in state theory, which we consider from an actor-network perspective, given that ANT was never really a theory but a theory of theories.

Our evidence: We illustrate our arguments two ways. First, we consider a few statements from the extant literature about states that exemplify multiplicity; showing how multiplicity (nota bene: singular noun) is actively made in individual pieces of scholarship. Second, we have amassed the beginnings of an "encyclopedia" of state descriptions; showing how multiplicities (nota bene: plural noun) hold together on the broader stage of state theory as well as which descriptions of the state repel each other in a constellation of presences and absences that is state theory.

The future state: When the future multiple and the state multiple meet

Author: Matthew Spaniol (Aarhus Univeristy)  email


In preparing for uncertain times ahead, many states--including the USA, Finland, the UK, Singapore, and Mexico--have institutionalized foresight and scenario planning activities. Put another way, these nations are planning for the future of the state. However, singular ontologies of "the future" and "the state" are no longer tenable. Building on John Law and Annamarie Mol's work, things like "the future" or "the state" are deemed multiple, meaning, their entitivity appears to be singular. However, upon closer scrutiny, that singularity is composed of a multiplicity punctuated into the outward semblance of a singularity. My contribution is a concept, The Future State. By defining multiplicity as "more than one, but less than many," we capture "the future" nicely; there are many possible futures, but the possibilities are not endless, as years of social science research on structural stability, social inertia, and path dependency confirm. The same is true of the state. In planning for multiple futures of the state, we expand the multiplicity of the state. Moreover, the work of planning is neatly performative in a political sense. After all, descriptions of the future of the state will necessarily also contain normative remarks about what the state should and should not become in the years to come; performing what it only appears to have described. To this end, I present a case study to illustrate how leaders from various NGOs engaged in scenario planning. As we shall see, once the future is multiple, so is the state.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.