STS Beyond Academia (


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Tim Schütz's picture
August 15, 2020

My research on civic data has many openings beyond academia. Similar to Katie Ulrich's reflections on her documentation of sugarcane, I am currently very interested in what kind of archiving and data curation will support my research and make it relevant to different stakeholders (activists, journalists, community members). With collaborators in Texas and Taiwan, I have made first steps towards a Formosa Plastics Archive -- sorting through material about Formosa that is already out there. While I use the Disaster STS Research Network for this project, I am also learning about and trying out ways of visualizing data. Together with undergraduate students in the course Environmental Injustice (UC Irvine), we have started to make maps of high-risk industrial facilities and use an Instagram account to relay findings from the coursework. There is certainly a productive tension moving between DIY archiving, open-source software projects like PECE and communicating research on highly commercialized platforms. In the workshop, I would be glad to share and discuss tactics for documenting and archiving research.

Cheri Johnson's picture
August 15, 2020

In response to Shush Gupta's sketch 7

Thank you for speaking to the importance of language. In my research I am thinking about how different ways of knowing (including how to scope problems and solutions) is so embodied in expression and the basic structures of living which language floats us through. It's not enough to just speak a language. I think many would argue one has to use language, act and understand through language to really reap the benefits of its long history. Although I would want to make clear that I align myself with TallBear (2000), LaPier (2017) and Krech (1999) in the idea that knowledge is not genetic but rather practice centric. Language is a very significant part of that historical knowledge. 

Some things I've recently read to help me think through this idea: Cajete's Native Science; Kimmerer's "grammer of animacy" Braiding Sweetgrass; Federico Marcon's The Knowledge of Nature "chp 3 knowledge in translation"; Sandra Harding's Sciences from Below; Gyan Prakash's Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India; Shepard Krech's Ecological Indian and TallBear's critique; Rosalyn LaPier's Invisible Reality; and imaginative works such as Louise Erdrich's fiction writing The Night WatchmanThe Round House

August 14, 2020

When we try to see something beyond? when we are already in that space and want to explore things beyond.

While working with the Reang tribe in Tripura, India. I realized that their language is on the verge of extinction. Not only bru language but there are many Indian languages that have the last generation of speakers. The problem is not that someone is forcing them to speak another language rather the problem is that due to colonial construct and more technologically friendly languages have captured their imagination. Thus, the younger generation is not ready to speak in their mother tongue. And these problems are not getting much space in academia. First, the problem needs to be identified then it needs to be re-iterated in academic circles. Then with the help of network and technology tools shall be provided to encode their languages. A 360-degree model should be made to get space in academia and then it reverse nodes should reach to the subjects.

Katie Ulrich's picture
August 12, 2020

My research is on sugarcane biotechnologies to make sugar-based bioproducsts, like biofuels and bioplastics, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I'm mid-way through my ethnographic research and I've been making a "sugar library" as I go, which is a catalog of various types of forms that I've encountered sugar(cane) in: it includes physical objects like sugarcane-based plastic bags; phone pictures, of ethanol prices at fuel stations or sugarcane fields in various places in the state of São Paulo, etc.; historical narratives about sugarcane in Brazil articulated by interlocutors and lay people alike; metrics and indicators related to sugarcane productivity; graphics and diagrams shared in presentations about sugarcane to industry actors and scientists; cellular phone applications for tracking field productivity; poems about sugarcane written by scientists; metaphors about the architecture of sugarcane cell walls; and many more. My aim was to trace how sugarcane takes different forms/is transformed in social, economic, and molecular ways across various sites and contexts, in order to think about how sugarcane is transformed (or not) from a crop with a violent history into a feedstock for new environmental and industrial futures. However, especially now that I'm partway through my fieldwork, I want to think further about making this sugar library into some kind of public interactive format. I'm not sure what this could look like, and if this would even be engaging or interesting to non-academics. I would need to think about who the audience is and what the purpose of sharing it would be, specifically. I would love to hear more thoughts during this sketch's discussion about different beyond-academia audiences.

August 12, 2020

Because I work with dermatologists-- people who are medical practitioners, scientists, and often academics-- it is difficult to separate academia from the "beyond" in my research. I would like to engage in my work with the assumption of a dual audience. I aim to produce work for both my own academic audience of anthropologists and STSers, as well as the dermatologists with whom I work, with the assumption that my research participants and the broader group they represent might read some of both types of work. This involves two sorts of theories of change. The first is that my social science-inflected work will invoke critical self reflections and fit what is happening in the field of dermatology into a broader social context that is relevant and useful for dermatologists who may be interested in improving their field as an intellectual space. The second theory of change revolves around a different writing practice that may involve conducting research and publishing articles with dermatologists in my capacity as a qualitative researcher or from a public health perspective (I have a background in public health). In this way, my work and writing might be translated directly into clinical practices by providing recommendations or helping physicians to think through standards for clinical practice. I think overall, what I want is for my research to go beyond "thinking about dermatologists" to also sometimes "thinking with dermatologists" who are scientists, experts, academics, and technologists, but at the end of the day also do the work of caring for real patients.

Cheri Johnson's picture
August 11, 2020

While working on a non-classified project for the US Navy, planning future logistics routes and associated security infrastructure in the Arctic region, I was aware of the numerous Indigenous Alaskan communities that were being left out of these life and environment altering government policies realated to global warming. As a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, I have witnessed Native communities left out of resource use decisions, non-growth vs development decisions etc. This project was the genesis of my research through frameworks of STS into the potential to elevate Native community voices to not only contribute to research questions (Western institutionally centered) but also find ways to practice science which incorporates both Indigenous and Western ways of knowing. I have been doing some collaboration with ASA in the area of Problem Solving Sociology (PSS). My background is in problem solving, but the sociological aspects of this problem are too complex for traditional engineering/policy mechanisms. I have two topics I'm thinking through that have emerged from my discussions with the PSS workgroups.

First: Indigenous knowledge is often characterized as if it is automatically positive. It is a political and cultural position important to Native communities and I cringe at any efforts to dilute it's power. But I also recognize that there are power structures within Indigenous communities, such that some people's knowledge gets privileged and others' ignored. This complicates automatically giving veto power to Indigenous knowledge holders in a policy setting and could have negative consequences. How should I think about multiple embedded power structures and how decisions move through them? 

Second: Relatedly, could there be a way to calibrate the knowledge production system to the ends that are desired by the Native communities?  For example, it's possible that "western" scientific practice could actually be helpful for the ends that the Indigenous community desires--and vice versa.  Possibly through thinking of beginning with the desired ends (e.g. desired by the Indigenous community) and then building the knowledge systems based on those desired ends. 

Julieta Arancio's picture
August 11, 2020

In my case I tried to move beyond my research by opening my initial data collection to the community I'm studying, and make it available using CC-BY, it's in this repository. I also turned one chapter of my thesis into a comms article about the history of the community. In all cases I use open source software that allows collaboration (either git or wikibase) + CC licenses for content, in an effort of maximizing reuse of the content and make it easy for people to update, modify what I do.

Besides that, I quickly realized that I new almost everyone in the community and that I had the network of people in my head, which was bizarre because most people in the community had a hard time getting this general picture. So I started monthly community calls for folks to talk more to each other about what they do. I'm still trying to figure out a mechanism to keep these going as I don't have time to organize them now; some people contacted me to say they were useful. This is a key question for me, how are my efforts here going to be sustained in time (if the community finds them useful), after I move out somewhere else. I also associated with people in the community doing educational projects as I think this "general view" is useful there.

I'm more committed now to the regional - LatAm community, which is the focus of my research. I have a more active role there and I've used my academic credentials to fundraise, e.g. for facilitating community strategy and discussions. These can't happen just on a voluntary basis, and people in the group who are not affiliated to university find it hard to sustain their participation.

Nima Madjzubi's picture
August 9, 2020

Draft--Even though I am in agreement with the sentiment of going 'beyond academia', here I want to propose this norm as a point of contention. The reason for this is that going 'beyond academia' can be taken in two major ways which correspond to the difference between the STS reconstruction of scientific practice and the unsatisfactory classical image that got STS started in the first place. That is, we could take 'going beyond' as the old way of considering the academy as the place where academics withdraw from the world, are outside 'the field', do 'theory' instead of 'practice' (as if theorizing is not a kind of practice), and do 'intellectual', meaning disengaged, stuff that by themselves are devoid of value. If that is the assumption behind the demand for engaging outside academia, then that reinforces the image of science which science students are assailing for so long.

In that this demand has been institutionalized within evaluating and funding procedures of the knowledge economy, and to the extent that 'society' to which research should contribute has been conflated with the 'economy', the demand (as an order-word) has in fact contributed to endangering those disciplines whose 'societal contributions' are not straightforward. (Science students could actually help clarify this matter of contribution, relevance and engagement by taking the notion of 'travel' as a matter of risky chain of translations...) The old stories are alive and kicking, entrenched and forcibly present within universities and research institutions. Awareness and content of thought do not make us immune to other practices that currently determine our 'ecology'. I think as science students we should beware that while we are 'out' bringing our message and apply our knowledge, back home the doors are open for the old wolf of political epistemology to come back in...

That is why I have intented for my project to engage with academic researchers pur sang, with primatologists. And not only because we should not assumte that now we know enough of how the sciences work--in STS we can't deny that sciences are historical. Primatology is very interesting in that its knowledge is unlike that of biotechnology, biomedicine, ecology, all branches of physics, and of neuroscience, psychology, sociology and so on. There are no 'applied primatologists', no obvious or simple ways of transposing knowledge of primates unto humans, and still no one questions the interest and relevance of primatology even as the humanities are progressively amputated. In fact, thanks to Donna Haraway, a.o., we can conjecture that what primatologists thought they knew about primates led to a reinforcement of masculinist justifications of a hierarchical view of human collectives. I learn from this to think of engagement beyond academia not as a demand for outreach and amplifying one's devices and conclusions, but as a question of following the links between academic and scientific practice and others practices.

Angela Okune's picture
July 21, 2020

I have deployed an instance of open source software—the Platform for Experimental, Collaborative Ethnography—to draw research interlocutors into collaborative effort to understand and build decolonized qualitative data infrastructures. The digital platform is called “Research Data Share” (RDS). I conceptualized the development of the RDS qualitative data archive under three distinct rationales. First, I saw it as an elicitation device and grounds for collaborative discussion and engagement, imagining that the deliberations about the archive that I would have with those in the field would be a basis for my learning. Second, it was an attempt to produce something of value to informants and respond to the ethical questions that I started my project with. At the very least, I could give a transcript and/or audio recording from the research encounter back to my interlocutor. Third, I anticipated that key questions would emerge through my own process of building and studying that would be valuable. By intentionally forming an ethnographic data platform to both study and use myself, I reconfigured my relationship with the topic as well as my relationship with interlocutors.