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4S Preview: Engaging STS Studies for Inclusive Development

Gabriela Bortz and Hernan Thomas

25 August, 2016

We are publishing a series of posts highlighting some of the tracks on the program of the 2016 4S conference, which will convene jointly with the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) in Barcelona, August 31-September 3. The theme of this year’s 4S/EASST conference is “science and technology by other means” For more information on “Engaged STS for inclusive development: exploring concepts, practices, networks, and policies towards inclusive and sustainable futures” and to view the accepted abstracts, please see the track page. - Ed.

This track aims to discuss two main questions: what role does Science and Technology play in processes of social and environmental change? What is the role of Science and Technology studies and STS scholars in promoting, advocating, and building pathways towards inclusive and sustainable development?

In recent years, there has been a consensus among scholars, civil society actors, and policy-makers about the role that Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) may play in the construction of solutions to social exclusion problems. This concern has spread in both the global north and the global south, crossing regions and topics. It has also raised interest among international institutions like OECD, IDB, World Bank, IDRC, and some national governments in Latin America and Asia, who have implemented and supported inclusive development programmes.

There is a general agreement on the need to orient STI towards goals of development, assuring access to basic goods for traditionally excluded populations, enforcing citizen rights and democracy, expanding participatory processes, and rethinking decision-making processes. But there is also a plurality of definitions, approaches, visions, knowledge framings, and institutional and technological strategies, which understand differently what technological change for inclusive and sustainable development stands for and how to achieve it.

In a first level, this track aims to address institutions and policies, processes and organizations, artefactual design and production to discuss:

  1. Different concepts and visions of technological change, innovation, and inclusion;
  2. Different approaches and objects to understanding knowledge production and the politics of knowledge involved in processes of social change: grassroots and informal knowledge, material and cognitive practices, R&D agendas, knowledge dialog and negotiation;
  3. STI policy strategies, its challenges and shortcomings: promotion and evaluation processes, explicit and implicit agendas, decision-making processes and wider actor participation.

In a second level, this track aims to promote exchange, reflection and discussion on the construction of STS studies agendas and our role as researchers.

Since the late 1970s and 1980s, STS scholars began to understand how knowledge and technologies were socially shaped and how these technologies, which were inherently political, shaped societies. After nearly 40 years, the STS field presents itself as a fruitful space to problematize knowledge and technology production alternatives and to contribute with empirical analysis, theoretical reflection, and policy debate aimed at social and environmental change.

That means bridging a gap between, on the one hand, social studies of science and technology that examine production, circulation and use of S&T knowledge and, on the other, studies that focus on reform, activism, and critical policy assessment. Or, in other words, going beyond the opposition between “academic” vs. “politically committed” studies. This track stands on the closure of that divide: producing informed and rigorous scholarly work that takes risks not only to understand but also to challenge established modes of knowledge and technology production, circulation and use and that dare to propose alternative pathways.

Furthermore, that means reflecting on the role of the STS scholar. That is: his/her/our capacity to imagine, design and coordinate knowledge production forms and directions, capacity building, design and implementation of policies and initiatives, lightening sparks to think on structural changes in our Science, Technology and Innovation systems and practices towards generating and fulfilling rights, improving quality of livelihoods, and creating spaces for democratization and freedom.

Gabriela Bortz (gabybortz@gmail.com) and Hernan Thomas (thomas@unq.edu.ar) are researchers at the Institute of Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (Argentina), and National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), Argentina.

Image credits: Technologies for Social Inclusion Network - Argentina (2015) / Red de Tecnlogías para la Inclusión Social Argentina - Red TISA, www.redtisa.org. Institute of Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (IESCT-UNQ), www.iesct.unq.edu.ar.

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