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Intractosoma with Sainath Suryanarayanan: New Research in ESTS

Aleka Gurel

06 February, 2017

In this series of Backchannels posts, we’ll be highlighting new research in the 4S journals, ST&HV and ESTS. Here, Backchannels interviews Sainath Suryanarayanan, author of the recent ESTS paper, "Intractosoma: Toward an Epistemology of Complexity Based on Intra-acting Bodies." Dr. Suryanarayanan is Assistant Scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research, and his work is at the intersections of science & technology studies, biology, and humanities. Suryanarayanan’s work has appeared in multiple refereed journals including Social Studies of Science, Science, Technology & Human Values, Political Power & Social Theory, Hispanic Issues On Line as well as in several edited book volumes. His book with Daniel Lee Kleinman titled Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics, and Honeybee Health was recently published by Rutgers University Press.

Backchannels: What brought you to this research topic?

SS: A converging set of concerns brought me to this topic. Most directly, my work with Daniel Lee Kleinman over the past decade, which we recently published in the form of a book titled Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics, Honeybee Health, showed that how we know what we know (and don’t know) about honey bee deaths is deeply intertwined with the history and politics of beekeeping and bee science. Our subsequent work, which brought together key stakeholders in honey bee health to deliberate on alternative ways of making sense of the multifactorial mix of circumstances in which honey bees are dying, motivated me to take a more conceptual approach to the issue of complexity. These concerns about the epistemological politics playing out in the honey bee world have intersected with my ongoing interest and immersion in literatures within Animal Studies, Multispecies Ethnographies, the “posthumanities”, feminist STS, and cybernetics. On a more personal note, my arrival to this research topic traces back to my lived experiences as an experimental biologist, which entailed a sort of becoming-with the social wasps I studied during my doctoral research.

Backchannels: What challenges did you overcome to complete the study?

SS: I think the biggest challenge was, and still is, building a framework for what Donna Haraway has called “the multiple subject with (at least) double vision”, which I take to be a capacity for understanding simultaneously the production of knowledge and the production of power—in a unified movement—while critically situating that vision itself in stratified social space. A significant obstacle here was articulating a different approach to constructing difference, compared to the still-prevalent chasms-- of nature/culture, social/biological, and human/non-human-- around which difference tends to get constructed.   

Backchannels: What lesson would you like people to take away from the paper you’ve just published?

SS: I think that paying attention to the always already intertwined character of phenomena is crucial. More than anything else though, what I would like for people to take away from my paper is collectively constructing altogether different worlds of making knowledge/power. In this sense, it is as much a political project as it is an epistemological and ontological one. 

Backchannels: What is next on your research agenda?

SS: My essay is a tentative first step toward a much more sustained set of theoretical re-imaginations of epistemologies of difference-making and epistemologies of complexity, in conjunction with the kinds of politics they engender. I am also excited to be collaborating with my partner and Hispanic Studies scholar Katarzyna Beilin on a project that looks at the dynamics of resistance to technoscience through an intractosomal prism. We are examining the intertwined connections between human and plant resistances, what we are calling “interspecies resistance,” to genetically engineered crops in various parts of Latin America.

Backchannels / Reflections

Commentary on the current and future state of the field or subfields within science and technology studies. Can include interviews, meditations on particular concepts or methods, biography / autobiography, essays, and other more personal and less formal writings.