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We are all Eric Cartman now

David Banks / 01 August, 2017

title Inverse has a short thing about the precipitous decline of reported close encounters with extra-terrestrials following the widespread adoption of smartphones. Author Ryan Britt asks, “How come there have been fewer reports of flying saucers and alien abductions in the age of the camera phone?” David Banks finds in his contribution to "Cyborgology" another answer.

In the Moment: Notes from a Graduate Student Conference

Madeleine Pape / 25 July, 2017

title The graduate student conference “Science, Technology, and the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs”, held in March, provided participants with the benefits that come from a small conference: just eighteen presenters, six faculty discussants, and keynote speaker Sheila Jasanoff. Madeleine Pape asked the three organizers – Savina Balasubramanian, Omri Tubi, and Kevin Baker – to share their insights in organizing such an event.

Book Review: Cotton and Race Across the Atlantic: Britain, Africa, and America, 1900-1920

Dr Jonathan Silver / 20 July, 2017

According to Jonathan Silver, Cotton and Race Across the Atlantic: Britain, Africa and America 1900-1920 makes a significant contribution to the global history of cotton and our understandings about the long durée of capitalism.

What a new university in Africa is doing to decolonise social sciences

Jess Auerbach / 20 July, 2017

It’s not often that you get to create a new university from scratch: space, staff – and curriculum. But that’s exactly what we’re doing in Mauritius, at one of Africa’s newest higher education institutions. And decoloniality is central to our work.

Dis—ease with X and Y: Disclosing Digital Sociology

Amanda Windle / 17 July, 2017

title It was a cheery summer’s evening amongst academic companions, but that night, beer in hand, I talked to an artist (called X) and I learned that a mutual friend of ours was very ill. The friend, whom I will call Y, and I share the same health condition, inflammatory bowel disease. The first time I met Y, X was preparing dinner for us. Y and I sat alone, and for a time, just looked at each other. We didn’t speak much, but looked at each other in the way that ill people do. We eventually talked about our health as was the aim of the intervention. And we shared a key digit, our dates of diagnosis, but not looming digits, like the “loss of weight over time” to cite a graphic from Marres’ book. ‘Fat is a feminist issue’, Marres and Lury recount parodying Susie Orbach, but fat is a big issue for those with Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's disease (Orbach, 1978). Had I been in the seminar Marres talks about in her book, I’d have raised a point about disability and digital ability. I’d have expanded to say, it’s deeply personal and difficult to open up in a first time, face-to-face conversation about illness, and so much easier in a digital group or blog post.

AI’s Prediction Problem

Steve G. Hoffman / 04 July, 2017

Artificial Intelligence is finding hype again. Big money has arrived from Google, Elon Musk, and the Chinese government. AlphaGo’s victories over world class Go players make splashy headlines far beyond the pages of IEEE Transactions. Yet in the shadows of the feeding frenzy, a familiar specter haunts. Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking echo the worries of doomsayer futurists by fretting over the rise of superintelligent machines that might see humanity as obsolete impediments to their algorithmic optimization.

Book Launch, Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Social Research by Noortje Marres

Evelyn Ruppert / 27 June, 2017

title Noortje Marres began by noting that her final manuscript was submitted shortly after the Brexit vote and Trump election, which have sparked considerable debate on the role of social media, data analysis tools to detect fake news and new forms of blocking manipulative content. What is the relation of these two events to her book? She argued that these are piecemeal technical solutions that do not go to the heart of the problem. As much research has shown, communities amongst which fake news circulates are separate from the platforms and their mitigating technical services. What technical solutions do not address is that sharing is a logic underpinning digital platforms and from which their social value is derived. It is this value and logic that digital sociology attends to, of how knowledge generation is a social process rather than narrowly behaviorist or configured by individual platforms. Marres’ understanding of social logics is at the heart of her book and each panelist took this up in different ways.

Leon Olivé or the citizen philosopher

Mónica Lozano / 20 June, 2017

title On February 10, 2017, the philosopher and mathematician Leon Olivé died in Mexico, one of the most important contemporary Mexican thinkers and a reference in Latin America for philosophical and social studies on science and technology. This text renders a posthumous homage to science philosopher and to the teacher, through presenting what, in my judgment, is one of his main contributions: to discuss the role of science and technology in Latin America from a perspective on multiculturalism

Undoing the Ontology of the Poor: A Participatory Design Project

Mariacristina Sciannamblo and Maurizio Teli / 30 May, 2017

title Mariacristina Sciannamblo, Maurizio Teli unpack the political implications of social science methods in their co-producing understandings of poverty and the polices that seek to counteract it. In an participatory design approach the "Commonfare" project rethinks – and critically engages with – the ontological politics of these population categorizations.

The employment crisis of young PhDs in Argentina. Is neoliberalism to blame?

Federico Vasen / 23 May, 2017

title In the days leading up to Christmas, young researchers and postgraduate students occupied for four days the building of the Ministry of Science and Technology in Buenos Aires demanding more permanent positions for Research and Development in the country

Is STS All Talk and No Walk? Steve Fuller

James H. Collier / 22 May, 2017

title Of course, STSers are free to contest any individual or group that they find politically undesirable—but on political, not methodological grounds. We should not be quick to fault undesirables for ‘misusing’ our insights, let alone apologize for, self-censor or otherwise restrict our own application of these insights, which lay at the heart of Latour’s (2004) notorious mea culpa. On the contrary, we should defer to Oscar Wilde and admit that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. STS has enabled the undesirables to raise their game, and if STSers are too timid to function as partisans in their own right, they could try to help the desirables raise their game in response.

Silenced Issues 4: (Un-)Silencing Issues in Thinking Through Environmental Data

Leo Matteo Bachinger / 08 May, 2017

title In the fourth entry to our ongoing series Leo Bachinger reflects the different ways in which he experiences how data is used to silence – but also "un-silence" – issues around environmental governance and Climate Change.

Researching Sprawling ‘Mobile’ Infrastructures in Nairobi

Prince K. Guma / 28 April, 2017

title Software development, mobile-enabled infrastructural engagements, and the mobile money market are increasingly becoming key signifiers of Nairobi’s identity. Nairobi’s unfettered innovation vivacity is not exceptional, however. Nairobi only serves as a reflection of the extent to which African cities are becoming increasingly synonymous with new formations caused in part by the emergent reliance on mobile media, devices and technologies in the everyday life.

Q&A: Global Trouble

Scott Macleod / 24 April, 2017

title How is it that groups which identify with very different kinds of issues—sexual rights, or questions of poverty, or issues of literacy, or perhaps non-violence, or anti-militarism—how do they articulate with one another? How do they come together? Not just physically in the square or on the street, but how do they begin to articulate their political demands in a coalition that demands that they identify what they wish to achieve and who they wish to defeat, having that kind of clear sense of the primary antagonism. And how then do those groups work together even when they do not fully identify with each other, or they do not fully agree with one another? That interests me on the left. We have to assume that harmonious ideas of left unity are not plausible. ... My sense is rather that we have to think more about how to live with those we don’t particularly like, and never chose to be in solidarity with, but with whom we are obligated to cohabit the world and enter into solidaristic alliances despite what might be some pretty heartfelt hostilities.

Silenced Issues 3: Silenced Issues in Academic Publishing

Joshua Pitt / 10 April, 2017

title Joshua Pitt, Senior Commissioning Editor for Science and Technology Studies sheds light on how biases and preferences (both individual and systematic) prevail in academic publishing to silence issues and voices alike.
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Backchannels

Linguists first used the term backchannel to refer to the spontaneous responses and signals that provide interactivity to what is only apparently a one-way communication. Social media users have adopted the term to refer to the unofficial, multi-directional online conversation that parallels formal academic exchange at a lecture or conference. The Backchannels blog is intended to have a similar relationship to scholarly discourse in STS. It provides an outlet for alternative-format scholarly communications, publishing shorter, timelier, media-rich communiques of interest to the global STS community. The editors welcome proposed contributions.