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Society for Social Studies of Science

4S News

4S President’s message – October 2016


4S Blog – Backchannels of STS conversation

In the midst of returning to teaching terms, I thought I would use this month’s message to highlight the resources available – either for your curricula or in the cracks between – in the digital pages of the 4S blog Backchannels.  As the editors explain:

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 communiqués of interest to the global STS community.

It’s worth noting that interaction analysts have posed challenges to the premise that so-called ‘backchannels’ in communication are in any sense in the background, demonstrating that actively and observably listening is as integral to the dynamics of everyday conversation as is speaking, and that communication is a profoundly collaborative achievement. (Perhaps something to remember when we’re the audience to another’s lecture or talk as well.)  In that sense, the lively reading of Backchannels is as essential to its existence as is its writing.

While its content is constantly changing, as I go to Backchannels today I find:

Reflections  A space for commentary on current matters related to STS, most recently a thoughtful and troubling account of online ‘trolling’ as a form of (often gender-based) violence by Amanda Windle; a post by Madeleine Pape on runner Caster Semenya, challenged on her right to compete unconditionally as a female athlete in the recently concluded Olympic Games in Rio. Madeleine explains that, as well as being an assistant editor for Backchannels and PhD candidate in Sociology, “in a past life I raced against Semenya in the World Championships.” In an analysis informed by feminist STS, Madeleine (re)considers the case of Semenya for its challenges to binary sexuality.  You’ll also find an insightful post in both Spanish and English by Xaq Frohlich on the cultural politics of food, as exemplified in the case of the ‘Mediterranean Diet.’

Report backs  Here you’ll find an extended version of my conversation in Barcelona with Bernal Prize winner Mike Lynch, as well as detailed reports, in Portuguese and English, by Jean Hochsprung Miguel on the Workshop on Climate Change, Technoscience and Society, which took place on April 11 and 12 at the University of Campinas (State of São Paulo, Brazil), and by Tiago Ribeiro Duarte and Luis Reyes-Galindo on The Workshop on Latin-American and Postcolonial STS, which took place at the University of Brasília, Brazil, from 18th to 20th of May.

Projects welcomes “descriptions of current work—the makings and doings—of STS scholars across the globe.”  Most recently this area features a series of ‘previews’ posted in advance of the EASST/4S conference in Barcelona, which offer an anticipatory sense of the richness and liveliness of that event.

Reviews offers “critical reviews of media, technology, literature, and performances.”  In a repost from the digital magazine Edge Effects, Jesse Gant provides insight into some cyclical visions of urban futures enabled by the bicycle; Yelena Guzman offers a lovely (and loving) reminder of Lochlann Jain’s wonderful contribution to the 2015 Making and Doing exhibit, ‘Binomial Nomenclature;’ and Hannah Gibson’s repost from Somatosphere interviews Elly Teman, a medical anthropologist specializing in the anthropology of reproduction and a senior lecturer in the Department of Behavioural Science at Ruppin Academic Center in Israel, on the documentary films that sit on the ‘top of the heap’ of her materials for reading/viewing.

All of these areas include both original contributions and repostings from sites monitored by the Backchannels editorial collective (Abby Kinchy, Tania Pérez-Bustos, Madeleine Pape, ElHassan ElSabry, Yelena Gluzman, Aleka Gurel, and Fredy Mora-Gámez).  Submissions in Spanish and Portuguese are strongly encouraged, as part of an initial effort to expand the conversation beyond exclusively English speakers.

Finally, a reminder that we’re in the process of updating the ‘Resources’ area of the 4S website, and particularly the collection of syllabi, for which Council member Oscar Maldonado is our curator.  The extent and timeliness of this collection relies on all of us – I hope that those of you who teach relevant courses will, like me, at least make sure that this is close to the top of your heap of things ‘to do’.

all best,