skip to main content

Society for Social Studies of Science

4S News

4S President’s message – September 2016


As those of us who had the privilege of participating in the recent joint conference of 4S and EASST in Barcelona are returning to our desks, I’ve been pondering how I could compose some brief comments on this remarkable event for this month’s Technoscience. It occurred to me that I might reproduce my remarks for the opening of the conference (not only because so many of you were still standing in line waiting to register!), as they offer a bit of a commentary on the conference and its themes.  So here they are.

Remarks at the opening of EASST/4S Barcelona 2016

I won’t attempt to repeat the welcome that you’ll find so elegantly translated – into both Spanish and Catalan – by our hosts at the top of our Presidents’ message in the conference program, but simply say in my native tongue, welcome to Barcelona! This is a good moment to thank all of you for whom English isn’t your first language, and most especially our Barcelona organizers, for once again adopting English as an international lingua franca. Those of us who are native English speakers recognize and appreciate the privilege this grants us, though I’m sure not enough.

I’m honored to be the current President of 4S, which this year marks its 40th anniversary as a society. The first 4S meeting, with less than 100 in attendance, was held in 1976 at Cornell University, and will be commemorated in October of this year in Ithaca, NY (which coincidentally was the place of my birth, only a few years before).  Most relevant for us here is the fact that our two societies have met jointly every fourth year since 1984, beginning in Ghent, Belgium, followed by meetings in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Austria, France and Denmark.  This year it’s a very special pleasure to be here in Spain, and more specifically Barcelona. 

The organizing committee has named the theme of our gathering ‘Science and Technology by Other Means,’ building on an aphorism introduced into the STS literature by Bruno Latour who, in 1988, explores the proposition that ‘science is politics by other means’ in his book The Pasteurization of France (p. 229).  It’s worth noting that Latour’s phrase is a citation of one written a century and a half before, in 1832, by the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz who explored – and questioned – the thesis that we might understand war as the continuation of politics by other means.  As STS scholars, we recognize now that all forms of human activity can be characterized as politics by other means insofar as we understand politics as matters of encounter, ordering and distribution.  At the same time, we can resist ideas like the proposition that war is a logical extension of politics if we insist that the ‘means’ matter, and that other means are possible; it is the question of means, how they matter, and what other means are possible that we’ll be exploring together over the next three days.  Further, we can take as a lesson of STS that the separability of means and ends is itself a premise that we want to treat as open to question.  As Isabelle Stengers and Philip Pignarre write in their manifesto Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell ‘Pragmatism is an art of consequences, an art of “paying attention” that is opposed to the philosophy of the omelette justifying the cracked eggs’ (2011, p. 17). The point is not that we never crack any eggs, but that rather than treating that as an ‘externality’ we include the act of breaking and its consequences as something intrinsic to our practice for which we’re responsible, and as a trouble, as Donna Haraway has so succinctly phrased it, with which we need to stay.

There will be ample time to discuss these ideas, and a plethora of others, over the next few days.  In the meantime I don’t want to wait until the end (though we’ll thank them again then) to acknowledge the extraordinary work of the local organizing committee:

Nerea Calvillo, Tomás S. Criado, Miquel Domènech, Daniel López Gómez, Vincenzo Pavone, Israel Rodríguez-Giralt, Carmen Romero Bachiller, Francisco Tirado, along with outstanding administrative assistance from the conference secretariat, Míriam Arenas and Rocío Thovar.

That’s it for now – further report backs from the conference will appear on the 4S website in the pages of Backchannels in the weeks to come, along with news of plans for 4S 2017, which will be held in Boston from the 30th of August to the 2nd of September, and include the return of Making and Doing. 

Council changes

At the 4S Council and Business meetings in Barcelona we had the opportunity to say thank you to outgoing Council members Sulfikar Amir, Abby Kinchy and Claire Waterton, along with Student Rep Bryn Whitely, and to welcome our new Council members Gloria Baigorrotegui, Anita Say Chan, and Steve Jackson, as well as our new Student Rep Margarita Rayzberg.  You’ll soon be receiving a ballot asking for approval of a Council proposal for a change to our Charter, enlarging 4S Council from 9 to 12 members, through an election process that would take place over the coming several years. This reflects the expansion of our activities, including most concretely our publications (the renewed 4S website, Backchannels, and Engaging STS) and the addition, under the term of Gary Downey as President, of the 4S Infrastructure and Mentoring prizes.  It’s a pleasure to be part of such a vibrant governing collective! 

all best,