Though late August may seem like a sleepy time in Oxford, it is a busy time for the Science and Technology Studies research group at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS). Two of the field’s most significant annual conferences took place last week and this week in Tokyo, Japan and Trento, Italy, and seven researchers affiliated with InSIS presented their work.

Topics such as neuromarketing, online rating systems and regenerative medicine were explored through research papers presented by faculty, research fellows, current students and recent graduates at these high-profile events.

4S – Tokyo, Japan, 25-29 August 2010

The Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) held this year’s annual meeting in Tokyo. As the first 4S meeting to be held in Asia, the conference aimed to examine commonalities and cultural differences in STS and prompted participants to reconsider STS in a global context, as well as strengthening global academic networks.

GAIn director Javier Lezaun and current DPhil student Malte Ziewitz presented papers as well as recent graduates Tarek Cheniti, Samuel Evans and Koichi Mikami. Research Fellow Noortje Marres also chaired a session.

Javier Lezaun

Javier Lezaun

Javier Lezaun’s talk was titled, “Democracy as an Experimental Form.” He also co-organised a session, along with Noortje Marres and Brice Laurent (Ecole des Mines, Paris) on “Technologies of Democracy.”

The two-panel session looked at technologies of democracy from voting systems to participation mechanisms and how they are being developed and deployed to address complex, controversial or elusive public issues. The session looked at the fluid relationship between these technologies and the questions they are meant to answer – how specific technologies become attached to particular issues, and how they circulate from one issue to another.

Malte Ziewitz

Malte Ziewitz

Malte Ziewitz presented a paper on the practical politics of web-based patient feedback. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with an organisation that invites patients to share stories about their care online to improve health services, he examined how relations of accountability are enacted in the day-to-day activities of soliciting, editing, negotiating, marketing and resisting feedback. The paper argued that what seems like a straightforward tool to hold health services to account involves a complex and often messy set of negotiations amongst patients and their families, nurses, doctors, moderators, computers and a database. Accountability presents itself not as an attribute of individuals or institutions, but as an ongoing and contingent accomplishment that comes in multiple versions.

See the InSIS website for full abstracts of each talk >

Practices of Science and Technology Studies: Reflexive Takes on Cross-Context Collaboration – Tokyo, Japan, 24-25 August 2010

Prior to the start of 4S, InSIS alum Koichi Mikami, now an Assistant Professor at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan (SOKENDAI), convened a two-day workshop in Tokyo titled, “Practices of Science and Technology Studies: Reflexive Takes on Cross-Context Collaboration.” Sponsored by InSIS, Cornell and SOKENDAI’s Center for the Promotion of Integrated Sciences (CPIS) the workshop invited STS scholars from the US, the UK and Japan to explore challenges and opportunities for ‘cross-context’ collaborations in STS.

The first day focused on current practices, exploring the breadth of academic activities across STS. Even within science and technology studies, researchers study different topics, take different approaches, and talk to different audiences with different intentions. The workshop’s second day focused on the challenges and opportunities this presents for cross-collaboration. Such differences may pose significant challenges to developing collaborative projects, yet the potential synergy that arises from international networks can be invaluable. How can STS best take advantage of these opportunities? A fuller report of the workshop will be forthcoming.

EASST – Trento, Italy, 2-4 September 2010

The other major conference, EASST (the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology) takes place in Italy 2-4 September, on the theme, “Practicing science and technology, performing the social.” Research Fellow Tanja Schneider is presenting a paper co-authored with Steve Woolgar, titled “You are what you choose? News media configurations of the neuroconsumer” as part of a session titled, “STS Approaches to Neuroscience Objects and Practices.”

Pat of the run-up to the Neurosociety conference Tanja is convening in Oxford this December (Neurosociety… What is it with the brain these days?) the neuroscience track at EASST is concerned with how scientific claims are used to justify social practices – decision making and political preferences, amongst others.

In their paper, Schneider and Woolgar analyse news stories that report on neuromarketing research and how these stories aim to bring neuroscience out of the lab and into our lives. Through the use of literary devices and other rhetorical tools, the neuroscience news media create and inspire narratives about how neuromarketing will contribute to a ‘new’ and ‘better’ understanding of consumers.

For another take on the EASST conference, see Lucy Kimbell’s blog post on Design and STS:

For more about the upcoming Neurosociety conference in Oxford, visit: