Neurosociety… what is it with the brain these days? 7-8 December 2010

The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) and the European Neuroscience and Society Network (ENSN) are jointly organising an international conference at Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

Date: 7-8 December 2010
Location: Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

About the conference:

The theme of the conference is the rise of the brain and the emergence of the brain industry or ‘neuro markets’. The aim is to explore how, why and in what ways the figure of the brain has come to permeate so many different areas of thinking and practice in academic and commercial life. What are the consequences for academia, business, commerce and policy?

Speakers include:

For more information:
Visit the website:
Or contact or convenor Tanja Schneider

ENSN European Science Foundation

The (first) STS Talk-Walk: what is it to compare?

by Malte Ziewitz

Sunny intervals, 13ºC and a light breeze: perfect conditions for the Oxford STS group to leave our usual comfort zone at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) and discuss challenging questions in a slightly different context. Last Friday afternoon, a small group of us embarked on our inaugural STS Talk-Walk. As an experiment, we are trying out this new discussion format and will meet up once a month for a walk during which we explore a question that cuts across our work.

The idea traveled to Oxford from the University of Amsterdam, where Annemarie Mol and Anna M. Mann have hosted a Walking Seminar for a while. As they write, “talking-while-walking can enhance thinking in ways not attainable behind a desk or in a seminar sitting down.”

Our first STS Talk-Walk took us on a 10 km trail along the Thames, across Port Meadow and back along the Oxford canal. The theme was adopted from the Amsterdam group, who had successfully used it in the past: ‘Comparing — what is it to compare?’.

  • What do we compare with what as a part of our research? How should that help us in answering our questions, telling our stories, etc.? Does it?
  • What is fun/difficult/striking/surprising etc. in the work of ‘comparing’?
  • What difference might it make to use other terms, e.g. contrasting? Or what other terms would be relevant to/in our work?
  • What are some authors/texts in which comparison figures in an interesting way? In what ways can we learn from them?
  • What is it to compare and what do similarity and difference have to do with this?

Talking-while-walking did not just afford a steady intake of fresh air, but also a variety of ‘passing observations’. For example, a shed along the way crammed with rubbish to the rafters provoked comparisons with participants’ offices, which were claimed to be “much tidier” — an observation which led us deep into issues of scale, enactment and how the objects of comparison come about. A well-groomed swamp evoked associations with Marylin Strathern’s work and alternative approaches to ‘comparing’, such as relating, juxtaposing and translating. And an encounter with a herd of cattle ended up in lively discussions about the similarities and differences between our visiting PhD student Helene and a cow.

Helene and a cow on Port Meadow

What is it to compare a PhD student and a cow?

All in all, our first STS Talk-Walk turned out to be more challenging than expected. Staying focused on a topic for two hours, listening, appreciating, questioning, arguing and adapting to changing conversation partners was very different from the relaxing stroll that some of us expected — but also (comparatively speaking) more rewarding.

Next STS Talk-Walk: Friday, 19 November 2010, 2-5pm. Please e-mail malte.ziewitz at to sign up.