Shaken not Stirred: Why STS scholars must not be ‘innocents abroad’

Speaker: Heidrun Åm # Norwegian University for Science and Technology

8th Oct 2018

15:30 - 17:00

Chrystal macmillan Building, Staff Room, 6th Floor

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While collaborative, engaged STS is by no means a new phenomenon, its current occurrence is, arguably, outstandingly widespread and will thus have significant influence on STS as academic discipline. This requires an evaluation of the roles that STS scholars take. This talk shall open up for a discussion on which impacts we seek (or not). I will report from my own collaborative fieldwork at two sites: a material science laboratory and a biotechnology center. In both cases, I was employed as integrated STS-scholar; in one case with funding for doing research on ethical, legal and social aspects (ELSA) and in the other case under the umbrella of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). In the analysis, I discuss the experiences of being a collaborative partner in situations where the process of collaborative research and the expected outcome have been unclear to all parties. I argue that such research constellations triggered by ELSA- or RRI funding programs bear the danger that the social scientists are configured as a kind of ‘innocent abroad’. This includes little knowledge about the actual research field, fairly general ideas about what could be considered as responsible science in the given context, and most importantly: without clear licence to pursue a well-defined social science agenda. This makes the STS scholar into a kind of ghost-like figure, without a clear professional identity, who cannot be a symmetrical partner in the collaboration with the scientists. I will conclude with an alternative suggestion for collaborating and seeking impact.

Heidrun Åm is Senior Researcher at the Norwegian University for Science and Technology