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Session Overview
RN24_02b: Science and Technology (Open Session) I
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Ana Delicado, Instituto de Ciências Sociais ULisboa
Location: UP.3.214
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road

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The Double Life of Scripts in Science and Technology Studies

Jochen Glaser

TU Berlin, Germany

The concept ‘script’ has been successfully employed in two unrelated comparative approaches. In studies of academic careers, it has been introduced by Steve Barley to describe sequences of actions leading to successful careers. Scripts can be understood as collective frames that mediate between institutions and individual actions by informing researchers about decision outcomes that are likely to advance their careers. These frames are descriptive in that they do not prescribe actions to be taken. Their mediating role, which is field specific, helps explain why different sequences of organisational positions occur in different fields (Laudel et al. 2018). In studies of technology, the concept ‘script’ has been introduced by Madeleine Akrich to describe sequences of actions a user must carry out to successfully use a technology. These sequences are inscribed into material artefacts. Although users always can deviate from the script and use an artefact for their own purposes in ways that are not inscribed, scripts reflect the way in which designers intend the artefact to be used, which is followed by most users. Thus, scripts materialised in artefacts mediate an influence of designers (and their clients) on users. They are prescriptive. They are also a very good conceptual tool for comparing influences mediated by technology (The Berlin Script Collective 2017, 2018). This leaves sociologists with a dilemma: A very useful concept that has productive applications in different areas of comparative science studies carries two incompatible definitions. The aim of my presentation is to discuss possible solutions to this problem.

‘Not A Place Of Honor’: Risk, Technology And The Aesthetics Of Prohibition

Theodore Vurdubakis

Lancaster University, United Kingdom

Drawing on post-ANT material semiotics, the paper examines the proposed designs for a nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The purpose of WIPP is to provide a burial chamber where military nuclear waste can be safely entombed for the next 10,000 years –that being the time during which transuranic elements remain particularly dangerous contaminants. WIPP design(s) are not created solely by scientists and engineers, but also by archaeologists, artists, linguists, sociologists and sf writers. Indeed, a key objective is to forestall not only leakages of radioactivity, but also (witting or unwitting) human intrusions. Given that 10,000 years far exceed the timeline of recorded history, it was taken for granted that none of the institutions that currently administer the site would survive. The task of therefore, was to devise forms of communication able to transcend time and covey to unknown (and unknowable) Future Others the risks haunting the site: “This place is not a place of honor... nothing valued is here.…This place is best shunned” (Trauth et al, 1993). At the same time, the panels had to conjure a range of scenaria under which the taboo might be violated even if understood. Taken together these artistic-scientific endeavours, the paper argues, have a significance that goes far beyond the technoscientific problem(s) at hand. Rather, they articulate particular (occidental) cultural understandings of technological risks, the nature of the forbidden and the aesthetics of prohibition.

Technology and Interpretive Flexibility: A Structural Hermeneutic of Resistance to Robots in Schools

Lars E. F. Johannessen

OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

Science and Technology Studies (STS) has provided rich demonstrations of actors’ “interpretive flexibility” vis-a-vis technology, thus showing that technologies do not have fixed meanings and functions, but are open to various interpretations and uses. However, while an important critique of technological determinism, I would argue that research on interpretive flexibility could benefit from engagement with more cultural perspectives, as current research pays insufficient attention to the meaning structures that underlie actors’ interpretations. This article therefore seeks to engage STS with cultural sociology, and it does so by exploring the resistance in Norwegian schools towards the introduction of a telepresence robot for children with long-term illness, meant to act as the child’s eyes, ears and voice in the classroom. The fact that schools meet this technology with skepticism is dumbfounding to both the producers and users of the robot, who ask how anyone can resist a technology that is meant to give sick children access to teaching and their friends. Drawing on ‘the strong program’ in cultural sociology, this article utilizes a structural hermeneutic approach to tease out the binary codes and narratives that underlie teachers’ and principals’ objections to the robot. It shows that their resistance is motivated by a multitude of concerns, including privacy, an unease with the robot’s monitoring ‘gaze’, and broader discourses about the loss of professional autonomy in schools. In detailing these cultural structures, the article seeks to build a bridge between STS and cultural sociology, thus opening avenues for further collaboration.

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