CFP: Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and European Association

Joint conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and
European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST).
Abstract Deadline
Feb. 21, 2016
Submit abstracts online at:

4S/EASST Open Track 2016: What is a Problem? Problematic Ecologies, Methodologies and Ontologies in Techno-science and Beyond

Martin Savransky (Goldsmiths, University of London):
Patricio Rojas (Goldsmiths, University of London):
Sebastian Rojas (King’s College London):

The proposed track is an invitation for STS scholars to reflect upon and experiment with the surprisingly under-explored question of the nature of problems across a range of fields of thought and practice in techno-science, as well as to a variety of other exploratory activities that address problems by other means. In a global, continuous present traversed by the seemingly unsurmountable nature of what some call ‘wicked problems’, techno-science, as well as other practices of knowledge, invention and innovation, are increasingly called upon to develop effective ways of solving the ‘pressing societal problems’ of our time. Little attention, if any, is paid, however, to the question of what problems are. Across techno-scientific and policy discourses, there seems to be a widely held yet unexamined assumption that problems are negative states of uncertainty and methodological imperfection bound to dissipate with the solutions that techno-scientific progress yields.

As research in STS and beyond has suggested, however, such assumption is historically implausible, philosophically unconvincing, and of major social, political, and ecological concern in its consequences for the future. Solutions are always ‘more-than-scientific’– they come into existence as they succeed in creating socio-technical arrangements that bring concepts, objects, instruments, scientists, institutions and publics together in a rearticulation of human and non-human collectives. If this is what solutions require, then what is a problem? If solutions are always more-than-scientific then arguably problems must be so too, finding forms of expression through practices, publics and collectives that exceed the narrow remits of modern techno-science, and that are capable not only of expressing problems differently, but also of posing new and different problems such that alternative, inventive solutions may in turn become available. Moreover, some philosophers who have been major sources of inspiration for STS scholars, such as Gaston Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem, John Dewey, Gilles Deleuze, Gilbert Simondon and Isabelle Stengers, for example, have argued against the conventional wisdom that regards problems as manifestations of uncertainty and the limits of our understanding, and proposed ways of conceiving of a positive ontology of the problematic, suggesting that problems possess their own thickness and vitality, constituting intrinsic phases of dynamic, complex, natural-cultural systems. If we were to conceive of the problematic not simply as a state of subjective or epistemic uncertainty awaiting dissolution, but as a mode of existence of things as such, then how should we think of solutions? What if the best that a solution can do is to develop and transform a problem, instead of making it disappear?

The proposed track seeks to invite STS scholars to reflect upon the nature of problems from the point of view of a variety of practices and concerns, at once philosophical and pragmatic, at once ethical and political. It invites papers that address, in different ways, issues including, but not limited to:

what is a problem?
what is a solution?
the relationships between problems and solutions in science, technology and beyond
problematic ontologies
problematic methodologies
problematic ecologies
problems, issues and publics
the social life of problems
philosophies and theories of problems
STS and the study of heuristics
disciplinary and Interdisciplinary problems
DIY Problems
problems and the virtual
ethics and politics of problems
wicked and tame problems
open and closed problems
practical and speculative problems
individuals as problems
global and local problems
Problems and Naturecultures

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