Colloquium & Events

The STS Graduate Program at UBC draws on a rich set of resources at UBC, in Vancouver, and at our sister universities, Simon Fraser University and the University of Washington

STS Colloquium Schedule



27 September 2022, 6:00-7:30 pm, Frederic Wood Theatre.

Dr. Kim Tallbear (University of Alberta), Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Society.

The Biannual Hawthorn Lecture: “Close Encounters of the Colonial Kind”

The event is organized by the UBC Department of Anthropology. Because of its relevance, we included it in our list to make sure graduate students in STS will not miss it. Please note that registration is required to attend the lecture and the reception that starts at 5:00 pm. Without wasting time and to guarantee yourself a spot, please visit to RSVP:


13 October 2022, 5:00-6:30 pm, Buchanan Tower 1112

Inkeri Koskinen (University of Helsinki, Academy of Finland Research Fellow in Practical philosophy), visiting post-doctoral fellow at UBC

“Objectivity, Trust, and Reliance”

Can the notion and the normative ideal of objectivity be salvaged? It has faced harsh criticism from philosophers of science, and those who have defended it identify a great many different meanings of objectivity; it is not only contested, but also extremely complex conceptually. Some suggest that we should simply abandon it, but it is widely used in public discourse and often cited as one of the main reasons for according science an epistemically authoritative position. The aim of my 5-year project is to provide a satisfactory understanding of what it means for something to be objective.


15 November 2022, 5:00-6:30 pm, Buchanan Tower 1112

M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, UBC.

“Small Modular Nuclear Reactors: Fantasies for the Interregnum”

This talk will begin by describing the global status of nuclear energy, in particular its declining share of global electricity generation, to explain the motivations for what are called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), a class of nuclear reactor designs. Proponents of these theoretical designs make a number of claims, and the talk will go over some of these, followed by a discussion of the motivation for these claims. This will be followed by an assessment of these claims, as a way of answering the question that is of widespread interest: can small modular reactors, or nuclear energy in general, help mitigate climate change.


8 December 2022, 5:00-6:30 pm, Buchanan Tower 1112

Jonathan Basile, Post-doctoral fellow, Department of English, UBC

“Plasticity before and after Genetics: Mary Jane West-Eberhard and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis”

In the 21st Century, evolutionary theory has fragmented into myriad approaches to the study of life that have fundamentally placed in question the basic orthodoxies of the Modern Synthesis, population genetics, and gene selectionism. I will closely examine Mary Jane West-Eberhard’s theory of plasticity to better understand why the old models failed and yet why their successors fail to gel into a unified theory.


31 January 2023, 5:00-6:30 pm, Buchanan Tower 1112

Alison M. Macfarlane, Director SPPGA,

“Zombie Technology: The Changing Story of the Mythical Fast Reactor”

Fast breeder reactors, especially sodium-cooled fast breeder reactors, have a seventy-plus year history of support and operation.  Initially, this type of reactor was famously promoted as producing electricity “too cheap to meter” but sodium-cooled fast reactors have not lived up to that promise, barely producing electricity in most instances.  I examine why these reactors continue to receive political and economic support from governments and industry, even though they have proved incapable of matching light water reactors in terms of capacity factor and energy production.  These zombie technologies persist due to a number of factors, including the powerful creation myth that spawned the technology initially.


14 February 2023, 5:00 to 6:30 pm, Buchanan Tower 1112

Gunilla Öberg, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and the Egesta Lab

Gunilla Öberg | Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (

“Minding the gap. My experiences teaching about the role of values in science in interdisciplinary settings”

Science studies scholars have demonstrated beyond doubt that value-judgements play an integral role in science. However, few scientists are familiar with these findings, in part because of a wide-spread distrust among scientists about claims made by philosophers, historians, sociologists of science. Even so, science studies education rarely considers communication obstacles between natural scientists and science studies scholars. In this talk, I will share experiences from 20 years of tinkering with courses for science students and interdisciplinary groups about the role of values in science, and discuss how one might go about mending communication gaps between the natural sciences and science studies.


7 March 2023, 5:00 to 6:30 pm, Buchanan Tower 1112

Adrien Zakar, Assistant Professor, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Fellow, Victoria College University of Toronto.

Militarized Somnambulism: Converts, Orphans, and the Technological Instruments of Ottoman Reform

Since the Age of Revolutions, the Middle East has been a laboratory for mapping devices. Beginning with triangulation during Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and later in the Crimean War; moving onto aerial photography in interwar colonial theaters of operations; and finally to the GPS and the contemporary use of drones – regional politics have both shaped and been shaped by the global proliferation of mapping instruments. How has this technological development transformed the region from within? This is the question at the heart of this talk. Initially rare and expensive artifacts, maps and geographical books became small and ordinary objects that spread across military institutions, bureaucracies, private firms, schools, and individual households beginning in the mid-19th-century. Tracing overlooked tensions at the core of Ottoman imperial reforms following the Crimean War (1853-56), I will examine how marginalized subjects – runaway converts and enslaved orphans – managed to deploy new forms of power in the imperial order by foregrounding their skills in mapping. They did so by drawing on what I term “militarized somnambulism,” a technological process through which military devices surreptitiously reconfigured socio-political struggles in both the capital and the provinces while simultaneously shifting the disciplinary boundaries of geographical science and making small instruments and their users central to the ordinary machineries of empire.


28 March 2023, 5:00 to 6:30 pm, Buchanan Tower 1112

Frank Tester, Adjunct Professor of Indigenous Studies, University of Manitoba, and Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia

A Deep Breath: Inuit tuberculosis, historical geography, technology, and the political economy of social change

Commencing in 1945, the Canadian government dealt with what it had known for years: that Inuit living in the Canadian Arctic were suffering from a serious epidemic of tuberculosis. In 1953, the death rate from TB for Canadians living in the south was 9.9/100,000. The rate for Inuit was an astounding 298.1/100,000.  The treatment of Inuit TB involved their removal from the Arctic to southern sanatoriums for treatment. The result for Inuit was considerable suffering, not only physical, but social, cultural and mental. In 2019, the federal government apologized for what Inuit endured as a result of the government’s management of the epidemic. The history of treating Inuit TB is a tangled web; the intersection of historical geography, changes in medical and related technologies, and the political economy of a liberal welfare state, poorly understood by most Canadians.