STS Colloquium Schedule


Colloquia will be held virtually on Wednesdays from 12:30-2pm over Zoom, unless otherwise noted. If you’d like to attend, please subscribe to our mailing list and you’ll receive the URL a week beforehand as well as STS related news!

30 September
Hugh Gusterson (Anthropology/STS, UBC)
“Something fishy about the polygraph”

Abstract: In the United States, private companies are not allowed to polygraph employees and polygraph evidence is almost entirely banned from court on the grounds that the polygraph is “unscientific.”  On the other hand, most jobs as police officers, FBI agents, CIA agents, DEA agents, immigration officers, and working for defense contractors require applicants to pass a polygraph test.  Polygraph tests are also widely used to catch cheaters in fishing tournaments.  What happens when you win a prize for almost $3 million in a fishing contest, lose it for failing a polygraph, and go to court to get it back?

21 October
Kavita Philip (President’s Excellence Chair in Network Cultures, English, UBC)
“The Internet is Made of Imperial Debris”

18 November
Trevor Pearce (Philosophy, U of North Carolina, Charlotte) [and UBC alumnus!]
“Experimental Ethics: Pragmatism, Environment, and Social Reform”

Abstract: For Herbert Spencer, ethics was evolutionary; for William James, it was experimental. In this talk I will argue that for the second cohort of pragmatists it was both: in the years around 1900, John Dewey, G. H. Mead, Jane Addams, and W. E. B. Du Bois developed a view of moral and social progress as experimental evolu­tion. Although they rejected the teleological approach of Spencer, who saw ethics as proceeding to a specified evolutionary end point, they still employed a modified version of his organism-­environment framework. Their application of this framework to ethics led them to a distinctive picture in which moral philosophy was inextricable from social science and social reform.

25 November
Derek Woods (English, UBC)
“Earth System Science, Through the Looking Glass”

Abstract: Since the 1980s, Earth system science has been a field with an increasingly distinct object of study: the “Earth system,” or the biosphere insofar as it alters the same abiotic planetary environment to which life adapts. While similar planetary ecological concepts have been historically active for over a century, in recent years Earth system science has become conceptually and rhetorically distinct, and the concept of the Earth system now often replaces that of the planetary climate. My talk will survey some recent developments in the field and show how they reverse values that have traditionally been sticking points for STS: for example, reductionism gives way to holism, and a secular Gaia without teleology is on the menu even in mainstream journals like Science and Nature. Meanwhile, for humanists like Dipesh Chakrabarty and Clive Hamilton, the Earth system has become the foundation for a new kind of planetary politics irreducible to colonial and racial capitalism. Through what lens should STS scholars and theorists view its discursive textures? How does the concept of the Earth system compare to the earlier and more familiar ecosystem? How should we interpret paradigmatic statements such as “the functioning of the Earth system”? What are the politics of the Earth system today?

20 January
Dominic Oldman (ResearchSpace, British Museum)
“Building Stronger and Connected Knowledge through Data Driven Cognitive Maps”

3 February
Luke Bergmann (Geography, UBC)
“Geographical Data Science: Making Spaces for Interpretation”

24 February
Sabina Leonelli (Philosophy, Exeter University)
“Data Science in Times of Pan(dem)ic”

Abstract: Given the reward system focus on the quantity and short-term impact of scientific results, researchers particularly in fields such as biology, biomedicine, epidemiology & data science are primed to look for low-hanging fruits specific to their existing skills and expertise, without necessarily:

(1)devoting attention towards developing datasets and models for longer-term re-use by multiple stakeholders.

(2)considering diverse types of data sources and how they may relate to each other

(3)reflecting on the broader impact of results

(4)ensuring engagement by relevant stakeholders

In this talk, I argue that these trends may have continued and even magnified during the pandemic, with serious consequences for the reliability and usefulness of the research. I discuss some examples from applications of data science to the analysis of contagion rates and sources, and ways in which data use can be re-imagined to offset the shortcomings and instrumentalization confronted by some such projects. I then argue that one way to mitigate this risk is for researchers to  recognise that biomedical and epidemiological expertise needs  to be complemented by other research perspectives (including from social science and humanities), comparisons with other locations/studies, as well as  non-scientific – yet relevant – expertise such as derived from community engagement. I conclude that emergency science can be fast, but should never be rushed; and the need to allow for interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder consultations – supported by long-term investment in related venues and infrastructures – is heightened when results carry significant public health implications

2 March, 4:00-5:30pm*
Margaret Price (English/Disability Studies, Ohio State)
Title TBA

17 March
Sreela Sarkar (Communication, Santa Clara)
Title TBA

Week of 29 March
Amanda Jo Goldstein (English, Berkley)
Title TBA