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”

Abstract: Digital scholarship in the humanities relies heavily on, and is constrained by, the digital architecture of software tools originally designed from a business perspective. The problems humanities scholars face making effective use of these tools lies not with their inability to learn programming skills but with a disconnect between their ‘real world’ contexts of inquiry and the types of structured information environment that computer specialists promote as self-evident, predicated on ontologies that are presumed to be neutral. ResearchSpace is a dynamic knowledge representation system designed by and with humanities and cultural heritage experts with the flexibility to integrate qualitative and quantitative abstractions, and to bring together overlapping data narratives that reflect the diverse vantage points of specific groups and individuals.

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

Abstract: In a world awash, however unevenly, in large spatial datasets being analyzed and theorized at vast scales, what recognition is possible for the situated or interpretative natures of knowledge? How bound up in peoples and places should we expect our understandings of phenomena to be? What roles can the methods of humanists play in the knowledge practices of (geographical) data sciences? Here I examine various efforts to not only resituate associated knowledge claims more modestly, but to rework the associated geographical methods and technologies to facilitate such knowledge projects. In particular, I look at emerging data practices, statistical practices, and cartographic practices that, however differently, grapple with peoples and places as constitutive to computational knowing.

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
Margaret Price (English, Ohio State) *co-sponsored by Women’s Health Research Cluster
“A Fireside Chat with Margaret Price”

Recording available on Youtube

17 March
Sreela Sarkar (Communication, Santa Clara)
“Skills Will Not Set You Free”

Abstract: As India is celebrated as one of the largest emerging economies, ICT training and skills acquisition is celebrated in popular discourse for “flattening” economic and social hierarchies.

Based on sustained ethnographic research in New Delhi, I follow the everyday lives of the “computer girls” of Seelampur at a globally acclaimed ICT training center and beyond its doorsteps. I demonstrate that contrary to the promise of inclusion, gender, class, and caste hierarchies are reproduced through computing work. However, my talk also focuses on clandestine moments of play and refusal among the trainees that are aligned with workers in India and abroad. These instances highlight powerful critiques of the leveling promise of the training program among participants who implicitly protest against the image of the self-regulated, global worker and against proprietary notions of ownership of knowledge. The disruptive moments reveal that even under harsh labor conditions that impose limits on the possibility of collective action, marginalized women in Seelampur push back against the fractured promise of being set “free” by mocking, renegotiating, and communitarian appropriation of technology.

1 April (4:00-5:30pm)
Amanda Jo Goldstein (English, UC Berkeley)
“Jacobin Pastoral and the Inhuman Trade”

Abstract: What conceptions of nature support utopian exercises in “social dreaming”? Motivated in part by the surprising aptitude of earlier modern fiction and science to grasp the logic of sociogenic climate change – a form of causation that caught mainstream modern science by surprise – Goldstein’s current project explores aspects of social thought dismissed as “Utopian” or “Romantic” for espousing the heterodox premise that nature answers to justice, rather than necessity. “Jacobin Pastoral and the Inhuman Trade,” takes up the recurrent fact or fantasy of ecological retribution and its utopian counterpart, ecological jubilee. The purportedly abolitionist propensities of the earth in Erasmus Darwin’s materialist epic of the 1790s enable a reckoning with the silence on the matter of race that has too frequently marked newer materialist and Anthropocene theory. Attempting to unleash political freedoms in, rather than over, the earth, Darwin’s poetic science confusedly challenges, at a stroke, the progress of empire, the rule of “natural law,” and expectations about the genres of terrestrial capable of moral and political action.

19 April (9:00-10:30am) (cosponsored with Centre for Applied Ethics)
Eva Lövbrand (Thematic Studies, Linköping University)
“The politics of listening: Leaving no one behind in the fossil free transition”

Abstract: Sweden aspires to become the first fossil free welfare state. Through the adoption of a new climate policy framework in 2017, the Swedish government has begun an ambitious decarbonization of all sectors of society with the goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emission by year 2045. This progressive climate policy agenda is embedded in a strong collaborative discourse. To enable the transition to a fossil free society, the Swedish government has invited a wide array of actors (e.g. industry, cities, regions, NGOs) to join forces in the formulation and implementation of low carbon initiatives and roadmaps. While this collaborative and catalytic form of climate governance holds the promise of green jobs and industrial competitiveness, it remains silent on the disruptions and frictions that underwrite the politics of deep decarbonization. By insisting that the fossil free transition will benefit all sectors and regions equally, the Swedish government seeks to counter any discontent and disagreement on the road to the low carbon and climate resilient society.  In this talk I will explore listening as a political practice of central importance to a just transition. Informed by the work of Andrew Dobson and Susan Bickford, I approach listening as a fundamental and yet undervalued dimension of political and democratic life that can provide a space where previously unheard voices are recognized and political contestation is brought to the fore. While we normally think of empowerment as a function of the right and capacity to speak, less attention has been directed to the right to be heard. Drawing upon fieldwork from the Swedish city of Lysekil – home to Scandinavia’s largest oil refinery – I will here examine what we may hear when listening out for those whose every-day lives are affected by Swedish decarbonization policies. When those in power stop to speak in terms that they know best and begin to listen, I argue, they can shift the balance of power and make room for democratic dialogue across difference and disagreement. Only then is it possible to achieve a just fossil free transition that leaves no one behind.

27 April (cosponsored with the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs)
Kate Brown (MIT)
“The Great Chernobyl Mystery: How Ignorance became Policy and Politics”

U.N. websites say that 33 people died from the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe and 6,000 children got cancer. Is that the extent of the damage? Working through newly disclosed Soviet health archives, historian Kate Brown discovered that Soviet doctors reported a public health disaster in the Chernobyl-contaminated territories in the late 1980s. The archives shows a death toll of not 35, but 35,000 and tens of thousands hospitalized after the disaster. What happened to this story? Brown explores international archives to show how evidence of widespread health problems from Chernobyl exposures disappeared from the scientific consensus.

*Hosted by SPPGA, please RSVP here*