Deakin STS scholars at 4S, Cholula

The 2022 4S conference in Mexico, is themed ‘Reunion, Recuperation, Reconfiguration’. Once again Deakin’s strong STS tradition is exemplified in the programme, not least in the leadership of the SSN’s very own Professor Emma Kowal who is president of the 4S.

Below we have diarised the sessions including Deakin STS’ers, with times given in both UTC-6 (Cholula) and AEDT (Melbourne) for those joining on the Hybrid platform.

Photograph “San Fransisco Acatepec, San Andrés Cholula, Puebla, Mexico” by Aldo González

Indeterminacy, Uncertainty, Potentiality II

Cholula: Thursday December 8, 11:00 – 13:00

AEDT: Friday, December 9,  4:00 – 8:00 (AM)

Dr Tim Neale: Discussant

Indeterminacy, uncertainty and potentiality have proliferated as concept terms bringing science and technology to bear on problems of ecology, toxicity, geology, health, infrastructure and others. This panel seeks to sort out the tensions and overlap among these terms especially with respect to how they help define emergent problems. We take up the themes of the conference by emphasizing connections between vernacular and expert knowledge while exploring key modes of living together during difficult times. We emphasize the positive content of terms like uncertainty and indeterminacy that risk denoting a vague absence of knowledge or lack of unidirectional predictability. How does uncertainty inhere not only in the limits of understanding or the techniques of risk management but also as an inherent quality of relations themselves? Among the people we study and learn with, how do their capacities for grappling with indeterminacy force a reckoning with our desires for clean arguments, narrative closure and uncompromised politics? How does the potentiality of certain problems such as climate change add depth to their temporal texture and latent capacities for action (or inaction)? Taking up the work of Michelle Murphy, Kim Fortun, Karen Barad, Adele Clarke and others, we seek to underscore the constructive tension between vernacular and technical knowledge around unstable sociopolitical and technical zones.

Meet up: Cultivating an ethical ethos in our STS communities

Cholula: Thursday, December 8, 13:00 – 14:00

AEDT: Friday, 9 December, 6:00 – 7:00

Emma Kowal (SSN co-convener, Deakin University) and Anne Pollock (King’s College, London).

The Australian Carbon Market as State-Corporate Crime

Cholula: Thursday, December 8, 16:30 – 18:30

AEDT: Friday, December 9, 9:30 AM – 10: 30

Panel: How Carbon Affects Us

SSN Grantee Dr Monique Mann with Laura Bedford, also of Deakin University

The Australian Government has committed to a 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target through its Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan (LTERP). The LTERP envisages that 10-20% of all emission reductions to 2050 will be from carbon offsets traded in international and Australian carbon markets. A key policy instrument is incentivisation of emissions reductions through the AUD$4.5 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) whereby the Government will purchase the lowest cost abatement in the form of Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs). The carbon market in Australia is a complex, contested socio-ecological-technical assemblage where the integrity of the oversight of scientific processes of carbon accounting and the governance of the carbon market have been called into question. We bridge the fields of science and technology studies (STS), political ecology, and green criminology to present a case study of the regulatory failure of the ERF administered by the Australian Clean Energy Regulator (ACER). We examine core aspects of the ERF that raise questions about the integrity and effectiveness of the Australian carbon market. Claims have been made by insider whistle-blowers, academics, and the media that a large portion of the carbon credits claimed by landowners and other sellers of credits for human induced regeneration, avoiding deforestation and methane landfill gas projects comprise low integrity carbon credits which fail to achieve their intended purpose. In critiquing the Australian carbon market, we explore the possibility that the ACER paradoxically operates to increase carbon emissions, accelerate planetary ecocide, misappropriates public funds, and this amounts to state-corporate crime.

Doing Your Own Research: Legitimacy, Authority and Credibility within Resistant Research Communities II

Cholula: Thursday , December 8, 16:30 to 18:30

AEDT: Friday, December 9, 9:30  – 11:30

Session organiser: Dr Vivian Gerrand, Deakin University

In recent years, a growing body of research has focused on mis- and disinformation spreading at scale via social media platforms (Starbird 2019). Small groups can have impact at scale via recommender systems and algorithmic amplification (Krafft and Donovan 2020). The phrase “do your own research” has become a persistent and recognizable call that flattens the distinctions between research methodologies and approaches to searching for information, at once resting on independent critical thinking and fostering community formation.
This panel seeks to explore the social construction of legitimacy, authority and credibility within resistant research communities. We define resistant research communities as communities of researchers whose methodologies, qualifications or object of study are explicitly antagonistic to established research infrastructures, institutions and credentials. This might include areas of study that are counter to scientific method and consensus (e.g. anti-vaccination, flat-earth, areas of ufology) or areas of study that are counter to contemporary and/or historic documentation (e.g. QAnon bakers).
While there are a suite of methodologies used to track the scale and spread of mis- and disinformation, significant work needs to be done regarding the social and cultural production of knowledge within resistant research communities and the socio-technical configurations within which this production occurs. We welcome all methodologies and frameworks.
Possible questions and topics include: How do resistant research communities influence or affect the wider scientific research community? What are gatekeeping functions in resistant research communities? How do community dynamics affect outcomes? What platforms are used in the formation of such communities, and how do the affordances of such platforms influence research outcomes?

Krafft, P. M., and Joan Donovan. “Disinformation by Design: The Use of Evidence Collages and Platform Filtering in a Media Manipulation Campaign.” Political Communication 37, no. 2 (March 3, 2020): 194–214.
Starbird, Kate. “Disinformation’s Spread: Bots, Trolls and All of Us.” Nature 571, no. 7766 (July 1, 2019): 449–50.

‘Knowing on the edge: 4S 2022 Presidential Panel

Cholula: Friday, December 9, 8:30 – 10:30

AEDT: 1:30 – 2:30 (AM)

Professor Emma Kowal

In an increasingly unstable world, how does the STS toolkit help us deal with ongoing loss and disappearance? This Presidential panel seeks to excavate the meanings of loss by turning to observe the fragments that remain. Specifically, by examining, for example, what lays below the water mark (in rivers and in aquifers) and below loosely packed dirt (in shallow graves) we seek to highlight how science and technology serve to both center and destabilize our shared sense of reality. As we convene in December in our joint 4S/ESOCITE meeting, we are reminded of the thousands of lives lost to a pandemic and to violence. What can these magnified moments of loss, both of human and non-human life, serve to help us understand our larger societal obligations as scholars living in extreme times? What can receding waters tell us about our past and our present society? The last part of the plenary session will be a presentation by Sandra P González Santos on the In Memoriam — Día de Muertos Project

“Anthropogenic Table of Elements” Book Launch

Cholula: Friday, December 9, 13:00 – 14:00

AEDT: Saturday, December 10, 6:00 – 7:00

Dr Timothy Neale (co-editor)

An Anthropogenic Table of Elements provides a contemporary rethinking of Dmitri Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements, bringing together “elemental” stories to reflect on everyday life in the Anthropocene.

Concise and engaging, this book provides stories of scale, toxicity, and temporality that extrapolate on ideas surrounding ethics, politics, and materiality that are fundamental to this contemporary moment. Examining elemental objects and forces, including carbon, mould, cheese, ice, and viruses, the contributors question what elemental forms are still waiting to emerge and what political possibilities of justice and environmental reparation they might usher into the world.

Bringing together anthropologists, historians, and media studies scholars, this book tests a range of possible ways to tabulate and narrate the elemental as a way to bring into view fresh discussion on material constitutions and, thereby, new ethical stances, responsibilities, and power relations. In doing so, An Anthropogenic Table of Elements demonstrates through elementality that even the smallest and humblest stories are capable of powerful effects and vast journeys across time and space.

Anxiety and the arts of maintaining premium carbon infrastructures

Cholula: Saturday 10 December, 8:30 – 10:30

AEDT: Sunday, 11 December, 1:30 – 3:30 (AM)

Panel: Climate Infrastructures I: Thinking with Carbon, Markets, and Governance

Dr Timothy Neale

Carbon markets and carbon credits are made possible by infrastructures of commensuration and translation. Rules, devices and laws are configured together to “make things the same,” in Mackenzie’s words, across myriad material, spatial and temporal differences, fixing diverse acts and incoherent materials in disparate places into a common measure – carbon – or base currency through which all others are converted. But recent ethnographic work on carbon markets and crediting projects have drawn attention to how the infrastructures that allow carbon’s travel across local, global, and other contexts not only rely on the hope and promise of carbon trading but also generate anxiety and fear. In this paper, I will reflect on these anxieties in the context of the production of “premium” carbon credits on Indigenous lands in northern Australia, examining how market actors seek to maintain these credits as “boutique” or “more than a mere carbon reduction” and yet also a fungible commodity. To this ethnographic context I will add other examples of carbon anxieties, including the growing number of international advisory bodies and consultancies seeking to implement quality assurance and risk ratings into existing carbon trading structures. How are we to regard these fretful affects? Is the growing sense of distress a symptom of their distressed assets, the maturing of carbon’s interscalar infrastructures, or something else?

Automated Conceptualisations of Academic Productivity: Digital Surveillant-Assistance in higher education

Cholula: Saturday , December 10, 14:00 – 16:00

AEDT: Sunday, December 11, 7:00

Panel: Reconfigurations in Education Research: EDU-STS as an Emerging Field III.

luke heemsbergen (SSN grantee), Radhika Gorur (SSN theme leader), Shiri Krebs, all of Deakin University

In recent times, many organisations, including universities, have adopted Digital Productivity Assistants (DPA) such as MS365 that offer computational analytics to individuals and organisations to enhance productivity. This technology tracks employees’ online behaviour to analyse the time spent on activities such as communication (emails) and collaboration (on platforms such as MS Teams). It provides daily analysis, weekly summaries, and helpful tips to maximise productivity. It sifts through emails to nudge users if an email is pending a response. The integration of email, online meeting and word processing packages on a single platform suggests a logic of platform capitalism. The focus on process-based productivity, through automated analytics, adds a new dimension to the work of academics, whose productivity has hitherto been judged on products or outputs (publications, grants, patents). How might new corporate beliefs in the science of tracking online workplace behaviour and the relentless feedback and improvement tips be impacting the ways in which academics view their own work and work habits? How might the entrepreneurial university leverage these technologies for profit? In this speculative paper, we outline some of the ways that the growing use of MS365 in universities might be reshaping the meaning and nature of ‘academic work’ by regulating, rewarding or punishing employees. Based on a literature review and preliminary interviews with academics at one university, we present data from a pilot program and contribute to a discussion on the technologies present and the science claimed in datafying academic society into the surveillant economy.