Well, dear readers, the EASST 2018 conference at Lancaster University, England, has already been for a while. However, I want to provide you with a few little impressions on this year’s EASST conference. In regard of the event’s chronology, I put this before my 4S conference report. Now, first of all: What a peculiar, charming and exciting conference venue. The conference took place at Lancaster’s campus university which had some interesting features.
This was especially for those who, like me, had never visited an actual campus university an interesting view, to see an almost town-like campus, getting an imagination what it might be like to study at such a place.
Another particular thing about the conference venue were the Lancaster ducks, which were virtually everywhere, even invading, once in a while, the campus interiors. These funny water birds gave a lot to think and talk about, discussions on their (different) phenotypes (particularly concerning their gender for they look, from a German point of view, all quite female, thus enjoying some reflexive lessons of assuming and doing gender with ducks), their behavior and wondering how life might be, sharing your campus with a bunch of quacking mates. Even more funny that the Lancaster Duck can be found on twitter. I totally recommend following!
However, this year’s EASST had been beautifully organized. Also the nearby town of Lancaster was a nice place to stay or a nice place to enjoy a relaxed post-conference evening and night. Actually, some of us had found out that Lancaster even features a surprisingly wild nightlife fitting the demands of academic hedonism.
Many of my Munich TUM colleagues have attended the EASST 2018, too, and almost all of us, coincidentally, took the same flight. So we could enjoy during our journey to Lancaster the pleasures of nice, entertaining travel group.
While our fellow colleagues from England are used to it but we also enjoyed how full the glass is in Lancaster. Literally, and figuratively concerning that our conference badge worked as a free bus ticket!
Thus, you could find many buses full of STS people. Amazing. There is a fitting German figure of speech for that: “Der Bus mit den Leuten, die’s interessiert” (the bus of the people who care about); and this bus is desperately sought after… However, even pessimists had to appreciate these features!
The conference was also very social, starting right away at the first evening with a small welcoming reception, a great social event in the middle, and even closing with good-bye snacks and drinks; something I appreciated in particular since I am often overwhelmed with a serious conference-end’s melancholy. Although it is not that bad when you travel with colleagues you’re friends with.
Now on the more content-wise report; there are three particular features of the EASST Lancaster that I want to report here: my talk, the particular sociality of this year’s conference and the thus emerging diversity of our discipline.
First of all, I traveled to Lancaster for the conference to give a talk at the “utopian and dystopian forms of togetherness” panel on, what a surprise, hackathons, this time: As forms of utopian and dystopian togetherness. Featuring a lot of stuff I have already talked about. Particularly how hackathons are instrumentalized as PR and advertisement events, but also how people show up and build these fragile personnel configurations that often just cease to exist when the carrying event is over. However, I suggested that a thorough study of these hackathonian dialecticts could help managing their utopian and dystopian potential, also in more participative and democratic events (civic hackathons or public ones with public topics) where hackathons seem concentrate only on their performative “making power” and misses the involved effects of asymmetry and lacking inclusion and representation. “Technaulogy”, i.e. that which just can be done and thus is done, shapes their modus operandi. I had some institutional remarks on how stabilizing hackathon teams beyond hackathons and compensate some of the asymmetries, which are basically the same as for every other working groups: present, visible communication channels, accounted responsibilities, and a more reflexive planning and advertising (to cope with self-selectivity). However, I am not fully convinced if my research should have this consulting and semi-critical character…
But who knows, there are potentials being lost because no one cares enough to make us care (by technological, institutional means). Interesting enough that I compare this feature of hackathons with the business card exchange at conferences which is often accompanied by aspiring plans of collaboration but seldomly result in more than just one single e-mail (if at all!)… This expectation should remain correct so far. Also, concerning my style of presentation, I have learned that memes in presentations are fun but also often too presuppositional. However, another interesting thing about my hackathon research is that I, on the one hand, face difficulties of finding talks, besides mine, that are of particular interest concerning my own project. On the other hand you stumble at almost every panel at least once about hackathons, they matter in front or in the end of some topics, are somehow entangled with research, development projects, and of course almost every technology and innovation topic. This is a nice thing to have and I guess it tells something very important concerning my research questions. But I still have to wrap my head around that.
Concerning the social dimension of the conference it has been pretty awesome. Pushed by the many occasions of togetherness, events, receptions, the small but roam-like venue and the partially joint lunch meals really contributed to a social climate of exchange and led at least me to a lot of new acquaintances. The social dinner venue might had been designed a little bit too small, however, it featured very interesting and fitting music (e.g. experimental 8-bit trance-pop) and there had been these moments before the actual social dinner, when the wind harp was installed and singing.
A lot of us sat in the green together, sharing beers, cigarettes, small and big talks, and enjoyed an almost festival like conference experience at this point. It was overwhelming! All this led to many talks, exchanging strategic ideas for career, publication, and just projects one would like to realize. Although there were these rather dark moments were you realize that in academia you are in a constant concurrence with your beloved fellow colleagues, I had the impression that we enjoy a very warm and friendly overall atmosphere.
Beyond that, the EASST conference was, content wise, somewhat special, featuring some interesting student’s talks (because funding and support work!) on maker movements and their entanglements with schools or DIY biology, and, last but not least, some compelling controversal plenary sessions which where almost “magical”; an esoteric touch that was not convincing for everyone, however, once again you could experience that we are, by content, perspective and method, are very different, and yet do a quite good job at managing to build a nice little STS community!
Even some events and meetings that might seem rather exclusive and separate, like the German STS meeting (beyond other similar meet ups) showed that there is a strong interest in listening to any offered feeling and sensibility, which I have to admit did not realize so far, how social science dominated the science and technology studies; and have been reminded that not everyone feels at home with sociology; I am pretty stubborn about that sometimes. So there might be another association, at least for Germany, maybe we even manage to arrange something more integrative and less redundand, where all can feel welcome. Maybe we end up with even more associations and will get a top level organization, something like a council of STS (related) associations? Well, that’s probably sarcasm but also something that would fit Germany quite well. However, we are a very diverse community, a particular network of exchange and fruitful heterogeneousness, that was an unmistakable impression and result of Lancaster’s EASST 2018!