Members of our program coordinate the Research Seminar Series in Science & Technology Studies. The series features seminars on a wide range of STS-related topics, and is sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology Studies. Now in its 16th year, the series has hosted over 500 speakers from Canada and around the world. It is open to the public, and STS majors are especially encouraged to attend.
All seminars take place on Tuesdays from 12:30-2:00 in 203 Bethune College (Norman's) (unless otherwise noted) and are open to the public. Light lunch will be provided. Directions are available using the York University Map.
Please click below to see the poster of 2016 - 2017 STS Seminar Series
Michael Wintroub (Berkeley)
The Balance of Trust: Hostages, Stars, Bonnets and Beads
How does one credit someone or something as reliable and trustworthy? By what measure can honesty be adjudicated and dishonesty punished? How can one confidently approach strangers who could not be vouchsafed by any accepted criteria of reliability and trustworthiness? What was the measure of trust and how might it be maintained? The 1529 Voyage of Jean Parmentier from Northern France to Sumatra will guide us as we pursue the practices, skills, and improvisations that constituted the precarious balance between trust and betrayal, profit and loss, life and death. By following the trajectory of Parmentier’s ships as they crossed perilous waters to meet and trade with unknown peoples on the other side of the world, we will encounter and try to understand the strategies he employed to negotiate trust, whether between officers and crew, ships and seas, or French merchants and Sumatrans.
Alessandro Delfanti (University of Toronto)
Scholarship as a financial market of ideas
In studies of scientific communication, peer-reviewed articles and citations have traditionally been referred to through an economic lexicon. In this tradition, citations are said to be the “currency” that researchers “exchange” in order to maintain their role within their social group while somewhat adding value to a colleague’s work. Science, has been said, is a “marketplace of ideas.” This approach is reflected in the neoliberal university’s obsession with numerical metrics, such as journal rankings and citation counts. Yet these stiff forms of measurement of research performance are being superseded by the emergence of digital platforms for scholarly communication. Services such as academia.edu, arXiv.org or SSRN are quickly becoming the spaces where scholars are evaluated as legitimate and productive members of their communities. These services provide new and individualized forms of metrics and ranking, such as download counts, social media sharing, popularity, or network reach. In order to function within this system, scholars need to master its algorithmic logics, as well as adapt to the temporalities and authoriality practices as structured by the platform. The “marketplace of ideas” of scholarly communication is being transformed into a “financial market of ideas” in which the value of a researcher is the result of promises of publication, continuous microevaluations, adherence to accelerated temporalities, personal brand construction, and gamification.
BIO: Alessandro Delfanti is Assistant Professor of Culture and New Media at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT), University of Toronto Mississauga. He is the author of Biohackers. The Politics of Open Science (Pluto 2013).
Ben Mitchell (York - STS)
The Physiology of Society and the Federation of Organs
In his 1989 work The Politics of Evolution Adrian Desmond showed how elites in early nineteenth century Britain were distrustful of evolution and the nebular hypothesis because of their socially subversive implications. If brute matter could self-organize without divine guidance, perhaps the working class could organize without being governed from above as well. As the century wound on these concerns proved to be unfounded as evolutionary accounts of nature were used to support the new theodicy of social Darwinism and secular progress. However, anarchists were one group that held on to the politically radical implications of the idea of self-organizing matter and how it was mirrored in the structure of society.
While the anarchist Peter Kropotkin is more widely known for his idea of mutual aid and its relationship to evolution, he also believed that evolutionary questions were increasingly becoming matters for physiologists and physiology. He considered organisms to be federations of organs, nested totalities in the larger federation of the individual. Yet these nested series of federations did not end in the individual. In The Conquest of Bread (1892) he described political science as the “physiology of society,” or the “economy of energy” which was concerned with the study of the needs of society and means by which it could satisfy them with the least possible waste of energy.
Drawing from what he saw as the branch of Darwinian theory that was influenced by the works of Claude Bernard and George Henry Lewes, Kropotkin’s physiological move from the self-organization of organisms to their dynamic self-regulation was a continuation of his attempts to articulate a naturalistic worldview that had no need for external teleological forces, and a social view in which society had no need for external coercive forces. This aspect of Kropotkin’s thought would go on to influence a range of later thinkers throughout the twentieth century, from the homeostatic and cybernetic theories of Norbert Wiener and William Grey Walter to the “organizational cybernetics” of Marius de Geus, Stafford Beer, and Colin Ward, the Gaia hypothesis, Colin Wilson’s counter cultural occult worldview, and the organizational principles of the occupy movement.
Isaac Record (Michigan State)
Makes you think: A critical look at making as a methodology in the humanities
I reflect on the ongoing preoccupation for making in the humanities (in which I take part). How differently must we discipline ourselves to take part in material investigations? What epistemic commitments do we make? Do we take on new responsibilities as scholars? Must we now transcend interactional expertise in the technical fields we cover and become, albeit playfully, practitioners? And finally, what is actually novel and productive about this new mode of research, if anything?
Zbigniew Stachniak (York - Eng’r/CSE)
Annals of Digital Archaeology
In 1973, a Toronto-based electronics company Micro Computer Machines (MCM) announced the world's first microprocessor-powered personal computer -- the MCM/70. Because MCM was the earliest company to commercially offer a versatile computer for personal use, it was among the first firms to wrestle with the issue of defining personal computing and of determining the degree to which software was to be a part of such a concept in relation to hardware, ownership, and accessibility factors.
Until recently, it was difficult to assess the MCM's standpoint on software in relation to the personal computing paradigm because almost no original MCM software seemed to survive. However, it all has changed with a recent donation of more than thirty magnetic tapes with original MCM software to York University Computer Museum. If successful, extracting and interpreting the software could reveal much about pre-industrial period in the history of PC software and could shed some light on the early stages of PC users' conceptualization.
Reading the tapes using one of the very few MCM/70 computers that have survived and are now in computer museums and private collections scattered around the world was not an option. Age-related physical deterioration of electronic components used in vintage hardware would make the use of the surviving MCM computers for data recovery risky. Therefore, York University Computer Museum decided to rebuild enough of the original MCM/70 hardware to be able to read and archive the tapes. Despite the lack of technical documentation on the MCM/70's unique and complex design, the process of reading and archiving the tapes was successful and that moved the project to the digital archaeology stage: to digging through bits and interpreting the bytes to derive information in human readable form. As was the case with deciphering the cuneiform writing found on Sumerian clay tablets, breaking the MCM tape storage code resulted in the recovery of truly remarkable information.
In this talk, I will briefly discuss the MCM software recovery project at York University Computer Museum and focus on the impact of the recovered information on our understanding of the process by which personal computing paradigm was being shaped in the 1970s.
Julia Gruson-Wood (York - STS)
Autism and Expert Discourse: A Critical Examination of Applied Behavioural Therapies
Applied behavioural therapies are the standards of care for autism services in Ontario, and increasingly internationally, yet they are highly controversial methods within autism communities. Proponents and critics have written extensively about applied behavioural therapies but not the therapists themselves. Excluding this population misses an important opportunity to analyze the complexity of autism governance and the rise of a lay-clinical expert autism field. In this presentation I share my ethnographic research, which analyzes the intensive work behavioural therapists do, how they are trained to do it, and the ethical framework they tend to adopt when learning to apply these methods to autistic people.
Zoe Todd (Carleton)
Métis legal orders, kinship and love in the Lake Winnipeg watershed in the time of the Sixth Mass Extinction
My talk will engage the question of Métis legal orders and fish in the North Saskatchewan/Lake Winnipeg watershed in the past present and future. I will examine what Métis legal orders and human-fish relations have to offer to both local conversations about environmental crises, such as the Husky oil spill in the North Saskatchewan on July 20, 2016 while also examining framings offered to us by scientists working in the paradigms of the Anthropocene, Sixth Mass Extinction event and climate change.
Jenna Healey (York - History)
The Clock is Ticking: Time, Technology, and Reproduction in Modern America
It was in 1978 that Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen first coined the expression “biological clock” to describe the dilemma of declining fertility with age. From the beginning, the biological clock was an inherently gendered metaphor, a symbol of biological difference that revealed the limits of female, but not male, reproductive biology. In the years since its first appearance, the clock was become ubiquitous, cropping up everywhere from movies to memoirs, comedy to high-concept art. But from where did idea of the biological clock come, and why does it matter for ongoing debates about fertility, technology, and gender equality in the modern America? In this talk I will outline the history of the clock concept, and how it came to be so closely associated with the decline of female fertility. I will also argue that the widespread dissemination of the metaphor has had important and long-lasting consequences for the way we think about reproduction. In particular, the mechanical nature of the biological clock metaphor has framed the decline of female fertility as a technical problem waiting to be solved. In turn, this emphasis on technological solutions has foreclosed alternative conversations about the way in which the punishing pace of modern capitalism makes family formation difficult at any age. To this end, I will explore the history of at-home ovulation testing as just one example of a commercial technology that has reshaped modern concepts of reproductive temporality.
Nathan Rambukkana (Laurier)
Hashtags as Technosocial Events
In forme et matière (1964), Gilbert Simondon discusses how matter—all matter—takes form. It is neither the essential qualities of the underlying matter, nor the shaping qualities of an applied form that dictate the final shape and nature of any material thing. He uses the metaphor of the formation of a brick to illustrate this profound but simple point: neither the mix of components alone, nor the brick mould alone, are sufficient to produce a brick; la prise de forme of a brick requires both of these and moreover a specific process—an event—to work these elements together into their ultimate shape.
According to Massumi, Simondon's writing on form and matter can be usefully mobilized to think through how discourse forms and circulates. Rather than a simplistic reading that would see discourse as a mimetic reflection of human culture, or a deterministic one that would see it as a top-down shaper of culture, Massumi's mobilization posits discourse as technosocial event, shaping and shaped, forme et matière. It is the complex singularity that gains substance through its ongoing becoming, it is both medium and message.
Drawing on provocations from Simondon, Latour, Massumi, McLuhan, and others, and anchored in examples from the collection Hashtag Publics (Rambukkana, 2015), this talk explores the hashtag as a similar technosocial event; both text and metatext, tag and subject matter, hashtag-mediated discursive assemblages are neither simply the reflection of pre-existing discourse formations nor do they create them out of digital aether. Rather, they are nodes in the becoming of distributed discussions in which their very materiality as performative utterances (Bruns, 2015) is deeply implicated. Hashtags are mobilized in discourse that recognizes itself as such, a crossroads between form and matter, medium and message entangled.
Fredrik Jonsson (Chicago)
Inventing the Holocene: climate, deep time and civilization
In the new science and politics of the Anthropocene, the relative stability of the Holocene environment plays a central role as the "environmental envelope" in which "civilization" became possible. The aim of "planetary stewardship" is to maintain the earth system in a "Holocene-like" state. This talk investigates the historical relation between geology and the discourse on civilization from the early Victorian era to the Great War.
Take a look at past Seminar Series below: