BCNM at 4S 2022

18 Nov, 2022

BCNM at 4S 2022

4S stands for Society for Social Studies of Science. Their mission is to foster interdisciplinary and engaged scholarship in social studies of science, technology, and medicine across the globe.

This year, the program features BCNM faculty, students, and alumni! The following information is the session meeting they participate in.


Amanda Barnett will participate 111. Environmental Futures – Promoting Images Of Desirable Human-Nature Relationships from 8:30 to 10:30 am. She will focus on Contemporary Indigenous Dispossession in Salmon Restoration.

Water resource management and environmental conservation are modes of asserting authority in the political ecology of settler-colonial ownership over Native lands. This study asks how watershed planning documents betray their unpolitical nature. The Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 9 is delineated by hydrological watershed, but spans areas contemporarily and historically significant to several indigenous tribes, including the Duwamish, whose unceded territory comprises of the WRIA 9 estuary into the Puget Sound. This study performs a rhetorical analysis of salmon recovery documents for the Duwamish River in King County and the City of Seattle to determine how sociotechnical and geographical strategies and delineations perpetuate denial of Indigenous land rights. In absence, Indigenous perspective is not just ignored in access to funding, project selection, and policy that is informed by surface water management planning documents, but the historical erasure of past takings continues colonial violence and disenfranchisement of the Duwamish Tribe. The actor-network theory (ANT) framework articulates the relationships between the multiple actors, including the River and the Salmon, to portray and empower entities as understood by the Duwamish rather than Western and scientific perspective; and to reorganize the relationship to the natural environment to instead serve as the intermediary between Native and non-Native communities.

Pratiti. Pratiti will focus on How Is Fiction Responding To Science Of The Periphery? A Closer Look At The Indian Detective Narrative.

How does one think about the scientific nature of the detective narrative genre in the context of the colonial peripheries, spaces that are not imagined as the centres of modern techno-science? My work is in conversation with that Joseph Agassi's paper, The Detective Novel and Scientific Method. This paper analyzes the science and the scientific method in the Byomkesh Bakshi series by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, which is produced between 1930s-1970s in India. It approaches Agassi’s idea of the eurocentric scientific method with Indian forms of knowledge. The central question that it attempts to answer is do peripheral forms of science find their way into the Indian detective novel? How are representations of local forms of knowledge framed within this euro-centric scientific approach that is thought to be pertinent to the detective novel? Does it change the genre itself or there is an Indianisation of these methods? My objects of enquiry of cocaine and snake poison have long histories and associations in 20th century India. They were also widely researched by Indian doctors who published both case studies and original research in the Indian Medical Gazette. I attempt to answer these questions with a study of these histories along with their representation in the detective series. My attempt is to think about ‘peripheral science’ and how its representation in Indian detective fiction moulds and subverts the representations of modalities of the science of the scientific metropole.


Morgan Ames will be the session organizer for 297. The Colonial Legacies of Biosciences and Big Data: Nativism, marginalisation, and biocoloniality in the era of surveillance capitalism from 2:00 to 4:00 pm.

In the closing moments of Mad Men, Don Draper finds himself at an Esalen meditation retreat, where he envisions one of the most successful (real) ad campaigns of all time: cynically co-opting a message of global harmony to sell Coca-Cola. Like the fictional Draper, technology designers at startups and technology companies aiming to "move fast and break things" draw on boundary-pushing “wisdoms” to justify or sanitize capitalistic ends. These wisdoms may be co-opted colonialistically from other cultures (Irani 2019), or even nostalgically through hero myths based on their own childhoods (Ames 2019). These workers, circulating between free-wheeling workplaces and “spiritual” events like Burning Man (Turner 2009) or Instagram-ready Indonesian yoga retreats, wield these wisdoms to claim a more enlightened state over others who might seek to have a voice in the technology design process—or are caught up in its fallout. This talk will explore the ways that these vernacular philosophies are mobilized as a resource within some forms of technology work to rationalize and ultimately justify a culture that continues to be defined by both exclusion—of women, of the poor, and of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color—and “disruption,” often at the expense of these same groups.

Hannah Zeavin will be the participant in 042. Author-Meets-Critics: "Viral Cultures" (Marika Cifor) and "The Distance Cure” from 11:00 to 1:00 pm, to share insights on The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy.

This session brings the authors of two new books in science and technology studies alongside four critics whose varied areas of expertise bridge dialogue across the texts. The books are Viral Cultures: Activist Archiving in the Age of AIDS (Minnesota 2022) by Marika Cifor and The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy (MIT 2021) by Hannah Zeavin which examine unique but entangled sites of care, mediation, intimacy, the temporal politics of “curative” and palliative medicines, and pandemics.

The critics who join these authors to explore intersections of care and ability, temporality, and archives and media technologies are: Hil Malatino (Assistant Professor, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Philosophy, Penn State University), an expert on gender, care, and medical ethics; Emily Lim Rogers, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Disability Studies, Brown University, a scholar of biomedicine, debility, and disease; Sarah Sharma (Associate Professor, Faculty of Information and Director of the Institute for Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, University of Toronto), a researcher of gender and race in technology, time and labor; and Nanna Bonde Thylstrup (Associate Professor of Communication and Digital Media, Copenhagen Business School), a scholar of knowledge infrastructures, technology, and datafication. Patricia Garcia (Assistant Professor, Information School, University of Michigan) a feminist scholar of race, technology and computing will chair the session.

Together, these critics will discuss the relationships between the first monographs of two long-time 4S members vis-a-vis the larger fields of STS, feminist media studies, and disability studies, including their methods, theoretical approaches, limitations, and the future directions they propose. We anticipate drawing an audience interested in these fields and the (re)turn to care in technoscience.


Christo Sims will be a discussant for 090. Opening Up the Technology Company: Organizational Perspectives on the Politics of Technology Production 4:30 to 6:30 pm.

Our Author Meets Critics roundtable discussion explores three recent critical investigations into the “digital divide.” Collectively receiving awards in fields including information science, sociology, and history, each book brings STS perspectives to questions of technology, access, education, development, and equity: Morgan Ames’s The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of One Laptop per Child (MIT 2019); Daniel Greene’s The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope (MIT 2021); and Christo Sims’s Disruptive Fixation: School Reform and the Pitfalls of Techno-Idealism (Princeton 2017). Bridging a variety of institutions, geographies, and theoretical traditions, each book asks why reformers across the state, civil society, and the tech sector keep turning to technology access and skills training as quick fixes to persistent racial and economic inequalities. Why is this “expert” consensus so immovable? What aspects of the dominant paradigm are worth reconfiguring and what should be left behind?

Steven Jackson will open the discussion and lead a conversation between the authors and the audience. The authors will compare the production, mobilization, and consumption of hopeful sociotechnical imaginaries across field sites in the US and Latin America, and reflect on how one shifts critical analyses between the micro-practices of experts or users and the macro-processes of gentrification, structural adjustment, and accumulation by dispossession. Throughout, they will attend to changes in how the problem of “access” has shifted under a resurgent nationalist right, a global pandemic, and a historically tight labor market.

danah boyd will be in 137. Technologies, Trust and Governance: Reimagining Democracy from 11:00 to 1:00 pm. As a participant, danah will share Differential Perspectives: Epistemic Disconnects Surrounding the US Census Bureau’s Use of Differential Privacy.

When the U.S. Census Bureau announced its intention to modernize its disclosure avoidance procedures for the 2020 Census, it sparked a controversy that is still underway. The move to differential privacy introduced technical and procedural uncertainties, leaving stakeholders unable to evaluate the quality of the data. More importantly, this transformation exposed the statistical illusions and limitations of census data, shattering stakeholders’ trust in the data and in the Census Bureau itself.

This paper examines the epistemic and infrastructural roots of this controversy. We draw on one author’s extensive ethnographic fieldwork within the Census Bureau, and the other author’s experience developing differential privacy tools, to make sense of the epistemic disconnects at play. First, we highlight two statistical illusions that complicate how census stakeholders interpret both the disclosure avoidance system and the Census Bureau itself. Then, building on Jasanoff and Kim’s framework of ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’ (2015), we discuss how differential privacy reveals and disrupts what we call a ‘statistical imaginary,’ a collective vision of the census that is produced and performed by the bureau and its stakeholder communities, standardized through legal systems, and held together through statistics.

We argue that when the statistical imaginary of objective and neutral census data comes undone, the resulting uncertainty threatens the legitimacy of the Census Bureau, its data, and the democracy that it upholds. To repair this rupture requires more than technical progress or improved communication; it requires reconstituting the statistical imaginary itself.

Katherine Chandler will be the chair for session 178. Suspicious Landscapes: The Affective Aftermath of War's Technologies II from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. She will talk about Traffic, War, and Trafficking.

This paper begins with a DARPA sponsored initiative known as Remote Advise and Assist (RAA). DARPA drew on expertise from Google technologies designed to optimize traffic routes to develop an app that allowed US military personnel to direct Iraqi partners in the military campaign in Mosul. Through the app, they identified targets and provided Iraqi personnel routes to them rom a remote station located miles from the city. Managing traffic has led to “data-driven” tools that enable the US military to remotely advise Iraqi personnel on the ground. I consider how the apparently ordinary use of tracking and monitoring traffic to find the shortest route between two locations becomes a war technology and think through how the affects of road rage and anger become entangled with colonial occupation. The second half of the paper turns to the film La Tempestad (dir. Tatiana Huezo, 2016) which uses a bus journey from Tamulipas, Mexico to Quintana Roo, Mexico to document the story of an anonymous woman who was kidnapped and trafficked by a drug cartel in Mexico. In the film, we never see the protagonist, rather, we are confronted with her narration as the landscape passes by in a blur. Trafficking is tied to the confusion between what can be seen and what can’t and how power is organized at its interstices. The final part of the paper takes up these two senses of traffic and aims to disrupt the logics of traffic optimization through the feminist geographies found in the film.

Ritwik Banerji will share Passing for Human: From the Social Other to Artificial Intelligence in 052. Socio-cultural dimensions of AI II from 11:00 to 1:00 pm.

This talk theorizes artificial intelligence as a project of producing machines that “pass” for human in the classic sociological sense of belonging to one social identity category while being perceived by others to be a genuine member of another. On the theoretical plane, the presentation first illustrates how the Turing Test itself is designed as a test of social passing and then highlights how anxieties about social passing have always implicitly been driven by the fear that a “nonhuman” passes for a member of “our own” (howsoever this is defined). That is, fears about nonwhites passing for white or women passing for men are fears about the (nonhuman) Other passing for human. On the empirical plane, the talk examines these issues through my work as an experimental ethnographer and media artist designing artificially-intelligent virtual performers of free improvisation (a contemporary, avant-garde musical practice) and asking human improvisers to compare these systems to their fellow players. Drawing on these ethnographic materials, this talk illustrates how AI systems that pass for human 1) raise all the same problems that arise in instances of passing across race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and other axes of social difference and 2) suggest that all anxieties about social passing—whether across social categories or across the socially-constructed, performative boundary between human and machine—are driven by the fear that a “nonhuman” would be capable of deceiving us into believing that they were in fact a member of our species.

For more information, check out the website here.