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Taking STS underground

After dinner talk by Aant Elzinga on the 1st of June in connection with the Third Nordic Science and Technology Studies Conference. May 31-June 2, 2017 at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Taking STS underground

After dinner talk by Aant Elzinga on the 1st of June in connection with the Third Nordic Science and Technology Studies Conference. May 31-June 2, 2017 at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

At the 4S conference 2015 in Denver Colorado, two well-attended panels probed interesting new research on the science, technology, and politics of the subsurface. The rubric was “STS Underground: Investigating the Technoscientific Worlds of Mining and Subterranean Extraction”. The rationale was reflective and policy related, the point being that deciding where to dig and how to reclaim the surface involves technoscientific processes that remain largely unexamined.

I would add that such questions also concern issues addressed by scholars in Indigenous Studies, an example is how corporate industrial actors in search of profits with fracking and fossil fuel pipelines continue to ride rough-shod over indigenous peoples’ just rights and territories, destroy sacral burial grounds and natural environments. I shall come back to such issues towards the end of my talk.

First, let me thank the organizers of this conference for actually taking us underground.

I congratulate them on their choice of the venue for the conference dinner. It beats the one we used in 1992, the restaurant at the Liseberg Amusement Park, when we hosted the 4S/EASST conference in Gothenburg.

The place where we are getting together and mingling tonite is an underground space that harbours mysteries and myths. It is now decked in a décor befitting one of agent Cooper’s doppelgangers in Michael Lynch’s Twin Peaks TV drama series. There are also mysteries still to by unravelled through an STS lens.

The space here is namely an old air raid shelter, 800 sq. meters, a chamber carved out of rock in 1939. The effort followed after a government decision to create many wartime bunkers across neutral Sweden. The greenery on top of The Mount - Bunkeberg as it is called – also has traces of cement foundations on which stood mounted an anti-aircraft gun, produced by the Swedish arms manufacturing company AB Bofors dating back to 1873, whose most famous owner for a while was Alfred Nobel.

Further, archeologists have found traces of a more distant past, Stone Age people’s tools from around 9000 years ago. In the early Holocene after the last Ice Age there existed a rocky archipelago with water all around; this was long before before isostatic pressure brought the landscape up to its present elevation.

The wartime militarized underground space governed by the Swedish fortifications authority was privatized in 1957. It was taken over by industry, the famous Swedish Ball Bearing Company SKF that had made lots of money during the last World War, exporting to both Germany and Britain. Our Vice Mayor forgot to mention this historical fact when she referred to SKF during her welcome speech at the our conference reception yesterday. The company’s long line of brick buildings may be seen on the other side of Artillery Street below us. It was on your right-hand side when you came to this evening’s dinner event by tram. Those buildings are now occupied by all kinds of small businesses, health clinics, realtors, a feel good gym, media groups, coffee shops, a travel bureau, various NGOs, etc. -

1957 was the year of the Suez crisis and the Soviet launch of the Sputnik, an intense episode in the Cold War with spiraling R&D budgets and new military technologies. When SKF took over the bunker, the company expanded it to 5000 square meters, a bit less than a soccer field.

A tunnel was carved through rock under the street to link up with the main plant. SKF’s strategic machine industry, products and archives were subsequently transported through the hidden passage to the larger clandestine underground chamber. It served as a kind of contingent plant in case of an attack imagined to come from the east. Today the tunnel is blocked off and filled with water.

After the Cold War the space was handed over to the municipality of Kortedala, an suburban housing area built up in the 1950s in the heyday of the Swedish welfare state. Regarding our bunker, as times changed youth activities and an event site have come to occupy it – at the other end you will find a sheltered skateboard facility (Bunkeberget Skatepark) in the larger underground space, with fantastic ramp runs and graffiti art. It used to be called Area 51. The space has four sections, permitting tricky skateboarding runs, feats with inliners and BMX-bikes. The underground park is open only in the Autumn and Winter seasons.

The name Area 51 – adopted by the youth - associates with a secret remote US-Air Force technology and weapons testing space in the Nevada dessert, 130 km northwest of Las Vegas. It's been called “the most famous military institution in the world that doesn't officially exist”. Imaginary constructions may be seen in old science fiction films depicting mysterious encounters with aliens from outer-space. The TV-series, X-files are also about that same desert area in the US, fixing on rumors of research on UFOs and a mix of popular conspiracy theories. Another name for the area was Dreamland (see the documentary film - http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/reinvestigating-dreamland-secrets-area-51/).

Anyway, the formerly militarized and then secret corporate industrial space, currently a sporting and entertainment area in which we are tonight well deserves a STS case study in its own right. Scholars in urban and cultural studies have already done some research, showing functional shifts from physical protection in case of war to an atomic shelter for the ball bearing company during the Cold War, to the latest sports and cultural turn. Here I can refer you to by Beate Feldman Eelland’s article in Militärhistorisk tidskrift 2013, “Bombsäkert – civilt bruk av bunkrar och skyddsrum”.

There is also her chapter two years later, “Berget i staden – Bunkebergets mångfaldiga värden” (the multiple values of the Bunkeberg). It appears in a volume issued by researchers at the department of conservation at our university, one of the outcomes of a large project Curating the Cities, affiliated with the university’s Centre of Critical Heritage Studies http://criticalheritagestudies.gu.se/ The description of how formerly militarized and cold war industrial spaces have been “freed” and reconfigured into civil society spaces reminds of the co-production idiom we commonly associate with STS.

In Gothenburg science studies came out of an empirical turn 1967, thus 50 years ago. It was within theory of science and research, a discipline established four years earlier, around the philosopher of science Håkan Törnebohm’s personal chair within the humanities. Case studies evolved regarding emerging disciplines, interdisciplinarity and the dynamics of what was then called “inquiring systems”. An ambition was to develop a cluster of research on research (forskning om forskning). Hermeneutics and Jürgen Habermas’ critical theory also had a place.

In this case the Cold War also played in, namely through the interests of the Engineering Sciences Academy and the Defense Research Board FOA. FOA sponsored a ten-year series of open-ended academic colloquia. A compendium with proceedings was entitled On Complex Systems with Human Components (1968), a reified technocratic title one would never find today. I was a graduate student and acted as editor but am glad in retrospect that I kept my name off the report; instead it features the two joint seminar-leaders, professors Håkan Törnebohm and Albert Danielsson - the latter was at the Gothenburg Business School, and later at the Department of Industrial Economics and Organization at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm. Later, sectorial research funding agencies like FRN and UHÄ’s unit for stimulating policy relevant inquiries and concepts became significant. By the way, Michael Gibbons and colleagues idea of Mode 2 research regimes also had its origins in a team funded by Roger Svensson’s outfit at FRN. Dick Kasperowski can tell you more about this.

I recently published a chapter about the early development of science studies in Sweden, covering
- political science discourses at Uppsala & Stockholm,
- the RPP 1966 in Lund headed by Stevan Dedjier, and attached to the Sociology Department,
- theory of science in Gothenburg,
- and Tema T begun in Linköping 1980 where Lars Ingelstam was instrumental.
- Labour sociologist Edmund Dahlström here in Gothenburg was also important.

The story appears in a book, “Science Studies During the Cold War and Beyond – Paradigms Defected”, edited by Elena Aronova and Simone Turchetti. Interestingly, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a number of young scholars from Russia and Eastern Europe have been pursuing STS, delving deeply into archives. The volume also has authors reviewing the history of STS in the Global South, particularly Argentina and China.

Aside opportunity spaces opened by external funding, the chapter on Sweden focuses on academic rivalries, boundaries and collaborations, plus personalities. I also play up a countervailing strand of science studies influenced in the 1960s and early 70s by the radical science movement – the imprint of a rebellious spirit of ’68.

In Gothenburg, for our move into STS, the 4S/EASST conference 1992 was a significant event. As president of EASST I was a member of the future meetings committee of 4S. At a 4S conference at MIT in Boston I was asked if Gothenburg could take on organizing the next joint quadreannual conference. Amsterdam had done so in 1988. I said, give me some time to consider; I phoned John Hultberg at our department – he was the editor of Tidskrift för Vetenskapsstudier, a journal that already had an ambition to gain a Scandinavian reach. He answered, sure let’s go for it, and so we did. On VEST’s editorial committee several names you will recognize: Ingemar Bohlin, Thomas Brante, myself, Margareta Hallberg, John Hultberg, Dick Kasperowski, Jan Nolin, Lennart Olausson, Eva-Marie Rigné, Göran Sundqvist; affiliations spread across history of ideas and science, sociology, and theory of science.

Several groups here in town were interacting and working on various aspects of forskning om forskning.
- a seminar jointly with Thomas Brante on controversy studies (he was then at the sociology department here) – it spawned a series of significant case studies, plus annual European summer schools at the Inter University Centre in Dubrovnik. From these activities emerged the anthology in 1990, In Science we Trust? (written with a question mark).

Ð Then there was the Gothenburg Centre for Research Ethics (led by Stellan Wellin, now professor emeritus at Linköping); funding for its research and outreach program continued for ten years, linked to our Royal Society of Arts and Science here in town

Ð and another group existed around human technology which had emerged out of human ecology …. and more;

Ð when Jan Ling’s – a good friend of Sven-Eric Liedman and myself – was our university’s Vice Chancellor, he negotiated a pot of money from the Nordic telephone operator company Telia, vaguely meant for a professorship and a lecturer somehow affiliated with IT. I was asked to write a proposal for a more precise epistemic focus. Thus out of human technology came eventually a lecture post and a professorship in technology studies, the latter saw Hans Glimell as its first incumbant; around this coagulated the STS group now incorporated into the Department of Sociology and Social Work here on the Haga Campus.

Ð In other words there was a network with several spinoffs.

Ð As for the 1992 4S/EASST conference its overarching theme was Science, Technology and Development. We engaged two inspiring international personalities as keynote speakers.

One was science-historian and longstanding peace movement activist Everett Mendelsohn from Harvard. The other was former physicist and then science-activist Vandana Shiva from Dehra Dun, in the northern part of India. The latter will be known to many of you as the author of a controversial book on biopiracy. She drew up the broader perspective of a colonial past that still resonates in the present. I would like to quote from her speech in which she, among other things, pointed to the constestation of the term “discovery”.

“Between 1492 and 1992, Europe meeting with the non-European cultures was actually no real meeting. The interaction by the colonized always was experienced as invasion, and by the colonizers as discovery. The experience of invasion as discovery has been facilitated there-through that European men had constructed a world in which evolution was understood to have created two separate minds – one for themselves and one for all others”.

Not everyone liked this. An elder scientometrics scholar complained there was too much an ideological tone, someone else that critical theory does not belong to STS. Not High Church enough as Steve Fuller later would say 1997 in an article where he made the High Church/Low Church distinction in STS. Another aspect I must mention is that we had conference news-sheet that appeared every morning with updates on session changes, interviews with post docs, established scholars in the field, and short opinion pieces to stimulate debate; it was produced each night by some journalism students. Here I must also mention an anecdote. We had a neat conference white T-shirt with green lettering and our university’s logo – it sported the text “4S/EASST Conference, Joint Conference University of Gothenburg 1992”. You will note that the word joint comes after rather than before the acronyms “4S/EASST”. This gave rise to the joke that it might be a “joint”-smoking conference.

Looking forward and current agendas, we now see environmental humanities and social sciences have entered the discourse (or is it the bandwagon?) of the Anthropocene. Here too STS is playing a role, and more critical reflection is needed.

Resurgence at the intersection of feminisms, post-colonial, and settler-colonial studies as well as science and technology studies (STS) has taken on several forms. One example is the feminist postcolonial science and technologies seminar held in October 2014 at the Looking forward and current agendas, we now see environmental humanities and social sciences have entered the discourse (or is it the bandwagon?) of the Anthropocene. Here too STS is playing a role, and more critical reflection is needed.

Last year I contributed to a book, Antarctica and the Humanities. It challenges natural scientists that believe they possess the only proper gaze on the Polar Regions. Two of the editors are at KTH in Stockholm, the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, a very lively intellectual milieu which attracts graduate students from humanities, social sciences, and technical disciplines, all three.

Resurgence at the intersection of feminisms, post-colonial, and settler-colonial studies as well as STS has taken on several forms.

Another example is the feminist postcolonial science and technologies seminar held in October 2014 at the University of Michigan. Participants like Sandra Harding, Kim Tallbear and others tabled issues also pursued by scholars in Indigenous Studies, for example amongst First Nation Peoples in Canada where decolonizing methodologies are problematized - a motto is resistance and resurgence. Inuit perspectives are also implicated.

In her book last year, Kim Tallbear brings together STS, Native American and Indigenous Studies, histories of science and race, ethnography, and cultural studies. Having worked with Donna Harraway at the UC Santa Cruz, on a dissertation critically exploring the concept of “Native American DNA”, and after positions at several universities Kim Tallbear is now at the University of Alberta Faculty of Native Studies where she holds a newly endowed Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Environment. I see she also appears as a co-author for one of the chapters in the new STS Handbook that Ulrike Felt presented to us at a lunch session of our conference.

At Harvard last month there was a two-day workshop, Critical Indigenous STS: Technoscience & Transition in Native North America. One of the opening speakers was Sheila Jasanoff, and sessions included Indigenous bodies and biomedical practice. Also explored was the significance and impact of evidence-based medicine in the context of traditional knowledge and practices in “health and healing”. I am sure we will be hearing more about the trend signaled by such workshops and perhaps in future the next STS Handbook will highlight it further.

Here in Gothenburg at the School of Global Studies a research milieu also exists in the area of indigenous studies, with projects like “Indigenous people and Climate Change – conflicting epistemological perspectives”. Such studies might fruitfully interlope with STS.

Given the Nordic umbrella for our STS-ing I find it odd that in our field - as far as I can see - little attention has been devoted to representations of Sami people and their knowledge, which during the most recent international polar year was solicited by natural scientists in studies of climate change. Further there are the economic and political conflicts between Sami communities over fishing rights in rivers invaded by tourists and sportsfishermen, and with large corporations that exploit mineral and other natural resources within their territories. These conflicts engender many dimensions – economic, political, technological and cultural, but also epistemological. Some STS-related work is being done at the Sami University of Applied Sciences (Solveig Joks and Liv Ostmø) in Finnmark, Norway, and I spotted a paper written 2015 at Tema T, Linköping. Otherwise it is researchers in legal studies, linguistics, northern studies, religious studies and a few other areas that stand out.

Here I see immediate challenges for multifaceted interloping between indigenous, postcolonial and settler studies, as well as STS. The 4S Denver panel’s rationale for the emerging field subterranean technoscience and its politics, micro- and -macro, is also pertinent.

I see no reason why geographers, historians, linguists, ethnologists, theologists and political scientists in the Nordic countries should be left intellectually undisturbed by STS-ers. This also goes for natural scientists concerned with what is now called Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).

The foregoing are some reflective notes from underground.


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