Call for papers: “Science, technology and society” – working group at the Annual conference of the Westermarck Society

The Annual conference of the Westermarck Society  will be held under the theme “Circulations” at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu campus, on 15-16.3.2017. The keynote speakers are: Amade M’charek (University of Amsterdam), Ruben Andersson (University of Oxford), Mianna Meskus (University of Helsinki) and Maria Åkerman (VTT). STS Helsinki is hosting its own working group and announces call for papers:

 

18. Science, technology and society

Science and Technology Studies (STS) is an interdisciplinary field of study that examines the interaction between society, science, and technology. STS pays attention to how different fields, such as law, politics, and everyday life, become intertwined with science and technology. This is relevant when thinking about heatedly debated topics as diverse as climate change, the role of experts, medicine, genetics, gender, robotics or organic food. The field calls for a deeper understanding of the development, processes, practices and outcomes of such social phenomena. STS explores the mechanisms behind knowledge claims and ontological assumptions that guide our everyday. Or, how a prominent STS scholar, Steve Woolgar, has said: look at how the world defined by science and technology “could be otherwise”.

STS-Helsinki calls for theoretical, methodological and empirical papers on current research in social studies of science. Papers both in Finnish and English are welcome. The aim of this working group is to offer a forum to discuss the practices that contribute to the shaping of technoscientific objects and subjects. How is scientific knowledge established and negotiated, and how historical processes contribute to the development of certain technologies? We also welcome papers discussing the specific topic of circulations. This working group is defined as a meeting point for both Finnish and international scholars to share and discuss their work with others studying science, technology and society.

__________________________________________

Submit your abstract directly to the working group coordinator. The descriptions of the working groups and contact information of the coordinators can be found at www.sosiologipaivat.fi.

The final deadline for the abstracts is Monday 22.1.2018. The length of the abstract is max. 300 words and it should be in .doc, .dox or in .rtf-format.

 

On behalf of STS Helsinki the coordinator is: Heta Tarkkala  (heta.tarkkala@uef.fi)

Population genetics and the making of genetic belonging

Genetic roots are not discovered, they are made. This is the central argument of my book Population Genetics and Belonging, recently published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book is the final outcome of my postdoc project (2011-2016), funded by the Academy of Finland and Kone Foundation, which set out to explore how population genetics has changed ideas of nation, national origins and destinies, and structures of belonging. I had the privilege to finish the book in the interdisciplinary research community of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Population geneticists study genetic differences within and between populations. Such differences are often invisible, that is, they are molecular variation that doesn’t direct visible physiological characteristics. My project started with a simple observation: population genetics has refashioned the relations between populations in ways that don’t match the idea of nations as clearly defined entities – patterns of genetic variation don’t follow national borders. Yet the ways in which population genetics reached into the past beyond the historical roots of nation-states clearly appealed to those wishing to imagine nations as foundational units of social existence. Understanding this contradiction was the initial motivation for my project: How do national narratives establish nations as rooted in foundational moments of human evolutionary history without ending up dismissing the nation as a recent historical development?

In the course of the project, and through various intellectual detours and dead ends, this question began to take a new shape. While population genetics indeed provided a narrative resource for national imaginaries (which structure enterprises such as national genomic initiatives), it also acted as an important narrative resource for other forms of belonging, such as regional, continental, ethnic and personal belonging.

My book explores tensions and resonances between these alternative forms of belonging. It argues that what makes population genetics appealing is precisely the ambiguity of genetic belonging. This ambiguity arises from the relationality of population genetic knowledge. In population genetics, sameness and difference are not fixed. Sameness and difference are produced through technological choices (such as the use of mitochondrial, Y-chromosome or genome-wide techniques), methodological decisions (such as genetic markers chosen for analysis), and points of comparison (such as genetic databases or cell lines available for analysis).

Population Genetics and Belonging traces how this relationality enables population genetics to become entangled with discourses and practices of national, regional, ethnic and personal belonging from the late 1980s until today. The book focuses on selected case studies, including the theory of Mitochondrial Eve (the most recent common maternal ancestor) in the late 1980s and Y-Chromosome Adam (the most recent common paternal ancestor) in the mid-1990s; the use of DNA analysis in the study of two ancient human remains known as Kennewick Man and Cheddar Man; the ontological multiplicity of roots in commercial genetic ancestry tests; tensions between national and continental genetic belonging in the case of “Finnish genes”; and the uses of genetic ancestry in debates about immigration in contemporary societies. Throughout the book, I argue that the alternative forms of belonging that population genetics has engendered are entangled with ideas of gender, sexuality, race and class, and that the affective structures of genetic belonging reflect those intersecting differences.

I hope that the book helps us make some sense of the complex political, social and cultural implications of population genetic knowledges in contemporary societies.

Link to the book: http://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319628806

 

Venla Oikkonen

 

Venla Oikkonen (PhD in Gender Studies, 2010) is Research Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Her research interests include evolution, genetics, vaccine debates, epidemics, affect and intersectionality. Her first book Gender, Sexuality and Reproduction in Evolutionary Narratives was published by Routledge in 2013.

 

 

 

On Winning the Hearts and Minds of Shamans and Leprechauns

How science and scientists engage with the public is a matter of growing importance in the so-called post-truth era. I contend that instead of defending science and its epistemic authority at any cost and by any manner, public science education should engage science sceptics on even terms and with respect.

Saturday April 22nd 2017 marked the first March for Science in Finland, held as part of a worldwide movement for science and higher education (https://www.marchforscience.com/). Whatever its impact was, the march definitely is an interesting sign of the times. In at least some sections of western societies, there is concern for the epistemic authority of science and scientific expertise. Denigration of scientific expertise, however science might be perceived, is evident in the populist political rhetoric in both old and new continent. The same goes for Finland: the conservative, centre-right populist coalition government has been very unrelenting in its cuts to educational funding, seems to freewheel on facts, and has instigated a “restructuring” of university funding. In 2016-2017 this resulted in a rather gloomy mood in the Finnish academia.

In the March for Science, students and faculty members rallied around the flags of universities, along with some interested politicians, in a show of unity and power directed towards the national government.

It surely is important for universities to secure funding and respect from the government. However, the war for science will be won in the hearts and minds of lay people – people (understood here in a very monolithic sense) who are rarely in a position to contribute to scientific change and its progress, people who are outsiders to the scientific establishment. As every vote in election counts, the lay perception of science does matter a great deal to scientists and universities.

Therefore, it is important to take some time to think about other, maybe more mundane and less spectacular engagements with the powerful public opinion than science marches.

Enter the Finnish cosmologist Kari Enqvist, author of numerous books in popular science and a regular contributor to national broadcasting corporation YLE. Enqvist recently published a short column titled “Goodbye Leprechauns, Welcome Science” (https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9544273, YLE 4.4.2017).

Enqvist’s polemical text addresses the challenge of the post-truth era and what he sees as contemporary denigration of science. Enqvist urges all sensible citizens to step up and say: “truth matters”. Truth, he says, is not merchandise.

The less sensible citizens, forming a considerable portion of Finnish population according to Enqvist, are sceptical of science in general. They think that science is but one of many ways to understand the surrounding world, and a limited way at that. Enqvist lumps the science sceptics together with shamans who see and believe in leprechauns and explain the world in terms of mystical energies and vibrations. In fact, leprechauns seem to run the world now, as is evident to Enqvist from what is happening in Turkey and the US.

I also have, much like Enqvist, a troubled relationship with shamans who see and believe in leprechauns. I almost refuse to believe that the mad king of leprechauns, Donald Trump, exists. I am also very, very worried about Finnish leprechauns with revisionist ideas of history and human rights, and the manifest normalization of racism in Finnish politics and society. And, I am generally troubled when people in position of power talk over people, talk beside the point (and past facts) and denigrate science for whatever ends; ends usually other than the common good or inclusive society.

Thus, I wholeheartedly agree with Enqvist on most accounts. However, I find it difficult to accept his divisive manner to argue for his point: either you are smart and side with me and science, or you are completely silly. The manner in which Enqvist discredits science sceptics implicitly places scientific truth beyond public criticism. This is hardly an attempt at creating dialogue or constructive engagement in public science education.

I will get back to public science education and dialogue in the end. Enqvist’s account of science lacks so much nuance, that I first feel compelled to analyse his position.

The science monolith

Enqvist’s position implies the 1950s imaginary of science for progress and social justice, an attempt to redeem the science that won the war, or an attempt to make a case for the republic of science – however you want to express that normative ideal of science. Science equals truth with regard to the external objective reality, and policies should abide.

Not included in Enqvist’s implicit narrative, I suspect, are the trials and tribulations of (e.g.) the 1960s and 1970s, when science and its harbinger industries got associated with environmental degradation and other related disasters. Science wasn’t always (and still isn’t) all about fighting the climate change, you know – it was also about creating the petrochemical and nuclear industries and waste, the nuclear threat, misuse of pesticides and all that. Somehow pristine science, in its attempt to harness and control nature, succeeded in coupling progress with very ugly consequences, both in popular imagination and in the real. (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and its impact serves as a fine global example of this, see also Harry Collins’ 2014 book Are We All Scientific Expert Now? for its nice introduction.)

The criticism from sixties to eighties was spearheaded by social movements, which championed for values that science and the industries had perhaps forgotten about in their hunger for progress and prosperity. This was manifest in demands for (e.g.) environmental protection, alongside with the associated regulatory ideals, democratic governance and rights-based thinking.

I am fairly sure that Enqvist’s sensible citizens hold these values and ideals as central to their cultural form of life, yet in the past the values and ideals were side-lined by the careless progress driven by the science that Enqvist so reveres.

This one, is also a truth that matters to sensible citizens.

My argument here is that science cannot be understood or presented as a monolithic institution, impervious to public criticism, as Enqvist’s column seems to indicate. By insisting on this kind of idealized image of science, coupled with the explicitly stated idea of science as producing truth that corresponds to external reality, he actually does a disservice to popular image of science. For science is very much embedded in its economic, social and political dimensions.

Cosmology is a case in point. To a casual observer, cosmology mostly serves the general public as an inspirational medium. Cosmological research must be funded somehow, though, and therefore the revered science of heavenly bodies becomes a subject of social, economic and political considerations: the discipline has a history also on a smaller than cosmological scale. (Not familiar with the field I probably miss important social, political and economic applications of cosmology, for which I have to apologize.)

Science for public and policy

Science and its harbinger industries, when not subject to regulation, are just as prone to screw up as they are prone to create prosperity and progress. Too big promises from scientists lead to big disappointments when scientists (eventually, some would say) fail to deliver the goods. Claiming that science is infallible and should not be openly questioned will lead to a popular sense of treachery. (Again, Collins 2014 is the go-to reference.)

Thus, science should be open to public discussion and criticism, if not for the esoteric knowledge it produces, then for the kind of impact the use of that knowledge has in our lives. Science, truth and progress should not trump everything else by default, and there must be room for criticism – even for scepticism towards science.

The notion of scepticism presents another spectre that Enqvist is eager to point out: relativism. Echoing the 1990s “science wars” (mostly fought in the US between cultural studies scholars and natural scientists), Enqvist has a word to say about postmodern thought:

“Up to now, all kinds of imaginaries have been met with kindness. Each one of us have their own story to tell, the post-modern philosophers preached, while teaching us to be tolerant. Everyone’s story is equally valuable, they explained, and the media has really embraced this by publishing any mumbo-jumbo without criticism, only to increase sales.”(translation by the author)

This, Enqvist states, must end now.

His text is, of course, a very truncated presentation of postmodern thought and relativism in general, and seems to place too much of weight on social influence of philosophical thought. In science studies relativism has some purchase methodologically (check out the principle of symmetry in “Edinburgh strong programme”), and the extreme forms of relativistic postmodern thinking are, well, extreme.

In any case, I have no trouble in agreeing with Enqvist that not all stories are of equal worth. It is partly a question of context and purpose – what works for a tabloid should not automatically work for purposes of policy making. The worrying thing (I am channelling Enqvist again) is that the tabloid-reading public, the lay people who also vote, are the ones most apt to get corrupted by visions of truth that Enqvist associates with shamans and leprechauns.

Strategies of public science education

The problem with Enqvist’s text is that he himself seems insensitive to the context and position he writes from. He is oblivious to the fact that he also has to earn respect and following, and that his status as a scientist alone might not be enough to sway people. That is why his writing strategy and his divisive argumentation are problematic from the point of view of public science education – in winning the hearts and minds of the lay people.

In an example of this, Enqvist states that science is characterised by humility, as scientific progress (apparently) is a story of successive falsifications of assumed truths. Therefore, not one scientist would ever present himself as someone in possession of certain knowledge, if not for nothing else, then for the fear of getting ridiculed by his peers.

Enqvist finishes his text with the following message to science sceptics:

“Stick your subjective sensation, for a while, where the sun does not shine. Try to learn some humility. Ask yourselves for once: could I be wrong?”

Engaging adversaries in a dialogue across the science-public divide requires true cross-disciplinary competence from a scientist. The same humility that Enqvist values within scientific community and in relation to knowledge is completely lacking in his relation to the public.

Thus, Enqvist truly lives up to his vocation that truth is not merchandise. Talking over (using power over) people requires very little transaction between discussants. However, a persuasive science educator needs something to win people over, to make them want to buy the idea that science is our best way of coming to grips with the surrounding world. In pluralist liberal democracies a citizen, arguing his case in the public sphere, has to engage others with some respect in order for his ideas to gain currency.

The western world in general does not embrace the priestly class of scientists quite like they used to, and this is especially true of the science sceptics. Instead of enlisting new allies for his cause or creating dialogue, Enqvist presents himself as an arrogant scientist, making the gap between science and its sceptics grow even larger. What science sceptics might infer from Enqvist’s text, is that they should not trust a scientist who does not respect them, especially since he is telling people what to think, and how to think.

With no special authority among the science sceptics, to them Enqvist comes across as someone who is dangerously close to what the cosmologist himself would call a shaman. Sadly, the special science vibrations that Enqvist could bring to the table for the sceptics are now lost in mutual disrespect. Could scientists in their zeal foster something else as well, such as constructive dialogue, between scientists and science sceptics?

 

Jaakko Taipale

STS Helsinki | University of Helsinki

“Framing energy” at the hopefulNESS conference

The Nordic Environmental Social Sciences (NESS) conference is one of those events where we, researchers studying environmental issues from a social scientific perspective, have the opportunity to meet our peers and have great discussions. The NESS conference series started in 1993 and has since been biennially hosted in one of the Nordic countries, this time in Tampere, Finland. This year’s theme of hopefulness could not have been more apt in a time of increasingly gloomy environmental news. Indeed, the keynotes by Professor James Meadowcroft, Dr. Jo Mylan, Professor Esther Turnhout, Dr. Morgan Meyer and Professor Emeritus Yrjö Haila were critical but remained cautiously hopeful about the future.

Professor Meadowcroft highlighted how we are far from having exhausted the potential of environmental states, stressing how we cannot know their limits prior to testing them. Professor Turnhout, in turn, presented the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) as a test case for the democratization of knowledge through its regional and global assessments. However, she stressed that this is possible only if and when closure is resisted and technologies of humility and accountability fostered.

In addition to inspiring keynotes, one of the unique features of the NESS conferences is structuring working groups around full papers with pre-appointed commentators. This enables more detailed comments and fruitful discussions than the usual, rushed conference presentations. Together with other researchers from the Environmental Policy Research Group at the University of Helsinki, we hosted a working group titled ‘Framing energy: between hope, hype and hopelessness’.

In gathering the working group, we were inspired by the large amount of discourse-oriented studies examining energy politics and transitions in the recent years. These studies often discuss meaning-making processes related to currently occurring changes in energy systems at large, and how these changes are turned into issues and concerns. We wanted to bring some of this research together to ask how the multiple aspects surrounding energy become issues. Are there cases where they do not become issues at all? How do particular framings produce specific outcomes?

What we noticed in the working group were wide-ranging and divergent perspectives on the topic. From a theoretical perspective, contributions ranged from psychological approaches and sociotechnical imaginaries to performative politics. The working group examined energy issues at multiple scales: from the individual through to the local, regional, national and international. Empirically, the studies relied on a variety of materials, including surveys, interviews, news articles, academic articles and participation observation. For an overview of the working group’s papers, please see pages 44-50 of the NESS book of abstracts.

Despite such divergent theoretical, scalar and empirical starting points, we did see similarities in how energy issues were approached. First, energy was viewed as deeply entangled with societal processes and practices. Second, and related, most studies paid attention to issues around energy as material-semiotic, where it is undesirable to separate discursive developments from material processes of change. Finally, most cases were based on empirically rich material, reflecting the wide availability of energy issues to be studied.

With this brief summary we, the organizers, would like to thank all the participants of our working group and wish them well in proceeding with their work! We would also like to thank all the participants and especially the organizers of the hopefulNESS 2017 conference. We look forward to our next meet-up in Luleå in 2019!

Kamilla Karhunmaa & Karoliina Isoaho

Experimentation and Evidence – Symposium next week in Helsinki

8-9.6.2017 an “Experimentation and Evidence” -symposium is going to take place at The House of Science and Letters (Kirkkokatu 6) in Helsinki. It is organized by  The Finnish Society for Science and Technology and The Finnish Association for Medical Law and Ethics. The symposium aims at examining the ontological, epistemological and practical issues in the process of creating, validating, and revisioning knowledge.

On thursday 8th of June at 12:30 the keynotes are:

Professor Barbara Prainsack (King’s College London): Harder, better,       faster? Evidence in citizen science

Professor Ilpo Helén (University of Eastern Finland): Innovation and experimentality: Remarks on a configuration of science and politics

And on friday 8th of June at 12:15 the keynotes are:

Professor Michael Guggenheim (Goldsmiths, University of London): Making STS experimental: Evidencing the future of risk

Comment by Associate Professor Eeva Luhtakallio (University of Tampere)

Please see the full program at: http://www.fssts.fi/index.php?page=news-2

… And a Flower Blooms

Jurassic Park’ the blockbuster movie was one of the technically advanced movies of its time. The story is located in a theme park of dinosaurs long dead resurrected using latest biotechnological advancements. Scientists in this movie locate an amber from the Ice Age, which has a mosquito preserved in it; they extract the DNA of the mosquito and then combine it with frog’s genome to complete the genetic missing links. Thus, with such technology they resurrect dinosaurs ranging from Triceratops to Tyrannosaurs in the present times. [1]

Such ‘bringing back extinct to life’ celluloid fiction turned to reality when scientists in Russia brought back to life a pre-historic flower. While researching in the Siberian Tundra, near the Kolyma River, Russian scientists came across fossilized, squirrel burrows containing variety of seeds including those of the extinct ‘Campion’ plant, which last bloomed in the Pleistocene Age. The team cultivated a cell culture, created permafrost conditions and then implanted it in an artificial biome. The flower bloomed after 32000 years becoming the oldest tissue to live. [2]

Through science, humans have pierced the ‘unbroken’ veil of time. he above resurrection of the past would not have occurred in the absence of technology, for without technological resurrection the Campion plant would have disappeared in the layers of time. Resurrection was only possible because of technological intervention in the fabric of time. Today it is the flower, tomorrow it could be animals and beyond that, humans. If history can be intervened, is there a possibility of a future-story being intervened? The answer is in the assertive although some scientists are skeptical. The reason is that the main characteristic of technology is growth and the possibilities of growth are everywhere, in the present, the past and the future.

However, scientific experiments are not restricted to mere labs. Eventually, they have a spillover effect in the society. Thus, making us re-visualize, re-define the core structure on which the society stands.

 

Anuradha Nayak,

Doctoral Researcher, Faculty of Law, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi.

 

Notes:

[1] Janet Maslin, Screen stars with teeth to spare, (New York Times, June 11, 1993) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9F0CE1D71E3DF932A25755C0A965958260

[2] Sharon Levy, Wild flower blooms again after 30000 years on ice: Fruit hoarded by ancient ground squirrels give new life to prehistoric plants, (Nature, Feb 21 2012) http://www.nature.com/news/wild-flower-blooms-again-after-30-000-years-on-ice-1.10069

 

Debating energy policy at two levels

What makes good policy? How are current and future policy choices justified in political speech? These are some of the questions I have looked at in the context of debates on energy futures at two distinct levels of policy-making: in the national parliament of Finland and in the city council of Helsinki. I focused on recent debates from the years 2011-2015. What I found is an interesting tension, where the end-goal of a carbon-neutral future is the same for both the city council of Helsinki and the national parliament of Finland. However, the means proposed for achieving that future differ.

Parliamentary debates stress the importance of persistency and predictability in energy policy. For example, as a politician stated in the parliament in 2013: ”Regulation regarding energy production needs to be persistent and unambiguous, so that companies can calculate the profitability of their energy investments long enough into the future”. In contrast, a city councilor from Helsinki found it “very good decision-making that changes in the operational environment can be acted upon”. There is a difference between the two, where parliamentarians focus on creating predictability whereas city councilors highlight the importance of adapting to changing circumstances. How could the differences between the two levels be explained?

I suggest the proposed means are so unalike due to the actors’ conceptions of their own possible spaces of action. While the end-goal of carbon neutrality is the same, actors at distinct governance levels conceive the means they have for achieving that in quite a distinct manner. National level actors debate the general regulatory environment and the role of the state in ensuring regulatory stability. Uncertainty over the future is seen as something that can and should be controlled and minimized. Parliamentarians see the role of the state as facilitating favourable investment conditions in Finland, and decreasing the political risks associated with large-scale investments. To achieve such conditions, politicians demand anticipatory knowledge of the future and stabilizing energy policy based on that knowledge for longer periods.

City level actors, in contrast, make choices within national and regional regulatory environments, taking into consideration the technological, legislative and societal changes they see. Views of good policy stress adaptability, agility and the willingness to revisit past decisions. Uncertainty over the future is taken for granted, as something that both constrains making decisions over the future, but also enables responding to and taking up, for example, technological developments. This suggests that cities may be better equipped to incite changes in acting on climate change, as also others have recently argued. City actors are pursuing change through a variety of means, including international networks, such as C40 or the Covenant of Mayors, and more localized efforts. However, favouring adaptable policy in the short-term requires having a sense of direction in the long-term.

The analysis reveals the importance of looking at questions of scale and agency when debating energy policy. Long-term goals, such as carbon neutrality in 2050, will translate into different means, policies and practices at distinct governance levels.

Greetings from our Sosiologipäivät STS -working group (23-24.3.2017)

Around three months ago, we published a call for papers for the “Science, technology and society” working group that the STS Helsinki group organized at the Annual Conference of the Westermarck Society, more commonly known as Sosiologipäivät (Sociology Days in Finnish). We were happy to receive quite many abstracts, which resulted in two very fruitful and intense sessions with a total of 17 presentations taking place during the 23rd and 24th of March at the University of Tampere.

We divided our working group into five smaller thematic sessions.

Session 1: ANT and technology

Elina Paju, Minna Ruckenstein and Päivi Berg explored in their paper children’s physical activity as an issue of neoliberal government through the products of ReimaGo activity sensor for kids and the Pokemon GO game. Mervi Jalonen focused on the notion of experiment in an innovation-based society, discussing various examples of experiments aimed to facilitate sustainability transitions. Meanwhile Oskari Lappalainen presented ongoing work on the development of personal data economy through the social movement called MyData.

Session 2: Fertility and reproduction

Elina Helosvuori discussed her ethnographic study on infertility, deploying the notion of excess to grasp the personal experiences generated through IVF. Riikka Homanen turned the focus on transnational egg donation where enacting Nordicness, whiteness and kinness is at play. Lise Eriksson presented a paper on surrogacy and uterus transplantation from the point of view of medical knowledge production.

Session 3: Social research, impact and policy

Reetta Muhonen presented a project tracking research in social sciences and humanities with a practical side by following projects from different sites in Europe. Kamilla Karhunmaa talked about energy policy and different expectations in the field in the Finnish context. Juha-Pekka Lauronen discussed how social research’s impact in society is understood among policymakers, researchers and science administrators. Johanna Hokka introduced research on orthodox definitions of sociology among Finnish and Swedish professors.

Session 4: Knowledge production

Salla Sariola’s presentation discussed the governance of international clinical trials in India, showing how civil society activists managed to negotiate changes in the regulations guiding them. Minna Ruckenstein analysed breakages and gaps in data and the practices of repair involved in using such data for research. Annika Lonkila’s theme was the use and non-use of genomic knowledge on dairy farms, specifically the practices involved in the selection of animals for breeding. Anuradha Nayak presented the case of cryo-preserved life and the legal problems regarding the status and ownership of the preserved ‘material’.

Session 5: Genes and molecular life

Mianna Meskus, explored craftsmanship as a way to describe the use of cutting-edge biotechnology in the field of stem cell research. Secondly, Heta Tarkkala introduced her work on the Finnish biobanking scene, in which genetic uniqueness and difference appear as sources of value for the use of Finnish samples in international biological research. Finally, our last presentation had Venla Oikkonen present some ideas related to how genomes and DNA relate to temporality, belonging and nostalgia.

Finally, we were happy to see that so many scholars with such varied topics, but still many common interests, came together and shared ideas. Hopefully, this was only the first of many other encounters to come in which the STS community in Finland starts to take shape. We would like to especially thank all the presenters for their work and willingness to participate. See you all next year!

Join the the Finnish Reproductive Studies Network (FireSNet)

The Finnish Reproductive Studies Network (FireSNet) brings together scholars from fields of social and political sciences, humanities, law, health sciences and medicine exploring reproduction not merely as physical birth but more broadly as an agent of bodily, biological, viral, sexual and cultural transformation. The common commitment of the researchers in the network is to inquire into the historical and current complexities of reproductive practices and policies. This commitment on reproduction studies derivers from women’s health movements and a long scholarly interest in developing a toolkit to grasp sociotechnical webs that constitute reproductive practice. In short, studies on reproduction not only show how perceptions and practices of reproduction are multiple and contested, but also how questions of power relations, resources, skills, suffering, hope, meaning, and lives are always at stake.

The Finnish Reproductive Studies Network is founded on the need to establish a common discussion forum for scholars scattered in different higher education institutions in Finland, looking at reproduction from various perspectives. The purpose of the network is to support, develop and inspire different collaborative efforts in research and teaching. We will be arranging seminars with international speakers, workshops, and provide a platform for joint funding applications. The network will also distribute research publications authored by its members. The network also has an email list, FiReSNet@uta.fi.

The network invites scholars from all career stages exploring the following questions and more: How does reproduction matter in social life and society? How are our futures, origins, selves and kin organized by societal and institutional power relations? What are the changing conditions for reproductive freedom and justice, and for whom? How are gendered, racialized, sexed and classed human and non-human bodies, body parts and tissue reproduced, commodified, transported, governed and cared for in local and transnational spaces?

The network launch meeting with members from Finland is planned to take place November 17, 2017.

The network is organized by Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Riikka Homanen from the University of Tampere and Academy Research Fellow Dr. Mianna Meskus from the University of Helsinki.

If you would like to join the network and the email list, please contact Riikka Homanen, Riikka.Homanen@uta.fi or Mianna Meskus, Mianna.Meskus@helsinki.fi. Also please feel free to distribute this call for members in your own networks.

Research diving – or understanding one’s way of working in isolation

 

The Pomodoro technique.

Three hours of writing before checking your e-mail.

The procrastination notebook.

Social media blockers

These have become relatively common techniques to fight the lack of concentration in writing research. At the same time, many lunch conversations drift towards this topic in the hope of finding yet new ones. They usually work for a while, they fail, then we take up a new one. Once we run out of them, we go back to the one that worked for that very productive week. It is almost like remembering an old forgotten love. We go around them in cycles of productivity. It is common to blame the lack of productivity on everyday life annoyances, whether they are work related or not. The objective of those techniques is to build temporary walls between oneself and those disturbances. However, the collapse of those walls is generally one click away and it seems that, as soon as we become too familiar with them, we sort of stop respecting them too.

Procrastination notebook
The procrastination book: every time you remember something you need to do, write it down and do it after you are finished.

During January and February I had the chance to use a technique a bit more radical than those everyday life ones. I went to a two-month writing retreat at the Saari Residence, located in Mynämäki, one of the perks of being funded by Kone Foundation. I had wanted to do something like this since I started my PhD back in 2013 and I thought of it as an isolating experience, like building a huge spatial wall between me and the rest of the world. However, I suddenly realized that isolation was not exactly the word to describe it. As Internet lurks nowadays everywhere (and is even a basic tool for the process of writing), I found out that many of those annoyances were still present. It was rather a diving process: I managed to dive into my research and be surrounded by it from morning to evening. This does not mean that I worked 24/7 (is that even possible or sane) but that I would allow myself to write uninterruptedly when I was at my most productive moment. I realized the huge role that social commitments and responsibilities play in my writing and how many times I must leave the office at the end of working hours despite being at the best moment of the day. The retreat was useful in order to let those moments (of inspiration, of focus) come in in full force and embrace them until they are gone.

Surroundings of the Saari Residence
Surroundings of the Saari Residence

My isolation was not complete, I was surrounded by a great group of people in a similar state of mind, which helped share the experience and understand it. Company is important, for the sake of sanity. This sort of isolation worked for me in a very different way than other techniques. Instead of disciplining my time, I let time discipline my work. This is probably not doable as a long-term venture. Research outside a research community becomes a bit more futile in my opinion, and so everything I wrote did not fully make sense until I went back to civilization. However, I find that such retreats (even shorter ones) can be extremely helpful not only for the sake of productivity but also for the sake of understanding one’s work and connecting with one’s research through immersion.

Perhaps those walls are not so much about blocking annoyances out but about how much space we leave inside for us to work comfortably.