Helsinki STS seminar May 21st: Liina-Maija Quist

Welcome to the spring term’s final session of the STS Helsinki Seminar Series on Tuesday, May 21st 12.15-13.45!

Venue: 3rd floor seminar room, Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies (HCAS), Fabianinkatu 24

Liina-Maija Quist, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki
Undersea uncertainties: Ethnographic engagements with maritime worlds in Mexico (and the US)

Abstract
Sea(water) becomes known to humans in diverging ways depending on the senses, technologies, and time through which it is engaged. This talk discusses materiality in the study of politics of marine environments through analysis of embodied knowledge that fishers in Tabasco, Mexico employ in making claims about scientifically uncertain and contested consequences of marine oil exploration. I examine STS-inspired ethnography in creating understandings about the non-verbalized aspects of human-non-human relations and related knowledge. Drawing on theoretical ideas from de la Cadena and Ingold, the talk focuses on the fishers’ mobility at sea and related knowledge claims as ‘excess’, or beyond conventional political discourses, interrogating the multiple and contested meanings that fishers attach to their sea environment, fish and fishing in the context of increased oil extraction operations in Mexico. It illustrates the productivity of anthropologies inspired by STS in analyzing these embodied meanings that are difficult to articulate in words and even more so within a political frame that shapes marine spaces in terms of their contribution to economic progress. Lastly, I reflect upon similar approaches in my incipient work examining the ‘worlds’ of marine scientists based at the Scripps institute of Oceanography in California.

Liina Maija Quist is a post-doctoral researcher in Environmental Policy at the University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on the politics and science involved in governing marine environments in the Global South and North. Currently, she studies seafarers’ and marine scientists’ every day engagements with environmental, scientific and technological uncertainties. In her PhD thesis (2018), Quist examined ethnographically a marine-environmental conflict between fishers and oil companies in Tabasco, in the Mexican Gulf of Mexico.

Questionnaire for junior STS scholars in Finnish universities

Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies is looking for ways to support junior scholars working in Finnish universities in the field of STS. With this survey we want to map the current situation and get ideas for new, suitable, and needed activities. You can answer the survey in English, Finnish, or Swedish. The survey will be available until May 31st.
So let us know about your experiences as a junior STS scholar (doctoral researcher/dissertation defense within the last 5 years) and please circulate the survey in your networks!

 

Results from the survey will be published on the website of Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies.

 

 

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or need more information
Minna Saariketo
minna.saariketo at aalto.fi
+358404194447
Jaakko Taipale
jaakko.taipale at helsinki.fi
+358503185267

STS Helsinki Seminar April 26th: Nik Brown

Join us for the third session of the STS Helsinki Seminar Series on:

Friday, April 26th from 12.15-13.45

At: U35, Unioninkatu 35, seminar room 114. Note, we will be in a different location than usually!

Nik Brown, Professor of Sociology, University of York

Materialities of air care: a biopolitics of breath, buildings, bodies and bugs

This paper outlines an ‘aerography’ of respiratory life in the context of lung infection treatment by focussing conceptually and empirically on the embodiment and architectural materialisation of breath, breathing, air and atmosphere. It builds on an in-depth anthropology of three respiratory lung infection clinics treating patients with cystic fibrosis, a disorder characterised by life-long chronic respiratory infections, inflammation of the lungs. For most people with CF, breath and breathing are not to be taken for granted. Instead, respiration becomes an uncommon matter of conscious effort, determined resolve and atmospheric management. Here, the involuntary and implicit nature of breath is made explicit, surfacing above the taken-for-granted. To take an aerographic perspective is to attend more carefully to questions of air and atmosphere by challenging and reversing a sensorial hierarchy that privileges visibility, touch and solidity (Iragaray 1999). Any threat to breath and breathing is an ‘elemental’ source of abject dread and no more so than for the embodied lives of those for whom breath has become perilous (Williams 1989). Instead of an afterthought, an aerography asks ‘why not begin with air’ (Jackson and Fannin 2011), with the immaterially absent presence of the invisibly intangible? The question of air is, as Sloterdijk notes, a matter of sphereology, of being located and positioned ‘in’ some definite atmosphere or aerosphere. It prompts us to think about the nature of life enveloped ‘inside’ or encased in contrasting biospheres of relative exposure and protection, endangerment and safety (buildings, architectures, vehicles, rooms, households, neighbourhoods, air quality zones, worlds, hemispheres). Aerography prompts reflection on air’s movement, its ‘management’ or flow within ‘architectures of air currents’ (Wagenfeld 2008). In the context of infectious contagion, the air has become materially spatialised in physical sites of concern that call into question the biotic and ecological life of building design, layout and geometry (Kelley and Gilbert 2013). The biotic, and its capacity to select for resistance, newly refocuses attention on the mutually implicated microbiomes of buildings entangled with the microbiomes of bodies, respiratory tracts, nasal cavities, mucosal membranes, lungs, guts, hands and skin.

Nik Brown is professor in sociology at the University of York working across Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the Sociology of Health and Illness (SHI). He has several decades of research and scholarship experience working first on the regulation and governance of the biosciences. He has examined the political and moral economies of stem cell biobanks and umbilical cord blood banking. Nik’s most recent areas of interest include the biopolitics of infections and anti-microbial resistance (AMR). He has published widely on the biopolitics of immunity including a forthcoming monograph (‘Immunitary Life: The biopolitics of Immunity’, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018).

STS Helsinki Seminar March 18th

Join us for the second session of the STS Helsinki Seminar Series on:

Monday, March 18th from 12.15-13.45

At: 3rd floor seminar room, Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies (HCAS), Fabianinkatu 24

Andrea Butcher, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki

Tackling antimicrobial resistance in biosocially demanding settings: the challenge for low-income regions

Bioscientific research of antimicrobial resistance is increasingly focusing on the role of environments, specifically anthropogenically-created sites of environmental pollution, in AMR evolution and acceleration. Such emphasis invites examination of the socioeconomic and material agencies driving the creation of such sites. Drawing upon field research of urbanisation and food production dynamics in South Asia and West Africa, the paper will examine how AMR risks relate to the various demands placed upon human and non-human agents in an ecology of development practices that include economic growth, urban infrastructural development, food production techniques and healthcare facilities. It will consider how social science and STS approaches can be applied to AMR knowledge generation, in which antibiotic use is but one determinant.

Andrea Butcher is postdoctoral researcher in Sociology at Helsinki for the sociological component of AMRIWA (Antimicrobials in West Africa), a project producing knowledge of how AMR genes flow between people, animals and environments in West African regions. Andrea’s background is the anthropological study of the nexus of development, environment and religion in the Indian Himalaya. Since 2017, she has been engaged in the social study of microbes, initially examining socioeconomic drivers for potential antibiotic use in Bangladesh’s aquaculture sector.  Her previous research at the University of Exeter examined antibiotic use and AMR flows in Bangladesh’s shrimp and prawn export aquaculture. She is a member of the Helsinki-based research group Cultures of Cultures: Antimicrobial Resistance in Global Contexts.

CFP: Materiality, Science, and Technology – Reflections on Time

Call for papers for a panel at the “On Time: Biennial Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society 2019”:

Materiality, science, and technology – reflections on time

Temporalities, temporal orientations and time are inseparable, but often underanalysed, part of the study of materiality and matter. During the anthropocene, human impact over time on matter is undeniable, and yet but one example of the ways in which politics, ethics and matter intersect. The panel focuses on materiality, the liveliness of matter, that cannot be understood without the effects of time: how connections, infrastructures, or timescapes are shifting, and being shifted in science and technology. In the study of materiality, the knowledge that is produced about the time/matter nexus, and ‘how we know what we know’ is often the focal point of inquiries, which opens up intriguing possibilities for what we want to address and discuss in this panel. Recent discussions have addressed expectations, anticipations, future imaginaries, potentiality and temporalities; how these notions relate to the materialities encountered and engaged within our fieldworks will be discussed in this panel. We encourage presentations paying attention to materialities and temporalities, cycles as well as futures and pasts, in knowledge making practices, and the time and materiality that present themselves in the knowledge making we ourselves do as ethnographers. We welcome papers that present and discuss either empirical cases of material vitality (for example, but not limited to, changing views of microbes, decaying research infrastructures, politics around stem cells, loops in archeogenetic knowledge, paradigm shifts in knowledge etc) or reflect methodologically or theoretically the topic and scope of this panel.

Panel conveners:
Salla Sariola, University of Helsinki. salla.sariola[a]helsinki.fi
Heta Tarkkala, University of Helsinki. heta.tarkkala[a]helsinki.fi

The proposals should comprise abstracts of 250–300 words and be submitted directly to the panel convenors. Please include your university affiliation and contact information when submitting the proposal.

Deadline for paper proposals: April 1st, 2019. Acceptance notifications will be sent by April 15th, 2019.

The website for “On Time: Biennial Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society 2019” can be found at:

http://www.antropologinenseura.fi/en/events/anthropology-conference-2019/

And the full call for papers at:

http://www.antropologinenseura.fi/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Call-for-papers.pdf

The Finnish Anthropological Society Conference is organised in co-operation with the discipline of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Literature Society. The keynote speaker of the conference is Ghassan Hage, and the 2019 Edvard Westermarck memorial lecture will be given by Laura Bear on the eve of the conference (August 28). General inquiries regarding the conference can be addressed to timeFAS2019@gmail.com.

 

Launch of new STS Helsinki Seminar Series

Welcome to the new STS Helsinki Seminar Series!

The STS Helsinki Seminar Series is a newly founded seminar series by the STS Helsinki research collective. Our aim is to create a space for in-depth conversations about current research in Science and Technology Studies (STS). The topics cover a wide range of contemporary issues, such as climate change, the role of experts, medicine, genetics, gender, robotics or organic food. The seminars function as a platform for strengthening the STS community in Finland and bringing STS to new audiences. All scholars, students and audiences interested in the interaction between science, society and technology are welcome!

Seminar programme/Spring 2019

Venue: 4th floor seminar room, Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies (HCAS), Fabianinkatu 24 (except for April 26th)

 

27 February, 12.15-13.45

Helena Valve, senior researcher, Finnish Environment Institute

Analysing policy processes and power with STS

 

18 March, 12.15-13.45             

Andrea Butcher, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki

The challenge of tackling antimicrobial resistance in biosocially demanding settings: the case of protein production in South Asia

 

26 April, 12.15-13.45

Nik Brown, Professor of Sociology, York University

TBA

 

20 May, 12.15-13.45

Liina-Maija Quist, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki

Epistemic practices of marine scientists examining climate change

 

Abstract for 27 February

Analysing policy processes and power with STS

Scientific experiments and the role of experimentation in the generation of scientific evidence are classic themes within science and technology studies (STS). Research in the field has created understandings of the performative, yet contested role of test designs.  Drawing from studies focusing on Baltic Sea protection, I propose that STS insights have much to offer for the analysis of governance. Power ceases to be just a property that can be used to explain policy outcomes. Moreover, the contested capacities evolve not only within, but also along the material (re)arrangements that indicate what is at issue and for whom.

Dr. Helena Valve works as a Senior Researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute. Her research focuses on the politics and performance of environmental policy and natural resource management. The studies make use of the insights provided by science and technology studies (STS), and aim to contribute to the development of methodologies that acknowledge the role of materialities and material arrangements for the practicing of governance and regulation.

 

For more information, please contact Kamilla Karhunmaa (kamilla.karhunmaa at helsinki.fi) or Karoliina Snell (karoliina.snell at helsinki.fi)

Call for papers: “Science, technology and society” – working group at the Annual conference of the Westermarck Society, 2019

Our yearly working group at the Annual conference of the Westermarck Society (AKA Sosiologipäivät) is back. In 2019, the conference will be held under the theme “Various Faces of Inequalities” at the University of Turku, on 15-16.3.2018. The keynote speakers are: Göran Therborn (University of Cambridge), Melinda Mills (University of Oxford & Nuffield College), Giselinde Kuipers (University of Amsterdam), and Minna van Gerven (University of Twente). Find the abstract and the contact of the coordinators below. Abstract proposals should be sent to the coordinators by the 31st of January, 2019.

9. 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.

Coordinators:

Aaro Tupasela, University of Helsinki. Email: aaro.tupasela (at) helsinki.fi

Mikko Jauho, University of Helsinki. Email: mikko.jauho (at) helsinki.fi

Tracing affect in vaccine debates

by Venla Oikkonen, Academy Research Fellow (University of Tampere)

In the decades following World War II, vaccines were widely considered a routine method of preventing illness. Childhood vaccinations appeared to have eradicated infectious diseases that had killed and harmed children during the previous decades. However, since the late 1990s, arguments challenging vaccines have gained considerable media presence in many wealthy and technologically advanced societies. While vaccine skeptics and critics have always existed, British doctor Andrew Wakefield’s claims about a connection between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism placed the safety and rationale of childhood immunization programs in the public spotlight with a new intensity. Although Wakefield’s claims have been discredited, the idea of the MMR vaccine – and by association other childhood vaccines – as potentially harmful lives on in cultural debates. Recent epidemics of presumably defeated diseases such as measles, mumps and pertussis (whooping cough) in Europe and North America attest to the critically low vaccination rates in many places in the global north.

A number of social scientists have addressed vaccine hesitancy and refusal. For example, Samantha D. Gottlieb (2016) and Jennifer A. Reich (2016) have recently published nuanced ethnographic analyses of the complexities and ambiguities involved in how parents make decisions about vaccines. In Finland, Johanna Nurmi and Pia Vuolanto are currently leading a project titled Health, Knowledge and Expertise which examines the rationales of vaccine skepticism and complementary and alternative medicine. These projects shed important new light on how individuals make decisions about vaccinations within the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they live.

I have just begun a five-year Academy Research Fellow’s project that approaches recent and ongoing vaccine debates from the viewpoint of cultural studies of science. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland and located in Gender Studies at the University of Tampere. Titled Affect and Biotechnological Change: Three Vaccine Debates in Europe, the project positions vaccine skepticism and acceptance within the larger patterns of biotechnological change. It asks how cultural emotions (“affect” in the project title) structure how biotechnologies such as vaccines become contested, rejected or accepted. Instead of focusing on individuals’ experiences or decisions, the project traces how public debates about vaccines invoke and move emotions in culture and society.

The project approaches vaccines as an intersectional phenomenon, that is, as a phenomenon that takes shape through mutually entangled categories of difference such as gender, sexuality, class, age, and ethnicity. For example, immunization programs often assume that some demographic groups (based, for example, on gender, sexuality, age, or immigration history) are in a particularly high risk of contracting or spreading an infectious disease. The project traces the affective underpinnings of this logic across cultural texts. It approaches vaccines as technologies through which boundaries between nations, continents and communities, or between “risky” and “healthy” groups, are drawn and negotiated. Inspired by feminist science and technology studies, the project conceptualizes vaccines as bodily technologies that involve material processes such as the manipulation of inactivated or attenuated viruses, immunological responses triggered by the vaccine, as well as points of contact and possible contagion between bodies perceived as gendered or racialized.

The project centers on three case studies, which each sheds light on different aspects of affect, intersecting differences and biotechnological change. The case studies approach vaccines through analysis of public and popular texts, ranging from bioscientific articles, institutional reports and vaccination policies to media coverage of vaccines, popular blogs and online discussion forums.

I am currently working on the first case study, which focuses on the link between the 2009 H1N1 (“swine flu”) vaccine Pandemrix and the appearance of narcolepsy among vaccinated children and adolescents in several European countries. I place the case within the larger phenomenon of pandemic preparedness, as well as view it as an event that has shaped public attitudes towards national childhood immunization programs. I explore how cultural emotions surrounding a specific vaccine may change quite dramatically within a few months, and, at the same time, how the 2009 H1N1 virus strain became nevertheless routinized as part of the seasonal influenza vaccine during the following influenza seasons. I ask how culturally circulating emotions around the 2009 H1N1 vaccine emerged through discourses of childhood, disability, and ethnic difference – especially the assumed Mexican origins of the pandemic, and the initial framing of vaccine-associated narcolepsy as a “Nordic” condition.

The second case study focuses on the debates about the potential inclusion of boys into national HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination programs in Europe – currently most European HPV immunization programs cover only girls. The study asks why HPV has been slow to emerge as a vaccine for boys in Europe despite the current licensing of HPV vaccines for use in all genders to protect against a range of conditions including cervical cancer, anal cancer and genital warts. I trace how the debated inclusion of boys in vaccination programs emerges in relation to assumptions of masculinities, queer sexualities, and gendered sexual practices. This focus sheds new light on the role of gendered and heteronormative assumptions about agency and “risky” behavior in cultural responses to a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection.

My third case study approaches debates about mandatory MMR vaccinations following a number of local measles epidemics across Europe. The study focuses on how ongoing debates about MMR mobilize discourses of immigration and travel within and into Europe. I am particularly interested in how the MMR vaccine has re-emerged as an object of political debate in relation to the movement of people within the EU, on the one hand, and the rise of right-wing anti-immigration populism, on the other. Focusing on debates about measles, travel and migration, I ask how an already affectively charged technology becomes entangled with new cultural emotions that may contradict the earlier ones, and how responsibility and risk become reconfigured as racialized and nationalist issues.

I hope the project may help us understand why vaccines raise particular emotional responses on a collective cultural level. By focusing on issues such as embodiment, agency and diversity, the project provides a useful addition to the public health and economic framework within which vaccination programs are usually envisioned and designed. By theorizing ideas of “risk” and “responsibility” as intersectional issues, the project also highlights the importance of developing nuanced and ethically accountable vaccination campaigns and communication.

You can read more about Venla’s research here: https://research.uta.fi/oikkonen/

 

References:

Samantha D. Gottlieb (2016) Vaccine resistances reconsidered: Vaccine skeptics and the Jenny McCarthy effect. Biosocieties 11(2): 152–174.

Jennifer A. Reich (2016) Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines. NYU Press.

4 year doctoral student position in thematic area “food health and well-being” at CCSR, University of Helsinki

Position for a doctoral student at the CCSR, University of Helsinki

The Centre for Consumer Society Research (CCSR) is a research institute located in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki. It studies consumption and the consumer society from consumer perspective.

CCSR is offering a four year position for a doctoral student. The position is located in the thematic area ‘Food, health and wellbeing’. Your dissertation focuses on the interface of consumption and health. In contemporary industrialized societies health has become an object of consumption and source of profit, and citizens are expected to take responsibility of their health as consumers. This is evident on the one hand in the organization of health services, where marketization, public/private partnerships, and freedom of choice are current buzzwords. Moreover, consumerist strategies, e.g., techniques from marketing and advertising, are prevalent in illness prevention and health promotion. On the other hand, everyday personal health management has become intensely commercialized. Lifestyle choices such as eating and exercising are today considered key to individual health and well-being. These choices are made on the market by health consumers. Moreover, the health effects of new practices and domains of life are being calculated and inserted into economic circuits. Together these developments create consumption needs and market demand and make health a sales argument and marketing vehicle for both private and public actors. Your research will address how the quest for health and well-being intersects with market creation and profit seeking on an empirically circumscribed arena.

Possible topics and research questions include but are not limited to:

 

*Through what kind of metrics and processes are new domains of life made health-relevant and/or ‘economized’?

*How do practices of health consumption unfold in different domains of life?

*How are health and well-being incorporated into development, marketing and selling of various products and services?

*How has health policy adopted market-based strategies to guide health consumption and behavior?

 

The final research topic will be defined in discussion with your supervisor at CCSR (see below).

Your background is preferably in social sciences. You have good communication skills in Finnish and English, both oral and written. At CCSR you are expected to develop your own and our common research agenda, and contribute to collective academic tasks such as teaching and seminars.

The deadline for the application is 27.9.2018. Attached to the application should be (1) a CV, including research competences and experience; (2) a tentative research plan, or alternatively, a short outline of possible research themes, including how the proposed topic fits to the profile of CCSR, the thematic area, and the call (max 3 pages); and (3) contact information of one referee. You are expected to apply for the right to conduct doctoral studies at the University of Helsinki in the relevant discipline (see https://www.helsinki.fi/en/research/doctoral-education/the-application-process-in-a-nutshell).

More info on CCSR: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/researchgroups/consumer-society-research-centre. For questions contact Adjunct Professor Mikko Jauho, tel. +358 50 5744869, email. mikko.jauho@helsinki.fi.

Adventures into interdisciplinary research: the strategy of a respectful tourist

Interdisciplinary research saves the world

by Vera Raivola

“Scientists must work together to save the world” a Nature news feature sums up high expectations towards interdisciplinary research. The argument goes, that questions about e.g. health, food, water, climate, are so complex that we need researchers across the spectrum of scientific disciplines to join their forces. Only then can we tackle these so called grand challenges.

Such high expectations seem to be a defining feature of interdisciplinary research (IDR). According to a report from The National Academies, IDR: “…can be one of the most productive and inspiring human pursuits – one that provides a format and connections that lead to new knowledge”.

Also research funding bodies, like the EU commission, take the message about the benefits of IDR seriously. Programmes such as the Horizon2020  fund research that crosses the disciplinary boundaries.  For Academy of Finland,  advancing interdisciplinary research is a science policy objective. Academy’s Strategic funding can only be applied by projects that have three different scientific disciplines represented.

However, despite all this top-down push to deliver successful IDR, crossing disciplinary boundaries does not seem easy for researches. For example, social scientists have often been disenchanted by working in interdisciplinary projects. They felt being partners, but found to be offered a service role.

As a sociologist working in an interdisciplinary PhD project, how to deal with the challenges and promises of IDR is a very pragmatic question. I am interested to know what makes interdisciplinary collaboration something that has added value for researchers participating in it. This made me wonder, are there rules and roles for successful IDR?

Disciplines organise scientific knowledge production and create cultures

First, to find rules for collaboration that happens inter – in between- we need to ask where this place is.

Scientific research is organised by disciplines that form “bodies of specialized knowledge” as The National Academies report describes them. Disciplines are formed by researchers who work together to produce knowledge on their specific scientific object of interest e.g. psychological or biological phenomena. Each of these scientific communities also holds the traditions on how this work should be done, a stock of research methods.

Disciplines have the responsibility to educate and certificate new researchers. Students learn not only the specialized knowledge and methods of their own discipline, but also how to qualify as members of this group.

During research careers, the discipline holds the power to review the value of research, which means it controls the social and personal rewards attached to it. The ownership to the means and ends of legitimate scientific knowledge is what makes disciplines so powerful.

Exploring the interdisciplinary as a respectful tourist

So disciplines are research communities with their own historical belief systems and practises or “epistemic cultures” as Knorr Cetina described them in 1998. Thinking disciplines as cultures, we can see how they provide to people belonging to them with resources, norms, concepts, values and self-identities.

Interdisciplinary collaboration then takes place in somewhere between these familiar spaces provided by disciplinary cultures. I suggest that by entering this space of IDR where we are faced with new cultures as researchers we can apply the role of a respectful scientific tourists.

With the analogy I hope to emphasise the positive risk of adventuring into the unfamiliar and learning about new cultures. It is not that some researchers can remain fixed in their well-trodden territory, but IDR collaboration takes in turns all participants into strange fields.

Like all touristic explorations, interdisciplinary research is expected to take us out of the comfort zone without going too far away. Like tourists, researchers come with different personal limits after which interesting adventurers becomes a panic zone. What fuels the travel is curiosity, not forcing or being converted.

The place for a scientific tourists to aim is the learning zone as Rebecca Freeth argued on her fascinating Tampere STS Symposium presentation At the edge: Practices to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration” on 15 June, 2018. This is a place to observe the new culture, adjust, compare and pass ideas without fear of losing one’s disciplinary identity.

 The benefits of anthropological mindset

Adopting the viewpoint of a respectful tourist also reminds that IDR is about interaction between different cultures aiming into an innovative dialogue. Because of differences in languages, beliefs and habits, misunderstandings are part of this interactive process.

Negotiating with differences will take energy. As a tourist one lacks relevant competencies to that cultural context. This can make one feel stupid, perhaps lonely, as anyone who has tried to manage life away from home knows. The outsider position challenges the sense of “knowing” and mastery, both likely to feel important to researchers in their normal disciplinary practises.

Intellectually, perceiving myself as a scientific tourist has made it easier to accept my own ignorance on other research disciplines. I have also found my own background in interpretative sociological tradition and in the STS to be useful.

I can assume a role of an anthropologist and focus on the social processes that construct different kinds of epistemic cultures. Being in this role provides me with an analytical distance where it is easier to compare different ways of thinking about science.

Having been educated to think about scientific knowledge as a social construct gives certain flexibility to cross the cultural boundaries. I have learned to take a deep breath before diving into the Natural Science’s jungle of terminology. Instead of trying to understand everything, I focus on following the narrative about a discovery.

Following the storyline and lead characters leads to the treasure; a new technology, a theory or a finding that makes my colleagues from biomedicine excited. This enthusiasm about creating a great story about a discovery is something all researchers share.

Tackling cultural biases

The example of a touristic viewpoint also reveals the potential power conflict in cultural encounters. Tourism has its uncivilized side. Sometimes tourists go purposefully to “arse around” because they see “away” as an opportunity to evade normal moral and social repercussion.

But often we tourists just are lazy and lack reflexivity. Learning gets replaced with colonializing interests; by being/knowing better than “locals” or decidedly exploiting the context to meet our own (superficial) needs. While usually unintended, this is something that I think happens quite often with us scientific tourists, too. For example, I feel to have undermined the craftsmanship and creativity required for designing laboratory experiments.

In scientific life, like in any other section of social reality, combining cultural differences with power differences can feed into negative stereotyping on “us” and “them”. For example, the existing hierarchy between the so-called hard and soft disciplines can invite such thinking.

I often have used these stereotypes, which can seem only neutral and pragmatic. Now I have started to think it unnecessarily contradicts compatible styles of scientific knowledge production. It explicates a hierarchy that undermines the value of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH).

I have experienced how such labelling can make us who represent SSH communities defensive and shun from otherwise beneficial dialogue with the Natural Sciences. The cost of using these musty terms seem higher than its benefits, so perhaps it would be time to move on.

Rules of respectful interdisciplinary collaboration

These examples show what I think is the most important rule for IDR: respect. As with people from different cultures we scientific tourists should respect that other researchers know their disciplines. They have lived experience and expertise in form of knowledge and skills that we tourists only wish to learn about.

Making respect as the rule of conduct for IDR does not mean taking other disciplines’ knowledge for granted or as sacred. This is against the principle of science that reminds everyone to stay humble towards the fallibility of knowing. Critical thinking and good questions are important tools for all in the learning zone.

So how to put the rule in to practise? Listening and trying to understand each other’s points might be a good start. If every IDR participant has on their turn first an opportunity to tell what they expect from the collaboration and think to bring to the common table, then others can learn to make better questions and suggestions. For me it has been very useful indeed, if sometimes difficult, to hear how these “others” view my research topics and findings.

Sometimes it has been difficult to discuss about research methods with researchers who represent quite different disciplinary traditions.  Constructive and respective criticism is still welcomed, but I feel that criticising might not always be the best starting point for a discussion about such specialized practises. It would be almost like a Swede saying to a Finn that s/he do not know how to use the sauna.

Heading towards great IDR adventures

I have suggested that those who take part in interdisciplinary research collaboration can assume the strategic role of a respectful scientific tourist. This might help to conceive what is special in adventuring into different research fields and epistemic cultures, while holding one’s disciplinary identity.

I find it useful to remember that despite the context, the experience of being a tourist is that of curiosity and clumsiness. Like a tourist in a foreign country, scientific tourists are likely to share an enduring interest in what for “the locals” seem strange relics and may be missing out important cultural nuances. Yet, the treasure hunt of new discoveries, nerdy humour and the pains of academic life can unite interdisciplinary adventurers.

Respecting and trying to understand each other because of cultural differences is the key in successful interdisciplinary collaboration. To make IDR a lucrative option to researchers requires good resources and institutional solutions. For those in their journey to the in-between, I wish compassion, patience and clear signposts.

 

Vera Raivola is a doctoral student and works as a junior researcher at the University of Eastern Finland. Her PhD project at the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service studies blood donors’ views on donating blood for patients and for biobank research use. You can find her on Twitter, ResearchGate and Linkedin.