Please click below to see the poster of 2016 - 2017 STS Seminar Series
Michael Wintroub (Berkeley)
The Balance of Trust: Hostages, Stars, Bonnets and Beads
How does one credit someone or something as reliable and trustworthy? By what measure can honesty be adjudicated and dishonesty punished? How can one confidently approach strangers who could not be vouchsafed by any accepted criteria of reliability and trustworthiness? What was the measure of trust and how might it be maintained? The 1529 Voyage of Jean Parmentier from Northern France to Sumatra will guide us as we pursue the practices, skills, and improvisations that constituted the precarious balance between trust and betrayal, profit and loss, life and death. By following the trajectory of Parmentier’s ships as they crossed perilous waters to meet and trade with unknown peoples on the other side of the world, we will encounter and try to understand the strategies he employed to negotiate trust, whether between officers and crew, ships and seas, or French merchants and Sumatrans.
Alessandro Delfanti (University of Toronto)
Scholarship as a financial market of ideas
In studies of scientific communication, peer-reviewed articles and citations have traditionally been referred to through an economic lexicon. In this tradition, citations are said to be the “currency” that researchers “exchange” in order to maintain their role within their social group while somewhat adding value to a colleague’s work. Science, has been said, is a “marketplace of ideas.” This approach is reflected in the neoliberal university’s obsession with numerical metrics, such as journal rankings and citation counts. Yet these stiff forms of measurement of research performance are being superseded by the emergence of digital platforms for scholarly communication. Services such as academia.edu, arXiv.org or SSRN are quickly becoming the spaces where scholars are evaluated as legitimate and productive members of their communities. These services provide new and individualized forms of metrics and ranking, such as download counts, social media sharing, popularity, or network reach. In order to function within this system, scholars need to master its algorithmic logics, as well as adapt to the temporalities and authoriality practices as structured by the platform. The “marketplace of ideas” of scholarly communication is being transformed into a “financial market of ideas” in which the value of a researcher is the result of promises of publication, continuous microevaluations, adherence to accelerated temporalities, personal brand construction, and gamification.
BIO: Alessandro Delfanti is Assistant Professor of Culture and New Media at the U of T, with appointments at the Institute for Communication, Culture, Information & Technology (ICCIT) at UTM and the faculty of Information in the St. George campus. Before moving to Toronto he worked at McGill and the University of California Davis. He holds a PhD in Science and Society from the University of Milan. Alessandro is the author of the book "Biohackers. The Politics of Open Science", and his research revolves around the political economy of science and in particular the role of openness in contemporary scientific research and beyond.
Ben Mitchell (York - STS)
Ambivalence, Psychiatric Care, and Public History at the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre
In 1979, under the government of Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Bill Davis the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in South Etobicoke closed its doors after almost a hundred years of continuous operation. The rational given for the closure was that it would open up funds for more humane community centred care. This was part of a larger process of deinstitutionalization that became widespread across Canada in the 70s and 80s. However, the Lakeshore Hospital was already considered to be an effective example of just this sort of care, and the promised funds that officials said were going to be returned to the community were never forthcoming. It is another example of how the legacy of deinstitutionalization was one of growing homelessness and the fragmentation of services provided to some of Canada’s most vulnerable communities.
The hospital’s closure did not go unopposed and was protested by patients and staff. In the early 2000s community groups such as Among Friends petitioned the government to maintain the hospital’s cemetery, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, and pushed for the establishment of an interpretive centre associated with Humber College that would not only preserve and promote the history of the hospital grounds, but would also use its history to advocate for issues relevant to mental health, indigenous communities, the environment, as well as education. This combined mandate of public engagement and advocacy and historical scholarship makes the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre a hybrid space, not quite a museum, not quite an advocacy group, but a hub of interests that reflect the living history of psychiatry in Ontario.
BIO: Ben Mitchell received his MA from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto and his PhD from York University’s Science and Technology Studies Programme. He also holds a diploma in German and European Studies. His paper “Capturing the Will” focused on Alfred Russel Wallace’s defence of spirit photography and his dissertation “Dancing in Chains” studied the history of Friedrich Nietzsche’s physiological relativism. Along with fellow York grad Jennifer Bazar he is a curator at the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, which will have its grand opening this January.
Isaac Record (Michigan State)
Makes you think: A critical look at making as a methodology in the humanities
I reflect on the ongoing preoccupation for making in the humanities (in which I take part). How differently must we discipline ourselves to take part in material investigations? What epistemic commitments do we make? Do we take on new responsibilities as scholars? Must we now transcend interactional expertise in the technical fields we cover and become, albeit playfully, practitioners? And finally, what is actually novel and productive about this new mode of research, if anything?
Zbigniew Stachniak (York - Eng’r/CSE)
Annals of Digital Archaeology
In 1973, a Toronto-based electronics company Micro Computer Machines (MCM) announced the world's first microprocessor-powered personal computer -- the MCM/70. Because MCM was the earliest company to commercially offer a versatile computer for personal use, it was among the first firms to wrestle with the issue of defining personal computing and of determining the degree to which software was to be a part of such a concept in relation to hardware, ownership, and accessibility factors.
Until recently, it was difficult to assess the MCM's standpoint on software in relation to the personal computing paradigm because almost no original MCM software seemed to survive. However, it all has changed with a recent donation of more than thirty magnetic tapes with original MCM software to York University Computer Museum. If successful, extracting and interpreting the software could reveal much about pre-industrial period in the history of PC software and could shed some light on the early stages of PC users' conceptualization.
Reading the tapes using one of the very few MCM/70 computers that have survived and are now in computer museums and private collections scattered around the world was not an option. Age-related physical deterioration of electronic components used in vintage hardware would make the use of the surviving MCM computers for data recovery risky. Therefore, York University Computer Museum decided to rebuild enough of the original MCM/70 hardware to be able to read and archive the tapes. Despite the lack of technical documentation on the MCM/70's unique and complex design, the process of reading and archiving the tapes was successful and that moved the project to the digital archaeology stage: to digging through bits and interpreting the bytes to derive information in human readable form. As was the case with deciphering the cuneiform writing found on Sumerian clay tablets, breaking the MCM tape storage code resulted in the recovery of truly remarkable information.
In this talk, I will briefly discuss the MCM software recovery project at York University Computer Museum and focus on the impact of the recovered information on our understanding of the process by which personal computing paradigm was being shaped in the 1970s.
Julia Gruson-Wood (York - STS)
Autism and Expert Discourse: A Critical Examination of Applied Behavioural Therapies
Applied behavioural therapies are the standards of care for autism services in Ontario, and increasingly internationally, yet they are highly controversial methods within autism communities. Proponents and critics have written extensively about applied behavioural therapies but not the therapists themselves. Excluding this population misses an important opportunity to analyze the complexity of autism governance and the rise of a lay-clinical expert autism field. In this presentation I share my ethnographic research, which analyzes the intensive work behavioural therapists do, how they are trained to do it, and the ethical framework they tend to adopt when learning to apply these methods to autistic people.
Zoe Todd (Carleton)
Métis legal orders, kinship and love in the Lake Winnipeg watershed in the time of the Sixth Mass Extinction
My talk will engage the question of Métis legal orders and fish in the North Saskatchewan/Lake Winnipeg watershed in the past present and future. I will examine what Métis legal orders and human-fish relations have to offer to both local conversations about environmental crises, such as the Husky oil spill in the North Saskatchewan on July 20, 2016 while also examining framings offered to us by scientists working in the paradigms of the Anthropocene, Sixth Mass Extinction event and climate change.
Jenna Healey (York - History)
The Clock is Ticking: Time, Technology, and Reproduction in Modern America
It was in 1978 that Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen first coined the expression “biological clock” to describe the dilemma of declining fertility with age. From the beginning, the biological clock was an inherently gendered metaphor, a symbol of biological difference that revealed the limits of female, but not male, reproductive biology. In the years since its first appearance, the clock was become ubiquitous, cropping up everywhere from movies to memoirs, comedy to high-concept art. But from where did idea of the biological clock come, and why does it matter for ongoing debates about fertility, technology, and gender equality in the modern America? In this talk I will outline the history of the clock concept, and how it came to be so closely associated with the decline of female fertility. I will also argue that the widespread dissemination of the metaphor has had important and long-lasting consequences for the way we think about reproduction. In particular, the mechanical nature of the biological clock metaphor has framed the decline of female fertility as a technical problem waiting to be solved. In turn, this emphasis on technological solutions has foreclosed alternative conversations about the way in which the punishing pace of modern capitalism makes family formation difficult at any age. To this end, I will explore the history of at-home ovulation testing as just one example of a commercial technology that has reshaped modern concepts of reproductive temporality.
Nathan Rambukkana (Laurier)
Hashtags as Technosocial Events
In forme et matière (1964), Gilbert Simondon discusses how matter—all matter—takes form. It is neither the essential qualities of the underlying matter, nor the shaping qualities of an applied form that dictate the final shape and nature of any material thing. He uses the metaphor of the formation of a brick to illustrate this profound but simple point: neither the mix of components alone, nor the brick mould alone, are sufficient to produce a brick; la prise de forme of a brick requires both of these and moreover a specific process—an event—to work these elements together into their ultimate shape.
According to Massumi, Simondon's writing on form and matter can be usefully mobilized to think through how discourse forms and circulates. Rather than a simplistic reading that would see discourse as a mimetic reflection of human culture, or a deterministic one that would see it as a top-down shaper of culture, Massumi's mobilization posits discourse as technosocial event, shaping and shaped, forme et matière. It is the complex singularity that gains substance through its ongoing becoming, it is both medium and message.
Drawing on provocations from Simondon, Latour, Massumi, McLuhan, and others, and anchored in examples from the collection Hashtag Publics (Rambukkana, 2015), this talk explores the hashtag as a similar technosocial event; both text and metatext, tag and subject matter, hashtag-mediated discursive assemblages are neither simply the reflection of pre-existing discourse formations nor do they create them out of digital aether. Rather, they are nodes in the becoming of distributed discussions in which their very materiality as performative utterances (Bruns, 2015) is deeply implicated. Hashtags are mobilized in discourse that recognizes itself as such, a crossroads between form and matter, medium and message entangled.
Fredrik Jonsson (Chicago)
Inventing the Holocene: climate, deep time and civilization
In the new science and politics of the Anthropocene, the relative stability of the Holocene environment plays a central role as the "environmental envelope" in which "civilization" became possible. The aim of "planetary stewardship" is to maintain the earth system in a "Holocene-like" state. This talk investigates the historical relation between geology and the discourse on civilization from the early Victorian era to the Great War.