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Materiality and Specificity in STS

Date: 18 March 2009 Time: 9.30 - 17.00

Venue: Meeting Room 4, Conference Centre, Bowland College

We are pleased to announce a day workshop on 'Materiality and Specificity in STS'. The workshop will explore problems arising from STS empirical work. For the latest information see the event website.

The Workshop

STS likes to work on specificities, material, and social, on how matters get done, and how heterogeneous practices performatively assemble realities. This attention to specificity throws up problems, empirical and theoretical:

ˇ Seeing Specificity: We have to overcome the self-evidence of practice: to find ways of seeing and attending to what may otherwise seem mundane. We often need to put common-sense accounts of practices to one side. But how? Is there an aesthetic here to do with beauty? To be able to relate to/deal with the specific, do we need to see the entities involved as interesting, and beautiful?

ˇ An Aesthetics of Scale: Then we face the question: what is small? Does attention to specificity produce the sense of smallness (as opposed to thinking in big, generally relevant stories)? What's the difference between studies of specific cases and cases used as examples/illustrations? What's the difference (if any) between anthropological and STS understandings of specificity?

ˇ Narrating Specificity: We also have to find ways through specificities and materials to narrate these by discovering or imputing patterns. Writing specificity requires us to slow down, and attend to details. This is when the boring becomes fascinating, the small becomes beautiful. But this raises empirical questions: How much (specificity) is enough? How to make lots from little? And how to make little from lots?

ˇ Making a Difference: If we narrate, then our stories are performative. What kinds of links do we make (up) when writing our stories? How do we make our stories transportable to other STS stories or disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. One issue is that our stories of specificity don't readily map onto 'big theory' stories. Does this matter? And again if our stories are performative, what do we want them to do? What kinds of differences would we like to make?

All of which is difficult! And this is the rationale for this workshop. If we didn't know better, we would say that this is about sharing 'best practice' - but STS tells us that there is no 'best practice'.

We'll have introductions by four speakers: Nick Bingham, Steve Hinchliffe, John Law, Ingunn Moser, and Vicky Singleton. But, and especially, we'll organise workshop sessions where smaller groups will work on specific materials on the four issues outlined above. Then we'll have a plenary and a panel. But the core of the day is hands-on, the practical sharing of (not best) practice.


The Programme

(note that this is provisional)

9.30 Introductions

9.45 Nick Bingham, Ingunn Moser, and Steve Hinchliffe

11.15 Tea and Coffee

11.30 Group work: workshop

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Group work: plenary reporting

15.00 Tea and Coffee

15.00 Vicky Singleton, John Law

16.00 Panel

17.00 Close

Event website:


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: John Law, Laura Watts

Organising departments and research centres: Centre for Science Studies, Sociology


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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