STS Conference Graz 2014

This year’s conference is entitled “Critical Issues in Science and Technology” and takes place on May 5-6. It covers five conference themes – Gendered Careers and Disciplinary Cultures in Science and Technology, Life Sciences/Biotechnology, Low-Carbon Energy Systems, Challenges in Green Public Procurement (GPP) and Sustainable Food Systemsas well as 10 special sessions. I’ll be part of the special session “The politics of ICTs”, organised by Astrid Mager and Doris Allhutter. My paper is entitled “The politics of intranet software: from wholeness to diversity”, it covers research findings from my dissertation.

For more Information see the conference programme. The STS Conference Graz 2014 is the joint annual conference of STS – the Institute of Science, Technology and Society Studies at Alpen-Adria-Universitaet Klagenfurt – Vienna – Graz; IFZ – the Inter-University Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture and IAS-STS – the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society.


Design and Displacement – EASST/4S Annual Conference in Copenhagen

From October 17th until 20th the annual conference of the European Association of Science and Technology (EASST) takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark. This year the conference is jointly held with 4S, the American Society for the Social Studies of Science.

I am going to present a paper with my colleague, Stefan Laube (University of Constance/IFK Vienna) as part of the workshop “Connecting and comparing concepts of practice”, hosted by Prof Elizabeth Shove and colleagues from Lancaster University. We discuss the work of two famous scholars in the realm of practice theories, that of Annemarie Mol and Karin Knorr Cetina. Apart from stating differences and similarities between the two concepts, we illuminate methodological implications with reference to our dissertation research. You may download the talk here soon.

Brainstorming EASST - with Stefan

Brainstorming EASST/4S – with Stefan

The overall conference topic – Design and Displacement – lays emphasis on the design of new and old objects and their participating and shaping effects. It also asks how objects are appropriated, possibly displaced, in different contexts, globally as well as on a local scale. Thus, artefacts are understood as enabling but also disabling social inclusion and may become objects of political significance. These issues and much more will be discussed during the conference.

More than 1700 papers have been submitted, an ‘unprecedented number’, as the organiser says. Registration is already closed. Approximately 1352 papers are going to be presented in 320 sessions. Please check the website for more information or have a look at the conference programme.

In-visibility as a concept for research on social software

I’d like to highlight a recent articleWant to be on top? Algorithmic power and the threat of invisibility on Facebook by Taina Bucher which uses the notion of invisibility for an analysis and description of Facebook’s ‘News Feed’. The author convincingly shows how the algorithmic logic of the ‘Edge Rank’, operating the News Feed, imposes certain forms of interaction. In particular, the algorithm enables as well as constrains people’s presentation on the News Feed and in doing so induces a ‘regime of invisibility’ on its users. The notion of invisibility is taken from Foucault and the description of Bentham’s panopticon as a metaphor for disciplinary mechanisms in modern societies. But whereas Foucault’s panopticon imposes a threat of visibility on its inhabitants, Bucher shows that the News Feed operates rather on the contrary mechanism; user experience the danger of becoming obsolete and invisible once they refrain from interacting on the platform.

News Feed

For my Master thesis (entitled In-between online and offline moments, and the order of visibility) I have in a similar fashion turned to Foucault’s notion of disciplinary visibility for an analysis of the social network platform ‘StudiVZ’, a German version of Facebook. As my study illustrates, the interaction on the platform is dominated by an ‘order of visibility’, a desire to be visible and present, which is in fact built in the algorithmic logic of the platform. It thereby shapes the interactions taking place, i.e. people’s constant, deliberate self-presentation on the platform. However, in contrast to Bentham’s panopticon, within Facebook there is not one overall observer but users watch over one another in this sense.

The work also questions the up to that point prevailing analytic separation within media studies and internet research between offline and online contexts, treating them as disconnected spheres. You may read intro and conclusion of my thesis here.

MA title

The notion of invisibility describing the algorithmic logic of social software has not yet been sufficiently taken up within media studies. I still think this concept is a promising entry to study and analyse the structure and setup of social networking sites. More research can be done in order to show how and to what extent these sites interfere with and shape (sociomaterial) practices.

The work has been part of a recent initiative by scholars in media studies and adjacent disciplines (cultural theory, sociology, computing) entitled ‘software studies’ which involves not only scientists but designers, engineers and artists. Check the website for more information.