Tuesday, 8 November 2011

4S Annual Meeting, Cleveland

Now back in Cardiff after attending the 4S Annual Meeting in Cleveland. As the conference was co-located with the History of Science and Society (HSS) and the Society for History of Technology (SHOT), plenary sessions were especially abundant this year – one for almost every day of the conference in fact.

As might be expected given events in Japan, sessions about the nuclear industry in general, and Fukushma in particular, had a high profile this year. In contrast, biosciences and public participation felt less numerous to me although the official programme suggests there were lots of them too! My own paper – about Democracy and the ‘Third Wave’ – was part of the Science, Technology and Public Policy theme, which included over 120 separate sessions.

The conference was very enjoyable and presentations in the sessions I went to were all of a consistently high standard. Navigating through the conference program the size of 4S is inevitably somewhat arbitrary but I did enjoy several papers, hear the phrase ‘interactional expertise’ being used as if it were a standard explanatory term on at least one occasion, and find a couple of people to invite to the next SEESHOP.

Overall, therefore, I think it was a successful couple of days.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Linking STS and the Social Sciences, Korea

This conference was organised by Center for Social Sciences (CSS) at Seoul National University and the Korean Association of Science and Technology Studies (KASTS). I’m especially grateful to out hosts Prof. Myung-Seok Oh and Byeong-Cheol Mun for the invitation and the kindness they showed in looking after us so well and making my visit to Korea so enjoyable.
The conference was spread over two days (see programme) and included papers addressing theoretical issues in STS and their application to technoscientific risks. Theoretically, the conference was dominated by actor-network theory, which seems to be the dominant approach in Korea (as evidenced by the framing of the conference which reflected Latours view of the the social as an outcome. I like to think that those of us who dont subscribe to this view persuaded those present that there was at least some life left in the social as an analytic category.
It was also interesting to see the extent to which there was a specifically Korean version of either science or STS. As the previous paragraph intimates, I dont think there is a specifically Korean STS, unless by this we mean it is unusually persuaded by ANT but I am not sure it is unusual even in this sense. I also didnt get much sense that there is a specifically Korean science in the sense that, for example, Arie Rip refers to Maori science. Korean science is basically Western Science as far as I could tell.
What is different, and is (I think) distinctively Korean, however, is science policy. The transformation of Korean society since WWII is quite mind-boggling to see and, as several of the talks from Korean scholars made clear, is no accident. Instead it is a deliberate result of adopting a science and technology policy that attempts to leapfrog the appropriate technology logic of development by going straight for the high-end advanced technologies that Western countries want, use and develop. This is most apparent in the automobile and consumer electronics industries but, as the Hwang Woo-Suk scandal made clear, also includes considerable investment in biosciences too. Whether other countries can follow this model as well I dont know but our brief visit to Seoul showed that it has certainly worked for the Koreans.