UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies is an interdisciplinary centre for the integrated study of science's history, philosophy, sociology, communication and policy, located in the heart of London. Founded in 1921. Award winning for teaching and research, plus for our public engagement programme. Rated as outstanding by students at every level.

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STS takes on Latin America (part 1)

19 August 2014

STSUCL PhD studentsspacer

Four PhD students from STSUCL have taken part of the São Paulo School for Advanced Sciences on Biotechnology, Biosocialities, and the Governance of Life Sciences (ESPCA), a five-day summer school which took place in the University of Campinas (Unicamp, Brazil), with support from UCL and sponsored by FAPESP. With aound 50 Brazilian students and 50 overseas students, there was an impressive distribution from universities and countries around the world. STSUCL was proportionately well-represented with four students (Erman Sozudogru, Raquel Velho, Samantha Vanderslott, and Sara Peres). There were numerous opportunities for fruitful discussions and social events.

The welcome address was given by Maria Conceição da Costa (Unicamp), Roberto Peixoto (Unicamp), Léa Velho (Unicamp) and Sahra Gibbon (UCL).  The ESPCA, it was argued, is a novel model of collaboration for Brazil where since the 1990s the same relatively low levels of international collaboration have been kept, particularly in the social sciences. We were brought to think about the impact this experience would have in our own personal worlds and beyond: individual networking, institutional impact as we bring back our experience to our departments, and even on the production of knowledge itself as we forge relationships with colleagues from abroad.

The school was intense - sessions began at 9am each day, with three lectures in the morning and mixed activities in the afternoon. Lecturers came from Brazil and abroad, including Stephen Hilgartner (Cornell), Phil Macnaghten (Unicamp/Durham University), Noela Invernizzi (Federal University of Paraná), and Susanne Lettow (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt). Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon sessions were dedicated to the discussion of students’ work, having divided the large cohort into three groups. Presentations were short, but varied and rich which demonstrated the broad range of work being done by the STS community world-wide. Topics ranged from reproductive technologies and future conceptions of kinship, to agrobiodiversity and bioprospecting, to disability studies and social inclusion, to neglected tropical diseases and containment methods. 

We were also given the opportunity to visit the Brazilian National Laboratories where we were given a brief tour around the only synchrotron in Latin America. Two researchers presented the privileged research topics addressed by these labs, primarily innovative treatments for cancer, cardiovascular and neglected diseases and Brazil’s first master cell bank. Their labs also include RENAMA, the ’National Network for Alternative methods, which aims to develop alternative methods for drug discovery to reduce or stop the use of animal testing. 

Despite such wide variety of topics and theses, there were three threads which ran through the entire conference. In the closing remarks, Sahra Gibbon pointed out how much of our work related to questions of temporality and the promissory aspect of new technologies. Referring to Prof Stephen Hilgartner’s lectures and his use of Sheila Jasanoff’s concept of sociotechnical imaginaries and vanguard visions, much work is being done on how these concepts relate to each other and the tensions between them. Secondly, power relations and Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower was evoked throughout the school, and it brought up questions of what is new about these technologies which promise to revolutionise society. Dominant/dominated relationships still exist, and many of these conflicts have not been resolved with the introduction of new technologies, bringing us therefore to become suspicious about claims to novelty. Lastly, and largely thanks to a thought-provoking lecture by Rayna Rapp (New York University), we were brought to ask questions about interdisciplinary research practices and active political engagement. Bringing together research methods and analytical perspectives from a plethora is a difficult task for many of us within the STS field, as is finding balance between the objectivity prescribed by academia and fighting for social rights through activism. As we, a new generation of researchers, acquire our master’s and doctoral degrees, we must ask ourselves where we will stand in the future, either reproducing centuries-old models of research, or finding new ways of being both academically, politically, and socially relevant. 

We would like to once again thank FAPESP for their generous funding and bringing us to Brazil, and the organisers who did a fantastic work in putting together a very productive and stimulating week. 

The complete programme can be seen here:

A summary of our activities is here (in Portuguese):

Picture description

From left to right – Adhitya Bharadwaj (The Graduate Institute, Switzerland), Maria Conceição da Costa (Unicamp, Brazil), Rayna Rapp (New York University, USA), and STSUCL: Raquel Velho, Sara Peres, Erman Sozudogru, Samantha Vanderslott. 

Page last modified on 19 aug 14 18:27 by Joe Cain

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