“Frugal Innovation” – an inquiry into a blind spot in STS

by Lisa Sigl

Frugal Innovation

Concepts and notions of innovation are societal and political battlegrounds. How strongly they imply imaginations about responsibilities between science and society becomes apparent when comparing notions of innovation in different socio-political contexts. In European policy contexts, innovation is mostly defined as technological innovation for the market, insinuating that its primary responsibility is to secure competitiveness, economic growth and jobs. With this market-orientation in mind, the vehemence with which the Indian government promotes “frugal innovation” as “sharply” contrasting with this “conventional approach” in its current Five Year Plan is striking. The absence of critical reflection in STS on this remarkable innovation concept is so striking that I want to open a discussion here.


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Exploring new questions of “Gender, justice and the political economy of the cross-border fertility industry”. A wrap-up and outlook of an international workshop.

by Daniela Schuh

Gender, justice and the political economy of the cross-border fertility industry
The workshop was organized by Kathrin Braun (Univ. of Vienna), Gesine Fuchs (Hochschule Luzern) and Daniela Schuh (Univ. of Vienna).

While cross-border fertility travel has become an expanding industry, knowledge about its actual scope, structure, regulation and practices is still  sparse. A workshop in April organized by members of the University of Vienna and the Hochschule Luzern met this situation head on by bringing together a diverse program. Scholars from all across Europe and with diverse scientific and institutional backgrounds came together to collectively explore vital questions about the cross-border fertility industry:

How is this industry stratified in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, class, able-bodiedness, and further axes of inequality? How does the rise of cross-border fertility industry and/or corresponding state policies affect gender relations? How can we assess these policies and developments from a gender and social justice perspective? And how should we understand and engage with this industry in the first place?


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Scratching the proverbial itch – with Alan Irwin

by Joanne Heng

In the semester just passed, our department had the pleasure of hosting Alan Irwin. While he needs little introduction to those in the field, for those less versed in STS, Alan’s illustrious career spans over thirty years in which he has written extensively about scientific governance, risk & decision-making, policy and public engagement of science. Currently a Professor at the Department of Organization at the Copenhagen Business School, he has received multiple awards for his work and is even a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog.

During his visit to our department, I took part in his seminar entitled “Governing Socio-Technical Futures. Science, democracy and innovation in the 21st century”. Touching on many of his pet topics such as public engagement with science and technology and the enactment of democracy with regards to present-future relations, I felt Alan had a remarkable ability to really open up these issues to the class by highlighting contentions, questioning the roles of key actors in shaping these issues whilst also sharing with us his past experiences and case studies – it made for a very enjoyable and thought-provoking few weeks. At the core of his course was the basic argument that, whilst current actions shape the possible futures that await us, our sense of the future(s) profoundly shapes the actions we take today. In line with some of his previous work, Alan was especially concerned with the implications of future-present relations for scientific governance – with examples such as climate change but also innovation policy very prominent here.

Joanne and Alan Irwin


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Can competition hurt science?

by Maximilian Fochler


Many of us privately or professionally interested in science think that healthy competition is what drives science forward. In current research policy and funding, this belief is so strong that competitiveness has become the central doctrine guiding the governance of research and of individual researchers.

But can too much competition also endanger the very aims we would like research to achieve, such as asking fundamental questions at the frontier of knowledge? This is what a group of high-profile life scientists, including a former editor of Science magazine, suggested in 2014 by warning that the current hyper-competition in the US life sciences may suppress “the creativity, cooperation, risk-taking, and original thinking required to make fundamental discoveries“ (Alberts, Kirschner, Tilghman, & Varmus, 2014, p. 5774).

But is science more competitive today than in the past, and if so, why and how? At least two main things have changed. First, in the late twentieth century, driven by rising societal expectations in the innovative capacities of research, many scientific fields have thrived and grown. The life sciences are a strong case here, but not the only example. However, this growth has happened much less in long-term institutional positions, but in a new form of the organisation of research work: project-based temporal employment. This has created a large generation of highly qualified young researchers competing for a basically stagnating or receding number of faculty positions. Second, the rise of new metric forms of keeping track and assessing scientific productivity has made competition seemingly more transparent, but also fuelled it. Impact factors, rankings and other indicator-based measurements do not only represent scientific work, they also shape it, as also Alex Rushforth and Sarah de Rijcke argue in a recent blogpost. Because they matter in competition they may also change the very nature of this work.

Copyright: ScienceCartoonsPlus.comCopyright: ScienceCartoonsPlus.com



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Encountering Technoscientific Worlds through Austrian STS – Thoughts from a Conference

by Erik Aarden


How do we make sense of the technoscientific worlds we live in? This question was central to a conference in Vienna in December 2015, which celebrated the launch of a new national association in science and technology studies, STS Austria. The conference brought together a diverse program exploring the many themes of interest to STS (and in the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the people responsible for that program). The founding of such a society is a good occasion for celebration, as was the diversity of cases and perspectives brought forward at the conference. Yet in the increasingly transnational context of both STS as a field and the technosciences it studies, what exactly were we celebrating? How to position an “STS Austria” in relation to technoscientific worlds that increasingly cross boundaries? As I hope to illustrate with some impressions from the conference, the thing to celebrate is both the vibrancy of the field in places where it finds firm footing and the openness to the great beyond such a solid base allows.



Ulrike Felt and Alan Irwin starting of discussion in the closing panel of the conference. (c) Anna Pichelstorfer


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Urban Infrastructure – (in)visibilities, rhythms and space

This is the first of two blogposts about the topic of infrastructures in modern societies. The blogposts evolved out of a seminar by Monika Kurath called Reimagining Cities. Assemblages and the Social Construction of Urban Territories held in fall 2015 at the Department of Science and Technology Studies.

by Nikolaus Pöchhacker

Every day I go to my office or the university I take the metro. I go to the station, get on the train and a few stations later get off to start my working day. It is an integral part of my daily rhythms and it shapes the way I move through the city. When I moved to Vienna, for a while the first question when arranging a meeting with someone was: What is the nearest metro station? To me the city existed not as streets or houses but as the network plan of Vienna’s Public transport system. Infrastructure is important for our daily lives. Yet, it is not always this visible for us. So what exactly is the role of infrastructures in our society and how do they shape the city and the social lives of users and operators of these infrastructures? Also, how is social structure affected if these important elements of urban life are changing or declining?

Since October 2010 Vienna’s Metro is operating at night on Fridays, Saturdays and before official holidays. While this is a major improvement over the transport possibilities via night busses, it also is a change in the rhythms of the invisible maintenance practices. For example, the trains that go at night need coordination and central oversight – changing the shifts of the personnel in the central station.



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Communicating science, engaging publics: Open House at the STS Department


(c) Universität Wien


by Susanne Oechsner and Anna Pichelstorfer

The year 2015 was an exciting one for the University of Vienna: It marked the 650th anniversary of its foundation through a deed by Duke Rudolf IV. In order to celebrate this anniversary appropriately and in addition to a multitude of activities distributed over the whole year, the Faculty of Social Sciences organized the “Fakultätstag 2015” (i.e. the Day of the Faculty 2015) to present its diverse research areas to a broader audience. The Department of Science and Technology Studies participated here with an open house event that explored the question: How are technologies and our lives entangled?


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Can Technologies Fix Our Aging Societies?

by Leo Matteo Bachinger

Once the “Golden Age”, late life today appears increasingly problematic: late life has become a site of controversy. Asia (most prominently Japan), Australia, Canada, Europe and the US are facing the “greying” of societies in terms of a “care crisis”: With longer life spans and sinking birth rates, western societies struggle to finance and ensure the quality of their health and eldercare systems.

The good news is, we already seem to have found a solution: Technologies feature prominently in Europe’s care policy as well as in the US presidential plans (cf. this fact sheet, this recent statement, or this article). But what do these solutions look like? Two corporate films of LeadingAge, a key policy maker in the US eldercare sector, offer a glimpse into the technological future of caring.





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STS Expertise in Practice: Interviews with Alumni

What use is knowledge in Science and Technology Studies in different kinds of professional practice? How do STSers draw on their background in different areas of work?

We posed these questions – which sometimes receive too little attention in our academic debates – to alumni of STS Vienna. Learn about their individual answers to these questions in the video below.


Concept, Script, Camera: Kay Felder, Maximilian Fochler, Michael Penkler
Post-production: Una Steiner

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Investigating Austrian nuclear nationalism

GreenpeaceAustria2015Greenpeace Austria campaigning against Hinkley Point C, Jannuary 2015. (c) Greenpeace


by Florian Bayer

As I was born and raised in Austria I had been rejecting nuclear power production for most of my life, without a special interest in the issue. It simply occurred to me that the technology in question came along with too many uncertainties and risks. In that sense it seemed obvious that a technology of this kind was no solution for future energy demands. Fullstop.

However, throughout the last few years I repeatedly turned towards the issue of nuclear power production. It makes a good case for reflecting different aspects of the relations between science, technology and society. As a consequence of this research interest, I became acquainted with work in STS that highlights the role of technopolitical cultures in shaping the relationship between societal actors and technologies. From this perspective it became quite clear that “my convictions” on nuclear power production were not the result of “critical” engagement with nuclear technologies. (more…)

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