‘A Turn to Ontology?’ session at EASST/4S, Rotterdam

August 22, 2008

The topics raised in the Oxford workshop were further discussed in a lunch-session at this year’s EASST/4S Conference in Rotterdam. Again, the event attracted a strong audience with a number of ‘original’ presenters also turning up to offer additional commentary.

Prior to the event, a small report had been compiled and distributed enabling non-participants to read up on the topic: ‘A Turn To Ontology?’ – A Summary of the Workshop (Cheniti, T., Sugden, C., and Toennesen, C.) in addition to the orginal provocation piece by Woolgar et al. Most of the papers and responses can be downloaded from here.

The discussion was kicked off by Tarek Cheniti, who summarised briefly the course of events at the initial conference, following which Chris Sugden and Christian Toennesen highlighted a number of pertinent issues and questions. Is STS, for example, trying to become less ‘fashionable’ by picking up (fights with) traditional philosophical topics and turning them into units of investigation? Are we even talking about the same thing?

Annemarie Mol was quick to point out that the conflict over what exactly is meant by ontology – and indeed ontologies – is an old point of friction between STS and philosophy. The latter group, she argued, has yet to come to terms with the multiple and emerging nature of ontologies, as described in her own studies on atherosclerosis. Sally Wyatt, among others, opposed this claim, suggesting that several branches of philosophy have already grappled with the question of multiplicity in a sophisticated and fruitful manner. This, she said, is a battle over territory that STS is bound to lose. Deborah G. Johnson, describing herself as a philosopher with a profound interest in STS, on the other hand, said that said battle has already been won by STS’ers – “they have already had it their way.”

Were you present; did you pick up on other things or would you have liked to raise other issues?


EASST/4S follow-up session

July 3, 2008

Please note that there will be a follow-up lunch session at this year’s EASST/4S Conference in Rotterdam on Friday 22 August, 12:30 – 13:30.

The format will be a discussion-intensive roundtable, rather than a series of long presentations, thereby leaving plenty of time for participants to contribute whatever they have on their minds. The discussion will be led by one or two of the main speakers at the Oxford meeting (tbc).

You can have a look at the preliminary conference programme here (pdf).


June 30, 2008

Marilyn Strathern delivering some final remarks
Pictures from the event have now been put online: A Turn to Ontology.

Where’s the ontology?

June 30, 2008

Responding to the line above, Brian Rappert made a serious attempt to sum up the day in a handful of questions:

Mike Lynch: Yes, that’s the question, where is it?

Moortje Marres: Not sure if ‘it’ is with me.

Ted Schatzki: You are kinda standing in it and it’s over there with those folk, but let’s not worry about it too much.

Arie Rip: It’s coming soon.

Other than that, it seemed extremely difficult to identify common threads in the various perspectives on what ontologies are, what they do and how they should be theorised.

A turn to ontology in STS?

June 25, 2008

We observe a discernible increase in recent years of the use of the term “ontology” in STS literatures. What if anything does this signal? Can this be construed as a turn to ontology and what does this mean? 

Does an increasing use of the term ontology simply reflect a change in vocabulary? Is it different from “radical constructivist” perspectives? For example, did Woolgar’s (1991) injunction to find out how “the reality of the technology [is] itself created, described and sustained” foreshadow Mol’s (2002) focus on how “ontologies are brought into being, sustained or allowed to wither away” without actually mentioning the term? Is saying that processes and practices enact phenomena the same as saying they are constitutively social? Are STSers by and large still pursuing the same agenda or does the emergence of “ontology” reflect a significant change of emphasis? 

What are the various ways in which “ontology” is being used by STSers and others? Is the use of the term now a normative feature of our disciplinary practice ie do we risk exclusion if we do not pepper our analyses with terms such as “ontology” “the material” and so on?