Paused Isolation – STS, Sunshine, and Spritzers at the 20th PhD Seminar in Raach

by Esther Dessewffy



To our great pleasure, and against the odds, the 20th annual PhD summer school took place (almost) as usual in June in the seminar center in Raach am Hochgebirge. Despite COVID-19, the department managed to create a safe space for its PhD candidates to come together, socialize, hike and engage in intense feedback rounds about ongoing projects. Thanks to rigorous abidance to the 3G rule (“tested, vaccinated or recovered”) and wearing FFP2 masks indoors, it was possible to maintain a secure atmosphere and mitigate the risk of contagion.

This year, the public health situation did not permit the of international commentators, who would have otherwise reviewed invitation papers submitted by junior researchers at different stages of their doctorate. Luckily, our very own Ulrike Felt, Sarah Davies and Max Fochler volunteered to fill in. In total, the participants and reviewers intensively engaged with fourteen papers, such as complete journal submissions that had already been handed in, dissertation chapters, and exposés of early-stage candidates.

As a newcomer to the PhD program and the summer school, I was impressed by the high standard of papers and feedback. I was particularly happy to get insight into the creative approaches the presenters had taken to resolve different questions and issues that had emerged during their ongoing research. I listened to feedback discussions between peers who brought an abundance of fresh and imaginative takes alongside a deep reservoir of research experiences. The diverse applications and combinations of theoretical concepts, different interpretations of analyses, and ideas about how to create a compelling narrative arc gave me a vivid impression of fellow students’ individual perspectives, sensitivities and approaches to research. Despite the passionate exchanges, the appreciative and respectful atmosphere nurtured the emergence of new, collectively assembled avenues of thought and a sense of familiarity.

Outside the seminar room things were equally exciting. Sharing the seminar center with a clown school (yes, I’m serious), left one or the other STSer questioning their career choices (apparently you can scream as loud as you want as a clown). After the feedback sessions, we would go on short hikes in the woods in search of Raach’s legendary donkey population (I’ve seen it with my own eyes). Despite STSers’ tendency to be critical of nature-culture dichotomies (Latour, 1993) and stable distinctions between rural and urban (Kaika, 2005), leaving the city for the countryside – complete with nature and “wild life” – turned out to be integral to our imaginary of a proper summer school. Long evenings together, dreaming about having cats or even mini-horses as emotional support animals at the department, and the occasional spritzer contributed to a fun experience that brought the department closer together – a much needed development after a year and a half of Corona induced isolation.





Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern (1. publ. ed.). Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Kaika, M. (2005). Preface: Visions of Moderniz ation & The Urbanization of Nature. In ?City of Flows: Modernity, Nature, and the City? (pp. 3-26). Routledge.

Esther Dessewffy is a PhD student at the department of STS at the University of Vienna, where she has recently completed her master’s degree. Her thesis on the political dimensions of different simulation methodologies for design in architecture is supervised by Sarah Davies. She enjoys ethnographic research and is looking forward to participating in teaching activities in 2022.