Of Innovation, Waste and Value: A Visit to the Austrian Interim Storage for Nuclear Waste at Seibersdorf

by Carsten Horn

10…9… Before leaving the premises, you have to undergo a radiological control measurement. If your hands and feet are correctly placed on the probes, the countdown will begin.

Nuclear energy: Once the harbinger of a new era of unlimited energy supply and prosperity has come under attack by environmental and anti-nuclear movements of the 1970s. While at one point radioactive materials made inroads into everyday life as an ingredient in toothpaste and cosmetics, for instance – consider the Thorium-X-based toothpaste Doramad or the Tho-Radia line of radioactive beauty products – we are currently dealing with the impacts and residues of the everyday use of radioactive materials in research, industry and medicine.

Figure 1: “Creates a Natural Freshness in Your Mouth”: An ad for the radioactive toothpaste Doramad (credit: Suit)

While after the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, related controversies have again increased in intensity and fierceness, they now seem to have taken another turn as policymakers and entrepreneurs consider expanding nuclear energy to respond to climate change. One prominent example of this is the taxonomy of sustainable investments of the European Union that classifies nuclear energy as a green energy source under certain conditions. This shift in debates conjures up questions about the long-term consequences of nuclear energy, not least the storage of nuclear waste. On a more general level, we are confronted with a crucial, yet disregarded question in science and technology-based societies: What remains of our innovations? What happens to technologies at the end of their lifetime? Such questions are often deliberately left in the dark (McGoey, 2019), and the damaging side effects of innovations are geographically or temporally displaced (Alexander & O’Hare, 2020). Against this backdrop, the European Research Council (ERC)-funded research project “Innovation Residues – Modes and Infrastructures of  Caring for Longue-Durée Environmental Futures” (INNORES) at the department develops a new approach for understanding self-proclaimed knowledge and innovation societies “in reverse”.


A bus takes us to an inconspicuous office campus just outside of the municipality of Seibersdorf, not even an hour’s drive from Vienna. At first glance, the campus looks just like any other one: A large parking lot upfront, a fenced-off area, and several, largely grey office blocks matching the architectural aesthetics of the 1960s and 70s – nothing out of the ordinary, it appears. The only thing that tells us something is different about this particular campus is a yellow sign at the entrance. Large black letters above an orange light bulb tell drivers to stop when the orange light flashes. Beneath it is a black trefoil against a yellow background, the internationally recognized warning symbol for radioactivity. The campus is not just any office campus. It is the Tech Campus Seibersdorf, home to several research institutions and enterprises, among them the laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for example. On a cold but sunny Wednesday, it is the destination of a group of students on an excursion to round off the seminar “Of waste and value” taught by Ulrike Felt during the winter semester 2022/23.


The group is there to visit Nuclear Engineering Seibersdorf (NES), a subsidiary of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). The AIT, at that time under the name Austrian Society for Atomic Energy Studies, had initially been established as a nuclear research institution, complete with a (now defunct and decommissioned) research reactor in Seibersdorf. Nowadays, the NES is commissioned by the Austrian government to collect and store the country’s nuclear waste. This may appear surprising, at first, because Austria does not have nuclear power plants in use. The plans to build three plants (Bayer & Felt, 2019) were aborted after widespread protests by the Austrian civil society, culminating in a referendum in 1978. The message of this referendum in which 50.5% of voters voted against the start-up of nuclear power plants: Nuclear energy should be kept out of Austria. The nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf that was finished but never went online is a material remnant of this history (Felt, 2015). But still, radioactive waste results as a by-product of activities in industry, research and medicine. The NES facilities in Seibersdorf are the designated locations for the processing, conditioning and storage of this low- to mid-level nuclear waste1. Moreover, NES assists in decommissioning former nuclear research sites, such as other research reactors. This work has received broader attention in recent years because NES is only an interim storage facility and the European Union has opened proceedings against the Republic of Austria for infringing the directive to provide plans for the final storage of nuclear waste (similar searches for repositories, accompanied by public protest, for repositories, are currently going on, for instance, in France and Germany). Thus, an advisory board has been assembled in 2021 to guide the process of finding a location for Austria’s final nuclear waste repository to start operating in 2045 when the contract between NES and the Republic of Austria ends (to contribute expertise on this question from the perspective of STS, Ulrike Felt is a member of this board).

Figure 2: Rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves: the nuclear heritage of Austria (© Ulrike Felt)


After a brief video and presentation showing the history and the mission of NES  – including the required safety instructions – by the head of the testing center for radioactive activity, the group of students, now wearing grey coats and white overshoes, enters the facilities. Five students also carry portable dosimeters that, signaled by occasional beeps, measure the radiation exposure (which would stay at 0 for most of the visit). Guided by several employees who happily answer the many questions that arise throughout the visit, the group has to pass through several airlocks where both guides and visitors must step on probes to measure contamination upon leaving. These added security measures – probes, airlocks, depressurized buildings to contain potentially contaminated particles – distinguish the inside of the NES facilities from other factory-like working environments that it otherwise resembles.

Figure 3: Impressions from the NES – left: a leaded window into the hot cell for highly radioactive materials with the robot arms visible in the background; right: workers at the NES in the reconditioning process (© Ulrike Felt)

The tour leads through different stages of the conditioning of nuclear waste. Conditioning is the process in which nuclear waste is brought into a solid form that can then be ‘packaged’ into containers, such as steel drums. Currently, a major project at NES is the reconditioning of nuclear waste that has been stored at the facilities since the 1970s. In the so-called source-processing center, where radioactive material is handled and processed, the group observes how technicians in ventilated protective gear resembling spacesuits (depicted in the image above) open the old steel drums and place the nuclear waste in new, 200l, concrete-enforced drums. The hot cell  in another part of the same building, separated by another set of airlocks, is the only place technicians at NES deal with highly radioactive materials. There, the waste is located (and temporarily stored) in a cubicle or chamber that resembles a bank deposit safe with 1m thick, high-density concrete walls and multi-layered lead windows. Workers handle it using robot arms that they control from the outside. Finally, the group walks to the storage facility, the so-called transfer storage. In a warehouse firmly anchored in the ground to withstand earthquakes, thick concrete walls to contain radioactivity and tailored climatic conditions to minimize the risk of corrosion, rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves, more than 12,000 drums containing the collected nuclear waste of Austria are stored.  Labeled with letters and numbers that convey information about the type of waste they contain or QR codes, each drum can be inspected individually (legally required once every five years at least), together with its documentation that contains information about the radioactive materials it holds and the processing activities it has undergone. As our guide explains, the goal of this interim storage is to store Austria’s nuclear waste until 2045 (when Austria’s final repository has to be found) without foreclosing other possibilities for dealing with nuclear waste that may emerge in the anticipatable future.

2…1…0… After a brief moment of anxious waiting, the measuring device displays the relieving words: “Not contaminated”. You are now allowed to return through the airlock.

Figure 4: 3…2…1: The Author waiting for the probe to display its result (© Ulrike Felt)

Nuclear waste repositories, such as the one in Seibersdorf, are material rem(a)inders of one of the blind spots of innovation processes and discourses: the left-behinds or “residues” of innovations. As mentioned above, NES does not just store Austria’s nuclear waste as a residue of research and innovation. It is located at the site of Austria’s first research reactor – originally intended to make Austria fit for exploiting the benefits of nuclear energy – that has, since its decommissioning, become a material residue of earlier promises and visions of nuclear future(s). The grey concrete of the reactor is now a canvas for colorful artwork. Moreover, if and when a final storage for Austria’s nuclear waste is found by 2045, parts of the NES facilities at Seibersdorf will themselves become material left-behinds of the history of nuclear research in Austria.

The material presence of residues that we can experience in multiple ways in Seibersdorf demands an awareness of the different forms of overflows novel technologies create along their lifecycle, some of which are classified as waste. It urges us to be attentive to the material-semiotic consequences of the things we produce and the futures we leave behind for coming generations (Adam & Grove, 2011) – in some cases, as with the nuclear waste treated and stored in Seibersdorf, for many hundred years. In this sense, to not lose track of “innovation residues”, it may be more fruitful to conceptualize societies not only through what they produce as knowledge or innovation societies but also through how they discard their innovations and the by-products of innovation once they have ceased to be innovations: How they generate and take care of their waste(s)? What infrastructures of care do they create for their waste(s)?

This is not only true for nuclear waste, even though it is a particularly controversial type. The INNORES project opens up the discussion about what is classified as waste, when, how and by whom. It extends our view of the left-behinds to innovations that have only recently been officially acknowledged and addressed as possibly dangerous forms of waste (such as microplastics) or have not yet been linked to waste(s) at all (such as what the project calls “data waste”). We should think about microplastics that, as we increasingly realize, have become entangled with our bodies, thus exposing their permeable boundaries. We must think about the remnants of our digital devices that are shipped to the Global South and disassembled by informal workers. We urgently need to talk about the so-called “forever chemicals” – anthropogenic chemical compounds used in a variety of everyday objects that only degrade over long periods – that we also incorporate. We have barely begun publicly discussing the data waste our digital practices leave behind that ‘rots away’ in energy- and water-devouring data centers across the globe. A visit to Seibersdorf reminds us that it is high time to open discussions about how we discard, value and care for our waste(s).

Based on its respective radioactivity and decay time, nuclear waste is typically classified into different groups whether they are low-, intermediate- or high-level, and whether they are very short, short, or long-lived*. The bulk of nuclear waste in the world falls into the categories of low-level or intermediate-level nuclear waste. Each of these categories requires different forms and temporalities of containment. The expected storage duration for low-level waste, for instance, is ‘just’ 300 years (which is, of course, vastly different from the hundreds of thousands of years for which high-level waste needs to be stored) – thus raising questions of what to do with this type of waste after this time.


Adam, B., & Groves, C. (2011). Futures Tended: Care and Future-Oriented Responsibility. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 31(1), 17–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/0270467610391237

Alexander, C., & O’Hare, P. (2023). Waste and Its Disguises: Technologies of (Un)Knowing. Ethnos, 88(3), 419–443. https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2020.1796734

Bayer, F., & Felt, U. (2019). Embracing the “Atomic Future” in Post–World War II Austria. Technology and Culture, 60(1), 165–191.

Boudia, S., Creager, A. N. H., Frickel, S., Henry, E., Jas, N., Reinhardt, C., & Roberts, J. A. (2021). Residues. Thinking Through Chemical Environments. Rutgers University Press. https://doi.org/10.36019/9781978818057

Felt, U. (2015). Keeping Technologies Out: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Formation of Austria’s Technopolitical Identity. In S. Jasanoff & S.-H. Kim (Eds.), Dreamscapes of Modernity. Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power (pp. 103–125). Chicago University Press.

Hecht, G. (2023). Residual Governance. How South Africa Foretells Planetary Futures. Duke University Press.

McGoey, L. (2019). The Unknowers. How Strategic Ignorance Rules the World. Zed Books.

Carsten Horn is a doctoral candidate in the ERC-funded research project “Innovation Residues. Modes and Infrastructures of Caring for our Longue-durée Environmental Futures” at  the STS Department. He investigates the residues of digital practices, digitalization and datafication at the interface of digital and environmental concerns. In his dissertation project “Datafication and its Discontents”, Carsten studies the emerging controversies around data centers in Austria, France and Ireland.

In/visibilities of inequalities in the global digital transformation

by Katja Mayer and Carsten Horn

In our blogpost we delve into the complexities of the in/visibilities of inequalities in the global digital transformation. In particular, we explore the theme inspired by Noopur Raval’s thought-provoking commentary on the notion of “ghost work.” Raval’s commentary challenges the discourse surrounding the invisibility of workers from the Global South, despite the good intentions of global pro-worker reforms. This raises important questions about the conditions and meanings of visibility and how they shape our understanding of social change. We report how we examined and discussed how to make the socio-technical complexity of  infrastructures visible, and the challenges of translation of visibility into social change.

The DigiGov Winter School 2023, themed “Digital Practices and Global Inequalities,” brought together 29 participants with a number of experts from diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds to explore the complex relationship between digital technologies and social inequality. Big data and artificial intelligence have further exacerbated the existing (digital) divide between geopolitical regions, as well as within societies, with marginalised communities often lacking access to the necessary digital infrastructure and skills to engage with and benefit from these technologies, or being exploited by the extractive logics of resource hungry digital technologies. This blog post reports on the insights gained from Day 2 of the Winter School. Through two lectures and a mapping workshop, the participants examined how digital technologies can both perpetuate and alleviate global digital inequalities and discussed how to work towards a more inclusive and equitable future.

The second day of the Digigov Winter School was dedicated to the topic of in/visibilities of inequalities in the global digital transformation. This theme was inspired by Noopur Raval’s fabulous and timely comment problematising the notion of “ghost work” (Gray & Suri, 2019) that is dominated by the Global North – despite the good intention to pave the way for global pro-worker reforms. Raval challenges the public and academic discourse “ghosting” those workers and pushes us to ask: Who are these workers invisible to? And why has “visibility” historically not translated to social change? (Raval, 2021). These questions attune us to  the conditions and meanings of visibility: how do we construct and constitute visibility at all? What infrastructures are necessary for this and how do they shape what we can perceive? Where can we look at all, and what do we gain from these perspectives?

As Monika Halkort demonstrated in her talk, visibility and invisibility is a matter of selective perspective. Remote sensing devices – such as those put in place for the monitoring of marine environments – selectively construct and reorganise their objects of sensing through regimes of visibility and attention. Whereas there is an abundance of information available on dying species in marine habitats in the Mediterranean Sea, the exact number of irregular migrant deaths at sea is difficult to determine because data are not systematically collected.

Together with Felix Stalder and Vladan Joler – first in a lecture and then in a workshop – we ventured a look at the diverse socio-technical infrastructures that not only format those regimes of in/visibilities but also make our knowledge production and its commodification possible. In their work which straddles the boundaries of academia and arts they propose maps (such as the one below) to make these infrastructures legible in their complexity and heterogeneity.


Their Infrastructure of a Migratory Bird project maps the infrastructures necessary for the rewilding of the northern bald ibis, a bird that went extinct in Europe 400 years ago. The project is one of the most ambitious conservation projects underway, aiming to re-introduce the bird to Europe. With the help of the above map, we see the relationships between social, technological, informational, and ecological elements that make up the ecosystem in which the bird is becoming wild again. The map also provides spatial, monetary, and temporal dimensions for these elements. However, creating, reading, and using such a map poses significant challenges to visualisation practices, especially in dealing with incompleteness and perspective. (Listen to the audio guides here!)

Anatomy of an AI System/Kate Crawford (AU), Vladan Joler (RS), Credit: Ars Electronica, Martin Hieslmair https://ars.electronica.art/outofthebox/en/anatomy-of-ai/

These challenges also became evident when we explored another marvellous map, that of the Anatomy of an AI System by Vladan Joler, based on his cooperation with Kate Crawford. The new manifestations of machine learning and artificial intelligence rely on various forms of planetary exploitation of labour and resources that often go unnoticed. Joler provides a detailed infographic and essay mapping the different types of infrastructures and resources that make up the global system behind Amazon’s “Echo” device. The map illustrates the various processes and resources involved in making the “Echo” device work, from rare earth extraction to data flows. Joler’s work makes it possible to critically examine the interconnected but diverse infrastructures necessary for smart devices to function. In the afternoon workshop we explored this map in small groups, trying to find our own pathways and navigation around specific topics driven by students’ concerns.

In the following you will find a short interview with workshop participant Carsten Horn. Carsten reports how he experienced the group exercise and discusses mapping as a method or tool of(critical) research into digital infrastructures. He points out possible shortcomings or blind spots of mapping as well as potential contributions of this technique to intervention into the regimes of in/visibility and the injustices that global digital infrastructures create and maintain.

Carsten, how did you experience this exercise (Anatomy of AI map)?

In the literature on digital infrastructures, scholars have emphasised the gap that exists between metaphors of “the cloud” and the materiality – and material impacts! – of these infrastructures (e.g. Holt & Vonderau, 2015). From this perspective, I thought that the map is a powerful tool for grounding such metaphors. It makes us aware of how our digital practices mobilise a vast, global network including its material consequences. In the session itself, it was a great privilege to have Vladan as one of the creators of the map guide us through the map and then, after the group work, to discuss our findings with him. The group exercise for me was a very stimulating way to use the map as a tool for (desk) research. Especially the interdisciplinarity of our group made the discussions very vivid and I thought identifying the worker protests at Foxconn as a story of failed (yellow) unionisation that emerged from them was really interesting.

Screenshot of the Group Exercise: Navigating the Map from the Workers’ Perspective (2023)

Which part of the map immediately caught your attention and why?

When first looking at the map and reading the accompanying description the lines and flows caught my attention – more so than any individual node. Starting from a mundane, seemingly innocent action such as giving a command to your digital assistant you find yourself drawn out to different locations, temporalities, scales, materialities, environments. This and the speed at which you travel were quite fascinating to me.

Amazon Echo Dot schematics, Vladan Joler (2018)  https://anatomyof.ai/

Did you get lost somewhere?

Yes, definitely! Usually this would signal a badly designed map, but it’s quite the opposite here. It’s easy to get lost in the amount of detail that the map displays. You can, quite literally, zoom in and out infinitely and follow new connections. At first, you may try to get an overview and understanding of the map as a whole but then you start to follow the different lines. You focus on one particular step in the supply chain. Then you realise intersections between different parts of the map. Things got even more dizzying when we started to throw some flesh on the skeleton the map anatomised because we began seeing the complexities the symbols refer to. This opens up new avenues beyond the map. So, in a way, you have a new map in front of you every time, depending on the perspective that you take. I wonder whether Vladan would agree that maybe getting lost this way is part of the intention of the map – precisely to interrupt our seeming familiarity with such everyday technologies. It makes the map an interesting starting point to think further with.

Screenshot of section of Anatomy of an AI System/Kate Crawford (AU), Vladan Joler (RS) – 2018 https://anatomyof.ai/

In regard to the topic Noopur and others raised, creating “visibility” from a very Global North mapping perspective, what needs to be considered? Remember, Vladan told us he travelled many of the places on his maps….

It’s really important to keep this critique in mind. Recently, I read an article by Shannon Mattern (2016) who makes similar arguments. She argues that mapping (and the necessary fieldwork) have unfortunate resonances with gendered colonialist practices and imaginaries: the explorer charting and claiming unknown territories. Moreover, she reminds us, mapping to render infrastructures visible is a sign of privilege. If infrastructure only becomes visible upon breakdown, the need to make it visible implies that it usually works smoothly. Therefore, I think it’s important to ask for whom these infrastructures are in/visible and from what (privileged) position we work as researchers in the Global North to be able to ask such questions. As the old adage goes, the map is not the territory, nor does it create changes by itself. It’s all about what follows from it. The open question is how we can intersect the map and the decolonial perspectives that Noopur and others call for.

What are the benefits and challenges of such mapping exercises, in your opinion?

Mapping helps us, and maybe forces us, to think within the same frame of reference about human actors, earthly resources, technologies and forms of knowledge. This is one benefit. A second benefit is that maps are tools to think with, they invite further engagement and conversations. You immediately start following the lines and discuss the nodes that capture your attention. At the same time, you think further with the map and try to go beyond it in a sort of free association. Relatedly, I think that the awareness of broader, sometimes surprising interrelations maps depict are another benefit. From a more activist perspective, this demonstrates where changes are desperately needed – and the nodes where transformations can begin.

Still-Image from a Video of the Worker Protests at the Foxconn Factory in Zhengzhou (Gan & Liu, 24.11.2022), https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/24/business/foxconn-offer-protests-china-covid-intl-hnk/index.html

As for the challenges, I can talk about some that our group encountered when we were working on the exercise in the workshop session. The first one was how maps can deal with silences. In the case of the worker protests at Foxconn, the Chinese government tried to censor media coverage and the dissemination of videos on social media. On the other side of the globe, Apple, which uses the components manufactured by the workers in their devices, refused to comment on the protests. Trying to create visibility, maps somewhat rely on it for their empirical materials. In the face of silences and corporate secrecy the maps risk perpetuating or even creating new invisibilities. “Historicity” was a second challenge. As two-dimensional representations/interventions, maps freeze a particular moment of time. A quote by Tommaso Venturini (2010, p. 268) captures this nicely: When we create maps “we contribute to the solidification of some portions of social magma”.

Mapping as a method: what kind of skills and collaborations would be necessary for it to work?

I think one crucial condition for mapping is the transdisciplinarity of those doing the mapping. By this I mean not only that the cartographers come from different disciplines – this was a strength of the DigiGov Winter School from which I really profited – but also different ways of engaging with insights: researchers, artists, activists. The second condition, diversity, also speaks to this. Kate Crawford (2021, p. 10) writes that “maps, at their best, offer us a compendium of open pathways – shared ways of knowing – that can be mixed and combined to make new interconnections”. In this sense, different perspectives need to come together so that something truly new and insightful can emerge. This entails that we are reflexive of our own positionality when drawing maps but also of the limits of maps as always partial representations/interventions. Care, I would say, is another condition. How do we care about what we map and how can we avoid obfuscating the experiences of those whose realities we map? In this sense, we should also continuously ask how our maps can stimulate and bring about emancipatory transformations, more “liveable worlds” to use Donna Haraway’s term.

How could such maps be “translated” into social change?

From a Global North perspective, I think that these kinds of maps can create awareness about how our everyday actions are entangled with global networks of the exploitation of human labour and the earthly resources. Visibility is not all bad, it depends on what follows from it. While I don’t think that more reflexive consumer choices can change much, maybe we can use maps to forge new “geographies of responsibility”, as Madeleine Akrich (1992) calls it. If the supply chains of our digital technologies span the globe, why do we still not have global institutions for governing them, to hold those accountable whose economic interests drive the exploitation of humans and the earth and who massively profit from these chains?

Beyond this limited perspective, the maps can maybe produce new global networks of solidarity based on structural proximity. If the workers become aware that they are part of the same network from which only a few harvest profits, this could open up new pathways for organising and resisting within these networks. Maybe this would come close to the “South-South solidarity networks” as spaces for actual changes from below that Noopur (2021, p. 30) mentions. And because, as he explained in the session, Vladan also sought to emphasise the exploitation of earthly resources (which he calls “new extractivism” in another project), maybe this can help to bring together the global “ecological class” (Latour & Schultz, 2022) as a more-than-human political collective that is able to take up the struggles for the world that sustains the life of all earthly beings.

Concluding remarks:

In conclusion: how can maps and mapping methods help us to attend to the invisibilities of inequalities related to digital practices that were on the agenda of the second day of this year’s DigiGov Winter School? Maps allow us to think about the global interrelations that make our most mundane digital practices possible and to think within the same frame of reference the exploitation of human labour and earthly resources, the entanglements of nature, society and technology. In this sense, maps are a tool to think further within transdisciplinary teams with a diversity of situated perspectives because they invite us to consider what often remains hidden from us. At the same time, harking back to the critique Noopur Raval developed in her talk, it is necessary to be critical of the shortcomings of maps, the colonial heritage of mapping techniques and their epistemological underpinnings, such as privileging spatiality over temporality and solidifying a particular moment in time.

One crucial question then is whether and how maps can serve to make interventions in the global networks of digital capitalism without – despite all good intentions – creating new invisibilities and silencing the perspectives of workers in the Global South. Thinking together with Noopur Raval, Monika Halkort, Vladan Joler and Felix Stalder we suggest that by forging new geographies of responsibility and helping to bring together the global ecological class, maps could inspire new pathways for organising and resisting within the networks that maps render visible.


Akrich, M. (1992). The De-Scription of Technical Objects. In W. E. Bijker & J. Law (Eds.), Shaping Technology/Building Society. Studies in Sociotechnological Change. (pp. 205–224). MIT Press.

Crawford, K. (2021). Atlas of AI. Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence. Yale University Press.

Gan, N., & Liu, J. (2022, November 24). Foxconn offers to pay workers to leave world’s largest iPhone factory after violent protests | CNN Business. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/24/business/foxconn-offer-protests-china-covid-intl-hnk/index.html

Gray, M. L., & Suri, S. (2019). Ghost work: How to stop Silicon Valley from building a new global underclass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Holt, J., & Vonderau, P. (2015). “Where the Internet Lives”. Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructures. In L. Parks & N. Starosielski (Eds.), Signal Traffic. Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures (pp. 71–93). University of Illinois Press.

Latour, B., & Schultz, N. (2022). On the Emergence of an Ecological Class. A Memo. Polity Press.

Mattern, S. (2016). Cloud and Field. Places Journal. https://doi.org/10.22269/160802

Raval, N. (2021). Interrupting invisibility in a global world. Interactions, 28(4), 27–31. https://doi.org/10.1145/3469257

Venturini, T. (2010). Diving in magma: How to explore controversies with actor-network theory. Public Understanding of Science, 19(3), 258–273.

Carsten Horn is a researcher for the research project “Innovation Residues” at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna. His research interests are situated at the intersections of STS, sociology and philosophy.

Katja Mayer is a sociologist at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna. Her research focuses on the relationship between social scientific methods and their publics, with particular emphasis on Computational Social Science, Big Data, and Machine Learning. In addition to her academic work, she also serves as a Senior Scientist at the Center for Social Innovation, where she conducts research on innovation and research policy issues.

Repair as “a Puzzle Piece in Rethinking Value”. Research on Waste with Ulrike Felt

By Tamara Bak, Tereza Butková, David Würflinger, and Michaela Zuckerhut

Editor’s Note: This blog post ist Part II of our student series (find Part I here), in which a group of STS master students write a practice research proposal and are asked to engage not only with literature on the topic, but also with a researcher from the department, to deepen their understanding of the field and approach to their project.

What does our approach to handling waste say about ourselves and society? What values are reflected in it? And how has the debate changed in recent years? We approached Ulrike Felt, the head of the STS department and the principal investigator of the INNORES project. Within the INNORES project, she researches nuclear waste, microplastics and digital residues so it was our aim to learn about her views on current research on waste, as well as her experiences in the field.

Over the past semester, we have been working on a project called “Environmental Futures: Our lives with waste”. Through brainstorming and research, we eventually focused on repair practices, particularly the “Right to Repair” movement which promotes dismantling obstacles for repair and enabling users to repair products themselves. Therefore, we started our interview by asking Ulrike how the boundaries between a repairable item and waste shift.

“We always look at balancing factors of time, availability and money”, Ulrike explains, referring to a coffee machine in the department getting worn-out as an example. Its repair would cost more than buying a new one with a fresh warranty. In this example, purchasing new products becomes a more desirable option both in terms of convenience and financial costs.

Social values in waste
Speaking about repair, Ulrike points to the broad field of valuation studies — Désirée Waibel and colleagues’ article on “Valuation Constellations” (Waibel et al., 2021) in particular. What is especially remarkable, according to Ulrike, is how the text encourages the reader to reflect on how different positionalities relate to the roles that people assume when being confronted with questions of waste and repair. In the case of hospital ventilators, a doctor might prefer the faster option of ordering a new one, while a technician would rather consider repair.

Ulrike further elaborates that in the European context waste is considered a by-product of the process of “keeping the machine running” — a collateral that is simply part of maintaining our standard of living. But, she continues, this imagination is linked specifically to the economic context we are in. We are dealing with structures that cater to “the industry” and position innovation as the key to reducing waste. The strive towards innovation on the one hand and all of its problematic implications on the other point to a lack of coherence. Thus, repair and maintenance could be a step towards resolving this quandary or — as Ulrike calls it — “a puzzle piece in rethinking value”.

Repair in medicine

One of the sites where repair plays a vital role is the medical sector (e.g., Schubert, 2019). As our research proposal focuses on on-site repair practices in hospitals, particularly in ICUs, we asked Ulrike about her experiences within this environment.

Ulrike stresses that ICUs prioritize keeping patients in critical, life-threatening conditions alive to healing or treating their underlying medical issues. This emphasis on handling acute emergencies that threaten a patient’s overall stability highlights the urgency and pressure that doctors face in this setting. As a result, prioritizing short-term health-stability over other aspects of patients’ care may cause different values of medical workers to collide. Overall, the hierarchical arrangement of the medical field and the added pressure of intensive care might imbue the repair practices and the values related to waste that are at play in ICUs.

Since we are especially interested in practices of repairing medical ventilators within the ICU, Uli’s experiences give us insight into possible challenges that we might face when conducting our own research.

Dealing with waste

The tricky thing about researching waste is understanding why we dispose of waste in some places and not others, how we relate to it and what values we enact in doing so. One of Ulrike’s favourite writers, Italo Calvino, asks if the real powerful act is possibly in separating ourselves from our valuables, rather than having them in our possession. But what happens after something has been deemed waste? Consider microplastics or nuclear waste, for example.

Ulrike describes France’s strategy for dealing with low- and medium-energy radioactive waste: “They bury it and even if the waste is not radioactive anymore – above the threshold that would be – they do not transport it or undo it, instead, they create huge waste graveyards.”
While the French nuclear burial sites are being transformed into a mix of educational site and an attraction for adventurers, Austria has taken a different approach: here, low- and medium-energy radioactive waste is being repeatedly measured until a certain threshold is met and then it is treated as ‘normal’ waste.

This comparison raises some questions that Ulrike has been concerned with for a while: What are the reasons for such choices? What values inform these decisions and how do these values come about? And why does the French approach to nuclear waste strike us — being situated in Austria — as so strange and vice versa?
To figure it out, Ulrike suggests to take the STS-y route — to trace and conceptualise these issues.

Changing practices over time

In the last part of our interview, we asked Ulrike to reflect on the changes she has observed in the field. How have practices and debates about waste shifted since she has started researching the topic?

What has changed significantly, from Ulrike’s perspective, is the global political environment. This includes not only various political directives and laws, but also new discourse coalitions, to borrow a term from Maarten Hajer (e.g., Hajer 2020). In practice, this means that researchers such as Ulrike succeed in incorporating their narratives into political discourses and thus make their work visible. “This has allowed us to ask relevant questions. That is a very important part of today’s research culture”, notes Ulrike.

As we realise that we live in science- and technology-driven societies, questions about the environment and resources become more prominent. As Ulrike reminds us, the issue of plastic waste has been around for decades, but the debate used to be far less intense in its earlier stages. She recalls an article from the 1970s that already warned of the risks of plastics but did not receive much attention at the time. This illustrates the need for discourse coalitions, as those can secure the needed attention. In other words, for research to have an impact, there needs to be an audience. “If you just shout out as a scientist, you will not be heard. You need to have conversation spaces where somebody wants to know what you are telling them,” Ulrike adds.

 When Ulrike was growing up, she experienced how society cherished the idea of nuclear energy and its promise of a prosperous future. Later on, plastics took on this role, as the importance of them increased in time. While both plastics and nuclear power plants provided a certain societal uplift by providing cheap and versatile materials and energy respectively, they also introduced novel problems to be solved in an undefined future — such as long-lasting waste. And now, Ulrike says, a similar process is unfolding with digital practices — because every digital infrastructure and practice has its environmental costs too. Next to plastic and nuclear waste, this forms the third pillar of her most recent project INNORES.

Considering these aspects prompts us to think about the material impacts of “the Digital”. And, according to Ulrike, it is high time to do so: “Just 20 years down the road we will have the same problems we had with other things. So we should ask these questions now, when we might still change certain practices, and not when it’s too late.”

Hajer. (2020). Discourse Coalitions and the Institutionalization of Practice: The Case of Acid Rain in Great Britain. In The Argumentative Turn in Policy Analysis and Planning (pp. 43– 76). Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822381815-003
Schubert, C. (2019). Repair Work as Inquiry and Improvisation: The Curious Case of Medical Practice. In I. Strebel, A. Bovet, & P. Sormani (Eds.), Repair Work Ethnographies: Revisiting Breakdown, Relocating Materiality (pp. 31–60). Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-2110-8_2
Waibel, D., Peetz, T., & Meier, F. (2021). Valuation Constellations. Valuation Studies, 8(1), Article 1. https://doi.org/10.3384/VS.2001-5992.2021.8.1.33-66

The authors are students of the STS Master’s program.

Making impact with a tea bag – How to create trust in citizen science data?

By Jóia Maria Boode, Lisa-Maria Chmarra, Teresa Heinz, and Anna-Maria Lipp

With human made climate change rapidly progressing on a global scale, leaders in policy, industry and academia are looking for answers on how to halt this threat. Increasingly, scholars are looking for solutions outside of academia, a hitherto under-used source of knowledge production, namely citizen science.

For a group assignment in the STS-department of Vienna, we were asked to write a research proposal for a project that would be possible, but not actually conducted. Our proposal focuses on the use of citizen science in environmental sciences, and specifically on the quality of the data collected through this method. In this blogpost we hope to share with you why we think this topic is an important venue for research, and hope to inspire you to think critically about your intentions as you conduct your own research. In this way we hope that our proposal can still contribute to actual research being done.

Projects in fields like biology, gathering data on everything from temperature, to plant cycles, to bird migration are more prevalent than ever, but these efforts are halted by the lack of one important factor: trust. The difficulty of ensuring data quality of data collected through citizen science, especially when the collected data depends on interpretations (which is often the case in environmental studies) explains why citizen science is often not considered (and therefore used) a serious research method in many fields, including STS. We therefore wondered why there was barely any literature available about policing the quality of CS data, especially in the field of STS. Merging our collective experiences from research, arts and social relations, we focus on exactly this research gap about trustworthiness of citizen science data.

To specify our research question, we decided to connect our questions to a specific project that used Citizen Science as a means to collect data. And since we all share an interest in environmental studies through a passion for making a positive impact on the world through scientific practices, we decided to pick a case where citizen science is applied for environmental monitoring. We chose “The Tea Bag Index” (TBI), an Austrian project that lets participants use tea bags to measure soil quality by weighing them before putting them in the ground and three months after. Since this project already finished and published its results, we could look at how it succeeded at producing multiple peer-reviewed articles, gaining international press coverage, and winning the 2016 Austrian Citizen Science Award.

Picture depicting the authors on their way to bury tea bags

For this project we interviewed Max Fochler, because he has experience in working on the “public understanding of science and the public engagement of citizens in science.” In his early research, Max expressed that he felt it was strange to only focus on the public side of the citizen-involvement debate, and by reflecting on that he started to focus more and more on the side of the scientist and the process of creating knowledge.

Since we wanted to look into data collection, and specifically ensuring the quality of this data, we chose to focus on the “scientist-side” of citizen science projects. The basis of our case was to investigate the excellence and relevance of specific scientific practices. In the interview, Max asked: “assuming you are interested in the particular social and environmental impact of your work, how does that relate to your actual practices in science?” It made us think about our research approach and the goal we wanted to reach with our research. Was our research contributing to making a bigger impact? Or were we putting more control and therefore pressure on scientists who wanted to use citizen science in their research, therefore confirming the biases around citizen science?

Interestingly Max pointed out that “the more you talk to scientists, the more you realise that in their perception, a lot of things do not work well in the current academic systems, on a lot of different levels.” And though we can emotionally agree with each other that the amount of competition found in the academic world is negatively influencing research practices as well as the personal well-being of scientists (Morrish, 2019) it is hard to actually prove the connection of this to both the relevance and excellence of research practices and publications. The noticeable effects are different: e.g. losing talented people who get fed up with the hierarchical, competitive structures within the scientific work-practice, or people feeling pressured and burned-out. The influence on the actual knowledge that is being produced is not investigated so much.

The information that Max provided us with supports the finding of the research gap on quality control of data collected through citizen science, and partly explains why this gap is there. Structures that push researchers to publish many articles make it a safer choice for researchers to pick a method that is already considered to be credible, rather than going for a long-term, time-consuming citizen science project of which the results might be questioned (if even) by colleagues and peer reviewers. Max claimed that the influence of these structures on produced knowledge, especially in projects that deal with environmental or socio-environmental issues, is one that should absolutely be questioned as it might explain why certain topics are structurally avoided or overrepresented. “It is crucial to investigate whether a researcher strives to make an actual impact with their project, by for example focusing the outcomes on practical tips for citizens or farmers on how to improve their soil quality. Or do they strive to get the results that will lead them to a professorship or a highly cited article?”

The question of knowledge production is central to the field of STS, but empirical research on citizen science is largely lacking. Therefore, we argue that our research is an appropriate supplement to the field of STS, as it aims to fill this gap. We hope that our research proposal for creating citizen sciences standards will at the very least inspire others to think critically about the intentions of their research and stand still for a moment when they choose between making an impact on the world around them, or reaching the next step in their own career.


Heigl, F. (2022, August 31). Tea Bag Index – Österreich forscht. https://www.citizen-science.at/en/projects/tea-bag-index-552
Morrish, L. (2019). Pressure Vessels: The Epidemic of Poor Mental Health among Higher Education Staff. Occasional Paper 20. Higher Education Policy Institute.

Jóia Maria Boode (she/her) is a master student in the STS program at the University of Vienna. Previously she studied Interdisciplinary Arts with a focus on documentary film. She currently works as a documentary filmmaker in academic research groups, where she communicates science in a creative way. Her fields of interests are creative science education, science as a practice and culture and inequality studies with a focus on feminist technoscience.

Lisa-Maria Chmarra (she/her) is a master student in the STS program at the University of Vienna. Previously she studied sociology and anthropology. She currently works as a project manager in the field of science communication. Her fields of interest are science engagement, science as a practice and culture, and inequality studies.

Teresa Heinz (she/her) is a master student in the STS Program at the University of Vienna. Previously she followed a Bachelors’ Degree in International Relations and Management. Her fields of interest are the role of politics in science and how the human mind and cognition are influenced by “things” like institutions.

Anna-Maria “Ria” Lipp (-/She) is a master student in the STS program at the University of Vienna. (-she) has a background in environmental sciences and engineering and currently works as a prae-doc research assistant at the TU Vienna. Ria is really interested in feminist science studies and the intertwined relations between science and society, with a focus on integration, communication and activism.

All about zines: A different kind of conference report

So, we made a zine. We – that is Ariadne, Bao-Chau, Esther, Sarah, Fredy, Andrea, Kathleen, and Constantin – are all working at the University of Vienna’s Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). But what is a zine? Why did we make one? And what does this have to do with Science and Technology Studies (STS)?
Zines – a kind of booklet – are crafted pieces of work composed of text and different visuals. The text can be produced in various ways, e.g., through writing by hand or by using digital tools. The visuals can consist of a wide range of forms, again, from drawings by hand to photographs or digital images. In contrast to clear-cut formats like journal articles or other more established forms of publications, these textual and visual elements are often arranged in overlapping and interlocking (one might even say messy) ways. Once produced, zines are circulated among a rather small group interested in the same issue (Kempson, 2015).
In our case, the starting point for producing a zine was a call for contributions to the ‘DIY Methods 2022’ conference, a mostly screen-free, zine-full and remote-participation conference on experimental methods for research and research exchange organized by the ‘Low-Carbon Research Methods Group’[1]. On their website, the group describes itself as a “loosely-affiliated network of scholars interested in examining how climate change not only stands to alter what we study, but how we do so”. While a variety of academic disciplines and approaches is present in the group, Anne Pasek, the director, also draws on feminist STS to discuss regimes of fossil fuels and aviation in contemporary academia and points to some pathways for change (Pasek, 2020).
One way of thinking about carbon in academia is by critically engaging with the research methods that are applied to study it. This not only refers to the natural sciences but also our own, social science methods. This gave us the idea of using the call to reflect on an ongoing, collective, and collaborative autoethnography about mundane academic practice in pandemic times. If you want to get another perspective on this process, check out an earlier post on this blog by Esther Dessewffy and Bao-Chau Pham where they explore how this endeavor shapes care practices and researchers’ identities. By crafting a zine, we now aimed to express our experiences, emotions, and thoughts about our daily lives in academia in a, for us, very different format than we usually work with and in an attempt to share our research methods in a low-carbon way.
In this blog post, we want to share some reflections on the process of making our zine and participating in the conference. In doing so, we want to draw your attention to three moments of reflection: first, zines act as collaborative tool as well as a way of doing and sharing research. Second, making zines emphasizes the processual and everything-else-than-linear character of doing research, exemplified by a series of visuals from our own process. And third, we give insights into the advantages, limitations, and complexities of contributing to a conference that is not held in-person or digitally but taking place through the distribution of the zines via post and through discussions on social media.

Zines as tools in research
While there were and are many ways to do social science research, and many ways to share it, STS scholar Sergio Sismondo (2016) has pointed to the rise of “new venues in STS” by exploring different emerging publication formats which complement traditional publishing in journals and books. Zines can be understood as one such venue. While some researchers describe zines as “queering the form” and point to their methodological and material aspects (Damon et al., 2022), others frame them as a situated and context-specific form of Do-it-Yourself (DIY) feminism (Kempson, 2015).
For our zine, we also drew on the notion of the pinboard and logics of juxtaposition (Law, 2007) to emphasize the non-linearity of crafting arguments in academic research – for a more elaborated discussion of this see a visual essay here. Crafting a zine is not only about sharing and publishing research results or knowledge, but is itself a process of thinking, improvising, and learning.

The process – pinboards in the making
The attempt to craft a zine consisted of individual and collective efforts, and made use of a variety of materialities, digital tools, and, more generally, a constant re-thinking, re-ordering, and re-positioning. This not only applied to text and visuals, but also to ourselves, our ideas, and our own situatedness (Haraway, 1988).
The following series of pictures tries to show how different forms of writing and visualizing are interwoven in the process of making our zine. Below, you can see snapshots from the making of one of the pinboards. Other pinboards in our zine are completely different – not only in terms of outcome but also in the process. This is due to the decision we made that individuals should take the lead on the different pinboards but, at the same time, we acknowledge that we build on and engage with the experiences, knowledge, and work of everybody in the group. This approach should, on the one hand, deliberately allow for non-linearity, non-consistency, and non-coherence to evolve and, on the other hand, emphasize that knowledge-production is never solely individual but always a social process, especially in such a collaborative project.
The chosen pictures can be seen as an imperfect attempt to make some of our processes visible and understandable, although many facets are left out here.

Participating in a different conference
By contributing our zine to the DIY methods conference, we were also invited to participate in a series of events over the summer.
First, the Low-Carbon Research Methods Summer Institute organized by Alexandra Lakind & Kate Elliott, seasonal scholars of the group, offered an office hour to provide a space for reflecting on carbon-intensive practices in research. The aim was to discuss predominant norms and expectations in academia but also to think about alternatives. My colleague Ariadne Avk?ran and I together decided to register for such an office hour and were eager to learn more about the role of carbon emissions in research. In the meeting then, we were surprised to be asked a set of questions about our own research and daily lives, especially considering carbon practices. We did not really expect this, but it led to a reflection not only about our individual practices but also regarding institutional settings, disciplinary norms, societal contexts, and political opportunities for change.
Interested in engaging with these issues further, I participated in a subsequent online workshop with the aim to explore low-carbon tools and techniques. Now, finally, I would get the answer on how to be low-carbon in my research practices, right? At least that is what I thought.
But, again, it turned out differently. One first surprise, for me, was that in this virtual space roughly half of the workshop was devoted to getting to know each other in small breakout rooms. It was nice and interesting to chat with people from different geographical, disciplinary, and institutional backgrounds, but I was starting to wonder if I would get the answers and solutions I was hoping for. During the second part of the workshop, though, the variety of perspectives I encountered in these conversations helped me to realize that there are many (more) realities and ideas of both problems and solutions for doing research in low-carbon ways. To know a bit about other participants’ situatedness not only made me aware of new aspects, but also contextualized the issues that were raised in the plenary and achieved more understanding amongst participants. Topics and issues that emerged – and these are by far not all – ranged from energy infrastructures to different ways of traveling, from institutional contexts to disciplinary norms, from global issues to local ones, and from digital aspects to embodied experiences.
For me, this workshop opened up more questions rather than offering answers. I had hoped for some tools and approaches I could use in my own research practices, but the conversations took a more theoretical turn. However, this also made me aware of the difficulty to provide ready-made and easy solutions for the complex and context-specific situations people are in when trying to research in low-carbon ways. One key learning for me – and this might be obvious, but I think it is still important – was that I cannot expect to just receive the perfect solutions for me from others, not on this day but most likely also not on any other day. Rather, this workshop led me to reflect on carbon in my own research practices more frequently and think of it as an ongoing process.
And then, finally, it was time for the DIY methods conference itself. All the digitally submitted zines were printed out by the organizers and sent to the participants across the world. So, there was not a physical gathering of people in one place but instead a physical gathering of peoples’ zines at different places. It was delightful to look at all the zines and be able to engage with other participants’ reflections and the ways they had been materialized. To further explore the methodological experiments the participants crafted through their zines, a virtual discussion took place on Twitter to avoid Zoom and issues with different time zones. After a couple of initial kick-off Tweets by the organizers of the conference, some threads unfolded and led to interesting conversations, for instance about how to carry out research in low-carbon ways despite established and institutionalized norms. However, I did not participate in the way I had hoped for because of my cautiousness and reluctance to engage on Twitter more actively and, in this case, the flexible and non-simultaneous manner of discussion was not a perfect fit for me.
Thinking about my own preferences and reflecting on other conferences I attended, I asked myself: What ways of doing conferences enable me to participate actively? Would I have been more active in a physical gathering? I am not sure and that comes with a lot of traveling, carbon emissions, money, and many other issues involved. Or would it have been any different on a different digital platform like Zoom? Again, I am not sure as such platforms also come with time zone differences, affordances of digital infrastructures, fatigue, and other issues.
I was puzzled. I realized that my previous assumptions about different types of conferences were much more complex than I thought. Personal, environmental, financial, institutional, disciplinary, political, and other considerations all play a role in this.
In the end, nevertheless, I have to say that I learned a lot throughout this whole process: about zines, academia, conferences, carbon emissions, my own preferences and practices, and much more. Exploring the entanglements of bodily experiences, materialities, and the digital proved to be a pathway worthwhile pursuing both while making our zine and when participating in the conference. To me, it seems that zines – as one venue of and for STS – can be tools for thinking and crafting ideas in research, but they also offer moments of reflection and, thereby, point to different ways of doing and sharing research. Though, of course, they are not a perfect fit for everyone, and every piece of research!
If you want to take a look at the zines produced for the conference, you can find them here.
And in case you got interested in the work of the Low Carbon Research Methods group, Kate Elliott is taking the lead on the ‘Wayfinding for Restorative Methods’ initiative that emerged from the summer institute.

[1] The latter website is powered by a solar panel near Trent, Canada, based on the shared Solar Protocol.

Damon, L., Kiconco, G., Atukunda, C., & Pahl, K. (2022). Queering the Form: Zine-Making as Disruptive Practice. Cultural Studies <-> Critical Methodologies, 22(4), 407–419. https://doi.org/10.1177/15327086221087652
Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066
Kempson, M. (2015). ‘My Version of Feminism’: Subjectivity, DIY and the Feminist Zine. Social Movement Studies, 14(4), 459–472. https://doi.org/10.1080/14742837.2014.945157
Law, J. (2007). Pinboards and Books: Juxtaposing, Learning and Materiality. In D. W. Kritt and L. T. Winegar (Eds.). Education and Technology: Critical Perspectives, Possible Futures (pp. 125–150). Lanham: Lexington Books.
Pasek. (2020). Low-Carbon Research: Building a Greener and More Inclusive Academy. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 6, 34–38. https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2020.363
Sismondo, S. (2016). New venues in STS. Social Studies of Science, 46(1), 3–6. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312715625854

Constantin Holmer is a master student in the STS program at the University of Vienna and a student assistant working with Prof. Sarah Davies. He is interested in (digital) academic practices and environmental issues.

Some reflections on research on Long Covid and ME/CFS – or, how to better integrate different knowledge cultures and establish more coordination in research

By Ruth Falkenberg

I have been lying in bed with Long Covid for nearly three months now. Even small tasks are incredibly exhausting for me. I have constant pains, and I am basically unable to continue my PhD, which I would so much like to move forward. This is not what this short piece is about, but I want to disclose from the beginning from what position I am writing these reflections.

Representational picture of a bed – Photo by Becca Schultz

In the past weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Long Covid research as it is currently unfolding, about papers that have been brought to my attention (‘did you see this new article yet?’ ‘oh, my colleague is also doing research on this, take a look!’), as well as about discussions and activism happening on social media platforms. I want to share some of these bedside reflections here.

On the one hand, it is certainly most welcome that research on Long Covid is accelerating now, after the condition itself, people’s suffering, and the lack of adequate treatment options have been ignored in so many spaces for far too long. More research on the condition is most welcome, not only by people suffering from Long Covid, but also by those who are dealing with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) – a condition that has existed as a medical diagnosis for decades (Rogers 2022). Nevertheless, patients and their suffering have remained mostly unacknowledged, uncared for, and even gaslit by large parts of the medical system.

On the other hand, I all too often find myself stumbling across papers – from a broad spectrum of sciences, including social sciences and humanities – that tend to present as new findings what people suffering from ME/CFS and Long Covid have known and tried to bring to attention for years. For example, yes, both patients and those few doctors that are experienced with seeing and taking seriously patients with ME/CFS and Long Covid have soon recognized the often greatly overlapping symptom constellations of the two conditions. Yet, it sometimes seems that such insights that have been gained and gathered by patients and practitioners – personally but also in Facebook groups, internet fora, or different kinds of associations – are now being heralded as ‘breakthrough findings’ in academia. Of course, it makes sense to further strengthen and substantiate existing insights of patients and practitioners with clinical data and to develop biomarkers for diagnosing ME/CFS and Long Covid, etc. Nevertheless, from reading respective articles, my impression is that such research is mostly done without much contact with the knowledge cultures and existing insights of those most affected.

Research in Science and Technology Studies (STS) has pointed to problems of lacking exchange and mutual learning between different knowledge cultures – but also the potential latent in such exchanges – for decades (see, e.g., Wynne, 1989). Yet, being deeply affected by this current case myself, I find it hard to witness how academia oftentimes seems to present as cutting-edge findings that seem crystal clear to patients and experienced practitioners. I am thus increasingly asking myself what would need to happen in order to bring about more mutual learning between biomedical and other kinds of research and the experience-based knowledge that patients and practitioners have accumulated, cultivated, and shared over the past years and decades. Effectively building on these existing experiences would be particularly important for moving on much quicker to conducting pharmacological and other kinds of treatment studies that are so urgently needed. At the moment, ‘pacing’ – the extremely strict management of one’s anyways severely limited energy resources – is the best strategy there is to offer to patients with both (or the same?) conditions.

In my view, more mutual learning and contact between medical and patient- and practitioner-based knowledge cultures could also do a lot for such treatment studies themselves. Often, I hear utterances such as ‘there is no proper evidence’, ‘we need (larger) randomized controlled trials’, etc… and, sure, it would be great to create this kind of evidence. But patients with Long Covid and ME/CFS are taking tons of off-label drugs, prescribed by a handful of caring practitioners, while alternatives with a better evidence base lag behind demand. They are thus effectively creating their own evidence bases, derived from what helps and what does not. Instead of ignoring these evidence bases and sticking to dominant medical evidence hierarchies (on the latter see, e.g., Timmermanns and Berg, 2003; Trnka & Stöckelová, 2019; or Falkenberg 2019), researchers could at least try to gather them in retrospective cohort studies, or even case study series.

Sometimes, these days, I have been reminded of Steven Epstein (1996) and others’ writing on the AIDS uprisings, with people desperately calling for studies to be done differently, faster, with drugs being approved earlier, etc. I by no means want to compare the suffering of people back then with that of people today, as these are simply completely different conditions and contexts we find ourselves in. However, I feel that some re-thinking of medical evidence regimes and better communication between patient-based and academic knowledge cultures might also in the present case not be a bad idea – given the immense suffering going on, the fact that people are already taking experimental drugs, and that doctors are trying out every option that seems remotely useful to alleviate, if not causes, then at least symptoms. Once again, there are evidence bases that are built up in these experience-based knowledge cultures that should be more closely integrated with those of biomedical and other research.

STS research could play an important role here, in analysing and advocating for these issues with an active voice present in public discourse. Certainly, ME/CFS and Long Covid are also simply fascinating case studies from an STS perspective. Yet, I feel there is a danger also for STS to fall back into the all-too-comfortable mode of just writing another paper, packaging existing wisdom from other knowledge cultures in fancy analytic terms and publishing it in a disciplinary journal. While such publications might turn out to be an interesting read for other STSers and a valuable asset in the CV, it might not be of much help to affected people. I have, already at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, written about how important it is, especially in situations where there is so much suffering going on, to truly reflect on what kinds of research are actually needed and will help affected people. While jumping onto the next trendy topic may be tempting, already existing wisdom and embodied knowledge should not be ignored.

Overall, in my opinion, much more coordination work in research on Long Covid and ME/CFS is needed in the (social) sciences, but also in STS – and potentially facilitated by STS. STS researchers could actively take up an important role in bringing together the different implicated knowledge cultures and even call for a re-thinking of medical evidence hierarchies in this particular case. Such an active engagement from actors other than those affected would be particularly important since patients with Long Covid and ME/CFS hardly have the energy and capacity to engage in any kind of activism themselves. As Rogers (2022, p. 413) simply but appositely put it, “activism involves action, and people with ME/CFS can’t really do that”. It thus needs other actors to take up this task. And while this blogpost surely cannot draw a comprehensive picture of what would be needed to better bring together those different knowledge cultures, and in the end to better orient research in a way that it can truly support affected people, STS research and engagement could take important steps in such a direction. Coordination work from the field of STS may, amongst others, entail extensively exploring, with eyes wide open to things beyond usual academic horizons, how to build on existing knowledges and how to better coordinate the knowledge cultures of patients and practitioners with those of biomedical and other research. This might provide one step in bringing about research that truly helps affected people and integrates their embodied experience and long-standing engagement, rather than bluntly ignoring it.

Epstein, Steven. (1996) Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Falkenberg, R.I. (2019). Downward-facing dog meets randomised controlled trial. Investigating valuations in medical yoga research. Master Thesis: University of Vienna
Rogers, E.L. (2022), Recursive Debility: Symptoms, Patient Activism, and the Incomplete Medicalization of ME/CFS. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 36: 412-428. https://doi.org/10.1111/maq.12701
Timmermans, S., & Berg, M. (2003). The gold standard: the challenge of evidence-based medicine and standardization in health care. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Trnka, S. and Stöckelová, T. (2019), Equality, efficiency and effectiveness: going beyond RCTs in A. L. Cochrane’s vision of health care. Sociol Health Illn, 41: 234-248. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.1281
Wynne, B, (1989) Sheepfarming after Chernobyl: A Case Study in Communicating Scientific Information, Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 31:2, 10-39, https://doi.org/10.1080/00139157.1989.9928930

Ruth Falkenberg is a doctoral candidate at the Research Platform for Responsible Research and Innovation in Academic Practice. In her work she is concerned with the intertwinements between (e)valuation of research and epistemic developments, focusing specifically on innovativeness and relevance as increasingly important evaluative registers. In doing so, she pursues a broader interest in neoliberal governance in academia, cultures of knowledge production, and research for social-ecological transformation.

Tracing publics in urban spaces: an experience of an urban walking tour

By Katharina Prielinger

Publics are not that easy to find and observe, since they aren’t just “out there”, but emerge and form against issues, controversies and conflicts. In the course “Engaging with diverse publics” offered by Pouya Sepehr in summer semester 2022, we dealt with diverse forms of publics. As the American philosopher John Dewey noted in 1927, the public is not a static entity that simply exists or is out there. It is always forming itself anew and is in a constant state of flux, its existence always fleeting (Dewey 1927). Deviating from STS approaches for studying the emergence of publics I encountered in the first Semester of the STS Master, (controversies, issues or conflicts), I would like to focus on public spaces and places. I want to explore the question of how space making matters for the emergence of publics by focusing on materiality in urban contexts. I shift the focus from the more specific publics (e. g. publics that emerge around issues) that are, in my perception, mostly positioned in discourses, to the public sphere and the way it is built and shaped by subjects and allows them to exist, interact and come together. Since the lockdowns of the past years, I have been confronted with differences among the ways people can access spaces have become more obvious: Some might buy an island for their friends and family, while others need to share a room with their siblings for home schooling. While public spaces may appear accessible for all, I argue that the way they are designed often keeps certain people out and invites others in.

To address the question of how space making matters for the emergence of publics, I will consider insights from the walking tour “The Invisible Smart City” organized by the Whoosh collective and led by Eugene Quinn. We wandered around the 2nd district in Vienna starting from the Krieau station of the U2 Metro line through the residential area of Viertel Zwei, the campus of the University of Economics Vienna (WU), and the Prater. We returned to the inner city passing through  Praterstern and Vorgartenstraße, finishing at the Karmelitermarkt. We would stroll from one of these stops to the next, observe them, and listen to Eugene’s commentary. The initial focus of the walking tour was to reflect on different kinds of “smartness”[1] in Vienna. The walk touched on many interesting topics and gave us room to contemplate aspects we considered “smart” about the places we were visiting. For example, we discussed how the social democrat approach to urban planning in the red Vienna period from 1919 to 1934 ensured affordable housing. We also talked about how the celebrity architect Zaha Hadid had designed the library at WU Campus (the famous space-ship).

Although the walk focused on the multiple meanings and ways to encounter “smartness” in Vienna, it instead sparked my interest in how publics relate to urban spaces. Unfortunately, the walk itself was not long enough to deepen and discuss my observations concerning the emergence of publics in space (making). So, instead of exploring the initial “smartness”-topic of the walk, I use our course’s joint reflections as a starting point for my own observations.  In what follows, I discuss how the encounters from this walk inform my perspective of how the emergence of different publics might be facilitated by the various places we have visited.

Viertel Zwei

The Area of Viertel Zwei is a space of strategic city development (in contrast to historically grown quarters). Visitors encounter a rather open space with a fountain surrounded by buildings with glass facades where young (white) families and manufactured nature in the form of plant arrangements shape the picture. The real estate advertisements for this place mainly present its buildings, barely showing the inhabitants of the “green oasis” (value-one.com).

Analog to humans, nature will not only emerge where it is expected but it seeps through cracks and takes up space.

I did not really experience this place as an oasis. Walking the paved sidewalk, I had the feeling that despite the advertisement highlighting the greenery, it is only allowed in a highly manufactured way. Trees and grass seemed to have their designated places where they fulfilled a decorative function, almost like house plants. So, greenery in the form of unstructured and unplanned nature supposedly does not fit into the way Viertel Zwei’s urban planning is imagined.

Still, I noticed some grass peeking through the gaps between cobblestones, like small green rebels. I consider the way nature is enacted in this place – that is through the meticulous curation and regulation of plants – as analogous to the way I see it capable of shaping publics: It seemed to me that the public as well is highly selected in this area. I imagine this to be the case because although the space is supposedly open, it is still enclosed by tall buildings that block our view to the outside. These buildings were constructed for people who can afford a certain standard of living, allowing them to stay among themselves in this highly organized quarter. Everything is clean and tidy; nothing is left to chance. What seemed modern and progressive at first glance felt rather dull in this moment.

Modern, colorful, political: These benches are the modern, funky version of the armrests you would see put on benches in the inner districts

In congruence with the high standard of living advertised by Viertel Zwei, residents hold higher academic degrees than the residents of other areas of the 2nd district (Social space Monitoring of the AK 34, p. 15-20). While this area does offer plenty of possibilities to relax, many of them are only for temporary use. Their hostile design intends to keep homeless people from sleeping and spending time in these spaces (see also hostile vienna Instagram account), hence keeping them from the public that I see forming here. In general, the area of Viertel Zwei does not offer many elements (e. g. benches, swings, plants) that one could interact or engage with. The lack of flexible, adaptable design elements that can be used and appropriated by inhabitants in diverse, creative ways could be read as a suggestion that, in an area where most residents live in apartments big enough for individual design and decoration, such planning interventions are generally unnecessary.


The Praterstern is marked by transportation systems – the people here are passing by rather than lingering around. At least the most visible groups are people in cars and people on bikes. At the center of the huge roundabout of cars and bikes lies the U-Bahn and S-Bahn Station of Praterstern. Prior to the alcohol ban for the area around this public transport station, you would also see and notice the traces of club kids and party-goers this area, as well as homeless people. But now this already rather invisible public has been pushed to other corners of the city.


In conclusion, it seems that the rather abstract concepts of publics can still be seen and investigated when searching and interacting with concrete objects such as benches and spaces. It also appears to me that sometimes structural dimensions governing the use of spaces such as drinking bans and the imagination of territorial inhabitants (whether wealthy families or academics) shape the way spaces look and feel and appear to manifest in the ways spaces are designed. Stepping outside the classroom and searching for the traces of publics has made the theoretical considerations discussed in the course tangible; it has become easier to relate them to the way I experience urban spaces in Vienna. The walk and my research about the Naschmarkt/Markthalle/Naschmarktpark-Controversy in Viennas 4th district has deepened my insight into publics, spaces and their interactions.

Finally, with regards to my initial question of how to trace different publics in space, my conclusion reflects the (in)visibilities detected during the urban walk tour. On the one hand, being a member of the Viennese public is about visibility and participation to me. Wherever we encounter spaces that allow different groups of people (rich, poor, residents, visitors, men, women, different migration biographies,…) to be visible, we can see different forms of publics emerging and interacting. On the other hand, we should also pay attention to how material elements (including the use of urban technology) condition space and make certain groups of people invisible or displaced. In my eyes, a smart city (as the walk tried to show) is not primarily a top-down concept of “modern” buildings, smart technologies and organized nature; but rather a place where different people form different publics and claim and shape their spaces.

[1] The concept of smartness seemed to be rather unprecise. Back in the seminar, most of my colleagues reflected on the different ideas of smartness and how the concept of smart cities could be many things: including technologies in citizens daily life as well as providing functioning infrastructure for public transportation.


Dewey, J. (2012 [1927]). Search for the public. In The public and its problems: An essay in political inquiry (pp. 59-85). Pennsylvania State University Press

Marres, N., & Lezaun, J. (2011). Materials and devices of the public: An introduction. Economy and Society, 40(4), 489–509. https://doi.org/10.1080/03085147.2011.602293

Katharina Prielinger has been a student in the STS-Masters programme since Wintersemester 2021, after doing her BAs in Sociology and Political Science at the University of Vienna. She is interested in the intersections of urban spaces, politics and social justice as well as the different (interdisciplinary) ways STS might go.

Collaboratively exploring notions of innovativeness in research practices. A short tale of interdisciplinary publishing.

by Ruth Falkenberg, Maximilian Fochler, and Lisa Sigl


Together with the natural science partners in our project Valuing, Being, and Knowing in Research Practices , we have recently published a short article in the Science & Society section of the EMBO journal. Our project partners work in the areas of plant breeding, soil-root interactions, and soil microbial ecology, and are located at the BOKU and the University of Vienna. The piece we wrote and published together deals with, and problematizes, dominant notions of innovativeness in research practices. At least for one of us – Ruth – this was the first experience of co-authoring an article as an STS scholar together with researchers from the life sciences. Not only for one of us, however, the process of writing this article, as well as the longer path of getting there was a fully pleasant experience that came along with much mutual learning. How, then, did we arrive at writing this piece?

Interesting enough, the very focus of inquiring into notions of innovation in science was not one that was integral to our research project from the beginning, but it developed in and through the conversations with our interview partners (and now co-authors). Already in September 2019, we began to talk to our project partners from the plant and soil sciences about the various aspects that influence and matter to them when taking decisions in their work (Fochler et al. 2016). In particular, we were concerned with how researchers articulate the relevance of their work to social-environmental problems in their everyday practices and decisions. As we quickly realized, concerns about the social-environmental relevance are often not easy to make sense of for the researchers in their everyday work, and they often need to be negotiated alongside various other ways in which research is valued. One of which, as was often emphasized in these initial interviews, is the innovativeness of research.

Our project partners often pointed to an increasingly perceived need to demonstrate and emphasize the innovativeness of their work when, for example, writing publications or funding applications. Yet, we then asked ourselves, what exactly is it that comes to count as innovative in such contexts? How exactly do researchers (feel they have to) frame their work when arguing for its innovativeness? And, importantly, how does this shape their research practices, and how do they potentially adapt their work to such perceived demands for ‘being innovative’? In order to delve into these questions more deeply, we decided to conduct focus groups with our three collaborating research groups. These discussions – partly in person, partly online for pandemic reasons, but no less lively – were extremely insightful for us, and triggered many reflections on the side of our participants as well.

In a nutshell, our participants described that innovativeness in the current research system often seems to be seen as making ‘groundbreaking’ and risky steps in novel and unexplored areas, while research practices that build on continuity and the further exploration of previous findings often seem to be seen as less original. Ruth then described and analyzed these dynamics in much more depth for the first paper of her dissertation (see Falkenberg 2021).

Pictured: Innovation in science hardly comes about in single breakthrough projects. In our discussions it was often suggested that scientific innovation may rather be imagined as a myriad of small cogwheels tying into each other.

Yet, we also felt the wish to bring these insights to a different audience than that of our own field, and to communicate them in a more accessible form in a journal that is also read by life science researchers. This sparked this idea of writing not only for natural scientists but also with (some of) the researchers we collaborate with and have talked to in the first place. This idea immediately resonated with our project partners, to whom the dynamics around innovativeness in science that we have collectively explored are of no less concern than to us.

The three of us then drafted a first version of the current article. The subsequent feedback process with our project partners sometimes took a bit longer, partly because of Covid-related time scarcities on different sites, but also because some of our colleagues from the crop and soil sciences imagined it to be a difficult task to comment on a social science text. Yet, after a somewhat slow start, we received very valuable feedback and inputs from our project partners, and they particularly pointed us toward the need to refine and partly change our language when writing for a non-STS-audience.

Similarly, the step of exploring which journal would be suitable for publishing such a piece took a bit longer than usual: rather than choosing from a list of well-known journals in our own discipline, we needed to research and evaluate different possible options from scratch. After exploring and discussing different potential outlets, we decided to opt for a publication in the EMBO journal, which is featuring a special section on issues relating to ‘Science and Society’. This seemed a valuable opportunity for us to publish in an outlet that is prominent within the life sciences but that also provides a dedicated platform for discussions concerning research governance and questions of how research is valued and evaluated. After sending an initially much shorter version of the article to the EMBO journal, the editors encouraged us to further elaborate and exemplify the argument and extend the article. At first being rather surprised by this demand, as we are usually used to shortening our arguments wherever possible, we happily took this suggestion on board. The process of revisions was accompanied by repeated feedback rounds with our project partners, who gave valuable input at different stages.

With our co-authors, as well as with the editors, we soon agreed on a version we were all content with, which was published quite swiftly. Overall, the process of co-authoring this piece was very enjoyable for all of us, and we certainly learned a good bit about what to pay attention to when writing for, and with, such a different audience than usual. Most importantly, we experienced that it can take some time to establish a basis on which interdisciplinary publishing becomes possible (see also Brown et al. 2015), but that it can be a most rewarding experience to collectively contribute to discussions in such a way.

Pictured: Lively discussions during one of our project workshops



Brown RR, Deletic A, Wong THF (2015) Interdisciplinarity: how to catalyse collaboration. Nat News 525: 315

Falkenberg RI (2021) Re-invent yourself! How demands for innovativeness reshape epistemic practices. Minerva 59: 423–444

Fochler M, Felt U, Müller R (2016) Unsustainable growth, hyper-competition, and worth in life science research: narrowing evaluative repertoires in doctoral and postdoctoral scientists’ work and lives. Minerva 54: 175–200

Ruth Falkenberg is a doctoral candidate at the Research Platform for Responsible Research and Innovation in Academic Practice. In her work she is concerned with the intertwinements between (e)valuation of research and epistemic developments, focusing specifically on innovativeness and relevance as increasingly important evaluative registers. In doing so, she pursues a broader interest in neoliberal governance in academia, cultures of knowledge production, and research for social-ecological transformation.

Maximilian Fochler is associate professor and deputy head of the Department of Science and Technology Studies. His main research area is science and knowledge cultures. His recent research work focuses on forms of knowledge production at the interface of science and other societal domains (such as the economy), as well as on the impact of new forms of governing science on academic knowledge production.

Lisa Sigl is a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Platform Responsible Research and Innovation in Academic Practice at the University of Vienna. She is interested in changing work cultures in science and the governance of research, with a focus on societal and environmental relevance of research. Further, she is interested in what kinds of conditions support inter- and transdisciplinary work and develops methods and tools to facilitate and manage inter- and transdisciplinary exchange and collaboration.

Which nuclear waste disposal type are YOU?

by Marie Rathmann


I’ll be honest, the “Science in Society Laboratories“ course threw me into the deep end. In the course, we discussed three different controversies and worked on them in interdisciplinary research teams. I would not have thought that social scientists and natural scientists could harmonize so well. The topic of nuclear waste disposal wasn’t my first choice in the beginning, but over time I came to appreciate the contribution my team was making. I only found my way into this topic because I was confronted with it. Nuclear power has received a lot of media and societal attention in recent weeks, but the topic of nuclear waste is still hushed up. I want to change this with this humorous poster because humor can also be a serious language. At best, I’ll be confronting someone else with it.



Marie Rathmann is a master’s student at the University of Vienna’s Department of Communication. She also works as a student assistant on the research project “Journalism under Duress: Risk and Uncertainty in a Changing Mediascape” at the Hans-Bredow-Institut in Hamburg. Her research interests are situated at the intersection of gender and media research. In the 2021/22 winter term, she participated in the interdisciplinary “Science in Society Laboratories” course run by the STS Department.

Reflecting on care in research: Using collaborative autoethnography to find our place as PhD students at the STS department

by Esther Dessewffy and Bao-Chau Pham


In February 2021, marking the first anniversary of the COVID 19 pandemic, Fredy, Andrea, and I newly arrived at the STS department. Well, not quite newly. After completing the department’s masters program, I was curious to finally get to know it “from the inside”. The three of us were warmly welcomed to the new office by our colleagues Bao-Chau and Sarah. Our office was in a building that was so new, not even all the construction workers had left yet (there was still quite a bit of hammering and drilling going on). I felt instant relief; good bye home-office, no more working at the kitchen table. And hello face-to-face interactions and office banter… As the following year has taught me (I dare say most of us), my experience of academic work in pandemic times simply does not live up to my initial, naïve imaginations of a spatially (and temporally) confined workplace. – Esther

Apart from excitement and nervousness, the overwhelming memory of my first few weeks as a PhD student in September 2020 is that of feeling uprooted. Within the first week, I was met by welcoming new colleagues (many of whom I would end up exclusively seeing on Zoom for the rest of the year), moved into a new flat, hot-desked in other people’s offices since the one I was allocated was still a construction site and ended up back in a makeshift workspace on my kitchen table as we all had to self-isolate. While this constant moving didn’t help with settling into a routine, knowing what is expected of a new PhD student, or finding one’s place within a large and yet unfamiliar group of people, I began to realize that this rupture allowed me to suggest and somewhat freely practice my own understanding of academic practices. Ironically, while studying how infrastructures often become visible as they break down, I was experiencing it first hand. – Bao-Chau


Settling into our work environment at the STS department, we wondered how our evolving research designs and the way we connected with colleagues would be impacted by the uncertain circumstances of the pandemic. Even though academic work has arguably been digital by default for decades, it seemed to us that the current (ongoing) situation added an unprecedented dimension, where the spatial and temporal confines of the workplace were blurred and working from home had become the new normal. To us it felt like the rules and rhythms of academic work were at a critical juncture – no longer in total disruption as they were at the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020, but not yet calcified – a sort of uncharted territory for us to settle into, explore, and shape for ourselves.

As a means of reflecting on these experiences, we – alongside our colleagues – initiated an autoethnography project where we would attend to how we, through the digital aspects of our labor, coexist, create workspaces (in our homes), and encounter our work environments and colleagues. The group involved in this autoethnographic project met several times over the next couple of months to document and jointly reflect on our digital work practices. Next to an interest in digital infrastructures and the production of scientific knowledge, the project is based on the conviction that attending to the mundane practices through which we navigate and balance our workplace and our homes (with partners, family members, and all), enables us to interrogate the nature of academic work, and perhaps find ways of doing it differently. Crucially, making our diverse living situations visible allows us to imagine and create a workspace that will accommodate our common grounds, needs, preferences, and our differences, since these are not always accounted for structurally and institutionally. Hence, in the project we draw on notions of care (Lindén & Lydahl 2021), attending not only to our practices of care but also critically examining them, taking into consideration how they have become necessary in the first place, and which (institutional) structures they support.

In this post however, we outline the autoethnography process from our perspectives as early career researchers and describe how the autoethnography has helped us find our place at the department and amongst our collaborators, as well as how it has shaped our sense of self as early career researchers. Rather than focusing on critical care (Martin et al. 2015) and institutional power relations that emerge from this vantagepoint, we use this blogpost (interspersed with ethnographic vignettes) to focus on how collaborative autoethnography as care practice has shaped our evolving researcher identities.


Encountering autoethnography

I think this autoethnography makes the work of arranging and curating what we write, collect, and think about in producing “data” really obvious. Our partial vision becomes particularly palpable when we compare the different aspects of (academic) labor we paid attention to and considered worth noting. Our living and working arrangements have such a huge impact on the things we attend to. – Esther

Being made to engage with one’s own, stay-at-home, sweatpants-wearing self and writing about the drudgery of home-officing, at first seemed to amplify Esther’s feelings of isolation. Luckily, meetings with fellow members of the autoethnography project gradually alleviated these anxieties; we realized that sharing and reflecting on the smaller and larger struggles of our everyday lives brought us closer together. Learning about colleagues’ care-work, relating to each other over back pain and infrastructural issues (like “how do I get MaxQDA to work on my home and my work computer?”), and becoming acquainted with the conceptual “glasses” through which each of us understood their work practices gave us a sense of belonging and shared identity, while the diversity of themes and practices complicated creating a linear, journal-friendly piece.


Thinking together


I’m still undecided as to how those observations, that were shared in this safe space we’ve created, will translate into an academic journal. In crafting our reflections into a coherent narrative targeted at specific journals I’m wondering what we’ll be front-staging, thereby reproducing what we think is suitable for academic publishing, and what we’ll backstage because it seems too personal to share beyond our group. – Bao-Chau

Given our diverse family, living and working situations and the realization that our collective reflections had gradually become impossible to detangle from our individual ethnographic observations, the thought of forcing our impressions into a linear narrative felt kind of insincere. Luckily, there is some sympathy for working with non-linear, experimental narration in STS. John Law for instance proposes to use a pinboard to collate empirical material around logics of ‘juxtaposition and difference’ (2007, 135).

The possibility to try alternative ways of writing excited us and reassured us that it is alright, sometimes even sensible, to not always force our thoughts into standardized genre structures, and that the occasional struggle with crafting a linear narrative didn’t disqualify the two of us as “proper” social scientists. Indeed, our fellow collaborators agreed that the pinboard analogy made emergent patterns and crucially discontinuities among our field notes visible. We became attuned to the way our different living situations imbued our idiosyncratic care practices that had become necessary to pursue academic work in pandemic times.


Getting to know each other

 Getting to know someone quite intimately through digital words, images, practices, icons (like Fredy and I doing the ‘night shifts’ and seeing each other’s green Slack circles), before getting to know one’s mannerisms also made me think about digital identities and their embodiment – I now associate Sarah not only with her face and voice but also with her profile picture on Slack, for example. – Bao-Chau

As a side-effect of the autoethnographic observations’ care-sensitivity, we have understood that even mundane practices such as writing this blog-post or simply noticing common work-rhythms, made us feel like our academic (writing) practices were a way to get to know each other, our thoughts, habits, and values, and thereby helped us establish caring collegial relationships. As Bao-Chau once put it “doing autoethnography was performative as a method in shaping our group to be what it is today”; it also attuned us to the digital dimensions of knowing and encountering each other.

The exercise of deliberately writing down, sharing, and engaging with our diverse work habits and routines in group discussions and workshops gave us the opportunity to reflect on the kinds of caring relationships we want to foster as colleagues, and how we imagine liveable workspaces in academia. We also became acutely aware that this specific way of conducting research as a team, taking field notes, joint reflections, thinking theory together, and writing vignettes, was gradually blurring the boundaries between individual and collective sensemaking.


Practicing care in collegial relationships

The autoethnographic writing required a lot of vulnerability and honesty with ourselves and each other. Digitally sharing and communicating private situations, feelings, uneasiness, emotions and struggles added a whole new layer of emotional commitment to each other. – Bao-Chau


Reflecting on and appreciating care practices in academic work that tend to fall short of recognition, such as reviewing, organizing activities, sharing relevant information and calls, or cleaning up text and quotations, has made us attend to the often less visible labor (emotional, interpersonal, time commitment). As early career researchers these were pleasant revelations that reaffirmed our career choices. Both of us had been warned of exploitative and hierarchical structures, but now found ourselves pleasantly surprised to be in such a caring, liveable work environment.

While this collaborative autoethnography project is ongoing (with new members recently joining and a few publications in the works), we have found that it has simultaneously shaped our experiences and perspectives in the early phase of our PhDs. It has also encouraged us to further pursue our interest in reflexive methods by organizing a panel at EASST 2022 called “Making Liveable Worlds Through Reflexive Methods”, to which we have received a number of fascinating contributions dealing with issues ranging from reflexivity in the biosciences to caring through entertainment magic. Moreover, we have understood the value of continuously reflecting on the practices and skills we adopt in order to become what we perceive as caring, attentive, and collegial researchers. Apart from acquiring ‘lockdown literacies’ (Gourlay et al. 2020) to navigate the new challenges and constellations of pandemic living/working, we have also become versed in shaping caring work environments together with our fellow collaborators.


Gourlay, L., Littlejohn, A., Oliver, M., & Potter, J. (2021). Lockdown literacies and semiotic assemblages: Academic boundary work in the Covid-19 crisis. Learning, Media and Technology, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2021.1900242

Law, J. (2007). Pinboards and Books: Juxtaposing, Learning and Materiality. In D. W. Kritt and L. T. Winegar (Eds.). Education and Technology: Critical Perspectives, Possible Futures (pp. 125–150). Lanham: Lexington Books.

Lindén, L., & Lydahl, D. (2021). Editorial: Care in STS. Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies, 3–12. https://doi.org/10.5324/njsts.v9i1.4000

Aryn, M., Myers, N., & Viseu, A. (2015). The Politics of Care in Technoscience. Social Studies of Science, 45(5), 625–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312715602073

Esther Dessewffy is a doctoral candidate and university assistant at the STS Department. She researches the academic practices enacting simulation software for designing and understanding processes in the built environment.

Bao-Chau Pham is also a doctoral candidate and university assistant at the department. She studies the sociotechnical imaginaries that underpin the governance of Artificial Intelligence on the EU-level.