Science-Technology-Society (STS) Research

De Haagse magistraat in 1647 by Cornelis Jonsson (Jansz.) van Ceulen/ Image available here

STS addresses the role of deliberative democracy and citizen participation in science and technology management where boundary organisations* can play an important role: traditional forms of deliberation have failed to engage forms of emotive and affective storytelling to make dialogue more inclusive or minority cultures and worldviews/ There are many technologies of deliberation: consensus conferences; citizen juries; participatory budgeting; science shops and deliberative polls/ these are more focused on citizen appraisals than citizen-based initiatives/ focus has turned to the three areas of concern:

01 micropolitics of deliberation: concerned about how issues are framed-design and facilitation of processes-recruitment of participants-management of consensus and about issues of representation and inclusivity/ Deliberation organizers often aim for a demographic, rather than political, sampling of community members/ An inclusive deliberative process accounts for both demographic and social group representation/ inclusive deliberation requires formal opportunities to speak, as well as diverse communication styles that include ‘‘other’’ ways of cultural knowing like music and dance (Young, 2008)

02 macro policy impacts: measuring impacts of deliberation on policy processes/ it is difficult to connect citizen deliberation with meaningful global policy

03 reassessing the role of substantive engagement: citizens engaged as subjects rather than as objects of discourse/ consider the direct short-term policy impacts, but also the personal and social impacts of ‘‘learning, thinking and talking’’ together/ the goal should be ‘‘to make explicit the plurality of reasons, culturally embedded assumptions and socially contingent knowledge ways that can inform collective action’’/ work on reducing the epistemic distance of objects and processes under debate’/ scholars must create tactile spaces where participants can see, taste, touch, smell and hear for themselves the phenomena around which knowledge claims are being made

*boundary organization is a formal body jointly generated by the scientific and political communities to coordinate different purposes and promote consistent boundaries and mutually incomprehensible interactions (…) Guston put forward the idea of boundary organizations to stabilize the boundary between scientists and policymakers (…) Boundary organization serves as a secure space can be established through good relations and procedures for negotiating disputes (wiki)


Phadke, R., manning C. & Burlager, S. (2015). Making it personal: Diversity and deliberation in climate adaptation planning. In Climate Risk Management 9, 62-76

What is community?

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Andersen (imagined communities): power of nationalism to define and prescribe a sense of community that transcends physical nature, but is located in mind and heart

Wenger (communities of practice): community is about working together as a practice

Nursey-Bray: community has been defined as a place; as in a territory or place-based community where people have something in common, or there is a shared geography

Cohen: communities are formed via attachment, and they are communities of meaning

Tonnie: community related to gemeinschaft, thus a group of people that share common bonds around traditions, beliefs or objectives

Bartle: community as a collection of human individuals organised as a socio-cultural system within six dimensions relevant to community and culture (i) technological, (ii) economic. (iii) political, (iv) institutional (social), (v) aesthetic-value amd (vi) belief-conceptual.

Lee-Newby: community as a set of interrelationships among social institutions in a locality

Kaufman: community is first a place and second a configuration as a way of life, both as to how people do things and what they want, to say their institutions and goals

Johnson: community as a collection of people who share a common territory and meet their basic and social needs through interaction with one another


Nursey-Bray, M. (2020). Community Engagement: What is it?. In Dominique Hes, Christina Hernandez-Santin (Eds.) Placemaking Fundamentals for the Built Environment, Melbourne, Australia: Palgrave macmillan, pp. 83-105

Associology Uncertainties

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First source of uncertainties: No Group, Only Group Formation | Intermediaries versus Mediators | Intermediaries: is what transports meaning or force without transformation/ defining input is enough to define output | Mediators: they transform, translate, distort and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry/ their input is never a good predictor of their output. (Groups are made)

Second source of uncertainties: Action is overtaken | Who and what is acting when we act? Actor is not the source of an action but ‘the moving target of a vast array of entities swarming toward it.’ An actor on stage is never alone in acting. By definition action is dislocated (…) Just as actors are constantly engaged by others in group formation and destruction (the first uncertainty), they engage in providing controversial accounts for their actions as well as for those of others (…) Will we have the courage not to substitute an unknown expression for a well-known one? (…) We have to resist pretending that actors have only a language while the analyst possesses the metalanguage in which the first is ‘embedded’. (agencies are explored)

Third source of uncertainties: Objects too have agency | power, like society, is the final result of a process and not a reservoir, a stock, or a capital that will automatically provide an explanation. Power and domination have to be produced, made up, composed (…) the flagrant asymmetry of resources does not mean that they are generated by social asymmetries. (Social) is an association between entities which are in no way recognizable as being social in the ordinary manner, except during the brief moment when they are reshuffled together (…) what is new is that objects are suddenly highlighted not only as being full-blown actors, but also as what explains the contrasted landscape we started with, the overarching powers of society, the huge asymmetries, the crushing exercise of power (…) objects overflow their makers, intermediaries become mediators. (objects play a role: they become from intermediaries to mediators)

Fourth source of uncertainties: Matters of Fact vs Matters of Concern|Even more so than in art, architecture, and engineering, science offered the most extreme cases of complete artificiality and complete objectivity moving in parallel (…) we began using the expression ‘construction of facts’ to describe the striking phenomenon of artificiality and reality marching in step (…) for other colleagues in the social as well as natural sciences the word construction meant something entirely different: made up and false (…) Objects of science may explain the social, not the other way around (…) ‘factors’ are unable to transport any action through any event reduced to the status of intermediary (…) a concatenation of mediators does not trace the same connections and does not require the same type of explanations as a retinue of intermediaries transporting a cause (…) the word ‘translation’ now takes on a somewhat specialized meaning: a relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into coexisting (…) there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties, but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations (…) How could a fact be that solid if it is also fabricated? (…) The discussion begins to shift for good when one introduces not matters of fact, but what I now call matters of concern (…) It is the thing itself that has been allowed to be deployed as multiple and thus allowed to be grasped through different viewpoints, before being possibly unified in some later stage depending on the abilities of the collective to unify them (…) Once you learn how to respect shifting ontologies, you can tackle more difficult entities for which the question of reality has been simply squeezed out of existence by the weight of social explanations

Fifth (and final) source of uncertainties: Writing Down Risky Accounts (networks)|namely an uncertainty about the study itself: bring into the foreground the very making of reports (…) A text, in our definition of social science, is thus a test on how many actors the writer is able to treat as mediators and how far he or she is able to achieve the social (…) (The Network) is nothing more than an indicator of the quality of a text about the topics at hand.It qualifies its objectivity, that is, the ability of each actor to make other actors do unexpected things. A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations (…) So, network is an expression to check how much energy, movement, and specificity our own reports are able to capture (…) The fact is that no one has the answers—this is why they have to be collectively staged, stabilized, and revised (…) Assembled around the ‘laboratory’ of the text, authors as well as readers may begin to render visible the two mechanisms that account for the plurality of associations to be taken into account and for the stabilization or unification of the world they wish to live in (…) We, the little ants, should not settle for heaven or hell, as there are plenty of things on this earth to munch our way through.


Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Full text available here

the Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL: back to the future

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These two resources, read in parallel, offer a fascinating read. I have mentioned the Whole Earth Catalog before when discussing ecological architecture, but up to now I hadn’t quite investigated what it was about. Fred Turner’s article ‘Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy’ discusses the Whole Earth catalog in detail and how Stewart Brand -the catalog’s master mind- sought to establish a common ground for all dispersed individuals living in communals in the 1960’s by offering a venue where they could communicate and form a single social network. These individuals had stepped away from agonistic politics and the bureaucratic myth of ‘objective consciousness’ and sought to change the world by establishing exemplary communities and change the consciousness of individuals.

The catalog presented reviews of hand tools, books and magazines arrayed in categories (..) It also established a relationship between informational technology, economic activity and alternative forms of community that would outlast the counterculture itself and become a key feature of the digital world

The catalog aimed at creating ‘a countercultural style of consumerism’ by making product suggestions but also to ways of thinking and speaking; a transformation of the self. Personal power believed Brand, develops from the power of the individual to conduct his own education and environment.

After the significant success of WEC (the catalog was fully operational for ten years after which Brand continued to publish additional versions), back in the 1980’s when Brand was approached by Larry Brilliant (founder of Network Technologies International) to help him promote computer conferencing systems, Brand came up with the idea of WELL. By now an online platform (a bulletin-board system then), WELL is based on the countercultural conception of community to create a network forum.

Brand wanted The Well to appeal not just to the Whole Earth crowd but to a wider audience: he wanted hackers, he wanted journalists (…) At the same time, he had a hunch that, in addition to electronic dialog, there should be a strong face-to-face element to The Well (…) He sensed that the most interesting possibility to arise from knitting electronic dialog into the fabric of everyday life would lie not in championing either the virtual or the human-contact model but rather in finding the place where they overlapped (…) But probably the most important of Brand’s early convictions for The Well was that people should take responsibility for what they said

For many members of the WELL, on-line collaboration offered a chance to revivify the spirit of the counterculture farms while also establishing and supporting a new type of individual professional, one that cultivated professional and interpersonal networks and key sources for future employment. The latter was directly related to the changes in 1980’s company culture and the dismantling of hierarchical systems towards the formation of corporations. WELL technology and thematics supported this new type of individual. Interactivity was instantaneous and yet collective: it was possible to exchange smaller, time-sensitive
pieces of information, ranging from data on a not-yet-announced technology to a bit of gossip and the forum could enhance the reputations of its users.

I keep that WELL has been ‘a non-hierarchically organized social form in which scattered individuals are linked to one another by an information technology and through it the experience of a shared mindset.’ As web communication had not yet been centralised, these forms of network exchange were the first manifestations of networked online learning communities: people learned from each other. Whilst WELL perhaps focused more in the interaction part than content sharing, and despite its shortcomings, it represented a more democratic medium for co-existence where everybody had a name and were accountable for what they believed and wrote. Thus we come to the second part of the title ‘back to the future’: on our way ahead we fell behind on what made networked communication so alluring in the first place. The possibility to openly speak our minds but to also stand up for and take responsibility for what we are saying.


Turner, F. (2005). Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy. The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community, Technology and Culture 46 (3), pp. 485-512. Full paper available here

Hafner, K. (1997). The Epic Saga of The Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL). The Wire magazine. Full article available here

The ‘Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning’ program

Full report available here

The project team for ‘Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning’ ran by the Chinese Ministry of Education reviewed the international literature relating to skillful remote teaching, identifying some of the characteristic challenges that needed to be addressed. The Chinese project team advocated schools designing a blend of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and identified four essential technologically enabled pedagogical techniques that should be used in combination:
Live-streaming teaching (lecture format)
• Online real-time interactive teaching
• Online self-regulated learning with real-time interactive Q&A
• Online cooperative learning guided by teachers

For each method, associated benefits and risks were identified – such as the fact that live streamed lessons were technologically challenging and that the real-time class discussion in a synchronous ‘lesson’ could be of a poor quality (…) To recreate the learning atmosphere of a face-to-face classroom, three pedagogical priorities were promoted: Building a sense of belonging to a community/ Providing timely feedback to learners/ Encouraging learners to relax and not be preoccupied with competitive achievement.

Local Agenda 21

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Local Agenda 21 is conceptualized in chapter 28 of Agenda 21, which was adopted by 178 governments at the 1992 Rio Conference. Agenda 21 recognized that many environmental problems can be traced back to local communities and that local governments have an important role to play in implementing environmental programs and gathering community support. The objectives of Local Agenda 21, as stated in Agenda 21 are: a) ‘By 1996, most local authorities in each country should have undertaken a consultative process with their populations and achieved a consensus on “a local Agenda 21” for the community; b) By 1993, the international community should have initiated a consultative process aimed at increasing cooperation between local authorities; c) By 1994, representatives of associations of cities and other local authorities should have increased levels of cooperation and coordination with the goal of enhancing the exchange of information and experience among local authorities; d) All local authorities in each country should be encouraged to implement and monitor programmes which aim at ensuring that women and youth are represented in decision-making, planning and implementation processes.’ Adoption of Local Agenda 21 is voluntary. If adopted, the Agenda 21 objectives require local governments to consult with the local community; minority groups; business and industrial organisations to create a shared vision for future sustainable development and to develop integrated local environmental plans, policies and programs targeted at achieving sustainable development. The consultation process is designed to raise awareness and encouraged the formation of business partnerships and information and technical exchange programs. The most appropriate implementation method is not prescribed. Rather local government and the local community agree upon a suitable implementation method for their region. A 2001 survey by the ICLEI found that almost 6,500 local governments in 116 countries are committed to or are undertaking a Local Agenda 21 process. Countries with national campaigns were found to have more Local Agenda 21 participants than countries without.

Full text available here

Closing the Loop Documentary

Closing The Loop is the world’s first feature length documentary on the zero-waste / circular economy, supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 on Responsible Production and Consumption. The film is presented by global sustainability expert Prof. Dr. Wayne Visser, in collaboration with Emmy and two time Telly Award winning director Graham Ehlers Sheldon. The film ranges across three continents and includes commentary from global experts and centres of excellence like the World Economic Forum and the University of Cambridge. A number of innovative circular economy cases are also featured in detail. The Circular Economy Club (CEC) is a communication and promotion partner of Closing the Loop. A film by Kaleidoscope Futures Lab. and Stand Up 8 Productions.

The ‘Parques Biblioteca’: the Colombian way to achieving social development and cohesion

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

They are urban complexes formed by buildings of modern architecture, with large surrounding spaces for public use, green, pedestrian and decorative. These public spaces give the urban complex the name of Park. The central building or axis of the complex is equipped with a library with high-tech computing equipment in broadband, justifying the name of the Library, and hence the compound expression “Library Park”. According to the municipal administration of the city of Medellín, “The Library Parks are Cultural Centers for social development that encourage citizen meetings, educational and recreational activities, the construction of groups, the approach to new challenges in digital culture. And they are also spaces for the provision of cultural services that allow the cultural creation and strengthening of existing neighborhood organizations. ” (wiki)

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

Sergio Fajardo, governor of Antioquia, Colombia, and the mastermind behind the impressive edifices (…) Today (2014), he continues to push for educational opportunities across Antioquia (…) he discussed his current project to build 80 library parks in his home department (…) Building dignity and providing quality education for those in some of the department’s poorest communities has been a driving force behind Fajardo’s decision to build the library parks in underdeveloped neighborhoods like Santo Domingo and La Ladera and in towns like Anorí, which was overrun by guerillas for 50 years (…) Improving education in Medellín and Antioquia has also mobilized people living in these once-disadvantaged neighborhoods to study and dream of new opportunities.

Excerpts from Sarah McClure ‘s article: COLOMBIA: Building on Education, full article available here
The trees of inequality, violence, and illegality share a single root.
Image courtesy of Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, available here

Participatory Budgeting

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Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a form of direct democracy at the local level, where all citizens state annually prioritized sectors to be financed before allocating investment resources in projects of their choice in those sectors. It has four key moments: diagnosis, deliberation, decision-making and follow-up (…) The epitome of PB is Porto Alegre (…) Five criteria required to qualify a PB: all citizens participate to the choice of the allocation of resources, this occurs at an administrative level of power (for example a town, but not a quarter), this process has to be repeated over years, a deliberation must take place in a specific institution, and finally citizens should be informed ex post of the status of the budget and the projects (…) The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of the PB process in March-April. From April until May, regional and thematic assemblies take place with the objectives of establishing thematic priorities by voting, electing councilors for each region, defining the number of delegates, and repeating the budget review for the preceding year at the local level (…) These meetings are open to all citizens and constitute the central and most inclusive component of the process (…) The five thematic areas discussed in the PB at city-level assemblies are: transport and traffic; education, leisure, and culture; health and social welfare; economic development and taxation; and organization of the city, urban and environmental development. (…) One of the main reasons why Brazilian reforms have moved so quickly after the dictatorship has been the passing of a new Constitution in 1988. This Constitution strengthened municipal autonomy, validated the participation of community groups in municipal decision-making, and attributed important social and economic policy functions to municipal authorities (…) there are four keys for a PB to be successful: a strong mayoral support, an active civil society, self-ruling given to citizens for the mechanisms of the PB, and consequent financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens (…) The main findings are: a better allocation of resources (more equitably and appropriately distributed among sectors and communities), an increase in the financing of basic needs, and a more inclusive, less corrupted democracy.

Adrien Frank, An Overview of Participatory Budgeting, 2015

La MéMé experience of participatory design

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Students protest the classical pastiche designs made for the Medical School (1968) at the University of Louvain/ University agrees to the formation of a student committee/ Students produce a counterproposal by Lucien Kroll who had no ties to the University/ Kroll organises collaborators and students into teams and turns design into an assemblage of disparate political fractions/ Work is done in his studio at a distance from the institution to ensure freedom/ Collaboration becomes “a kind of architectural method acting” accepting every outcome even if it defies prevailing arch conventions (de Graaf)/ Kroll, when denied the participation of le Roy, his preferred gardener, also engages the adjacent community into participating in the landscape component/ For two years this is an harmonious collaboration/ However, University representatives who visit the site oppose the outcome and the budget increase and fire Kroll/ Kroll exposes the contractor for high pricing but is then accused of vandalising the building site during his open call to the neighbouring community/ The building is highly criticised as a “failed experiment” and “less than a sum of its parts” (de Graaf)/ Petitions for the building’s demolition are opposed by massive support (Excerpts from Reinier de Graaf’s book: Four Walls and a Roof)

In a DOMUS article dated back in 2010, Kroll is presented as “icon of democratic architecture”:

Communication through architecture is an eminently political act, Kroll maintains: the architect is the catalyst of a creative process and social dynamic, in respect to which they make their knowledge available for the translation of interpersonal relationships into a suitable space (…) architects must step out of themselves and put themselves in the shoes of future residents.

Full article available here
Image available here

Recycling Spaces, Addis-Ababa

Image taken from here

Text taken from the site:

African cities have growth rates of up to 5%; this makes them the fastest growing cities in the world today. Extrapolations show that the urban population in Africa currently doubles every 10 to 15 years. Also Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is in transformation. Currently the home of approximately four million inhabitants, the city might triple its size within the next 30 years due to the increasing rural to urban migration, as well as natural growth. Already today, Addis Ababa suffers from a housing shortage of estimated 700.000 units. And, according to UN-Habitat, 80% of the existing dwellings are in ‘sub-standard, slum like’ conditions. Thus, in 2004, the government launched a large-scale mass housing program with the ambitious plan to erect 200.000 condominium units within 5 years. To date, 100.000 units were built during the last 7 years, out of which nearly 70,000 are handed over to end users so far. In 2011, the Addis Ababa City Administration announced to redevelop all ‘informal’ and ‘unplanned’ parts of the city until 2020.

Throughout the years, Addis Ababa, informally, developed a sophisticated recycling system in all parts of the city. “Kuré-Yalews” are roaming the streets in small neighborhoods, collecting anything that might still be useable from households. Sharing resources, they rent taxis collectively to transport their goods to Merkato’s “Minalesh Terra”, where different “workshops” immediately start to reuse and transform them. In the course of a few days, these items are returned into the cycle, being sold to the owners of small neighborhood shops as “new” products.

This recycling process is not only the source of income for many families in the city, it also keeps Addis Ababa clean to a certain extend. Most importantly, this cycle also appropriated space for recycling in the city throughout the years, which is now endangered by the current transformation of Ethiopia’s capitol.

The movie “Recycling Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of space allocated to this recycling cycle in Ethiopia’s capital. Based on the daily routine and experiences of one selected Kuré-Yalew, this movie tries to tell a generic experience of thousands of inhabitants in Addis Ababa. Interviews with the Kuré-Yalwes and experts give further insight into the topic.

Link to vimeo site
Video available here

The ‘abrazo’ (embrace) ideology

“Experimenta Distrito” launched by Media Lab-Prado is a programme involving citizens in neighbourhood workshops hosted in the spaces of La Nave, libraries, social and cultural centres (site in spanish only: )

This is one of the many initiatives taken by the mayor of Madrid in promoting the city as a warm and welcoming place as he described them in DOMUS and his interview with Manuela Carmena.

La Nave: Located in Villaverde, a district on the outskirts of Madrid, La Nave Böetticher was once a lift factory owned by the Böetticher company. An industrial building from the 1940’s refurbished for use as a public facility by Madrid City Council, and inaugurated in 2016. La Nave is dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation and hosts a great number of activities and events related to the promotion of new technologies, technical dissemination, training, and employability. Characterized by a central open-plan space covered by a large barrel vault and a skylight, the refurbishment preserved certain historical elements as decoration and added vertical latticework inspired by the colors of fiber optics to the concrete façade. Its main areas are the Pavilion, the Tower, the Classrooms, the Auditorium, and the Containers. The building has thermo-solar and geothermal energy; it collects rainwater for watering, and it features a roof garden. The roof offers a panoramic view of the Villaverde neighborhood. ( )