From the 27th to the 29th of May the 2nd Nordic STS Conference was held at Aalborg University. The two heads of ETHOS Lab, Marisa Cohn and Brit Winthereik, convened a panel called “Engaging with digital methods” together with Peter Danholt (AU) and Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen (AU).
The Nordic STS Conference offered lots of interesting presentations, including keynote lectures from STS luminaries such as Steve Woolgar, Fabian Muniesa and Estrid Sørensen. The panel was however a high point for those interested in digital methods and controversy mapping. It brought to the table different critical perspectives on what these new and experimental methods can and cannot do, and the troubles offered encountered by students and researchers alike when working with them. The panel saw presentations from the panel conveners themselves, but also from Torben Elgaard Jensen (AAU), Anders Kristian Munk (AAU), Tobias Bornakke (UCPH), Andreas Birkbak (AAU), Morten Krogh Petersen (AAU), Irina Papazu (UCPH), Anders Koed Madsen (AAU) and Benjamin Brink Allsopp (AAU).
Winthereik and Cohn presented an early draft of their paper entitled “Why a feminist cartography of controversies? Speculative figuration as a way forward in controversy mapping.” Their talk took its point of departure from Ursula Le Guin’s short story “Sur” from 1982. In it a group of all-women explorers travel to the South Pole in 1910, set up camp and return without ever telling anyone about it. They do so in a fashion which is explicitly different from the previous, male-driven, expeditions. Winthereik and Cohn used this story to explore how mapping might be thought of differently than it is currently practiced in the cartography of controversies, an STS research approach that forms the backdrop of the course that the two authors teach at the ITU.
The main issues raised by Winthereik and Cohn were that digital tools create very powerful maps and narratives, that students are not always able to challenge. In teaching they try instead to implement the feminist values of transcience, embodiment and a sociotechnical imagination. This is a difficult task, but student work has affirmed that the tools need these alternative values and do not properly contain them by design. The question, which they are still exploring, is how students can be taught to see maps as having a productive transience (seeing through maps, but also seeing through maps) so that the maps can act as way-finding tools.
It remains a question what the cartography of controversies and its mapping practices are best understood as: For Bruno Latour it was at one point supposed to be the newspaper 2.0, enlightening the digital generation. Is it about democracy or innovation? Could it also be a project with feminist sensibilities, that was able to question maps and pay attention to those phenomena that are exactly difficult to map with digital tool? These are questions that the panel explored and which ETHOS Lab is also part of exploring.
The panel featured very good feedback and discussion from participants, and some truly engaging papers. Winthereik and Cohn would like to use this opportunity to thank everyone who attended the panel.