The Collaborationist Stance in STS

Fractal Flows in Upstream Engagement:
Symmetric Innovation between Technoscience
and Social Justice
Ron Eglash, RPI
Social and Environmental “impacts” are
often due to properties that are “locked
in” at an early stage in science and
engineering development
• Food fraud: pesticide safety, terminator seeds
• Energy industry fraud: clean coal, safe drilling, climate denial
• Genetics fraud: claims for race and IQ, gender and brains
• Transportation fraud: killing electric cars, public transport
The linear model of science/engineering
By the time social and environmental impacts are established, it’s too late!
Can we “upstream” concerns to an earlier stage?
Upstreaming is hard and often
Challenges to upstreaming:
1) Upstreaming assumes we already know the social and environmental
consequences for things not yet invented
a. counter-instances: green chemistry, nuclear industry
b. counter-counter instances: open source, nano-solar
1) Upstreaming puts all the innovation on the science and engineering side
2) Upstreaming uses a linear model of flow
3) Upstreaming is typically critiques of what NOT to do, not proactive
4) The creative aspects of science and engineering are viewed negatively, as
loose cannons in need of control
My dad was a founder of “restorative justice”: prisoners can use their
creativity and agency to make amends from the bottom up. The idea of
“generative justice” applies this to technoscience, looking at how we can
nurture its creative flows for egalitarian social benefit and sustainable living.
When dad died I visited the beach he took me to as a child, and
photographed these flow patterns in the sand.
Fractal flow
(Saffman-Taylor Instability)
What can we learn from Nature’s
Fractal Flow?
Nature’s agency may not have intentionality, but it does have creativity
Creative agency is a “self-generating” process
Self-generating processes are often created at boundary layers
What can we learn from Humanity’s
Fractal Flow?
As Marxists have emphasized, human agency is a generator of value
As anarchists have emphasized, human intentionality can turn a creative
generative process into “generative justice”
Fisher, Mahajan, Mitcham: “midstream engagement”
We need “a more robust stream metaphor—with eddies, back currents, eroding
banks, shifting depths, and whatnot.”
Fisher, Mahajan, Mitcham:
midstream engagment
Rather than attempt to impose order on fractal flows, can we use those selforganizing aspects of technoscience -- multiple loops, eddies and shifting
sandbars in the stream – as an aid rather than a hindrance?
Symmetric Exchange: the stream is not one-way
STS researchers
and lay
innovating our
models and
understanding for
social justice
and sustainability
Scientists and
Using problems in
social justice
and sustainability
to drive science
and innovation
Multiple Objectivity: there is not just one stream
STS correctly recognizes the need for alternative accounts, but
incorrectly frames relativism or subjectivism as the only route to
that multiplicity.
• This leaves us completely disarmed when right wing politics
attacks science.
• This weakens our ability to propose alternative paths that avoid
Multiple Objectivity: anti-relativist approach to situated
1752: Euler: Vertices, Edges, and Faces V - E + F = 2. Polyhedra
are defined as "a solid whose faces are
1815: Hessel: a cube with a cubic hollow
inside does not satisfy Euler's theorem.
Polyhedra are redefined as "a surface made
up of polygonal faces."
1865: Mobius: two pyramids joined a vertex also defies
Euler's theorem. Polyhedra are again redefined.
Euler example from Lakatos, Bloor. See Ron Eglash, (2011) "Multiple objectivity:
an anti-relativist approach to situated knowledge", Kybernetes, Vol. 40 Iss: 7/8, pp.995 - 1003
Why not just “capture” all the branches and call that
“the ONE universal math”?
Two reasons:
1. Practical Investment – making lab apparatus, books,
professors, students, concepts etc. costs too much to go
Why not just “capture” all the branches and call that
“the ONE universal math”?
2. All trajectories open up new inquiries Navajo rug simulations to teach GIS
Controlled studies with statistically
significant improvement
Professor Shayla Sawyer
1)Nanosensors using
inorganic molecules could detect Navajo uranium pollution
but not for coal and oil (VOC) pollution
2) Sawyer paused – “come to think of it, no one has tried
this—to use organic molecules in semiconductor
3) This created a new research path: nano-bio materials in
semiconductor photodetection
4) Later we brought in a grad Fellow whose faculty advisor
Chris Bystroff was in biology; he “tunes” genetic
sequences to detect specific biological molecules
Generative Justice
Rather than attempt to tame turbulent mixing
from the top-down; put these back-eddies
and non-linear loops in the service of creating
hybrids for technoscience and social justice

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