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STS in Trento : attending a conference through others

7 September 2010

This year, EASST (that’s these guys) convened their conference in Trento, Italy.

EASST is an interdisciplinary scholarly society, addressing the history, philosophy, psychology and sociology of science, and therefore, usually carries plenty of relevance for PFGS members. However, as the people over at STSTrento rightly remarked, there are usually much more students interested in conference themes than those who actually find the time and money to finally attend such a conference.

So, what they did was try to liveblog from the conference in order to allow those of us who couldn’t attend a glimpse into some of the emerging themes, debates and discussions. They called it Going to EASST virtually.

A similar initiative was run over at edublogs in 2008, when EASST joined forces with the 4S in Rotterdam and I took part in it. I replied to a call on STSGrad, sorted a few login details with the organisers (whom I’d never met, and didn’t actually manage to meet at the conference!) and was ready to go.

I didn’t tweet at the time, I think twitter was still in the early adopters stage. But I could blog. Except that I couldn’t blog fast enough. The moments between sessions were brief, not all areas where presentations were taking place had wifi, and I was also trying to take photos of the action for the flickr account that had been set up.

Annmarie Mol calls the STS South workshop to order, Rotterdam 2008

I take lots of notes longhand, but notes are different from tweets, and they’re also different from blogposts. As the team from this year note, you do need to ‘process’, and this takes time. Themes aren’t always immediately obvious – they appear over the course of a day. And by the end of that day, you’re probably falling-down tired, and heading either out for a party or to bed.

I ended up posting longer reflections on the panels I’d followed a few days after the conference. This was fine – but it lost the ‘live’ aspect – anyone hoping to be ‘virtually there’ through me would have been disappointed. The ambition of this years team, and their self-confessed difficulties led me to reflect on the ‘virtually there’ aspect of attending a conference through others, and the forms of writing/prose that we can employ to effect this.

In 2010, more than 2008 (or perhaps I was slow off the mark) we do have the 140 character twitter post, and we know what crowdsourcing is. It doesn’t seem that there are a huge amount of twitterers in the European academic STS scene, but for the future, and if twitter survives under the weight of users (!) tweeters would be collectively able to give an overview of the event through hashtag (#ststrento or #EASST) commentary. While this gives a sense of what is going on ‘right now’ – perhaps the effect of possibility rather than practicality, the reflections on panels will take time, and this is only to be expected.

Hashtag #EASST search, post conference

On top of the challenge of finding time and ‘processing’ the papers seen, discussions listened to and debates argued, this years team reported issues connecting to the internet, taking their real-time blogging aim even further into dreamland. But they managed what they could and we’re republishing it here under the creative commons license they chose. As they say, the conference is closed but the reporting goes on. And its worth waiting for.

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