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Symposium Review: Dimensions of Value and Values in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

30 May 2013


Ros Williams recently attended the Dimensions of Value and Values in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies Symposium, held  on the 17th and 18th of April in Edinburgh. She reviews the event and its key themes for the PFGS below. Ros is a doctoral researcher in Sociology at the University of York and her research focuses on the social, political and economic dimensions of the biotechnology industries with an emphasis on umbilical cord blood banking.


The ‘Dimensions of Value and Values in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies’ Symposium, held by Innogen at the University of Edinburgh was a two-day event with a diverse range of talks from academic working with the issue of value(s) in the wide arena of science and technology studies. During the second day, postgraduate students took the helm to discuss the intersections of value(s) in our own research. [Editor’s note: full programme available here]

Day one saw a range of plenaries on research into specific sectors; metrics for analysis of life sciences; and the dynamics and dimensions of value. Professor Donald MacKenzie introduced us to the world of High Frequency Trading (HFT) in financial markets and the array of practices undertaken by stock traders. Interview data were illustrative of the complexity of values at work in the HFT arena. Along with more responsible trading, Mackenzie discussed the practice algo-sniffing (detecting the footprint of an algorithm used by an institutional investor then buying/selling ahead to make a profit). Here, then, there are questions not only about profit accumulation but of the moral terrain of HFT practices.

 Nik Brown‘s talk on contradictions in values gave us an incite into the tensions inherent in any discussion of values. In many ways his talk fed into one of the broader themes emerging from the event. That is, how are we talk about value and values? Are they two separate things? Is the singular noun an allusion to specifically economic value, a Marxian exchange value? In opposition – if indeed the terms of value and values can be opposed – is the collective “values” the signifier of the non-economic, the moral or ethical tensions of something? Brown’s amusing video of C’Elle menstrual stem cell banking illustrates the difficulty of understanding often contradictory value(s). How is something at once waste now recognised as a use value? Indeed, in the case of stem cells, can we always recognise use value? As Brown notes, a use value cannot be deferred, and yet some biobanked stem cells are sequestered because they might have use with the advent of new grafting and typing technologies.

The second day of the symposium gave the postgraduate participants an opportunity to parse their own research through the lens of value(s). The valuation and evaluation processes at play in our various areas of investigation were diverse, though we were all able to recognise them in one form or another. With the assistance of academics from institutions as far away as Canada and Sweden, we attempted to locate practices of value-making in our own research, hitting upon epistemological issues always best unpicked by a group of minds rather than one.

This invitation to reflexivity was all the more fascinating because of the breadth of research being undertaken and the number of people doing so. Students based at universities as far as London made the journey up to Edinburgh to participate. It is, of course, always invaluable to meet other postgraduates working in the STS field. This is particularly true for discussing overarching conceptions like “value” that, whilst seemingly nebulous, are the avenue to recognising hidden links between apparently disparate areas of research. Sperm donation, the film industry, disabled body subjectivity, plant biodiversity – all of these topics being investigated by postgraduates at then event deal with value(s) and processes of (e)valuation.


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