Open Spaces for Changing Science and Society

What concepts and practices help us work in the arena bordered on one side by critical interpretation of the directions taken by scientific and technological research and application and on the other side by organizing social movements so as to influence those directions?  The metaphor of “open spaces” in the title of the post suggests that the issue is not so much to bridge the two sides as it is to acknowledge the value of discussion, reflection, and clarifying one’s identity and affinities with both sides kept in view.

Whereas the young Karl Marx proclaimed that the “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it,” what happens when we allow for more dialogue and deliberation before—or as a complement to—jumping into campaigns for change? (In this spirit, open spaces has been used to characterize Social Forum meetings, which take place at the world, national, and regional levels.) Interpretations from science and technology studies (STS) often suggest that things could be (or could have been) otherwise, but when should effecting change be the litmus test of STS critique? What can we learn from examples of explicit and implicit open spaces and what can we share from our own experience?

This question has arisen, in particular, in follow-up discussions among recent participants of the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC).  How can NewSSC articulate and develop its role as a valued open space for participants, some of whom return many times for a recharge and affirmation of aspirations that are not well supported in home institutions and day-to-day interactions?

“Open Spaces for Changing Science and Society” has been chosen, therefore, as the theme for the May 2011 NewSSC, to be held in Woods Hole, MA, USA May 15-18. Applications are sought from teachers and researchers (including graduate students) who are interested in moving beyond their current disciplinary and academic boundaries to explore the theme.  Applications due 15 Jan. 2011.  For more details, http://www.stv.umb.edu/newssc11.html and http://www.stv.umb.edu/newsscarrange.html

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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