Guided tour of my service and institutional development work VIII: New England Workshop on Science and Social Change

VIII. New England Workshop on Science and Social Change

(completing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)
“Most workshops are dysfunctional—this one wasn’t!” read one evaluation of the first New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC) in 2004. As mentioned earlier, NewSSC has become a primary focus of my recent efforts in promoting “innovative, transdisciplinary sessions” and “fostering informal, co-operative exchanges and on-going collaborations.” The following excerpt from a recent blog post (based on a forthcoming article written with ISHPSSB’ers Chris Young and Steve Fifield) conveys the flavor of these workshops:

  • Group processes not only need skillful and effective facilitators; they also need participants or collaborators who are skilled and effective in contributing to the desired outcomes. To develop skills and dispositions of collaboration requires researchers (and researchers-in-training) to make opportunities for practicing what they have been introduced to and to persist even when they encounter resistance. What moves them to pursue such development?
  • I have had an opportunity to address this issue since 2004 through an annual series of experimental, interaction-intensive, interdisciplinary workshops “to foster collaboration among those who teach, study, and engage with the public about scientific developments and social change.” The workshops are documented in detail on their websites, but a thumbnail sketch would be: They are small, with international, interdisciplinary participants of mixed “rank” (i.e., from students, to professors). There is no delivery of papers; instead participants lead each other in activities, designed before or developed during the workshops, that can be adapted to college classrooms and other contexts and participate in group processes that are regular features of the workshops. The group processes are also offered as models or tools to be adapted or adopted in other contexts. The themes vary from year to year [see note], but each workshop lasts four days and moves through four broad, overlapping phases—exposing diverse points of potential interaction; focusing on detailed case study; activities to engage participants in each other’s projects; and taking stock. The informal and guided opportunities to reflect on hopes and experiences during the workshop produce feedback that shapes the days ahead as well as changes to the design of subsequent workshops.
  • The ongoing evolution of the workshops has been stimulated not only by written and spoken evaluations, but also by an extended debriefing immediately following each workshop and advisory group discussions, such as one in 2008 that addressed the question of what moves people develop themselves as collaborators. Our conjecture was that this development happens when participants see an experience or training as transformative. After reviewing the evaluations we identified four “R’s”—respect, risk, revelation, and re-engagement—as conditions that make interactions among participants transformative (see Taylor et al. 2010 for elaboration and supporting quotations from the evaluations).

Through paired NewSSC workshops in Woods Hole and Portugal in May and June 2011, I look forward to continuing collaborations that help “articulate and develop the role [of NewSSC] 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.”

—–

Note: Themes span science and technology studies (STS), science, and educational innovation: social shaping of the use of genetic knowledge; complexities of genes-environment-development; social implications of ecological restoration; collaborative generation of environmental knowledge and inquiry; teaching and public engagement beyond disciplinary boundaries; heterogeneity and development; social theory and critical engagement; and problem-based learning.

Guided tour of my service and institutional development work VII: Transdisciplinary Development–A Context for ISHPSSB and Related Contributions

VII. Transdisciplinary Development: A Context for ISHPSSB and Related Contributions

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

Excerpted from http://pjt111.wordpress.com/about-pjt111/ — but this version has added notes in brackets.

  • My environmental activism during the early 1970s in Australia led me to switch from medical studies to ecological science. I had a mathematical disposition, so I chose to focus less on field studies and more on quantitative analysis and modeling, with a view to planning to prevent problems from emerging. I soon developed an interest, which continues to this day, in ecological complexity as a challenge to conventional scientific ways of knowing. Although ecological and environmental researchers partition complex situations into well-bounded systems and backgrounded or hidden processes, such moves tend to be confounded by “intersecting processes” that cut across scales, involve heterogeneous components, and develop over time. These cannot be understood from an outside view, I concluded; instead positions of engagement must be taken within the “unruly” complexity. Knowledge production needs to be linked with planning for action and action itself in an ongoing process so that knowledge, plans, and action can be continually reassessed in response to developments — predicted and surprising alike.
  • As I developed this picture, my work in ecology and environmental studies opened out to interpretive studies of science [thanks, in no small part, to opportunities opened up through ISHPSSB] and then to facilitation of critical, reflective practice. The integration of these three levels or angles is evident in my book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005). This work not only examines the problematic boundaries of the complex situations studied by scientists, but also interprets their efforts to build social support for adopting explicit or implicit boundaries and studying what is inside. Similarly for the complex situations interpreted by sociologists, historians, and other scholars in the area now known as science and technology studies (STS). Moreover, I explore ways to stimulate researchers (and students training to become researchers) to examine self-consciously the complexity of their social situatedness so as to change the ways they address the complexity of the situations they study. In recent years, I have transferred this three-level engagement with complexity from ecology to social epidemiological approaches that address the life course development of health and behavior. This has resulted in new critical angles on heritability studies underlying nature-nurture debates (Nature-Nurture? No…: A Short, but Expanding Guide to Variation and Heredity, book ms.) and forms the focus of a current book project, Troubled by Heterogeneity?
  • This project on complexity and change had its beginnings, as mentioned above, in environmental and social activism in Australia that led to studies and research in ecology and agriculture (B.Sc., Monash University, 1975; research positions at Universities of Queensland and Melbourne, 1976-79). I moved to the United States to undertake doctoral studies in ecology (Ph.D., Harvard University 1985), with a minor focus in what is now called STS [1]. Subsequently, I combined scientific investigations with interpretive STS inquiries, my goal being to make STS perspectives relevant to life and environmental students and scientists (MIT, New School [2], U.C. Berkeley [3], Cornell University [4], 1985-96). (Historical, sociological, and pedagogical cases have included the origins of systems ecology, socio-economic analysis of the future of a salt-affected irrigation region, systems dynamics modeling of nomadic pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa, researchers mapping the conditions in which they work [5], and political ecological critique of the tragedy of the commons framework.) Critical thinking and critical pedagogy/reflective practice became central to my intellectual and professional project as I encouraged students and researchers to contrast the paths taken in science, society, education with other paths that might be taken, and to foster their acting upon the insights gained (Biology & Society program, Cornell, 1990-96 [4]; Eugene Lang Professor for Social Change, Swarthmore College, 1997-98 [6]; U. Mass. Boston 1998-present [6]).
  • My work at the intersection of STS and environmental sciences has been supported by Mellon, Wantrup, and Rockefeller Foundation fellowships (1985-86, 87-90, 96-97, respectively), and by visiting professorships at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas and the Centro de Ecología, U.N.A.M., Mexico (summer 1992, 1993) and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University (2003). My work at the intersection of STS and health sciences has been supported by NSF grants (2003-05, 2006-09), and as a visiting scholar at the Pembroke Center, Brown University (2002-03) and the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Austria (2008 & 2010). My work on educational innovation and interdisciplinary workshops has been supported by the Academy of Finland (1988) [5], the University of Tampere (1996-2000), NSF grants (2004-05, 05-09), and the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at my university (2009).

Notes
[1] I chose to study with Levins and Lewontin (who influenced many of the early HPSSB’ers) because they were explicit about their intellectual work being simultaneously a political project. Two essay reviews reflect on their influence: “Dialectical Biology as Political Practice. An essay review of R. Levins & R. Lewontin The Dialectical Biologist” Radical Science 20: 81-111, 1986 and “Biology as Politics: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Lewontin and Levins (An essay review of Biology Under the Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health),” Science as Culture, 19 (2): 241-253, 2010.

[2] Founding member of Science, Technology, and Power Program at Eugene Lang College, 1986-87.

[3] I organized a semester-long seminar series, “Shifting frames in interdisciplinary studies,” 1988.

[4] As the second faculty member appointed full-time to the Program in Science, Technology & Society in 1989, I played a consistent supporting role to the Director, Sheila Jasanoff, in making new hires, securing a major interdisciplinary graduate training grant in the life sciences, and bringing the Department of Science and Technology Studies into existence. I taught the core course in the large undergraduate Biology & Society major and shepherded through changes in the Major that strengthened the interpretive (H, P, and S) side of the students’ studies. I also organized a multi-year seminar series in “Social Analysis of Ecological Change,” a title chosen to reflect both environmental change and change in the field of ecology.

[5] The idea that “STS perspectives [should be made] relevant to life and environmental students and scientists” led me to co-host with Yrjö Haila (a regular IHSPPB participant from the late 80s through the late 90s) a workshop in Finland in which participants mapped the “heterogeneous resources” mobilized in their scientific work. This led to another workshop at U.C. Berkeley in 1989 and an ongoing exploration of workshop and group processes that enhance people’s capacity to summon resources needed to change the direction of their work. In 2000 I analyzed my experience of four interdisciplinary workshops concerned with environment, science, and society to try to understand the conditions for successful workshops (unpublished ms.).

[6] At Swarthmore I organized a faculty discussion group on “New biology: New and old questions,” and a 3-day workshop on “What we can do to help each other with ‘agency’,” which was a precursor of the series of science-in-society workshops I organized after moving to UMass Boston (http://www.stv.umb.edu/newsscbackground.html#CCT) that led to the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change.

[7] Besides the sessions that I organized at ISHPSSB that have resulted in anthologies, I have participated in many other transdisciplinary workshops leading to publications, including: M. Dore and T. Mount (eds.), Global Environmental Economics: Equity and the Limits to Markets. Oxford, Blackwell, 1999; S. Oyama, P. Griffiths and R. Gray (Eds.), Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001; “Critical Reflections on the Use of Remote Sensing and GIS Technologies in Human Ecological Research,” Human Ecology, 31 (2), 2003; How Nature Speaks: The Dynamics of the Human Ecological Condition , ed. Y. Haila and C. Dyke. Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2006; M. Turner, M. Goldman, and P. Nadasdy (eds.) Knowing Nature: Conversations between Political Ecology and Science Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming; A. Belgrano, C. Fowler (eds.) Ecosystem Based Management for Fisheries: Linking Patterns to Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming; Revisiting ecology. Reflecting concepts, advancing science, ed. K. Jax and A. Schwarz (eds.), Berlin: Springer, forthcoming; The Reshaping of Human Life [provisional title], Lisbon: Gulbenkian Foundation, forthcoming).

Guided tour of my service and institutional development work VI

VI. Promoting interdisciplinary connections between history, philosophy, social studies, and biology

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

The International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) has biennial summer meetings that, as the website states: “bring together scholars from diverse disciplines, including the life sciences as well as history, philosophy, and social studies of science.” Interesting sessions—or sets of sessions—have been held within one of the disciplines, but what attracted me to the summer meetings and what my contributions to ISHPSSB have promoted are “innovative, transdisciplinary sessions” and “fostering [of] informal, co-operative exchanges and on-going collaborations.” Here I review my service to ISHPSSB, which, in a later post, I put in the context of a larger transdisciplinary life/work project.
In 1984 Michael Bradie, one of a series of philosophers of science who took sabbaticals at Richard Lewontin’s lab where I was working on my Ph.D. in ecology, encouraged me to attend the next meetings of what was then HPSSB. At St. Mary’s in 1985 I gave my first history of science talk (on H.T. Odum) and was excited to hang out with people who were attracted to—or, at least, comfortable with—crossing boundaries among history, philosophy, sociology, and biology. These meetings gave me confidence—and foolhardiness—to pursue a career path that has not respected disciplinary boundaries. I became a regular IS/HPSSB participant and began to organize sessions that fostered the discipline-transgressing qualities I valued. (The phrases from the website quoted above were written by me while, I think, serving as a program organizer for the 1991 meetings.) I also worked to ensure that institutionalization did not undermine the original impulse of promoting innovative, cross- disciplinary sessions and discussions. In that spirit, my ISHPSSB contributions have included:

  • Organizing or co-organizing sessions “Shifting frames in history, philosophy, and social studies of biology” (plenary session) and “Making sense of biologists making diagrams” in 1989; “Ecology in changing environments” and “Teaching interdisciplinary studies of biology” in 1991; “Changing Life in the New World Dis/order” in 1993; “The politics of conservation” in 1995; “Biology and agents without history” (plenary session) in 1997; “Genes, Gestation, and Life Experiences: Perspectives on the Social Environment in the Age of DNA” in 1999; “Teaching History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology” pre-conference workshop in 2001; “Knowing, Interpreting and Engaging with New and Old Biocomplexities” 2005; “Revisiting scientific and social debates about heritability in light of the under-recognized implications of heterogeneity,” 2009.
  • Editing or co-editing collections of publications arising from these ISHPSSB sessions:
    • “Pictorial representation in biology” Biology & Philosophy, 6, 1991 (with A. Blum).
    • “Science studies,” section of Social Text, 42, 1994-95.
    • “Ecological visionaries and the politics of conservation,” Environment and History, 3, 1997 (with R. Rajan)
    • Changing Life: Genomes, Ecologies, Bodies, Commodities Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (ed. with S. Halfon & P. Edwards), 1997.
    • “Natural Contradictions: Links between Ecological science and Environmental politics,” Science as Culture, 7 (4), 1998 (with Y. Haila).
    • “Philosophy of Ecology,” Biology & Philosophy, 15 (2):155-238, 2001 (with Y. Haila).

    (Also, from the 1989 meetings, I contributed to A. Clarke & J. Fujimura (eds.) The Right Tools for the Job: At Work in Twentieth Century Life Sciences, Princeton University Press, 1992.)

  • Establishing, while on the Executive from 1989-91 and 1993-99 (including President 1995-97): core committees and procedures; the Marjorie Grene graduate student prize; a Presidential plenary; the quoted wording above and other traditions that have continued under the subsequent “administrations.” (I also pinch hit during and after my term as President when there were gaps in coverage by the secretary/treasurer and in other places.)
  • Establishing an Education Committee in 1997 and serving on it until 2005.
  • Chairing and serving on the Marjorie Grene Prize Committee, 2005-9.

Although I continue to participate in ISHPSSB meetings, my focus in promoting “innovative, transdisciplinary sessions” and “fostering informal, co-operative exchanges and on-going collaborations” has, since 2001, shifted more to the smaller and more focused New England Workshop on Science and Social Change [which I describe in a later post] and its precursors.

Guided tour of my service and institutional development work II

I. Building a Basis for Interdisciplinary Science, Health, and Environmental Education and Research

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

A. Beyond UMass Boston

1. For discussion of my service and institutional development beyond UMass Boston, refer first to a recent wikipage prepared to support a nomination for a service award for the International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB). In brief, ISHPSSB was the most significant venue for my work outside my formal appointments in the 1980s and 90s. Although I continue to organize sessions at the Society’s biennial meetings, my ISHPSSB-style efforts have shifted more to the smaller and more focused New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC), with spin-off workshops this spring in Australia and Portugal.

2. The NewSSC workshops represent an integration of my research—in science and interpretation of science in its social context—with teaching and service—in the form of critical reflection on concepts and practice by researchers and students (consistent with the framework presented in my 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement). The opportunity and challenge of teaching—or fostering the reflective practice of—the diverse adults who come through the Critical and Creative Thinking Graduate Program gave me sufficient experience and confidence to push further in putting that framework into practice with diverse international researchers through NewSSC. The innovative, interaction-intensive NewSSC workshops were designed to facilitate discussion, teaching innovation, and longer-term collaboration among faculty and graduate students who teach and write about interactions between scientific developments and social change. The ongoing evolution of the workshops has been stimulated not only by written and spoken evaluations (linked to the webpages for each workshop), but also by an extended debriefing immediately following each workshop and advisory group discussions, such as one in 2008 that addressed the question of what moves people develop themselves as collaborators. Our conjecture was that this development happens when participants see an experience or training as transformative. After reviewing the evaluations we identified four “R’s”—respect, risk, revelation, and re-engagement—as conditions that make interactions among participants transformative (see Taylor et al. 2010 for elaboration and supporting quotations from the evaluations).
The integration of critical thinking about science and reflective practice is also evident in the daily blog I began at the end of the summer last year and its recent spin-off.

3. Roles in interdisciplinary educational, professional, and program development (outside UMass Boston, since 1998) — see list and associated links at http://ptaylor.wikispaces.umb.edu/servicereview

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