On this page, we showcase outstanding publications, master’s and PhD theses by young scholars in Science and Technology Studies.
Artemis Anna Papadaki Anastasopoulou (2019): Plastic matters. Material politics of plastic at the Environment Agency Austria.
(Master’s Thesis, Universität Wien)
Plastic was a success story of the 20th century, a material that revolutionized industry and expanded consumption. However, plastic has become a current top environmental concern since plastic particles found in oceans, rivers, or soil, pose uncertain risks to humans and wildlife. From an STS perspective, the materiality of plastic has been described as a process enacted in divergent environments. This thesis builds on this perspective, and uses a post-ANT lens to ask: How is plastic enacted as a matter of concern in the Environment Agency Austria? In the past years, there have been discussions on how to regulate plastic on a European level which culminated in the EU Plastics Strategy published in 2018. The Environment Agency Austria (EAA) is not only a leading figure on plastic discussions in Austria, but an active actor in major European arenas. The EAA works at the intersection of science and policy; they analyze microplastics in laboratories, but also engage in policy consultancy. I conducted interviews with people working at the EAA on plastic and in addition, analyzed their publicly available reports. I describe the multiple sites of concerns, the gatherings of humans, plastic, discourses, practices, material properties and material arrangements, in which plastic becomes a matter of concern through the enactment of its material properties. I also discuss the importance of defining microplastics and how plastic resists such definitions. Lastly, I explore the instances of how plastic becomes a simultaneous visible and invisible threat. In conclusion, this thesis touches upon issues of what it means to classify, define and regulate plastic in a multiple world and how we could engage in this multiplicity of plastic in regulation in order to explore deeper the material entanglements of plastics, humans, nonhumans and environments in contemporary societies and envision a ‘common world’ with plastic.
Artemis Papadaki Anastasopoulou is currently a doctoral researcher at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna:
Michael Kriechbaum (2019): Institutional dynamics in renewable energy diffusion. Beyond the boundaries of organisational fields.
(PhD Dissertation, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz)
Although global investments in renewables have increased substantially, the electricity sectors will not be able to fully transition towards renewable energy sources until the sectors inert institutional structures, which have been established over many decades and tailored to fit centralized and fossil fuel-based supply systems, are overcome. The main objective of this dissertation work was to improve the understanding of how renewable energy technologies interact with these structures. An analysis was performed to determine how organisational fields that emerge around renewables (and carry new institutional logics) both are influenced by and influence their broader institutional environment. The former was studied by analysing so-called systemic problems that have hampered the diffusion of distributed solar photovoltaics in South Africa. The latter was investigated by examining the natures and roles of widely shared expectations; light was shed on the specific dynamics of expectations that have emerged regarding different renewable energy technologies (including photovoltaics, wind power and biogas) in Germany and Spain. By analysing systemic problems of the diffusion of distributed solar photovoltaics in South Africa, it was possible to illustrate the strong context dependence of emerging organisational fields. The ways in which the wider institutional environment can trigger the creation of systemic lock-in situations and severely constrain the development of organisational fields are shown. The results of the analyses of expectations demonstrate that widely-shared expectations play key roles by enabling emerging organisational fields to interact with and also change their wider institutional environments. However, the analysed expectations changed rapidly over time and not only strengthened but also limited the ability to modify existing structures.
Kriechbaum, Michael; Brent, Alan C.; Posch, Alfred (2018): Interaction patterns of systemic problems in distributed energy technology diffusion: a case study of photovoltaics in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 14 (2), pp.1-15.
Kriechbaum, Michael; López Prol, Javier; Posch, Alfred (2018): Looking back at the future: Dynamics of collective expectations about photovoltaic technology in Germany & Spain. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 129, pp. 76-87.
Michael Kriechbaum is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Science, Technology and Society Unit at TU Graz:
Awardees of the first STS Austria Prize for best publications by early career researchers
Ruth Ingeborg Falkenberg (2019): Downward-facing dog meets randomised controlled trial: Investigating valuations in medical yoga research.
(Master’s thesis, Universität Wien)
In my thesis, I examine how medical researchers bring together yoga and modern biomedicine in the framework of randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Building on the assumption that setting up a research design involves different acts of valuation, I investigate the situated valuations that researchers perform in negotiating the encounter between yoga and biomedicine methodologically as well as theoretically. Moreover, I reconstruct how these concrete valuations are related to broader institutional, structural, and discursive regimes of valuation. Theoretically, my thesis thus brings together the investigation of research in the fields of biomedicine and complementary and alternative medicine from the perspective of Science and Technology Studies with a Valuation Studies inspired approach. Methodologically, I approached my research questions through qualitative interviews with researchers conducting RCTs on yoga, which were informed by an exploratory document analysis.
In my thesis, I show that yoga manifests in medical research as a multiplicity. I reconstruct five regimes of valuation influencing the researchers’ work, where especially two regimes related to evidence-based medicine (EBM) and biomedical knowledge seem to strongly influence the researchers’ practices. Within this framework, researchers value both more and less comprehensive forms of yoga for different reasons, and they tinker with yoga on a practical and on a theoretical level, thus adapting yoga and its explanations to different contexts. Similarly, they tinker with methodology in various ways, thereby making it possible to investigate yoga in the RCT framework and simultaneously doing justice to their appreciation of methodological diversity beyond the normative ‘gold-standard’.
Overall, my thesis highlights the dominance of the methodological framework of EBM and of biomedical understandings, while also illustrating the multiplicity of values that exists in medical yoga research, and the innovative potential that is inherent to heterarchical constellations of worth, were different valuations exist alongside each other. My work thus problematizes crude hierarchical orderings of worth, of methods, and of knowledge in medical research, and emphasises the benefits that seem to arise from giving room to more complex valuations.
Ruth Falkenberg ist currently a doctoral researcher in the research platform Responsible Research and Innovation in Academic Practice at the University of Vienna:
Nils Matzner (2019): Governance und Verantwortung bei Climate Engineering.
(PhD Dissertation, Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt)
The international climate target of two, if possible 1.5°C global warming puts climate policy underpressure. The target might not be met without employing some high-risk methods of climate engineering (CE) which gain ever more attention in climate political discourses since more than a decade. CE is defined as the deliberate intervention into the climate system in order to reduce global warming. This includes technologies such as the injection of sulfur aerosols into the upper atmosphere and fertilizing the ocean for enhanced carbon uptake. On the one hand, CE offers the chance to reduce global warming while on the other hand, it comes with major risks and uncertainties.
The emerging CE technologies demand certain forms of governance and responsibility. Governance of CE deals with problems of a yet underdeveloped international regulation. Anticipatory Governance in particular offers a strategy for capacity building for a forward looking and reflexive way of dealing with CE. Furthermore, science, policy, and civil society are confronted with various questions of responsibility concerning CE. Whereas responsible research and innovation remains a huge task, broader questions of ethical, legal and political responsibility arise. The six articles presented in this cumulative dissertation deal with these questions. The methodology is largely oriented on discourse research, but also on social simulations and theoretical argumentation.
The results are discussed in relation to the German priority program for CE (SPP 1689) funded by the German Research Foundation. The SPP 1689 started as a responsibility initiative and dealt with various governance and responsibility problems. The analysis of the SPP and CE discourses aids to develop anticipatory governance and responsible research in order to mitigate negative consequences of CE.
For an example of the publications featured in Nils’ PhD dissertation, see:
Matzner, Nils; Barben, Daniel (2020): Climate Engineering as a Communication Challenge: Contested Notions of Responsibility Across Expert Arenas of Science and Policy. In: Science Communication 42 (1), pp. 61–89.
Nils Matzner is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS) at TU Munich:
Andrea Schikowitz (2017): Choreographies of Togetherness.
Re-Ordering Collectivity and Individuality in Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research in Austria.
(PhD Dissertation, Universität Wien)
For more than twenty years debates on which kind of knowledge is needed for adequately dealing with overarching environmental and sustainability challenges have been going on. It is claimed that opening up science towards societal problems and different kinds of knowing, as well as engaging in new relations and forms of togetherness with different actors is inevitable. This conviction has entered ever new initiatives and programs aiming at fostering new and more open kinds of knowledge pro-duction, as well as a body of literature dealing with its principles and applications. Transdisciplinarity is such an approach that does not only demand collaboration across disciplinary boundaries but also an integration of extra-scientific actors into the research process.
However, in spite of a continuous expression of political will of and conceptual preoccupation with inclusive, collective and process-oriented forms of research, it can be asked if a broader transformation of knowledge production can be observed in practice. In turn, what has increasingly entered contemporary science is a focus on individual productivity of researchers, primarily measured according to the amount of standardized output (mostly publications). Thus, currently researchers are in a tension between claims of collective and open research on the one hand, and the requirement to succeed individually within increasing competition on the other hand.
For understanding how new forms of knowledge production are translated into practice (or not), I thus investigate how researchers imagine their opportunities within a tension of collective research and individual assessment and how they cope with it in their working practices. Analytically, I focus on ‘choreographies of togetherness’, understood as modes of coping with tensions and incoherence between different be-longings and different collective and individual practices. Choreographies can be regarded as practices that stabilise or change social orders. In this way, also non-linear and unintended effects of changing demands and organization of knowledge production get accessible for analysis.
The empirical case is a huge Austrian research program in the area of transdisciplinary sustainability research that elevated the integration of extra-scientific actors into research to a central funding criteria. Besides analysing different program and project documents, interviews and focus groups with project participants were conducted and ethnographic observations in project meetings took place.
Andrea Schikowitz is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS) at TU Munich: