Category Archives: science

Paper at 4S, San Diego 2013. Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy

My abstract for the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S).

Panel Imagining Public Issues in the Technosciences.

On Thu Oct 10 2013, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Building/Room: Pacific Salon Seven

Title: Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy

Smart grids are communicated in the public sphere in stories about the coming together of utilities and communications (gas, electricity/monitoring of data) into a network that can be managed for optimum use of resources. Imaginaries of smart grids address certain public issues, such as efficiency in responding to energy demand; environmental concerns, by integrating renewable forms of energy; and the empowerment of consumers. However, these imaginaries also point to possible controversies in the role of the public. The user is either largely invisible in large-scale images of the grid, or rendered very central within domestic settings. So where exactly is the public, as user or consumer, in these contradictory narratives of smart grids which circulate in the media? This paper will trace the range of publicity and media images of smart grids and will identify the dominant and alternative visions and contradictions within these images. It will draw from contemporary stories being told by diverse actors, across multiple media forms: energy policy research, distribution power operators, power companies, businesses and government. The media analysis of the visual culture of smart grids will ask how the public is constructed or is absent in relation to smart grids. We identify the contradictions and articulate that these contradictions point to axes of controversy and resistance, which importantly indicate and perform levels of public engagement. By doing so, we reflect on the ways in which imaginaries shape what is public about smart grids-as-technoscience.

The research leading to this paper has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under the grant EPINET.

Session Participants:

Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy

*Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex)

The First Bite: Imaginaries of Food, Publics and the Laboratory Grown Burger

*Kate O’Riordan (University of Sussex, and Cesagen)

The Making of Obsolescence: How Things Become Public in the Age of Precariousness

*Ana Maria Delgado (University of Bergen), *Blanca Callén (Centre for Science Studies. Lancaster University)

Biometrics – Technology of Distrust? Exploring Security in a Policy Vacuum

*Kjetil Rommetveit (University of Bergen), *Kristrun Gunnarsdottir (Lancaster University)

Discussant: Brian Wynne (University of Lancaster)

Mapping reprotechnologies and feminist mobilisations, FWSA 2013

2013-06-22 11.25.54.jpg

Music & Liberation Project (photo from the excibition at the conference venue)

At the FWSA 2013 conference today, I presented some findings from research that I have conducted, which maps feminist actors mobilising around ethical, social and political aspects of reproductive technologies.

For this research I used digital methods (Rogers) and focused on the 2011 consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Of particular interest to me was the payment for donors, a policy under review proposed by the consultation.The media analysis and network analysis of the consultation offers an understanding of public engagement with reproductive technologies, and the specificities of feminist interventions in particular.  In this paper I examined:

1) The dominant issues in three spheres (feminists, news, policy). I compared these issues once for ‘HFEA compensation’ and once for ‘egg donation’, across spheres and determined their specificity per sphere.

2) Construction of donor and the construction of ‘egg donation’ in public discourse and imagery.

This is complemented with research on (I did not present these findings):

3) Issue network of consultation, which provides the connections and linking behaviour of main actors (feminists, policy actors, NGOs, independent intellectuals, news/bloggers).

4) Construction of expertise of feminist academic actors (around the themes of reprotechnologies and egg donation), by analysing the status of publications and their influence, in comparison to science publications.

5) Close reading of commentary on a feminist guest blog about compensation, which analyses the dominant issues and identities that readers/commentators occupy.

The theoretical framework of this research is informed by conceptualisations of reproductive labour, clinical labour and biovalue (Dickenson 2002, Waldby and Cooper 2008; 2010), and methodologically by digital sociology and Actor network theory (ANT) (see Marres 2012, Scraping the social, Latour and Wiebel 2005 Making things public).

I am writing up this research at the moment.

In Nottingham, I also attended this excellent panel on Cultural Memory and Transformation on Saturday.

EDIT: This is how the FWSA blog summarised my paper:

Dr Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex), “Reprotechnologies and feminist mobilisations: Mapping with digital methods”

Dr Fotopoulou presented findings from her current research mapping actors and feminist mobilisations within online discourses on reproductive technologies. The starting point for the research was the 2011 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) consultation on compensation for egg donors. Egg donation is classed in the same category as all forms of ‘tissue donation’ (including sperm donation), which restricts payments to compensation for the loss of earnings and expenses (this amount was increased to £750 from £250 following the consultation). The impetus for the review was framed around a discourse of scarcity of eggs, with eggs constructed as something that limits women’s fertility treatment in Britain. From a Marxist analysis, this can be understood in terms of the creation of a need, shifting towards the construction of egg donation as part of an industry. Employing a digital sociology approach, ‘scraping’ websites for relevant content, Dr Fotopoulou conducted a media analysis of news stories, feminist blogs and policy websites to explore the ways in which discussions about egg donation were framed in relation to this consultation. She looked at who the main actors in the discussions were, how the issues were represented visually and how the dominant imaginary constructed the egg donor. She was in particular interested in how feminists constructed the issues and their influence on the debate. Her results highlighted how policy documents focused mainly on issues related to travel expenses and overseas travel, while feminist discussions also covered issues more broadly related to the law, women’s health, and politics of reproductive technologies more generally. When scraping for images, the dominant representations of egg donation featuring living ‘things’ (as opposed to those which featured medical images or technology), tended to feature babies and (chicken) eggs (including babies emerging from chicken eggs). When women were pictured, they were mostly posed together with babies and families, rarely on their own. And in terms of the HFEA’s own discourse, Dr Fotopoulou found that it did not make women’s labour visible at all in the process of egg donation, dismissing the invasiveness of sourcing procedures.

Victoria Pitts-Taylor podcast

This is an interesting podcast, where Victoria Pitts-Taylor (Professor of Sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York) explains what it means to do feminist disability studies, in an accessible way. Queer activism, intersex activism and heteronormativity get mentioned, and the discussions gets more interesting around half-way, when Pitts-Taylor clarifies gender/sex and refers to epigenetics, brain and gender.

There is even some suggested reading: “Feminist Perspectives on Disability”  and “Misfits: A Feminist Materialist Disability Concept”

Today is Ada Lovelace day

As stated in the Finding Ada site

Ada Lovelace Day aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.

Interesting events around the world today inspiring young women to go into sciences or to persevere, once there  – but sexism in educational institutions and the academy needs to be accounted for and experiences need to be shared. Academic Men explain things to me does exactly that.

And who else in the world could ever play Ada Lovelace if not Tilda Swinton, in Lynn Hershman Leeson’s (1997) Conceiving Ada.