Guest post by Gijs Diercks .
Last week, Barcelona formed the stage for the combined 4S/EASST conference. Every four years, this conference brings together the transatlantic STS community formed by the (American) Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST).
This year’s conference drew over 2000 participants and over 1700 papers were presented spread out over 12 cohorts with no less than 32 parallel session. The overarching theme “science and technology by other means: exploring collectives, spaces and futures” gave room to a large diversity of topics ranging from feminist postcolonial STS, to alternative medicine and one of my personal favourites: ‘the infrastructures of evil’.
What stood out most to me, apart from the sheer size of the event, was its friendly and informal atmosphere in which friends were easily made. Transition scholars were present, but only formed a small minority and at times it was difficult to spot a familiar face. This had one obvious plus side: in contrast to most of the other conferences I’ve visited, 4S and EASST attract a truly international audience with no one country dominating the sessions.
This diversity of academic traditions and national cultures also resulted in many different styles of presenting. In one session I witnessed a small play and in another session I was asked a number of multiple choice questions to hold my attention. Both methodologies I enjoyed and were a friendly reminder that no-one actually tells you to stick with a conventional format. But not all presentations were easy to follow. Many presenters choose to read out (parts of) their paper to the audience, a method that I personally find a bit demanding for the audience.
People looking for more specific input or feedback are probably better of going to a smaller, more targeted conference. However, the breadth of the programme made it a good introduction for people who want to learn more about the broader field of Science, Technology and Society (STS) studies and the 32 parallel sessions made sure that there was always something exciting to visit.