STS Africa 2018:
An NSF-sponsored pre-4S Workshop on STS on/in Africa
Sydney, Australia – August 28-29, 2018

Organizers: Dr. Tolu Odumosu (University of Virginia); Dr. Anne Pollock (Georgia Tech)

This Workshop seeks to explore the question “What are the boundaries of Science and Technology in Africa and how should we recognize and address both the uniqueness of African knowledge production and innovation on the one hand, and the potential that STS work in Africa has to offer to the field as a whole on the other?” We hope to answer these questions by working across the three domains of information technology, medicine, and the environment as they relate to Africa.

As this is event is sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), and we are seeking additional support from other funding bodies, funds will be available to offset travel and accommodation expenses.  We anticipate being able to fully fund all travel expenses for participants coming from the African continent, and to be able to significantly defray the travel expenses for all participants.

We anticipate an intimate gathering of 24 participants, including at least 12 Africans (including at least 6 who are based at institutions in Africa).  The Workshop will be held in coordination with the Society for Social Studies of Science 4S-Sydney meeting.  The pre-4S events will be held at the University of Sydney, and will feature a keynote panel of prominent scholars on the topic of challenges and opportunities of doing STS work in Africa, roundtables on publishing at funding with guests from presses, journals, and funding institutions, and meals that will provide opportunities for networking and community-building.  On the first day of 4S, incorporated into the program of 4S proper, there will be a Closed Panel featuring stream of panels in response to this open CFP.

We seek submissions of abstracts in the following three areas:

Panel 1: Information Technology – In contemporary Africa, the music of modernity is the ring of the mobile phone. An Information Technology revolution has swept the continent especially with the adoption of the mobile phone, and in later years, the mobile internet. Multiple African STS scholars have examined the mobile phone as a particular information technology that is co-constituted with Africa (de Bruijn, Nyamnjoh, and Brinkman 2009; Zegeye and Muponde 2012, Odumosu 2017). For example, de Bruji, Nyamnjoh, and Brinkman examine emergent innovations and new practices around mobile telephony such as healing practices (van Beek 2009), engineering design (Odumosu 2017) and mobile money platforms (Donovan 2012).  We seek submissions that contribute to our understanding of information technology in Africa, in ways that might intersect with or depart from the other topical areas below.

Panel 2: Biomedicine – Similarly, much STS of Biomedicine in Africa has been in dialogue with Critical Global Health.  Clinical trials have been a particularly important site for consideration of power and knowledge (Crane 2013, Kelly and Geissler 2012).  In both the study of pharmaceuticals and the study of toxicology, Africa has also been part of the broader interrogation in STS of the tension in science between its claims to universality and its practice in particular places, because lab-based biosciences are figured as the most placeless and prestigious, and African scientists have challenged their exclusion (Okeke 2011, Pollock 2014, Tousignant 2013).  There has been important work challenging the figuration of Africa as lack (Mkhwanazi 2016).  We seek submissions that contribute to our understanding of biomedical technologies in Africa.

Panel 3: Environment / Critical Studies of Infrastructure – The Environment is also central to how Africa is invoked.  Africa is often used as a symbol of wildness on the one hand and underdevelopment on the other, and there is considerable scholarship of the intersections nature and development there (Walley 2004) that has much to offer STS more broadly. There has already been productive cross-talk between the spheres of Biomedicine and Environment.  This is partly because of the way that, for colonial science, understanding the natural world in Africa was intertwined with other imperial projects including extracting natural resources of potential benefit to health (Tilley 2011).  In the disparate spheres of bioprospecting and natural therapies on the one hand (Osseo-Asare 2014, Droney 2016, Foster 2017) and mosquito control on the other (Kelly and Biesel 2011), nature and medicine necessarily come together. We seek submissions that contribute to our understanding of the environment and urbanization in Africa.