Humanities and Social Sciences Launch Event 28 November 2012. Professor Steve Hinchliffe’s explanation of the Science, Technology and Culture (STaC) theme:
As public controversies grow over anything from what we eat to how and when we die, from atmospheric forcing to treating disease, from inheriting intellectual traditions to leaving environmental legacies, it is pressing, indeed a major challenge, to draw together the best work across the humanities, arts and social sciences to work in critical relation with the sciences.
Social and historical engagements with science and technology have yielded some of the most creative and exciting insights in HASS disciplines over a considerable time, and we are fortunate to have a group of cutting edge scholars based here at Exeter.
But the challenge is also somewhat new. No longer is the task only to understand science, to chronicle its successes and failures, to account for public unease or mistrust. There is also a creative challenge. To engage in interdisciplinary as well as transdisciplinary (publically engaged) research in order to create new kinds of knowledge. To quote a recent AHRC call: ‘Arts and humanities research in the 21st Century has the potential to inform science as much as to chart its cultural impacts. It can provoke new scientific enquiry as much as account for contexts’.
That is our challenge – to take and continue to build on this exciting group of scholars, and engage with some of the most pressing situations where science, politics and technology are deeply entangled. To that end, let me highlight three sub-themes that we have already identified as Exeter’s contribution.
1. Life: Life, as they say, has gone molecular and global, and post-genomic life is being re-imagined and re-made in ways that will have lasting consequences for the planet as a whole. From histories and philosophies of the life sciences to new experiments in post-human thinking, from exploring relations with non-human plants and animals to re-imagining pathological and public health bodies, from shifts in global science practice to changing data needs and their socio-legal implications, we aim to build on and extend established expertise to engage with life in ways that are uniquely interdisciplinary.
2. Redistributing expertise: Members across the university have a growing reputation as leaders in issues of public engagement with science and technology. We have the potential to lead the UK in developing a platform for responsible innovation and at the same time to draw together colleagues in order to explore how public engagement changes in conditions of a surfeit, not a deficit of public knowledge, of security and secrecy, and when austerity and competitive advantage exert a downward pressure on the time available from bench to bedside, lab to farm gate or workshop to commercial production.
3. Digital worlds: Finally, what we call the social is changing before our eyes. We live in a world with nearly as many mobile phones as people, in a world where the social and the biological are as likely to turn up in digital form. A challenge for us will be to build on the University’s Centre for Intermedia, to experiment with new ways of doing social science, new modes of creative endeavour, to make use of new kinds of data, new kinds of social, and develop new opportunities for intervention in this continuously re-made techno-social world.