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The implications of institutional breakdown for science and technology 
Danah Boyd (Microsoft Research Georgetown University)
Janet Vertesi (Princeton University)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

This panel seeks to examine the role that institutional arrangements play in shaping science and technology by interrogating what happens when institutions are threatened or collapse.

Long Abstract:

Institutions have lifecycles but they are also actors within complex sociotechnical arrangements. When institutions collapse or disintegrate (or are strategically undermined), scientific and technical projects that depend on or are entangled with institutions are also threatened. Institutions, after all, are organizational infrastructure that help create the conditions for a range of science and technology efforts. Studies of sociotechnical failures often highlight the organizational conditions that make "normal accidents", legitimacy crises, and disasters possible. Meanwhile, sociologists often note how "permanently failing organizations" allow sociotechnical projects to persist despite weaknesses in specific organizations. There is also a wide array of scholarship that emphasizes how scientific advancements and technical innovation are made possible through particular institutional arrangements. But what happens to scientific and technical work when institutions breakdown? In this panel, we invite contributions that investigate how the conditions created by collapsing institutions affect scientific and technical work. How might the fall of governments or the disintegration of the administrative state affect work related to climate science, statistics, or nuclear energy? What happens to complex technical systems when corporations go bankrupt or take extreme actions to avoid such an outcome? How do fiscal pressures and reputational risks facing higher education affect the knowledge production process? How is the future of scientific and technical projects affected by supply chain collapses or geopolitical rearrangements of institutions? In other words, if certain institutional arrangements create the conditions for scientific and technical work, how should we think sociotechnially about the meltdown of institutional configurations? And, to these ends, what might a sociotechnical vision of maintenance and repair look like that accounts for institutional arrangements? With this panel, we hope to learn from those interrogating the entanglements between science/technology and institutions at the moments when the latter are under duress.

Accepted papers: