(C02)
A panel on panels: studying academic conference practice
Location Frankland Lecture Theatre (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 14:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Alexandra Supper (Maastricht University) email
  • Geert Somsen (Maastricht University) email

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Short abstract

This panel draws attention to conferences as manifestations of community and sociability. We welcome ethnographic and cultural-historical research that helps to understand the functions of conferences, especially in relation to issues of rituals, performances, spatial configurations and new media.

Long abstract

Conferences are standard features of scientific life and inalienable parts of the research profession. Thousands of meetings are held every year, varying in form and shape from intimate to massive, from open to selective, from local to international and from communal to commercial. Different varieties have evolved since their institutionalization in the late nineteenth century, as reflected in the plethora of designations: workshop, symposium, convention, annual meeting, congress, etc.

Yet despite this colossal presence, conferences have rarely been studied as forms of scientific practice, ethnographically or cultural-historically. In this panel, we want to draw attention to conference meetings as forms of sociability and manifestations of community, with their own, discipline-bound dynamics. We want to understand the functions that conferences fulfil, programmatically or below the surface, for the academic community at large and for specific (inter)disciplinary communities. In doing so, we raise questions about contemporary and historical conference practices in relation to four types of issues:

1. Which rituals (e.g. opening ceremonies, banquets, excursions, and, historically, lady programs) have emerged in conferences, and how do they help to sustain academic communities?

2. Which types of performances (e.g. of speakers, commentators and audiences) have emerged, and how do they shape the formation of scholarly subjects and communities?

3. Which spatial configurations (e.g. room layouts, insides/outsides, spatial hierarchies) have emerged, and how do they shape scholarly interactions?

4. How do (new) media and technologies (e.g. blackboards, Powerpoint, twitter backchannels) affect forms of communication and sociability at conferences?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

“We must communicate the value of chemistry”. Producing order through publishing infrastructures in chemistry professional conferences

Author: Marianne Noel (Université Paris-Est) email
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Short abstract

Using chemistry as a case study I consider the conference as social technology that attempts to produce order and thus standardize the chemistry world. I look at how professional meetings shape global governance of publishing infrastructures and show how disciplinary practices are consubstantial with market-based considerations.

Long abstract

In history of science and STS, conferences have often been utilized as mirrors of scientific development. This paper considers conferences as manifestations of community and sociability and uses a mature discipline (chemistry) as a case study. Chemistry is a good example of how modern research is organized in an impressive array of sub-disciplines. It is a space where research follows a logic of cohabitation. I argue large chemistry conferences act as process of assembling (sub-)disciplines but also as social technology that attempts to create order, compare and thus standardizes the chemistry world. I focus on a series of annual meetings organized by the American Chemical Society (ACS) for over 120 years. These massive events, which are held twice a year in major American cities, attract thousands of chemists from around the world. They are described as “an excellent opportunity for professionals and students to showcase work and connect with colleagues in all areas of chemistry”. As media events, they also provide resources for reflecting upon identity of chemistry.

This communication draws on a participant observation at the 250th ACS National Meeting (2015). Because of their size, massive meetings are hard to study for individual researchers. I explore how scholarly interactions can be studied, including through Twitter channels. Going beyond the description of a set of rituals, I look at how such meetings shape global governance of publishing infrastructures and show how disciplinary practices (the claim of chemistry to be central) are consubstantial with market-based considerations (what is worth of value).

Conferences: tracking shifts in disciplinary boundaries and professional hierarchies

Author: Sandra P. González-Santos (Universidad Anahuac) email
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Short abstract

This paper tracks the shifts and negotiations of disciplinary boundaries and professional hierarchies performed at conferences, seeking to highlight the importance of conferences as sites where ART, as both a field and an industry, is being created.

Long abstract

"When we see a panel on lab issues, we turn the other way!" These words were said by a physician during his presentation at the 2007 annual meeting of the Mexican Association of Assisted Reproduction. At that meeting, biologists had their streams and panels to which physicians did not attend, there were no biologists as keynote speakers, and the exhibit area displayed mostly tools for physicians (e.g., ultrasound machines). Ten years later this annual conference had a slightly different configuration. Biologists where now present at the association's board meeting and the exhibit hall was mostly dedicated to laboratory material (e.g., incubators, petri dishes, and pipettes); yet, biologists were still not keynote speakers. Likewise, during the 68th anniversary ceremony of the same medical association (celebrated also in 2017), the keynote speech focused on honouring the two most prominent biologists, giving them public recognition for their trajectory and involvement in the first Mexican ART success stories. Can analysing conferences and meetings such as these helps us trace changes in the way assisted reproduction is being configured as a biomedical industry? Can we witness the drawing and negotiating of disciplinary boundaries and hierarchies by studying conferences? This paper draws on ten years of ethnographic work engaged in exploring the Mexican ART industrial complex from a STS postcolonial perspective. It specifically focuses on tracing the shifts and negotiations of disciplinary boundaries and professional hierarchies that take place between biologists and physicians at professional conferences.

Women's conferences in computer science: separating the advocates from the advocated for

Author: Elizabeth Patitsas (McGill University) email
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Short abstract

Since the 1990s, female computer scientists have been organizing conferences specifically for women in the field. I present an autoethnography of such a conference, discussing the structural factors at the conference which undermined the goal of improved female representation in computing.

Long abstract

Since the 1990s, a great deal of effort has been put into improving the representation of women in computer science, yet the percentage of women in the field continues to decline from the 25% in the 1990s to the 15% today. To help reverse the trend, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was launched in 1994 and has since spawned many other "celebrations" of women and racial minorities internationally. In my paper I will present an autoethnography of attending one such a celebration.

My autoethnography provides a follow up to Sturman's institutional ethnography conducted of the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration. Sturman made several observations about how these celebrations are problematic for gender equality, such as how they separate women's issues from mainstream CS venues to specialized conferences, present a hyper-feminized essentialist discourse of what it means to be a "woman in computing", and commodify female students to the tech companies who recruit at these events.

I not only found those observations were still true today, but also observed a structural disconnect between the faculty at the conference and the students. The faculty, organizing the conference with the goal of promoting gender equality for the students, attended separate sessions on advocacy and clustered together socially. The students, however, attended what amounted to a job fair, with no sense of being part of a gender equity project. I discuss the implications of this bifurcation, and how the structuring of these celebrations affects gender equity work in computer science.

Big pharma in public behind closed doors

Author: Sergio Sismondo (Queen's University) email
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Short abstract

Much of my recent research has taken place at workshops and conferences at the edges of the pharmaceutical industry. I reflect on what these events accomplish for organizers and participants, and try to extend the lessons to other kinds of conferences.

Long abstract

In this presentation, I reflect on what workshops and conferences accomplish for organizers and participants, using industry events as a lens. A significant amount of my research over the past ten years has taken place at workshops and conferences at the edges of the pharmaceutical industry. What has made these events valuable for my research is closely related to some of the things that make them valuable to participants.

Pharma companies outsource many activities to outside agencies. This creates a need to communicate. People in the agencies communicate amongst themselves and with drug companies about the services they offer, and about best practices. The people involved, both inside and outside the drug companies, need to network. As a result, there are workshops and conferences focused on different aspects of the science and business of pharma. I think of these as penumbral, sitting in an imperfect shadow of the industry. In these partial shadows, we can see some of the industry's behind-the-scenes actors talking about and displaying what they do.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.