(C05)
Science, innovation and inequality: part of the solution or the problem?
Location Frankland Colloquium (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 14:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Melanie Smallman (University College London) email
  • Koen Beumer (Utrecht University) email

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Chair Melanie Smallman and Koen Beumer

Short abstract

This session explores the intersection between science, innovation & economic inequality from an STS perspective. In particular, whether recent technological developments are reinforcing inequalities or creating new ones, and how concepts of equity are handled within science & innovation policy.

Long abstract

'Traditional' scientific and policy discourses around science and innovation casts science as a solver of the biggest problems facing humanity and to drive economic growth and wealth creation. Recent studies in Economics and Science and Technology Studies (STS) however are showing that economic inequality is a growing challenge in developed and developing economies alike. Importantly, science and technology appears to be playing a role in this, as the benefits and downsides of science and innovation are distributed unevenly.

In this session we aim to explore the intersection between science, innovation, and economic inequality from an STS perspective by bringing together research that tackles the question of whether science is part of the problem or part of the solution. In particular, we will consider the question of whether recent technological developments are reinforcing existing inequalities or creating new ones, and how concepts of equity are being handled within science and innovation policy.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Access to equipment and epistemic injustices within scientific research

Author: Louise Bezuidenhout (University of Oxford) email
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Short abstract

The availability of research technologies varies considerably. Many scientists rely on donations of equipment to overcome shortages. While useful, such systems raise considerable epistemic and social concerns, as they may unintentionally perpetuate inequalities within the global science community.

Long abstract

The availability of research technologies around the world is a topic of considerable discussion. In many research environments - particularly in the Global South - researchers struggle to produce data with older research equipment, few reagents and little infrastructural support. The awareness of these resource inequalities plays out against the widespread framing of science as the key to sustainable and equitable futures.

A number of initiatives aim to address the inequalities of research resources, including schemes that facilitate equipment donation and/or sharing. While such schemes have had some success, the problems associated with them must also be recognised. These include reinforcing the distinctions between well- and poorly-resourced laboratories in terms of up-to-date equipment. Moreover, they can also trap low-resourced laboratories in cycles of dependence with regards to proprietary reagents and software, maintenance contracts and high costs of repair.

Examining the current discussions about research resource inequalities highlights how current structures of inequality are unintentionally reinforced. This reveals wider epistemic and social implications. As scientific research and the production of research become increasingly mechanised, the recognition of resource inequalities must raise significant concerns about the possible marginalization of data produced using older equipment. This may lead to situations of epistemic injustice, where certain regions of scientists continue to dominate the emerging data-centric milieu of modern science by virtue of the equipment available to them. The possibility of such situations must raise concerns - particularly for the notion of an egalitarian, Open Data future for science - and warrants further discussion.

Can GIS help with the equitable targeting of "smart" interventions?

Authors: Aleksandra Michalec (University of the West of England) email
Enda Hayes (University of the West of England) email
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Short abstract

The aim of this paper is to challenge the notion of "climate justice" in relation to the smart metering interventions. Using mixed-method approach, the paper provides a perspective on smart meters as an intervention for both "highly capable" and "highly disadvantaged" neighbourhoods.

Long abstract

The imperative of climate justice calls for an equitable distribution of "burdens and benefits" related to the climate change policymaking. Applying the principles of climate justice obliges the decisionmakers to differentiate their resources according to the economic abilities of the citizens. As a result, some neighbourhoods are actively targeted with the additional interventions. However, while we can easily make a theoretical distinction between the mechanisms like environmental ban (=a burden) and financial incentive (=a benefit), certain policies do not sit comfortably in either of these categories. For example, smart meters could potentially be a benefit, provided they contribute to the lower energy bills. However, this is contingent on the personal energy use, inefficiencies at the building level, existing tariffs, and the engagement with the technology. Meanwhile, many research projects pilot smart technologies in deprived areas with an intention to reduce urban social inequalities. This research challenges this notion while looking at the relationship between the energy use, fuel poverty, housing, Internet use and social deprivation at the local scale in Bristol, UK. Using publicly available secondary data and the GIS technique of Multicriteria Decision Making, we have developed a proposal to target smart interventions in neighbourhoods based on the notions of "capacity to change" and "existing disadvantages". The results were then consulted with the local practitioners in order to spark a discussion about smart technologies and justice. This paper offers a perspective on smart metering and justice grounded in both quantitative data and qualitative deliberations.

Emerging inequalities in advocating for life itself: innovations in crowdfunding medical expenses and the assetization of moral worthiness

Author: Matt Wade (Nanyang Technological University) email
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Short abstract

Innovations in crowdfunding medical expenses have grown rapidly. However, as views of moral worthiness determine donations - rather than need - what emerges is the assetization of 'virtue'. Are we therefore witnessing modes of governance and philanthropy that risk exacerbating health inequalities?

Long abstract

Crowdfunding for personal medical expenses (CPME) is now a multi-$B industry, powered by Silicon Valley start-ups, venture capital, and social media. Historically, philanthropy has fostered notions that petitioning aid requires not just demonstrating need, but also moral worthiness. In this US, this has influenced healthcare governance, oscillating between free market principles v. ethical obligations of state to citizenry. Pushed to extremes, medical expenses prove the single largest cause of personal bankruptcy. CPME has emerged in response, reducing friction between widespread need and altruistic aspirations. Advocates proclaim to 'disrupt giving', upending traditional philanthropy through for-profit models. However, because personal judgments of moral worthiness are the primary determinant of donations - rather than need - what emerges is the assetization of virtue. Also, only certain health conditions are likely to acquire funding; 'crisis' conditions fare much better than chronic illness, or conditions associated with vice. Governing bodies nonetheless support crowdfunding, perhaps for devolving state duties while reaffirming familial/community ties. Yet, around 90% of US-based campaigns fail to reach funding goals, and success depends on pre-existing social and cultural capital. Hence, while already marginalized subjects are turned for profit, those even further marginalized are not heard at all. This creates injurious metrics of life's worth. What burdens are imposed in compelling subjects to plead for life itself in hyper-competitive attention economies? Are we witnessing, framed in egalitarian rhetoric, governmentalities that exacerbate health inequalities? The reframing of vulnerability as entrepreneurial possibility, implying those who prove themselves deserving will be redeemed through market-based mechanisms?

Inequality matters - comparing discourses of innovation in UK and post-apartheid South Africa

Authors: Melanie Smallman (University College London) email
Koen Beumer (Utrecht University) email
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Short abstract

There is evidence that investment in science and innovation drives economic growth. More recent research suggests it also creates inequalities. Comparing discourses within innovation policy in South Africa and the UK, we consider how inequality is accounted for in government innovation strategies.

Long abstract

Economic growth has been an important argument in favour of government investment in science and innovation. And while there is evidence that investment in these areas has made significant contributions to the growth of the economies of developed countries over the past 50 years, more recent evidence suggests that technological innovations have also contributed to growing inequalities within nations. So how is the shape of the economy accounted for in government strategies for investment in innovation? In this paper, we compare the discourses within innovation policy in the UK and South Africa. We argue that while UK innovation policy has focused upon growing the size of the economy, the post apartheid South African Government has had a specific mandate to address structural inequalities within their country, which should lead to a necessary focus on the spread as well as size of the economy.

Which comes first? The construction of problems or solutions: science and technology agenda and social inequalities

Author: Santiago Alzugaray (Universidad de la República, Uruguay) email
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Short abstract

Which comes first?Inequality or science and technology? Unequal social systems make unequal S&T?Inequality can be fought through S&T?The presentation proposes to go a step backwards and start thinking about the production and reproduction of inequalities in the process of defining priorities for S&T

Long abstract

Inequalities are multicausal. Science and technology may have egalitarian or unequal effects: the effect is not inherent to the technology or knowledge involved. The effect is socially constructed, according to the social structure, in dynamic processes. That construction begins with the definition of research and/or innovation agendas, a process in which social structures become evident, particularly the predominant power structures (constantly re-negotiated, disputed, dynamically produced and reproduced).

This presentation will reflect on the effect that the process of the definition of research and innovation priorities has in the production and reproduction of social inequalities. Science and technology not only have a strong power by their own and direct effects, but also as means of defining horizons of possibility, as means of defining what is real and possible and what is not.

The reflection will be illustrated by preliminary results coming from an ongoing research focused in understanding how power relations between different actors, individual and collective, contribute to the definition of priorities and scope for the construction of knowledge, and for the design and incorporation of technology related to different stages of the rice production process in Uruguay.

Analysing the process or the reinforcement of social inequalities through the construction of science and technology from the very beginning of the problem may contribute to the rising of more inclusive alternatives to the predominating models. The presentation will try to finish with some keys to the identification of alternative pathways.

Who will be in charge of agency of driving? Negotiating the future of automobility between gender studies and automotive engineering

Authors: Sandra Buchmüller (Technische Universität Braunschweig) email
Corinna Bath (Technische Universität Braunschweig) email
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Short abstract

We provide insights from a feminist STS study on an interdisciplinary collaboration process between gender researchers and automotive engineers that shows the challenges and difficulties of interdisciplinary dialogues that foster a socially fair and inclusive future (auto-)mobility.

Long abstract

The current socio-technical developments of automobility give reason to expect fundamental future changes that promise to solve the current problems of western industrialized countries caused by mass motorization, urbanization and ageing. Self-driving cars are promoted with arguments such as increasing traffic safety, efficiency and comfort as well as a better individual mobility and independence for people with limited cognitive, physical or experiential capabilities. But what automated driving systems will mean in future and how these systems will matter does not only results from engineering efforts. As 'technologies in the making' (Bijker et. al 1987), they also affect power structures, gender relations and agencies, we as gender researchers hopefully want to influence in socially fair and inclusive way.

We want to present a case study on a collaboration between gender researchers and and automotive engineers aiming at the development of a joint research proposal. It deals with the question of how to create concepts for trustworthy automated driving systems that satisfy different user requirements. Referring to concepts of feminist science and technology studies, we analyze how concepts of users, technology, agency, human-machine-configurations (e.g. Suchman 2007) and the research design change during the negotiation process. Moreover, we evaluate how the shifts in the discussion might contribute to a socially fair and inclusive technology. The study exemplarily shows contributions and challenges of including gender studies approaches into the field of automotive engineering.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.