Engineering, technology, plants, and the environment: An update on my beings

It is a pleasure to write once more. “Hello to both of my readers!”

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. Blogging has instead become part of what I do for the projects that I work on, so you have been reading me whether or not you know it, and perhaps against your better judgment. I am writing this post now because 1) I have a short video of a presentation on technology and the environment to share, 2) there is an exciting workshop this week on agricultural science which it is worth you knowing about, and 3) I spy some interesting things emerging from my vantage point, and I’d like to know if you see them too, or if you think I’m talking pap.

1) ‘Plants are technologies’

At the end of April, Jon Agar and Jacob Ward (couldn’t find a link, sorry!) organised the Technology, Environment and Modern Britain conference. It was put together in quite a unique way, with all the speakers sharing papers beforehand, and then having 10 minutes to speak, with the aim being that we get ample time to discuss as many perspectives as possible. Knowing that we had the circulated paper AND then the opportunity to talk was liberating, and allowed me to do a two-pronged attack. In the pre-circulated paper I explained the motivations and historiography behind my pursuing a history of plants as technologies, building on Barbara Hahn‘s argument in Making Tobacco Bright.  When it came to the day though, I made my case in a different way, by using as much of everyone else’s pre-circulated material as I could to show what such a history would look like. If you’re interested in better integrating histories of the environment and technology, then please do have a watch of the video, and (as I intend to draft research proposals around all this), any feedback will be greatly appreciated!

2) Agricultural science workshop

Beginning tomorrow and continuing to Friday, Miguel Garcia-Sancho and Dmitriy Myelnikov up here in Edinburgh have organised a workshop on the history of agricultural science in the UK, all part of Miguel’s Historicising Dolly project. You can find out more about ‘Polices and practices in the history of farm animal research, 1900-present‘ from the eventbrite page. It’s got an incredible lineup, and while the overall event is dedicated to animal research in particular, Paul Brassley and I will be presenting research on plants, and I am hoping some of the UK plant crew (the likes of Berris Charnley, Sarah Wilmot, Helen Curry …and the even better ones I haven’t got at my finger tips)  might be in the audience for discussion. But I haven’t spoken to any of them to check. Because one of the first things they make you forget on joining the academy is how to be a human person.

3) Methods in philosophy of science

Making the move to studying the present/near present, as I am currently doing as part of Jane Calvert‘s Engineering Life project, you get to see more clearly how a range of different disciplines in the humanities and social sciences work with scientist or engineer collaborators. One area that is particularly interesting is the philosophy of science. As greater numbers have turned towards the investigation of scientific practice, some have ended up pursuing more ethnographic methods: laboratory observations and such like. Indeed, in a few weeks the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, as part of their sixth biennial conference, have organised an entire day for postgraduate researchers to spend time talking and thinking about different kinds of method in the philosophy of science. The exciting thing that I see from my vantage is that there is plenty of room for integration between HPS and STS when it comes to such methods. This possibility ended up being a key part of the discussion at ‘Philosophy of biology meets social studies of biosciences,’ organised by Michela Massimi, which I am hoping will lead to future collaborations between Philosophy and STIS in Edinburgh.  As you can see from this post, I am trying to share what I see from my position, and I see lots of important things converging. BUT: what does the world think of this?


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