Universiteit Maastricht

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Keynote Speakers

Techno-Moral Change and Technology Assessment

Prof. dr. Wiebe Bijker
Maastricht University, The Netherlands

Tuesday July 3rd, 9.15-10.00

How can questions of techno-moral change be incorporated in new methods of technology assessment and the democratic governance of emerging technologies? Such a new governance of emerging technologies would incorporate a broad range of elements, ranging from expert advice to public dialogue, from dealing with scientific uncertainties to addressing policy needs, including hard and soft impacts, and giving place to outcome and obligation responsibility. Bijker will draw on experiences with designing and conducting the societal dialogue on nanotechnologies in the Netherlands, 2009-2011, and other current work on experimenting with new forms of technology governance.

About Wiebe Bijker
Wiebe E. Bijker is professor of Technology & Society at the University of Maastricht. He was trained as an engineer in applied physics (Technical University of Delft), studied philosophy (University of Groningen), and holds a PhD in the sociology and history of technology (University of Twente). Bijker is Director of Studies of the research master MPhil-degree programme Cultures of Arts, Science, and Technology (CAST).

Bijker was President of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), and was director and chairman of the board of the Netherlands Research School on Science, Technology and Modern Culture (WTMC) and member of the Executive Council of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT). He is founding co-editor of the monograph series "Inside Technology" of MIT Press and the book series "Science and Democracy in South Asia" of Orient Blackswan. Bijker helped to create, and was the first scientific coordinator of, the European master’s degree program on Society, Science and Technology (ESST), carried out by some 18 universities in 10 European countries. Bijker’s research focuses on the relation between technology, society, and science. Since the 1990’s political and normative issues have been central in Bijker’s research. These are being studied in a variety of empirical domains: nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, ICT, gender and technology, public health policies, science & technology for developing nations, sustainable agriculture, public participation experiments, architecture and planning. His most recent work relates to issues of vulnerability in a technological culture — including the fundamental need for some vulnerability in an innovating society. Bijker chaired various Health Council’s committees on risks and benefits of nanotechnologies and biotechnologies. Much of his current work straddles the global north and south.


How synthetic biology challenges traditional notions of practical

Prof. dr. George Khushf
University of South Carolina, United States

Tuesday July 3rd, 13.30-14.15

In much of our ethical and political discourse, we assume that an emerging technology arises as a discrete, modular thing, and we seek to intervene in ways that assure there is a favorable ratio of beneficial over deleterious consequences (for risk based approaches) or we seek to block the development until mechanisms of oversight and data are available that can assure it is safe (for a precautionary approach).   In either case, we view technology much as a scientist might view some factor that is studied in controlled experiment.  We isolate it, and then consider how the world may unfold under different scenarios where we modulate the technology and consider the perturbation effects of our contemplated interventions.  In all of this, there is a presumed “we” who has “control” and can thus decide whether or not some emerging development may move forward, and, if so, what conditions must govern its development and use.  By means of this control, we hope to assure that our world remains stable and all continues to flourish.  But these “experiments” are all imaginary, and there is a widening gap between the imagined descriptions and the realities faced by agents in practice settings.  Careful reflection on emerging technologies makes clear that they do not arise as these discrete, modular things, and we do not have this presumed control.  Recognizing this, some see the lack of control as a problem with current technoscientific practices, and they think that our task is to make them governable, so that we regain control that we now lack.  But such an approach fails to appreciate both the depth of the challenge posed by emerging technology, and also the problematic character of the notions of practical rationality, control, and agency that inform our ethical and political discourse.  I consider how these problematic notions are intertwined with a vision of science and rational action that no longer reflects what we know about science, technology or action.  By considering some representative research in the area of synthetic biology, I consider how practical rationality integral to ethical discourse is intertwined with the evolving practices associated with science and technology. Appreciation of ways ethical discourse is intertwined with that of science does not imply that we should simply look to the science.  Such an asymmetric deference would be just as problematic, and, in fact, amounts to the same failure.  Instead, we must enter the emerging practices and discover within that nexus genuine synergies between the art (techne) integral to our science and that art integral to our ethical discourse.  In a tentative way, I sketch what “responsible practice” might mean in synthetic biology, and show how this requires anticipation of a collaborative set of practices which jointly realize aspirations integral to both the science and the ethical discourses related to that science.  In the light of this brief sketch, we see that modularity and partial control may function as part of an ideal, but these at  best arise as the outcome of critical dialogue and would reflect a mature stage of technological development. 

About prof. dr. George Khushf
George Khushf, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Bioethics and a Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of South Carolina.  He completed a B.S. (1983) in civil engineering at Texas A&M University, and an M.A. (1990) and Ph.D. (1993) in philosophy and religious studies at Rice University.  After a postdoctoral appointment at Baylor College of Medicine, and work as Managing Editor of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (1993-95), he moved to his current position at USC.  As part of his work with the USC Center for Bioethics, Professor Khushf provides service to Palmetto Health, a large health care system, in areas related to ethics, quality, and safety.  He also conducts research on the philosophy and ethics of emerging science, technology, and medicine.  He has received several grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the challenges associated with ethics and governance of nanobiotechnology, synthetic biology, and genetics/omics areas.  He has served on the Boards of the EU NanoBioRAISE and Nanomedicine Roundtable initiatives, and consulted with several large NSF Centers on nanomedicine to help them develop ethics and policy initiatives related to their research.  His current activities include membership on a U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) working group addressing challenges associated with human subjects research in the area of nanomedicine, and work with the Scientific Advisory Committee of SynBERC, an NSF Engineering Resource Center on synthetic biology.

Modding the Technoscape: Video Games and Techno-Moral Change

Prof. dr. Colin Milburn
UC Davis, United States, United States

Wednesday July 4th, 11.00-11.45

In video game culture, practices of media appropriation—mods, hacks, exploits, mashups—often present themselves as ludic interruptions or subversions of existing technopolitical regimes: resisting power, questioning normative discourse, transforming social relations by reconfiguring technical relations. A number of recent video games produced in North America and Europe, such as Portal, BioShock, and Crysis, have made these tactical media practices into core elements of their own narratives, turning the politics of technical subversion into playable format.  By examining these games, as well as diverse player-generated modifications of their contents, this talk will suggest that video game culture fashions itself as an active site of techno-moral change, even while foregrounding the structural conditions that limit our capacity to reinvent the future.


About prof. dr. Colin Milburn
Colin Milburn is an Associate Professor of English and Science & Technology Studies at the University of California, Davis.  His research focuses on the cultural relations of science, literature, and media technologies.  He is the author of Nanovision: Engineering the Future (2008), and he is currently completing a new book called Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter, which looks at the convergence of the molecular sciences with video game culture.  At UC Davis, he is affiliated with the Center for Science and Innovation Studies, the W. M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences, and the Program in Cinema and Technocultural Studies.  He also directs the Humanities Innovation Lab, an experimental offshoot of the UC Davis Digital Humanities Initiative. 

What tomatoes may teach ethics: On qualifications and care

Prof. dr. Annemarie Mol
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Wednesday July 4th, 13.30-14.15

Rather than talking about how we should cast our judgements, or, alternatively, bringing out the social function of values (be it ordering, disciplining or normalising), as an empirical philosopher I tend take an ethnographic turn. This implies that I ask the question how qualifying, attributing a value, works in ordinary practices. Here, I will present you with a case that, in all its inconspicuous mundanity, is highly instructive. It is the case of good tomatoes. (The then MA student) Frank Heuts interviewed a series of tomato experts: growers, sellers, industrialists, cooks, consumers. These experts appeared to mobilise various registers to evaluate tomatoes: price, ease of handling, aesthetics, health, tradition. What made a tomato ‘good’ in one of these registers, might lead on to a qualification as ‘bad’ in another. The experts then tinkered, seeking to craft compromises. Overall, they were not just passive in relation to the quality of their tomatoes, but tried to foster it. Instead of passing judgements or seeking justifications, they engaged in care. Thus, not just the tomatoes were qualified as good and/or bad, but so, too, were the experts themselves. Who depended on the tomatoes for a living and/or lived on them. This case, while concerned with present day food, holds striking lessons for the ethics and politics of emerging technologies. 

About prof. dr. Annemarie Mol
Annemarie Mol holds a PhD in philosophy and is professor of Anthropology of the Body at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research. In her work she combines the ethnographic study of practices with the task of shifting our vested theoretical repertoires. Here monographs include The Body Multiple. Ontology in Medical Practice (Duke University Press, 2002); The Logic of Care (Routledge, 2008); and she co-edited Complexities. Social Studies of Knowledge Practices (with John Law; Duke University Press 2002) and Care in Practice. Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms (with Ingunn Moser & Jeannette Pols, Transcript 2010). Recently, Annemarie Mol was awarded the prestigious Dutch Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific honour in the Netherlands.