Symposium on

Interferometric Investigations of Physical Knowledges and Gender in the Making

Centre for Gender Research / Uppsala University
September 7–9, 2011

organized by the International Research Network i-GAP: Interferences of Gender and Physics - Engendering Knowledge Production in the Material Sciences

The aim of this symposium is to explore and to construe existing gaps and possible articulations between gender and science studies with regard to physics and the material sciences. The meeting will function as a starting point to open up novel research perspectives for examining the gender dimensions in the history, epistemology and social studies of physical sciences.

The making of knowledge orders has been a crucial topic for science studies since its inception in the 1960s. In particular, accounts of scientific knowledge including the material, social and temporal dimensions of its paradigms were pursued fruitfully within this field of study. In that context we want to put forward the question: What are the gender specific traits and deletions that pervade continuously the epistemic ideals, research practices and professional memory of physics and material sciences?

Furthermore, within science and technology studies (STS) a range of valuable concepts have been developed to better understand how knowledge about such central themes of physics as matter, movement and energy is established. These concepts have facilitated explorations of the instrumental, discursive and social practices in differing scientific settings and sharpened the focus on the activities at disciplinary boundaries, how they are produced through constant negotiation and re-shaping. The ongoing circulation of people, materials and ideas across the subfields of physics, and within diverse social, political and cultural contexts has become central to the understanding of knowledge production. These investigations in STS and their conceptual frameworks provide several entries for analysing gender aspects in the history, sociology, anthropology and epistemology of physics and the related material sciences. However, these perspectives are hardly elaborated.

With the symposium we want to address in particular the simultaneous processes of de-gendering and en-gendering, of doing and undoing gender, that have to be further examined and theorised. These ambivalent tendencies need to be seen as deeply involved in the organization of hybrid knowledge regimes consisting of episteme and techniques, tools and skills, collaborations and imaginaries. In doing this, we want to integrate key notions from history of science and STS with categories that prevail in gender studies. Thereby we wish to sustain a performative approach to science that stresses agency, contingency and sequentiality.

The symposium will elucidate conceptual moves as well as empirical investigations required to further the research agenda of gender studies in physics, material sciences and technology. We seek collaborative encounters between scholars from history, philosophy, anthropology and sociology of physics and related sciences on the one hand and from gender studies on the other hand.

In the symposium we want to empirically and theoretically explore the following issues:

Session 1, Wednesday 7 September, 1-3 pm.

Cultural Choreographies of Technoscience
Organizer: Dagmar Lorenz-Meyer (Prague/Czech Republic)

Invited Speakers: Elena Bougleux (Bergamo/Italy) and Sharon Traweek (Los Angeles/CA)
Scientists are too often portrayed as unique individuals. In criticising this understanding of scientific knowledge, STS have explored the diversity of sites for the making of scientific knowledge. Repeatedly, questions about the structural interrelations between these spaces have been addressed. Here, we want to discuss how gender regimes and colonialism intersect in scientific institutions. What is the role of scientific migrations and what kinds of gender relations are involved? What are the patterns of mobility today? How are the modes of scientific communication, i.e. the exchange of ideas and data, are changed in the global networks? What kind of shifts with regard to epistemological perspectives occur within these dynamics?

Session 2, Wednesday 7 September, 3.30-5.30 pm.

Performing Masculinity and Knowing (with) Machines
Organizer: Helena Pettersson (Umeå/Sweden)

Invited Speaker: Marianne de Laet (Claremont/CA). In this session we wish to explore how the scientific persona is crafted along masculine norms. STS has shown the relevance of both codified and tacit knowledge in producing knowledge. In what ways may conceptualisations of gender be tied in with this large body of work? How is knowledge attained by collectives situated in gendered cultures? What is the role of machines and instruments in doing gender at scientific workplaces and their division of labour? Can the acquisition of experimental skills be explained on the grounds of genderings in the machine-human interactions? Is that changed in the temporary trading zones of interdisciplinary research or international collaborations?

Session 3, Thursday 8 September, 10-12 am.

Changing Ways in Becoming a Physicist
Organizer: Staffan Bergwik (Uppsala/Sweden)

Invited Speaker: Mia Ong (Cambridge/MA)
Looking at the physicists training draws attention to places in science that have largely been neglected by STS. The enculturation of researchers into a community of practice happens in the classrooms and seminars through lectures and instructions. This as much as the institutionalisation of professional training has changed over time. Which modes of embodiment are played out and how are they embedded in cultural gender regimes? How to account for the ambivalences in the scientific enculturation of In/Appropriated Others? Will the opening towards a gender sensible science education allow for more diverse forms of participation in knowledge making? Which are the potentials of innovation that can thereby become initialized?

Session 4, Thursday 8 September, 3.30-5.30 pm.

Gender Effects in the Co-Production of Science and Society
Organizer: Martina Erlemann (Berlin/Germany)

Invited Speaker: Felicity Mellor (London/UK) and Sven Widmalm (Linköping)
The mutual shaping and reshaping of science and society has long been at the core of STS research and the apparent divide has been questioned for good reasons. Several frameworks have been developed to better explain the entanglement of science, publics and politics. In this session we wish to address how gendered patterns of physical knowledge production are performed in media and in public and how they take effect in science policy and science itself. These issues will be discussed in a historical as well as in a contemporary perspective: How do the areas of science and politics interact and what are the implications of such overlaps for the on-going gendering of scientific activities, both inside and outside the academic institutions? What does this mean for the distributions of power based on the concept of individual rights? What are the linkages to western political culture which is committed to build the knowledge society and even the so-called knowledge economy?

Session 5, Friday 9 September, 10-12 am.

Constructing Power Sites: Gender Framed Knowledges in/on Environments
Organizer: Elvira Scheich (Berlin/Germany)

Invited Speaker: May-Britt Öhmann (Uppsala)
Distinct ways in which physical and material knowledges gain social power are technologies and the shaping the natural environments. They introduce crucial changes to the lifeworlds of women and men, thus building the formative scope of their experiences and knowledges. Furthermore, today f.e. the production of energy takes place within and brings about social-political relations on a global scale, where gender intersects in many ways with other categories of social inequality. What kind of differences appear with regard to the participation in these projects and how do they contribute to the persistent invisibility of place-centered knowledges? What strategies could be developed for their acknowledgment as relevant in science and technology projects? How can these complexities turned into productive starting points for the theoretical perspectives in the material feminisms?

Summary and outlook, Friday 9 September, 1-2 pm.

There is no official website for registration. If you are interested in participating in the symposium please contact Staffan Bergwik: