New Publication: Sociotechnical Reconfigurations of Social Policy in China

In a new article in the journal Global Social Policy, Christof Lammer examines social policy as a knowledge process and shows how the minimum livelihood guarantee (dibao) of the People’s Republic of China and its relationship to labour changes not only through human actors’ intentions but through the sociotechnical materiality of bureaucratic targeting methods.

The relationship between labour and social policy is at the heart of the social question. Scholars often treat this link as either a causal relation out there or a conceptual connection in policy makers’ minds. This article examines its sociotechnical materiality instead. Christof Lammer follows political anthropologists who ask how bureaucrats practice policy and scholars of science and technology studies who explore how social and technical aspects are interrelated in knowledge processes.

China studies has suggested that the minimum livelihood guarantee (dibao) was originally designed as a market-oriented response to transformations of labour such as mass layoffs, peasant proletarianisation and associated unrest but later revamped to only combat extreme poverty – similar to earlier forms of social assistance during the Mao era. Ethnographic insights into dibao policy in a village in Sichuan show how its designed links to labour were erased and transformed through different methods of bureaucratic targeting, as well as expectations about the bureaucratic ability to know. For a time, dibao was even integrated into alternative rural development projects aimed at decommodification.

Studying social policy as a knowledge process uncovers how its sociotechnical links to labour reconfigure it as an answer to the social question.

Lammer, Christof. 2023. “Social Policy as Knowledge Process: How Its Sociotechnical Links to Labour Reconfigure the Social Question.” Global Social Policy, https://doi.org/10.1177/14680181231210158.

Christof Lammer is a social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Science, Technology and Society Studies (STS) at the University of Klagenfurt.

Marietta Blau-Grant for Julia Malik researcher to do fieldwork in Colombia

PhD candidate and university assistant Julia Malik has been awarded a Marietta Blau-Grant by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF). This scholarship supports her field research in Colombia for her doctoral project, ‘Classifying Citizens, Updating the State: How Practicing Digital Welfare Shapes Statehood in Colombia’.

The grant helps highly qualified PhD students to optimize their doctoral thesis through a long-term stay abroad. Thanks to the scholarship, Julia Malik is able to go to Colombia for twelve months to continue her fieldwork and connect with researchers at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá. This will significantly advance her PhD project dealing with the interplay of digitalization, welfare, and the state.

In her dissertation, Julia Malik focuses on a digital classification and information system used by the Colombian state to manage welfare, asking how practices and materialities of digitalized welfare form the state. During the scholarship stay, she will apply ethnographic research methods to explore how this digital welfare infrastructure is sociotechnically enacted in various ways. Further, she will investigate how technologies and practices around this digital welfare infrastructure configure the state, thus shaping bureaucracy, social policy, welfare delivery, and governmental knowledge. Moving beyond common assumptions about digitalization and the frequent focus on its consequences for citizens, Julia Malik attends to digitalization’s manifold, ambivalent, and unexpected effects and their intertwinements with non-digital processes. Conceptualizing digitalization as multiplicity produced through socio-material practices, her dissertation project enriches STS debates on the digitalization of the state.

New Publication! Infrastructuring Europe in Biobanking

In a new paper published in Social Studies of Science, Erik Aarden develops a conceptual framework for analyzing the different meanings attributed to the European biobanking infrastructure BBMRI-ERIC. The paper shows how various meanings of Europe and European scientific integration are produced in the making of this infrastructure.

 

While transnational research infrastructure projects long preceded the formal integration process that created the European Union, their advancement is an increasingly central part of EU research policy and of European integration in general. This paper analyses the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure–European Research Infrastructure Consortium (BBMRI–ERIC) as a recent example of institutionalized scientific collaboration in Europe that has formally been established as part of EU science policy. BBMRI–ERIC, a network of European biobanks, is expected to contribute to both European science and European integration. Yet its achievements in these domains are interpreted differently by various actors involved. This paper draws on STS conceptualizations of infrastructures as relational, experimental, and promissory assemblages. These support the formulation of a working definition of research infrastructures that in turn helps to explore the heterogeneous meanings attributed to BBMRI–ERIC. The paper describes the creation of this distributed European research infrastructure, and divergent understandings of what it means for BBMRI–ERIC to be distributed, to be European and to be a research infrastructure. This analysis demonstrates how building a research infrastructure is also an effort to define what it means to be European—a process in which what is European about science and what science can do for Europe is continuously (re-)imagined, contested and negotiated.

The article can be found (open access) here.

New Publication! Special Issue “Infrastructures of Value in Agriculture”

Values—whether financial profit or moral and social values such as justice and sustainability—often appear as abstract and intangible. Infrastructure allows us to explore the materiality of seemingly immaterial value.

 

 

The special issue “Infrastructures of Value: New and Historical Materialities in Agriculture” (Ethnos – Journal of Anthropology), edited by Christof Lammer (Klagenfurt) and André Thiemann (Prague) shows how infrastructures and practices of infrastructuring shape value of agricultural matter. Ethnographic studies from Australia, China, Moldova, Serbia and Italy examine land’s financialization, terroir wine and its bottles, eco-certification and alternative food networks as well as the interaction between agronomics and cold chains. As material networks, infrastructures facilitate, channel, or hinder circulation—the metamorphoses as well as movement of objects, people, non-human beings and ideas. In doing so, they mediate value: they give actions and their products importance and relevance by materially integrating them into larger wholes. Thereby, this approach brings attention to materiality to David Graeber’s theory of value. The exploration of infrastructures of value thus offers new perspectives for thinking about the production, appropriation and distribution of material wealth.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Infrastructuring Value* by Christof Lammer & André Thiemann

Infrastructures of Farmland Valuation in Australia* by Sarah R. Sippel

Nature’s Value: Evidencing a Moldovan Terroir Through Scientific Infrastructures* by Daniela Ana 

Peasant in a Bottle: Infrastructures of Containment for an Italian Wine Cooperative* by Oscar Krüger

Valuing Organics: Labels, People, and the Materiality of Information Infrastructure in China* by Christof Lammer

Infrastructuring ‘Red Gold’: Agronomists, Cold Chains, and the Involution of Serbia’s Raspberry Country by André Thiemann

Infrastructuring Value Worlds: Connections and Conventions of Capitalist Accumulation by Edward F. Fischer

(Articles marked with * are open access.)

Christof Lammer is a social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Science, Technology and Society Studies (STS) at the University of Klagenfurt.