Call for Papers: “Epistemic Leakage(s)”, Panel on the Inaugural Conference of the German STS Association stsing “Leakage”, TU Dresden, 19.-22.03.2024, Deadline: 10.10.2023

Call for Contributions

Epistemic leakages: Configuring the politics of epistemic uncertainty


Has your research been unsettled by an epistemic leakage worth thinking through/with? Perhaps like us, in our respective field-sites, in our readings and theorizations of e.g. open science activities, reproducibility advocacy and interventions, metascience knowledge practices and organizing, decentralized science, integrity disputes and all this against the background of a wildly ramifying pre- or post-publication literature, you/we have surely encountered stories of consequential leaks (i.e., informational leaks, pertaining to both material and immaterial objects of containment and control).

Like us, you might as well have followed their effects in opening up the conduct of scientific work to public contestation and/or eliciting a variety of subsequent stances by scientists themselves. We suggest that it is worth exploring how far these effects are felt: in the resulting narratives and political positions regarding the detection and extent of crisis, or the value of epistemic activisms and the political necessities of academic reform, how do ‘epistemic leakages’, namely the spillover effects connecting different (techno)scientific domains and contexts contribute in strategically reshaping scientific integrity?


No doubt under these circumstances one needs to deal with actor-positions controling or otherwise catering to the movements of leaked im/materialities, i.e, facility managers, custodians and technicians, patent-holders, whistleblowers, reporters and their sources, investigators and their sequestered zones are but a few. Recent work encourages us to subvert expectations and established tales of morality, and “[think] with gatecrashers, cheats and charlatans” (Woolgar, 2021), and that is without mention to the non-human actants that populate stories of “porosity, the transgression of a boundary, and a rebuke to fantasies of closure and containment.” (cfp, §1) Regimes of (movement) restriction and regimes of (ethical and political) protection are co-constituted at the stabilization of such actor-roles and their respective causal, moral and political responsibility in the public dramas of politics and science (Hilgartner, 2017). Such co-constitution emerges as a central feature in sociological and (social) historical work in

  • how priority disputes play out and settle (Biagioli, 2012, also for its comment on the Merton thesis on priority disputes, Merton, 1957),
  • how proprietary claims on knowledge objects are legitimately established and/or contested (Nelkin & Andrews, 1998; Owen-Smith, 2006; Hilgartner, 2009),
  • how national security (Galison, 2010) or economic competitiveness (Owen-Smith, 2001) are built-in features of the material cultures of experimental sciences,
  • how the trans-institutional “careers” of scientific expertise or evidence-practices feature within legal orders (see. Special Issue by Lynch & Jasanoff, 1998)
  • and in how early big science projects established ‘openness’ in a hyper-competitive global knowledge economy (Hilgartner, 2012).

Every time, as the aforementioned works have shown, negotiations over what counts as the truth under conflict became the ground for the co-stabilization of public spheres and (what feminist STSer Charis Thompson calls) the unattended realms of privacy “characterized by different degrees of separation and protection from and regulation by the state” (Thompson, 2005: 20, 211). This is the second area to apply the lens of the ‘epistemic leakage’, asking: how do the more recent debates about the epistemic and moral accountability of specific academic and public research practices, or the ir/responsible conduct of R&D and innovation cultures redefine degrees of separation or protection/regulation for the realms of privacy?


Our instinct in discussing this lens is to question the view of the leak as a negative event per se, pointing to system failure or corrosion (corruption) of the core values guiding scientific work. Instead, an STS attentiveness to leakages pertaining to knowledge might go beyond the detected co-construction of control relations to ethical self-fashioning, and direct the lens onto the hidden instruments (legal incorporation, administration, technical expertise, soft law) that allow established institutions and powerful authorities to present as self-contained spaces. And why is this attentiveness necessary? A quick overview of the literature would reveal significant limitations in discussing the notion of the epistemic leakage (we found one paper, Karlsson, 1990). If one were to follow the philosophical debate, they would be introduced to a discussion on the relation between empirical demonstration and epistemic un/certainty that ignores the role of power altogether. Against this backdrop, we seek to re-approach the problem of the epistemic leakage, and refract established STS arguments exploring the relation between i.e., experiment and the practical management of uncertainty through contemporary dynamics of technoscientific crises and public contestation.

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