Times Square from a classical STS perspective. An introduction

Classical STS has been working on/with solid and established objects and scenarios since its foundation: scientists, science, engineering, engineers, laboratories, systems, technology, infrastructures. But classical STS is also an arena of constant discussions and bifurcations. As an interdisciplinary set of knowledge, Science & Technology Studies are composed of different perspectives and ways of understanding the relationship between science, technology, and society. 

Grosso modo, we can talk about three traditions into STS: (1) Large Technical Systems (LTS) (Hughes 1986, Hughes & Maintz 1988), (2) Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) (Pinch & Bijker 1984; Bijker 1987; Aibar and Bijker 1997), and (3) Actor-Network Theory (ANT) (Callon 1984; Law & Lodge 1984; Latour 1987). Each one of those three perspectives has been fed by many other disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, history, geography, economy, philosophy, politics. 

The encounter of those three traditions with a multidisciplinary environment, as well as their posterior mutual transformation and contamination, made Science and Technology Studies a sort of melting pot for either the rise or the consolidation of specific academic programs with an active component of STS: Laboratory Studies; History/Philosophy of Science; Innovation Studies; Transition studies; Disability Studies; Sociotechnical Studies.

My work in STS could be located mostly under the label of ANT. However, Actor-Network Theory is not a homogeneous set of knowledge either. The development of this theory —that is more an ontology than a theory— has been a continuous effort of reflexive structuration (Law 1992; Law & Hassard, 1999; Mol, 2010), interacting with other perspectives and creating, in that way, scenarios for thinking and discussing about a wide variety of topics where science and/or technology are also participating.

We have, for instance, a fruitful contribution from Feminist Studies (Haraway 1988, 1991; Star 1991; Wajcman 2000; Hunter & Swan 2007) based on the implementation of localized perspectives for analyzing the social as a heterogeneous process of relationship. More than stimulating a gender debate, feminist scholars proposed a sort of cooperative co-existence beyond dualisms with the aim of flattening and situating the social in a transparent and contextual strategy.

Properly talking about Urban Studies (US) and STS, the encounters between those two fields have developed new approaches for understanding, or at least for dialoguing with, the urban and the city. Assembling urbanism (Farías 2009, 2011; McFarlane 2011a, 2011b) is perhaps one of the most notable examples of concatenation between US and STS. The idea of “assemblage” borrowed from Deleuze (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), and connected with an ANT core, is a resource for dealing with the complexity of the world outside. 

Assembling urbanism results to be a spot not only where the convergence of STS and US is produced, but also for the construction of inventive metaphors and methods for describing the spatialized and located effervescence of what we call as “urban life.” The influence of literature, architecture, art, language studies, and even the space and the territories we use to work are, also, constantly transforming and modifying the ways of approaching and understanding them.

Through the elaboration of a set of stories regarding the pedestrianization of Times Square, I speculate with the urban, the city, and this particular place, having the ANT as an ontological structure but using other sub-fields of STS, particularly Laboratory Studies and Transition Studies as my theoretical tools. The intentions of those explorations are (1) experimenting with different STS perspectives under and urban-theoretical context and (2) interacting with Times Square for presenting its pedestrianization process, but also for stressing this situation under some academic logics such as experimentation, innovation, transition, and urban (living) laboratories.

Content of this section

Experimenting in the experimental city
First approach to the smart city concept
City as a laboratory
What is an urban lab?
What is an urban experiment?
The Project for Public Spaces
Working on Transitions (I)
Working on Transitions (II) soon

Related vignettes

LEDs dancing in choreography
The free-WIFI experiment