Form: The STIR (socio-technical integration research) project embeds humanities scholars and social scientists within laboratories to probe the possibility and utility of collaborative inquiry to articulate, enhance and stimulate “midstream modulation” of material practices and technology development. Midstream modulation takes place in three iterative stages of inquiry by technical experts engaged in research and innovation: de facto, in which material, social, cultural, ethical and economic aspects interact with human agency and choice; reflexive, in which such aspects are recognized as such by practitioners; and deliberat(iv)e, in which decision making takes them more explicitly into account. STIR enrolls participating lab scientists as collaborators, while embedded humanists frequently contribute to the work of the lab.

Means: STIR has pioneered the 12-week “laboratory engagement study” in which the results of ethnographic participant-observation are fed back into the field of study in real-time. This is done largely through a semi-structured “decision protocol” that asks fundamental, open-ended questions. The frequent and regular use of the protocol facilitates collaborative description of ongoing decision processes, which in turn serves as the basis for collaborative inquiry.

Ends: The purpose of conducting this type of engaged research is to inform the design and evaluation of future integrative efforts to ensure that they are effective (and not counter-productive) at informing the shape, direction and outcomes of emerging technologies in socially responsive ways. In the process, the research aims to explore, develop and ideally demonstrate alternative, self-critical, yet productive meaning making practices among (state funded) scientific professionals and technical experts.

Outcomes: STIR studies have been conducted in over two-dozen labs on three continents and have demonstrated that lab researchers can become more reflexively aware of societal aspects of their work, develop more deliberative processes of decision making and, alter their material practices and research directions (Fisher 2007; Fisher et al. 2010; Flipse et al. 2012; Schuurbiers 2011).


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