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‘Generative Figurations’

2nd Annual Graduate Conference in Science and Technology Studies June 15-16, 2012; York University
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“There are sometimes good reasons for sorting out the difference between social reality and science fiction, but we should not actually believe that somehow these categories are ontologically pre-established different things.” – Donna Haraway

During the 1990s, science studies found itself entangled in a number of polemical debates revolving around concepts of fact, fiction, knowledge and reality. Sociological, historical, and ethnographic works seeking to study the ‘production’ or ‘construction’ of scientific facts were often received as attempts to demean scientific knowledge, ultimately portraying it as nothing more than an elaborate form of storytelling. More recent scholarship in the field tends to reject not only the charge of ‘debunking’ science but the initial framing of the debate, as a choice between treating science as fact or fiction, purely literal or merely metaphorical. The making of scientific knowledge is a distinctive process, and yet there are many commonalities in the production of scientific facts and fictitious narratives: beginning with inscription itself, but more importantly metaphor and myriad other forms of expression beyond the literal. Just as science feeds into the development of fictional worlds, figurative techniques conventionally associated with art and literature may be found everywhere in scientific writing.

This year’s conference seeks papers that address this complex interweaving – what Donna Haraway has referred to as the ‘dreamwork’ of technoscientific practice – while also attempting to close gaps and foster productive collaborations between science, art, and the humanities. Contemporary science and technology studies has no interest in simply dismissing science as fiction. At the same time, it has long recognized that the dichotomy between real and fictional is a false one. ‘Mere’ fictitious narratives are by no means unreal, often having undeniably profound consequences in the real world. Fictions may circulate as rumour and speculation, or as debt obligations and mortgage-backed securities; metaphors may shape (and be shaped by) social movements, technologies, and scientific disciplines, or they may hasten the demise of political regimes and financial institutions.

Rather than debating what constitutes a hard fact and what mere narrative, contemporary science and technology studies more productively addresses the efficacy of narrative and metaphor in science and in the world. How can the ways in which we represent and describe the world simultaneously reshape it? What is the relationship between metaphor, ontology, and scientific practice? How do historical actors shape, and how are they subsequently shaped by, the rhetorical fictions they create? How are historiography and fiction connected, and what role is there for fictional histories in such discussions? What kinds of generative functions do narratives, fictions, and myths perform in society?

The conference organizers wish to acknowledge the generous support of the Graduate Program in Science and Technology Studies, the Division of Natural Science, the Institute for Science and Technology Studies, the York University Graduate Students’ Association, and the Science and Technology Studies Graduate Students’ Association. Reusable water bottles for this event kindly provided by the York University Graduate Students’ Association. The organizers support the GSA’s campaign to eliminate bottled water from campus, and so no bottled water will be provided at this conference.


All conference events are to be held in 203 Norman Bethune College, ‘Norman’s Lounge.’

Friday, June 15

3:00 pm

Conference registration; coffee, tea and light snacks will be served in 203 Bethune. 3:25 pm

Opening remarks and introduction

3:30-5:30 pm. Panel 1: Theories and embodiments of design

Cameron Murray and Alasdair McMillan (York University), “Dreamwork, compositionism, and design: toward a multi-sensorial materialism in technoscience”

Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn and Peter Hazen (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), “Experimenting with the Chiasmus: LiteratureXScience”

Graham Potts (York University), “Lost in the ‘Clouds’: Digitalized Narrative Selves”

6:00-7:30 pm

Keynote address: Sha Xin Wei Concordia University, Montreal Director, Topological Media Lab

“Alchemy: Sound art as an alchemical science of time and movement”

Alchemy, as the art and science of transmuting base matter into noble, has enjoyed more than six centuries of practices in Europe, the Middle East, and China.

“Hi-Fidelity” stereo of the 1960’s seems quaint now in age of wave-field synthesis and computationally customizable acoustics, but the theme of mimicking nature runs a red thread through sound technology, parallel to the ideal of photorealism in computer graphics. With today’s computer and gestural technologies, however, sound artists are leaving behind the faithful re- creation of natural sound, and exploring techniques for transmuting brute matter into singing matter.

Just as alchemy included the arts of the body, contemporary sound artists also are attending to the gestures that make sound. With dancers, musicians, sensors and a topological approach to time, sound artists can turn ordinary gesture into the extraordinary, reconstituting sound in ways that verge on a new alchemy of movement and matter.

But sound permeates matter in ways that light cannot. So who’s the hearer, who’s the instrumentalist, and who’s the sounding medium? Given an alchemical technology of sound, our experience of ourselves in the world — a question of phenomenology — becomes an experimental art.

We will show some experimental amalgams of movement, gesture and sound as temporal media.

Saturday, June 16

Breakfast and coffee will be served in 203 Bethune.

10:00am-12:00pm. Panel 2: Animals and Biopolitics

Eleanor Louson (York University), “Acting just like a real polar bear: Wildlife films as simulations”

Peter Hobbs (York University), “On the Biopolitics of Slime Mold: Pioneers, Patriarchs, and Microbial Socialism”

Ordoitz Galilea (The New School for Social Research), “The Social Construction of Scientific Truth: Foucault’s Discourse and the Legitimation of Racialist Policies”

Petra Hroch (University of Alberta), “The Materiality and Mediation of Metaphor: Animals and/as Language-Machines in the Lives of Bees and Project Nim”

12:00-1:00pm Lunch

1:00-3:00pm. Panel 3: Ghostly interventions

Benjamin Mitchell (York University), “The Synthetic Folklore of H.P. Lovecraft: Scientific Mythology, the Necronomicon and the Fetishization of the Occult Grimoire”

Sarah Kriger (University of Toronto), “Ghost Stories: How Narrative Shaped Audiences’ Reception of the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion”

Panayiota Argyrides (York University), “The Emergence of the Camera: Capturing and Enslaving Charles Baudelaire’s “Black Venus” to her ‘Racial Type’”

Cat Ashton (York University), “The Road to Hell is Paved With Grant Applications: Science in American Evangelical Literature”

3:00-3:30. Break

3:30-5:30pm. Panel 4: Temporalities

Drew Belsky (York University), “She will be able to see everything: Embodying biomedical illustration in Canada”

Michael Burnam-Fink (Arizona State University), “Writing the future: Science-fiction as technology assessment”

Erik Bigras (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), “What Is A Fieldsite? Field Ontology of Distributed Ethnography”

Kelly Ladd (York University), “Jam Logic: time and the urban chemicalscape”

Conference reception at 7:00 pm, The Common, 1071 College St. (416) 546-7789 (a group will be travelling down via TTC following the final panel)

Directions and other information

Directions to York University from Pearson International Airport:

You can take a taxi directly from the airport to the York University Keele Campus. However, a taxi from the airport to the University is approximately $50 Canadian. Simply tell the driver that you are going to the York University Keele Campus. For directions to the conference location itself, see below.

An alternative option to get from Pearson airport to the York University Keele Campus is public transit:

  • You can take the 58 Malton bus which serves from Terminal3 (Arrivals Level) and Terminal 1 (Ground level) at Pearson Airport. This bus operates from approximately 5:00 AM until 1:00 AM.
  • Take the 58 Malton bus (an approximate 60 minute one-way travel time) from Pearson Airport to Lawerence West Station.
  • Once you have arrived at Lawerence Ave. West Station take the subway Northbound to Downsview Station.
  • You can take either the 106 or 196 buses from Downsview Station, which will take you directly to the York University Keele Campus. The 196 is preferable. You can transfer from the bus to the subway, and back to the bus, without paying any additional fare.Directions to York University from Toronto Island Airport:If you are flying Porter Airlines your best option is to take public transit from the Toronto Island Airport. Taking a taxi from downtown Toronto to the hotel is not recommended, as it would be a very lengthy and expensive trip. From the airport:
  • Catch the Porter shuttle, which will drop you off at the north-east corner of Front Street and York Street.
  • Cross to the south side of Front Street and enter Union subway station.
  • Take the University-Spadina line subway northbound to Downsview subway station.
  • From Downsview you can take either the 106 or the 196 (Express) buses to York University.

Directions to York University via public transit from all locations

York University is not located on the TTC subway line, but is readily accessible by public transit. Simply get on the Yonge-University subway line northbound (the TTC’s yellow line) from any station.

If arriving at Union Station, you can access the subway directly and take the train northbound to Downsview station (both directions run northbound at Union, as it is the southernmost station on the line). If you are arriving at the Toronto Coach Terminal at Bay and Dundas Streets, simply walk a few blocks west to University Avenue, where you can catch the subway at St. Patrick station, and ride it northbound to Downsview station. From Downsview station, you can catch the 196 A or B buses (recommended) or the 106 bus – both will drop you off at York University Commons. If you are on the east branch of the Yonge-University line, you can also catch the 196B bus at Sheppard-Yonge station, and this will take you directly to York University Commons via Downsview. All stops are announced, and at both Downsview and Sheppard stations you can transfer from the subway to the bus and vice versa without paying any additional fare or showing a transfer.

A regular fare on the TTC is $3.00. Bus operators do not provide change. You can also purchase tokens, which translate to a fare of $2.50, or daily/multi-day passes. Tokens are available from vending machines in most subway stations (using $10/$20 bills, respectively), convenience stores (e.g. the store in York Lanes Shopping Centre on campus), or from collectors in TTC stations.

Getting downtown from York University:

Just reverse the process! From York University Commons (the central loop where all buses arrive at York), you can take either the 106 (local) or the 196 A or B (express) buses to Downsview subway station. The 196B also services Yonge-Sheppard station. From there, you can take the southbound subway all the way into the centre of the city, transferring if necessary to the green line for east-west travel along Bloor Street.

Directions for those going directly by taxi to the conference location (Bethune College):

Tell the driver that you are going to Bethune College at York University Keele Campus. The driver may not know the best way to drop you off directly at the college, as there is no access to the building’s main entrance from the road. Advise them to enter the campus via Shoreham Dr. – the entrance from Steeles Avenue, the Northwest Gate, is presently closed due to construction.

From Shoreham Drive, they should turn left onto Ian McDonald Boulevard once on campus, and then in the first roundabout, take the first exit right onto Thompson Rd. Follow Thompson Rd. to its end, past the Tait McKenzie building and parking lot. There is a turnaround with a few parking spaces at the end of Thompson Rd – this is the back of Norman Bethune College; you can enter the building right there.

From where you enter the building, Rm 203 (Norman’s) will be on your left. Note that it is not advisable to take a taxi from the city centre to the York University campus, as this will be a long and costly ride.

Other information:

A large computer lab, with printing facilities, is located at the William Small Centre, just east of Bethune College. It is only a few steps away if you turn left out the main entrance of Bethune, or along your route if you are walking to Bethune from most other locations on campus.

Bethune College and the majority of York University’s campus are also covered by the AirYork wireless network. If you would like Internet access, please speak with one of the conference organizers.

Recommended places to eat and drink on campus:

Your meals are provided during the workshop. However, if you have arrived on campus early, are staying after the workshop, or you would like another option for breakfast or a late night snack, here are a few on-campus options.

Falafel Hut Village

Great middle eastern dishes, their renowned falafel and many vegetarian options. Check with your server for halal options. Located in York Lanes Retail Centre.

The Great Canadian Bagel

Coffee, bagels, bagel sandwiches. Located in York Lanes Retail Centre.

Indian Flavour

Authentic foods ranging from veggie samosas, biryani to tandoori and other halal meats. No preservatives or MSG. EAT Smart Certified; Vegetarian and Halal Options. Located in York Lanes Retail Centre.

Absinthe Pub & Coffee Shop

Relaxed atmosphere offering snack foods, fresh pastries, all-day breakfasts, teas, coffees, bagels to wraps, chili, soups and daily specials. LLBO Licensed, with a variety of draft beer. Located Courtyard level of Winters College.

Orange Snail Pub

Specializes in Caribbean and North American cuisine. Daily buffet lunches with choice of meat, poultry or fish, vegetables and salad bar. All selections baked, steamed or roasted. 100% whole wheat or grain breads. Vegan Options; LLBO Licensed. Located in the lower level of Stong College – just across the walkway from Bethune. (Also accessible via lower level of Bethune College.)

The best places to get coffee are Cafe Supreme and The Second Cup, both located in York Lanes.

A range of fast food options, and the Underground restaurant, are also available in the York Student Centre (adjacent to York Lanes and the bus loop). Finally, the cafeteria in the lower level of Bethune College offers breakfast in the mornings, along with meals, snacks, and beverages throughout the day.

The new deadline for York University’s 2nd annual science and technology graduate student conference is April 21st.