Abuses of power, #MeTooSTS and how #WeDoSTS?

Introduction

This is a joint statement by the stsing e.V. board, the best practices group and members of stsing concerning current debates of reported harassment and abuse within the community of STS scholars assembled via the social media hashtags #MeTooSTS and #WeDoSTS.

First, we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the courageous STS scholar Claudia Schwarz-Plaschg 1 who first shared her experiences of sexual harassment and exclusion in the Harvard STS department publicly, followed by Lee Vinsel 2 and Chrystal Lee 3 reporting different but nevertheless unacceptable stories. Although these events did not take place in Germany, they also affect the German STS community. We are shocked and saddened by their accounts.

Their accounts set the basis for the much-needed discussion on how we want to work together. We do not want to fail them and other untold or silenced similar experiences by ignoring them.

We also call all our members to stand in solidarity with them. Especially our members with power should use their status to prevent harm to other members.

We feel the strong reaction caused by the reports on social media and the increasing number of solidarity statements by EASST and STS Italia as the first national STS association 4, institutions 5, student initiatives 6 and individuals 7 might turn into a pivotal moment for the global STS community to take action and a call to all STSers not to be part of the problem. We salute initiatives creating spaces of support and preventive measures 8 but also want to express the need for local action for doing research in and through Germany. Please find our first ideas of action below.

Context

First, as a relatively young interdisciplinary field, STS research is particularly dependent on and thriving only through international mobility and institutional collaborations. Therefore, these reports should act as a wake-up call to researchers in direct or indirect connection to the named institutions and individuals (cf 9).

Secondly, and more importantly, we call for this developing discussion as a necessary starting point for collective reflection on our daily working conditions and a call to reflect on our own collaborations, research, teaching and supervision practices, on the ways we “do STS in our own community and not just talk STS to other academic fields to resist the reproduction of epistemic and institutional injustices” (cf. 10, cited as in 11). Reports of toxic work environments in STS and its neighbouring disciplines are not limited to single institutions or locations 12. Across disciplines, in Germany’s academia, several cases of abuse or harassment have been made public in the last few years13.

Whether these accounts are made public by individuals, shared during hallway whispers, or remain untold until now: STS in Germany is enacted within an academic infrastructure arguably particularly prone to power dynamics 14 and the cases made public across disciplines in German academia suggest the assumption, that German STS too is not a safe place for all of its members as it should be.

The new initiative “Network against Abuse of Power in Science” combats misconduct and power abuse within German academia 15. They also act as a contact point for Germany-based academics who have experienced abuse or harassment and are open to new members to support the cause 16.

We take what is happening as a call to intensify our commitment to promoting attention to and awareness of these issues in the activities of the association, first and foremost through and during our events, and with coherent policies.

Activities of stsing’s best practices working group towards good academic practices in research and collaboration

As one of stsing’s working groups, the best practices group was initially formed back in 2019 to build a space to discuss and develop strategies against misconduct within the association. This year, the group has organized two workshops concerning the question of how we want to work together and how we prevent misconduct, abuse, and harassment within German STS17.

During the second general assembly in September 2022, stsing took the time to host the second workshop where members anonymously could share such issues. These anonymous accounts were then discussed in small groups to give space for collective reflection and set the basis for future action for more careful working practices towards a code of ethics within the association. We do not have answers yet but we invite everyone to join the discussion in the best practices group’s mattermost channel 18.

Call for Participation

Given the issue's urgency, the best practices group invited everyone to join an impromptu virtual meeting which provided an open space to discuss these issues and jointly explore possible action. Dr Jana Lasser, a founding member of the network against power abuse in science supported us in this endeavour. The virtual meeting took place on December 13. The next meeting to discuss the next steps is scheduled for the beginning of 2023, the date and time are TBA.

We also invite all STS researchers to join the best practices’ next workshop about “Circulations of STS research(ers) and good academic research practice and working conditions” during the upcoming sts-hub in March 2023 in Aachen which will be followed by a round table discussion with researchers, experts and activists.

Please do not hesitate to contact the board via info@stsing.org or via mattermost with your comments, concerns, and/or ideas on how to create more careful, inclusive and ethical work conditions for all our members in the future (cf.19).

The stsing board, the best practices working group, and members of stsing

Responsible authors: Julie Mewes, Stefan Laser, Anja Klein, Jan Dittrich, Céline Gressel, Alexander Schniedermann, Ingmar Lippert, Milena Bister, Lisa Wiedemann, Baldeep Kaur

If you want to co-sign this statement as a stsing member, please indicate so via the best practice mattermost channel or by writing us an e-mail (see above).

Contacts in case you feel discriminated:


  • Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes offers counselling via phone and mail German/English
  • Gender, equity or anti-discrimination officers (Frauenbeauftragte_r, Gleichstellungsbeauftragte_r, Antidiskriminierungsbeauftragte_r) of the faculty or university, the staff council (Personalrat) or disability officer (Schwerbehindertenvertretung) at the respective institution in which you experience discrimination
  • Bundeshilfetelefon "Gewalt gegen Frauen", aka, Violence against women support Hotline". Phone service 08000 116 016 (24/7) or online German/English

Resources:


  1. Schwarz-Plaschg, C: On its 20th anniversary, my testimonial on the Harvard STS Program, https://medium.com/@claudia_gertraud/on-its-20th-anniversary-my-testimonial-on-the-harvard-sts-program-64100f6caac7 (4.11.2022)↩︎

  2. Vinsel, L: Costs Untold: Sheila Jasanoff and the Long Trail of Emotional Abuse and Academic Bullying, https://sts-news.medium.com/costs-untold-sheila-jasanoff-and-metoosts-6a101d361999 (7.11.2022)↩︎

  3. Lee, C via twitter: https://twitter.com/crystaljjlee/status/1591845433193947136 (13.11.2022)↩︎

  4. Horst, M as EASST president via twitter, https://twitter.com/MajahorstI/status/1590602880712441856 (10.11.2022) & Statement of the board of STS Italia via twitter, https://twitter.com/STSItalia/status/1592548430575976453 (15.11.2022)↩︎

  5. Statement of the STS department University of Vienna, https://sts.univie.ac.at/en/ (11.11.2022)↩︎

  6. Student initiative #WeDoSTSVienna via twitter, https://twitter.com/ViennaWedosts (11.11.2022)↩︎

  7. Warren, P: It takes work: Building reasonable research cultures in STS, socstudiesresearchblog, https://socstudiesresearch.com/2022/11/16/it-takes-work-building-reasonable-research-cultures-in-sts/ (16.11.2022)↩︎

  8. Though discussed controversially during its instalment, cf. the 4S Ethics and Code of Conduct Policy, download via: https://www.4sonline.org/4s-ethics-and-code-of-conduct-policy/ (October 2022)↩︎

  9. Warren, P: It takes work: Building reasonable research cultures in STS, socstudiesresearchblog, https://socstudiesresearch.com/2022/11/16/it-takes-work-building-reasonable-research-cultures-in-sts/ (16.11.2022)↩︎

  10. Schwarz-Plaschg, C: On its 20th anniversary, my testimonial on the Harvard STS Program, https://medium.com/@claudia_gertraud/on-its-20th-anniversary-my-testimonial-on-the-harvard-sts-program-64100f6caac7 (4.11.2022)↩︎

  11. For Germany, see 7.2 an anonymous debate via dests, https://www.dests.de/news/9652 (date unknown)↩︎

  12. See for example the ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit against Harvard Anthropology professor Comaroff or the reported abuse of power and harassment by the then editor-in-chief Da Col at HAU journal in 2018, or research funds of MIT Media lab by sex trafficker Epstein in 2019. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2022/6/29/comaroff-amended-complaint/ & https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/06/19/anthropology-journals-editorial-board-responds-abuse-allegations & https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/pringle-tech-mit-media-lab-1.5296793↩︎

  13. See case examples (in German), via https://www.netzwerk-mawi.de/en/case-examples, https://taz.de/Sexismus-an-der-Universitaet-Goettingen/!5826013/ (20.01.2022), https://www.uni-bonn.de/de/neues/stellungnahme-zu-fehlverhaltensvorwuerfen (26.10.2022), (in English), by Peacock, V: Academic precarity as hierarchical dependence in the Max Planck Society, 2016, https://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau6.1.006, and statements concerning possible prevention: Germanense, L; Mauer, H; Herrmann, J (eds.) (in German): Sexualisierter Belästigung, Gewalt und Machtmissbrauch an Hochschulen entgegenwirken: Handreichung,https://duepublico2.uni-due.de/receive/duepublico_mods_00075205 & van Scherpenberg, C; Bultema,L; Jahn,A; Löffler,M; Minneker,V; Lasser; J: Manifestations of power abuse in academia and how to prevent them, https://elephantinthelab.org/manifestations-of-power-abuse-in-academia-and-how-to-prevent-them/↩︎

  14. Lippert, I; Mewes, JS; Helm, P; Laser, S; Sørensen, E; Kocksch, L (2021): stsing. Doing STS In, Through And Beyond the German Academic System, manuscript available via https://osf.io/8pu5c/download↩︎

  15. Network against Abuse of Power in Science, https://www.netzwerk-mawi.de/en/↩︎

  16. Information on Help for victims of abuse of power and on how to become a network member, https://www.netzwerk-mawi.de/en/service/contact for another example of such initiatives, cf. Safe Science, a support network for academics based in the Netherlands https://www.wetenschapveilig.nl/en↩︎

  17. Workshop announcement (31.05.2022), stsing’s Best Practice Group: ‘Value-ing STS’ – Towards a policy on our values, https://stsing.org/value-ing-sts-%E2%80%93-towards-a-policy-on-our-values↩︎

  18. Mattermost channel Best Practices Group, https://chat.spline.de/stsing/channels/code-of-conduct↩︎

  19. Cf. Mewes, JS (2019), report in EASST Review Volume 38(2): ‘stsing’ – Towards inclusive forms of STS-in-Germany, https://www.easst.net/article/report-stsing-towards-inclusive-forms-of-sts-in-germany/↩︎

       updated version, 16. 12. 2022