Berlin, March 11–14, 2025

STS has a complex relationship with critique famously expressed in Bruno Latour’s concern that critique may have run out of steam. As a research practice striving for exploratory, collaborative and inventive engagements, STS has often distanced itself from critique as a merely theoretical and normative exercise. Major critical perspectives in STS are driven by feminist approaches to situated knowledges, analytics of materialised power, histories of colonial and postcolonial science and technology, as well as more-than-human ontologies. These perspectives continue important traditions of critique while connecting with more recent critical formations such as Queer and Trans Studies, Black Studies, Indigenous Studies and Environmental Justice.

Many of these approaches embrace modes of critique that go beyond unmasking, deconstructing, and reflecting. We suggest that ‘diffraction’ offers a productive figure to think and do such critique. Donna Haraway and Karen Barad have described diffraction as a methodology that is attentive to the ways in which differences are made and matter differently – an approach to research and knowledge production that has been widely developed further within Feminist STS. Here, diffraction is a critical practice of mapping out differences through their effects in the world in order to understand how categories of the social, including race, sex, gender, sexuality, religion, labour, the (non-)human and the (non- )living persist and transform. With the title Diffracting the Critical, we want to mobilise diffraction and diffracting in two ways: (1) as a challenge to review and collect critical practices in and of STS research, and (2) as an expansive mode of doing critique, also outside the confines of STS.

Diffracting the critical, we believe, is an important task to re-equip STS in the age of climate change’s poly-crisis, as we see natural disasters, demographic changes, economic instability, and democratic backsliding compound an already seemingly insurmountable set of problems. Questions about where these shifts are felt and how they manifest socially and politically are inextricably bound up with the legacies of colonialism, the ongoing injustices of resource exploitation, and rising right-wing populism. Our current predicament, thus, affords a return to a formative question in STS: what is “the critical” in a field that is methodologically, thematically, and theoretically as diverse as ours?

The STS Hub 2025 is an opportunity to collectively explore contemporary formations of critique in and with STS along three thematic clusters: ecologies & infrastructures, scales & temporalities, collaborations & solidarities.

Ecologies & Infrastructures

Ecologies and infrastructures have long been analysed as political, as they emerge from historically situated practices, shape knowledges, and constitute subjectivities. Critical perspectives in STS have, among other things, focused on tracing power dynamics in the construction and maintenance of infrastructures, both physical and digital, as well as on the production of differential vulnerabilities within ecologies. Yet the critical acquires another significance, closer to criticality than critique, with the recognition that life, human and otherwise, thrives in “critical zones” characterised by material phase transitions, sympoietic emergences, and dangerous tipping points. This, in turn, challenges the way we understand the critical as embedded in techno-material processes. Infrastructures labelled as critical, as fundamental support structures for life, data, and the economy, have come into view as managing and anticipating potential risks. The global competition for critical raw materials is yet another development, where the critical denotes a state of geopolitical, ecological, and existential crisis.

Scales & Temporalities

In an age of post-colonial entanglements and planetary turmoil, a key dimension of the critical must also be scalarity. At what scales and times should we consider, research, and critically engage the multiple problems of our time? This is a fundamental methodological, epistemological, and ontological problem. On the one hand, neither the scale of “locality” nor that of “the planetary” seems entirely sufficient or convincing for problems that are at once global and local. On the other hand, our methods appear somewhat unsuitable for problems that often require doing research across times and scales, not only beyond the “human” but also beyond the boundaries of individual and disciplinary research projects. The possibility of critical research and practice increasingly depends on the capacity of effectively bringing together radically different scales and temporalities, from deep time and the Capitalocene to the nano-scale and the planetary, to think differently about where we find ourselves today.

Collaborations & Solidarities

The critical is also being reinvented through research collaborations and in emerging forms of academic solidarities. In Germany, STS is increasingly institutionalised in research and higher education, leading to interdisciplinary collaborations close to the centres of subpolitical decision-making and authority. This presents a unique opportunity for STS to make critical interventions in spaces where techno-scientific, positivist, and economic rationalities rule. Such opportunities can align with movements from within science that take a critical stance in advocating for open science, responsible research and innovation, research integrity, reproducibility, or experimental data platforms. Furthermore, STS increasingly collaborates with affected communities and issue publics that engage in their own forms of critique. These developments compel STS to reassess its relationship to critique: how can we critically engage with such forms of critique and strike the difficult balance between collaborative engagement and analytical distance? And lastly, the critical lies at the heart of emerging forms of academic solidarities that expose structures of academic precarity, sexualised violence, and abuses of power. These experiences make evident that critique is a continuous process. It is part of the steady struggle to open structures and categories, but also different ways of knowing in, through, and beyond research, science, technology, and education.

Diffracting the Critical calls for a collective exploration of how the critical is entangled in the complex interplay of ecologies, infrastructures, scales, temporalities, collaborations, and solidarities. We encourage reflections on how the critical is mobilised and enacted within STS. This moment of diffraction also requires us to ask where STS has underdeveloped a critical voice or where critique might be reoriented. This conference is an invitation to strengthen and expand upon critical perspectives and approaches within STS, and to form new alliances and collaborations! We welcome contributions that engage STS from a plurality of disciplines and fields, including, among others, Algorithm Studies, Architecture, Arts, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Data Studies, Design, Disability Studies, Education Studies, Ethnology, Film Studies, Gender Studies, Geography, History, Humanities (Environmental or otherwise), Literature, Media Studies, Migration Studies, Philosophy, Political Science and Theory, Queer and Trans Studies, Sociology, and Urban Studies. We are specifically committed to promoting expansions and intersections of STS with non-academic and non-disciplinary knowledges and practices.

Presentations can be held either in English or German. We strive for a diversity of voices and perspectives from any and all disciplines and career stages. While papers on any subject in STS are welcome, we especially encourage topics that resonate with the overall conference theme.

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Science & Technology Studies (STS) has become a recognised, delineated academic field in the international research landscape. In Germany, however, STS is rather dispersed among existing academic disciplines, research institutes, and loosely connected academic networks and associations. To strengthen the interconnectedness of STS in Germany, STS-Hub brings together German organisations, labs, and research groups that are more or less closely related to STS.