Emma Kowal, currently a professor at Deakin University, has been elected President of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). Previously a 4S council member, Professor Kowal took up the position which was due to be filled by president-elect Alondra Nelson, who was invited to serve the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and so could not assume the presidency.
A senior cultural and medical anthropologist, Professor Kowal joined EASTS in 2019 shortly after the 4S annual meeting in Sydney, where she served as the chairperson of the local committee. Alongside her wide interest in issues concerning indigenous knowledge and social movements, Professor Kowal has deep connections with Asian STS communities. She participated in the early activities of the Asia-Pacific STS Network and became its convener from 2012 to 2014. During her time at EASTS, Professor Kowal was active in seizing upon the trend for global STS and initiated the TransAsiaSTS Network—a timely organization founded shortly before the Covid outbreak—finding a way to make this flourish despite the pandemic.
In addition to her positive promotion of STS and Asia at this year’s 4S meeting, Professor Kowal has kindly offered EASTS readers a statement about her vision on that same theme:
Locked down in Melbourne for the vast majority of the last 18 months, I have felt thoroughly grounded in place: specifically, my home and my neighborhood within a 5km radius. Europe and the Americas have never felt further away, and we have never spent so much time on screens. For those of us who could remain safely isolated, the main source of entertainment—and horror—has been to watch the pandemic unfold. Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam are among the countries that are judged to have best controlled the spread of coronavirus, up to now at least, through lockdowns and an aggressive public health response. Malaysia, Indonesia, India and the Philippines have had more extensive spread but are still low by world standards. The highs and lows of daily case numbers, hospitalizations, deaths, restrictions on movement and uneven policing of breaches have turned us all into amateur COVID-19 STS scholars.
It will be these lessons of the pandemic that will guide my work as 4S President: the continued importance of place, the potential of virtual tools, and the ever more urgent need for STS scholarship. As the center of geopolitical gravity shifts to what is increasingly called the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Asia is the site of novel imaginaries and bold experimentation in every aspect of 21st century life—from energy transition to biosecurity to surveillance capitalism—that are shaped by intersecting legacies of European and Asian colonialisms, ongoing Indigenous dispossession and persecution of minority groups, ecological collapse and acute vulnerability to climate change.
Since Daiwie Fu first asked “how far can East Asian STS go?” in the inaugural issue of East Asian Science, Technology and Society in 2007, many scholars have considered the limits and possibilities of STS in Asia. As I take up the great honor of the 4S Presidency from October 2021, I hope that this will open further opportunities for STS in the region.
EASTS congratulates Professor Kowal on taking up the presidency and is delighted to be working more closely with 4S to realize the scheme of a global STS, where, as Professor Kowal so nicely puts it, “Asia is the site of novel imaginaries and bold experimentation in every aspect of 21st century life.”